Friday, March 18, 2011

Person of the Week: Tom Hooper

 A King On The Most Important Day

      This post may be a tad belated, but I consider its contents to be critic-ally important; sort of a referendum against the mass of online film critics. Although, you can include me in the increasingly animus ranks of filmgoers who reacted in objective dismay at the coronation of The King's Speech during the Academy Awards, I still cannot discount it's resounding triumph of the four major categories—a film viewed by many as "Oscar Bait" proved to be Oscar Great, winning Best Picture, Actor, Original Screenplay, and in terms of this post, Director. Despite my preference for Fincher or Aronofsky for Best Director, Tom Hooper took home the coveted award...and much less importantly, my infinitely inconsequential, "Person of the Week" title.
      Of late, I've been ratcheting up my procurement of parodies; however, I do not want this blog to be saturated with too many spoofs and satires. Therefore, I will subdue this trend by delivering a retroactive "Person of the Week" segment—this was intended to be published for the first week of March. Admittedly, I forgot about it. It was lost in the growing spaces of my blogger drafts. Please forgive me for the tardiness of this post.
      As we've all had ample time to digest the Awards season, one thing has become, as Col. Jessep would remark to Lt. Kaffee in A Few Good Men, "crystal" clear. Many knowledgeable moviegoers—I'm referring exclusively to those who follow film closely—consider the achievements of The King's Speech to be grossly undeserving. Despite my agreement with some of the dissension, I am not wholeheartedly in agreement. I say this precisely because any blanket acceptance of the scathing sentiment towards The King's Speech is emblematic of a little short-sightedness. Even though Inception should have won Best Picture, and Aronofsky or Fincher should have won Best Director, I absolutely, unequivocally cannot accept the unrelenting budget of disdain painting Tom Hooper, as some kind of talentless hack.
      Quite the contrary, Hooper is a brilliant filmmaker. Perhaps, this level of defiance unleashed upon Tom is a reflection of his minimal exposure to mainstream moviegoers or a result of his lofty film, which took home the lions share of Oscar gold despite sharp disagreement over it's excellence. I tend to think that Hooper's negative approval rating is a cumulative result of both of these factors—most of his work has gone unnoticed by the average moviegoer, and The King's Speech was a polarizing film, which in my opinion, did not deserve a King's allotment of awards.
      Therefore, the genesis of this post is motivated out of my willingness to dispel some of these cruel castigations directed at Tom Hooper. I may not utterly dig The King's Speech, but the man behind the enormous success, I do dig.
      Prior to his feature film breakthrough, Hooper was a prolific fixture in the television realm. His filmmaking pedigree was fashioned at an early age, fostered from numerous short film projects. He would not swim into substantive directorial waters until he graduated from college—oh by the way, this guy is immensely smart, after all, he graduated from Oxford. If you're still not impressed, he also had the incredible honor of directing a young Kate Beckinsale in a student production.
      Hooper's career got off to an unglamorous start, breaking into commercials. Admittedly, he was attempting to mimic the path of successful forerunners such as Ridley Scott and Tony Scott. His early influences included some well-known American TV series' such as ER and NYPD Blue

