On an evening celebrating youth, when the parade of glamour on the red carpet at the Kodak Theatre gave off plenty of Hollywood sparkle, "The King's Speech," a traditional historical drama about George VI, who overcame a crippling stammer to lead England in World War II, dominated the top honors at the 83rd
Academy Awards ceremony Sunday.
So much for "The Social Network," which as the film about the creation of Facebook, represented the young and rising 21st
century and had been the front-runner to win the best movie Oscar early on in the awards race.
In its near sweep, "The King's Speech" won best actor honors for Colin Firth, 50, who played the monarch, and the best director award for Tom Hooper, 38. If there was a big surprise in the evening it was the victory of Hooper over David Fincher, 48, the director of "The Social Network" and probably Hollywood's hottest director.
"I have a feeling my career just peaked," Firth said, holding his statuette, in typical self-deprecatory British fashion though emotion came through a tight smile.
Breaking away from the British wave, Natalie Portman won the best actress award for her role as a deranged ballerina in "Black Swan,'' a sex-driven exploration of madness.
Looking radiant in a long, flowing deep purple gown showing her mommy bump, Portman was among six nominees under 35 years of age. Despite her youth, 29, she's a movie veteran who beat out Hollywood royalty, the four-time nominee Annette Bening, 52, who was nominated for her role as a lesbian mother in "The Kids Are All Right."
Meticulously prepared at these awards shows, Portman was graceful in victory, giving appreciative nods to the other female nominees, her family, producers, trainers, and to the father of her baby, her fiancé, Benjamin Millepied, who choreographed some of her ballet dances in "Black Swan."
Altogether, 10 films were nominated for best picture, but in the end only two of them were real contenders, "The King's Speech," with 12 nominations and four Oscars, the most of any film this year, and "The Social Network," which had eight nominations and three Oscars.
On an evening lacking much suspense, melodrama or embarrassing gaffes, one of the big questions centered on the performance by James Franco, 32, a best actor nominee, and Anne Hathaway, 28, nominated for best actress last year, as the show's co-hosts. As the new face of the ABC telecast, Franco and Hathaway were presented in a series of TV ads as an irresistible couple, flirting, dancing and horse-playing. Rather silly, but not much sillier than commercials for other hosts in recent years.
Hathaway, the youngest Oscar host ever, wore a shiny crimson vintage Valentino gown on the red carpet and changed costumes at least half a dozen times during the show. Though Franco and Hathaway aren't known for their comedic chops, they delivered what the producers wanted: youth and glamour.
Gamely, she sang dressed in a tux (not a bad voice actually) against the backdrop of a jade-brilliant retro stage set of curves and arches, and Franco, game himself, showed up in a girlie full-length gown and blonde wig.
As Hathaway shouted at one point, "It's the young and hip Oscars!"
Still, the big awards went not to newcomers but to well-known actors who've been around the block several times.
Even the two smaller acting prizes went to veterans, both for the same film, "The Fighter." Melissa Leo, 50, who played the boxer's manipulative manager-mother, went off the rails when she accepted the best supporting actress award with an incoherent and goofy rant that included the F-word (bleeped on TV).
Next to her, Christian Bale, 37, who played the crack-addicted brother, seemed rational though he blurted, "What the hell am I doing here in the midst of you?" when he accepted the Oscar for best supporting actor.
On the whole, this was a rather sedate show marked more by Portman's and Firth's dignified demeanor than by nutty speeches and graceless jokes, as has happened in recent years. While Hathaway and Franco were energetic (she more than he) and appealing, they lacked the quick self-mocking zingers and knowing jabs at Hollywood that keep the audience laughing (and awake) in between the big awards.
But there were improvements. With a lineup of major previous Oscar winners handing out second-tier prizes (makeup, costume design), there were more big stars on hand, or so it seemed, than in earlier years. This time, for instance, the great Cate Blanchett, a previous Oscar winner and several times nominee, dressed in a lovely lavender Givenchy dress, announced the makeup and costume design awards.
After three and half hours, after the proclamation of the reign of "The King's Speech" as best picture of the year, it was over. But the after-parties were just gearing up for the night ahead, and the shiniest stars would glitter, as they do every year, at exclusive parties all over town.