Oscar winners no one expected: mothers everywhere

Oscar winners dispensed morsels of wisdom in their thank-you speeches Sunday night. 'Listen to your mother' was the advice of Best Director Tom Hooper, who won for the 'The King's Speech.'

Danny Moloshok/Reuters
British actor Colin Firth (L) holds his Oscar he won for best actor for his role in "The King's Speech" as he arrives with his wife Livia Giuggioli at the 2011 Vanity Fair Oscar party in West Hollywood, California February 27.
Danny Moloshok/Reuters
British director Tom Hooper holds his Oscar for best director for his film "The King's Speech" as he arrives at the 2011 Vanity Fair Oscar party in West Hollywood, California February 27.

The 83rd Annual Academy Awards were chock full of little morsels of life wisdom from the winners’ speeches. The evening was also a roadmap of where the business of both broadcast TV and the movies are headed.

Sunday's awards ceremony seemed to have an informal theme of “mothers' night” – beginning with the two young hosts' shout out to their mother and grandmother in the audience and topped off by director Tom Hooper’s thank-you remarks, laughs pop culture pundit Robert Thompson of Syracuse University in New York. More than a few moms no doubt nudged their teenagers as they heard the director of the winning film, “The King’s Speech,” thank his mom and drop this bit of Hollywood wisdom: “Listen to your mother.” His mom is the one who discovered the script at a staged play reading and phoned her son to say, “I’ve found your next movie.”

ABC also took up valuable air time to affirm the importance of the Academy Awards to broadcast television, announcing it had signed with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for another nine years of Oscar telecasts. This underscores the importance of live events to broadcast television, says Mr. Thompson, noting the lesson that network TV executives took from the unprecedented audience – 111 million – that gathered for this month's Super Bowl.

Moreover, the awards broadcast itself is becoming more of a portal to online Oscars content, “with a decided focus on the youth audience,” he says. A number of youth-targeted strategies were evident this year, from the tag-team hosts Anne Hathaway and James Franco to the Web-based backstage access and premium content. (Viewers could pay $5 for up-close celebrity sighting images from 11 360-degree cameras posted throughout the event.)

As for the eagle-eyed moms, mainstream moviemaking could take some direction from them, perhaps prodding studio executives to finance a few more high-minded films, says Howard Suber, professor emeritus, Producers Program at UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television.

Mr. Suber, author of “The Power of Film,” sees in the films of the past year a growing split between what the 6,000 or so Academy voters want people to think they love and what they actually do in their day jobs. “They vote their conscience,” he says, “but they make films to pay mortgages and buy their fancy cars.”

Mainstream studios are abandoning ordinary characters, to whom everyday people can relate, in favor of cartoon figures that will play well with audiences around the world, says Mr. Suber. With only a few exceptions, he notes, the top-nominated films were all turned down by the major studios. He points to the money factor. A survey released last week by the Motion Picture Association of America shows the American film industry is making movies with more of an eye for foreign audiences than domestic. According to the survey, nearly two-thirds of the $31 billion global box office receipts come from foreign audiences. “Not all that long ago, that figure was more like fifty-fifty,” says Suber.

But small films – such as last year’s “Hurt Locker” and the previous year’s “Slum Dog Millionaire,” as well as this year’s “The King’s Speech” – continue to receive recognition, and that is encouraging to some filmmakers. Audiences are finding these movies and liking them, says filmmaker Jason Hewitt, founder of Films in Motion in Baton Rouge, La. He sees more opportunities for stories based on real people in true-life situations, noting that four of the 10 Best Picture nominations were based on actual events and people.

“As times get hard,” he says, “people want some authenticity, and that’s what these films are giving them.”

Producer Charles Bernstein suggests that the even distribution among a variety of genres is a healthy sign. Three of the biggest vote-getters – “The King’s Speech,” “The Social Network,” and “Inception” – represent important genres: the traditional history biopic, the youth-targeted hipster, and the special-effects-driven action flick.

“This says to me that Hollywood recognizes the need for all these types of movies and wants to reward the ones that are well done,” he adds by phone from the Kodak Theater after the ceremony.

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