      Soon afterwards, Hooper would embark on a promising partnership with HBO, which resulted in a string of accolades, beginning with the critically acclaimed historical drama, Elizabeth I. This two-part serial exuded an 'Aronofsky-esque talent' for Hooper's narrative focused on obsession. Elizabeth I was followed by his critical darling, Longford, and the mega miniseries, John Adams. His work in feature films continued with The Damned United, but it wasn't until royalty came calling...that Hooper would finally gain widespread appeal.
      Hooper refined his directorial craft through prominent work with major BBC costume dramas including Love in a Cold Climate and Daniel Deronda. A Hooper attribute that I feel most people fail to acknowledge is his intrepid and brisk forcefulness. While he was an inexperienced and unpolished commodity, Hooper won the rights to direct two episodes of Granada Television's comedy-drama television series, Cold Feet, which marked his move to bigger-budget productions. Despite an overtly guarded concern from Granada that Hooper may be unsuitable for the series given his background in drama, Tom's brilliant direction of the series would categorically dismiss any lingering concerns. In 2002, he would go on to direct Daniel Deronda, which would illustrate a prescient trait—he brought spunk and sagacity to television's most conservative form.
      Hooper's directorial acumen, borne from a smart and daring mentality, would once again materialize. Famous Actress, Helen Mirren, actively pursued Tom to work on a British TV series she once made popular. The revival of Prime Suspect, entitled The Last Witness earned Hooper nominations for British Academy Television Award for Best Drama Serial, and the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Directing for a Miniseries, Movie, or Dramatic special. His direction was praised for it's poignant approach, establishing a narrative that was both grim and hyper-realistic.
      Tom would gain an important lesson from his first feature film, Red Dust. The lack of audience appeal indicated to him that the theatrical audiences it was designed to target "do not run to see films that are openly issue bled." Much like the scenario involving Helen Mirren, another prominent actor would come calling for Hooper's services; Tom Hanks. The multiple Academy Award winning Actor recruited Hooper to direct Hooper was nominated for a Directors Guild of America Award for outstanding directorial achievement. The series would highlight some of his best traits including his visually robust design (evidenced through beautiful panoramic shots) as well as his keen sense of camaraderie with his actors. 
      Hooper is perhaps best known for getting the most out of his actors. In reference to John Adams, Matthew Gilbert of the Boston Globe writes, "he [Hooper] lets his actors shine." His marvelous ability to coax the best performances out of his cast is precisely what makes Hooper such a distinctive and formidable entity in the filmmaking world. The fact that both Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush earned incredible praise from their work on The King's Speech is partly owed to Hooper's directorial approach. He consults with his actors a great deal, and this incessant, but methodical give-and-take is what makes Tom an advantageous leader for his cast—as opposed to some kind of autocratic task master. 
      The King's Speech was a personal film for Hooper, as the core of the film reflects an eerily familiar culture clash; his Anglo-Australian parentage. And this post is personal because I once naively disregarded Hooper's credentials. Most of my disdain had to do with the disappointment of the Academy Awards major winners. But complemented by an unbiased look at his pedigree, I've come to admire the man.   
      Hooper is currently working on a film adaptation of Mandela's autobiography Long Walk to Freedom, but it will not begin work until 2012. This movie could be vastly compelling, but I'd love see him take on a gangster film or an epic adventure. He's still young, but if he ever wants to proliferate a growing fan base and larger audiences, he must look towards more "fan friendly projects."

      The enormous praise put forth for Christopher Nolan—who most online film personalities admire because of his dual attentiveness to originality and innovation—belies a certain share of admiration for Tom Hooper, whose infant directorial pedigree is defined more by grandiose storytelling, and less by vicissitudes of technical bravado.  
      The King's Speech represents an all-too-common narrative trope that closely aligns with America's exuberance with royal drama; how many Americans were fascinated by Princess Diana? But this mode of thinking is really a reflection of the past mindset. Newer generations of moviegoers are growing tired of these tried-and-true royal formats—there seems to be an intricate appreciation for more relevant storytelling that mirrors our times...or at the very least, you can always follow the comic book way. This narrative "relevance" is partly why Inception is revered so universally, and is frankly, so magnificent while The King's Speech never fared too well at the box office. It's technical and narrative brilliance is commensurate with it's originality.
      Of course, there are myriad other components to the box office puzzle that I will not even remotely dissect in this piece—mostly, the "men under 25" demographic group, which dictates every major studio's marketing ploys—but the point I wanted to impress upon you is that it is unfair to confuse your dissatisfaction with The King's Speech with your appreciation for Tom Hooper's directorial might. Heck, I didn't enjoy The King's Speech to the tune of Four Oscar's, but I did discern the excellence of Hooper's direction, specifically, in relation to the phenomenal acting he helped influence.
      Hooper is a talented storyteller. But if he ever wants to amass the kind of large-scale, mainstream popularity from the newer generation of moviegoers that Nolan deservedly enjoys, he must undertake a story that the "men under 25" demographic will actually go see: a comic book adaptation, a successful book franchise, or an action-packed, adrenaline-fueled flick.
      Tom's not even considered one of my favorite current directors, but there is no question, he is one of the most talented. Given his growing experience, his proven knack for being an actor's-director, and both his smart visual and narrative tact, there's a good chance I could become one of his adoring fans. If Hooper ever tackles a favorite subject of mine (say, the gangster genre) or undertakes a film project that deeply appeals to me (say, The Wolverine considering Aronofsky's recent departure), then I'd be in a better position to evaluate his credentials. Until that day, Hooper is just another Tom that just barely fails to live up to the great esteem of his first name—Sawyer, Petty, Brady, Hanks or Cruise can all boast a greater measure of pride—I'd wager my "March Madness" winnings that Hooper will join the aforementioned Greatest Tom's List in due time.


*The above video provides a rather lengthy but informative interview with the man of the week, Tom Hooper
**Any quotes above come from "Tom Hooper's Wikipedia Page."


  1. I haven't noticed anyone trashing Hooper's victory at Oscars. Probably because I don't read fanboy sites :)
    I'm happy Hooper won this year. And I'm happy you reminded me that he did ELIZABETH mini series. It was such a great TV project. Although I prefer THE VIRGIN QUEEN mini series (which had the most amazing actors, direction, scenes and stunning music), I loved Helen Mirren's portrayal too!

  2. There's been a greater degree of acrimony towards The King's Speech, and by default, Tom Hooper since he is so closely aligned to the film. A lot of people feel that the film was an utter calamity of Oscar Bait. That's the sentiment that I was referring to.

    The overarching point of my piece is that most people are hating on The The King's Speech without acknowledging Hooper's talent. This is an unfair, and as I say, short-sighted approach towards proper criticism.

    I've not seen The Virgin Queen, but I trust your judgment. I'll have to look into it because I loved his work for John Adams and Elizabeth.

  3. Very insightful and interesting post. I had never heard of Tom Hooper before TKS. Never saw any of the miniseries you mentioned as I don't get HBO and never remember to look for them on Netflix.

    Hooper is a talented storyteller and I enjoyed TKS very much, but you are right when you say that he will have to choose a more mainstream project in order to achieve the next level. A Nelson Mandela picture just won't cut it. It will probably garner awards like TKS, but it will make little money because no one wants to pay to see a film about Nelson Mandela. And it's not just the under 25 male demographic who think like this. People are struggling and watching how they spend their money. Nelson will look just as good on the small screen for free or a dollar as opposed to flying superheroes and alien spaceships, which look immensely better on a huge screen.

  4. Great post, Matty! You should become a professional :) Having said that, I'm still pissed off that Hooper got the Oscar. His direction was very precise, yet lifeless.
    Ficher should've won!

  5. @ Melissa

    Thanks! Yeah Hooper is still a relatively "unknown" commodity to the average moviegoer even after his TKS fame. For now, he'll probably just be referred to as the TKS guy until he delivers more feature films, as his career is still in its early stages.

    Glad you agree. He can draw as much critical praise as he wants, but if he wants box office success, he has to start looking at projects that have widespread appeal. It could be that he doesn't care for box office #'s, but I doubt that b/c I read somewhere that he was disappointed by some of his box office returns. Plus, box office success feeds directorial success, which will spur more interesting work.

    @ Nebular

    Thanks! I appreciate your praise.

    Yeah, you are definitely not in the minority when it comes to your anger at the Academy's snubbing of Fincher. But I wouldn't go so far as to say his direction was "lifeless," I just think he was going for authenticity.

    Though, I do agree that period dramas such as TKS can easily be construed as "lifeless" because a lot of us film fanatics have no interest in these types of films anymore.

  6. That was an amazing post!! It was so well-written and rather convincing. I was actually one of those people who was disappointed when he won Best Director at the Oscars. I definitely felt that his competition was way more deserving. However your research on Hooper has made me appreciate his victory. I can't be mad at someone who has worked hard for what he desires and then takes the win, especially being a newcomer. I suppose something has to be said for that. I do agree that his next move needs to be a film that would attract those who are 25 and under. A gangster film, like you mentioned, would be interesting.

    Re: Comment
    Oh Pauly Shore there is just something about him that just makes me smile. Perhaps his stupidity I don't know. : ) You know he and the Situation actually do look a lot alike. Weird. I used to think the Situation was PIG but I kept watching the show and you know what he is actually quite charming, which makes him cute. So yes, I guess I like the Situation. Scary huh? : )
    BTW, Love your banner-Such a great movie!

    Thanks for stopping by my site, I'm following!!

  7. Thanks so much Nicole!

    The reason I wrote this piece was to provide some perspective to Hooper's career. I felt like he was the victim of an unfair degree of criticism for winning—I was part of this group until I further investigated him. I'm glad you agree with me!

    Haha. I had a feeling you'd dig The Situation because he does have such an uncanny resemblance to Pauly Shore. And actually, you're quite right. Despite his drunken antics, he does possess quite a charm (his Trump roast notwithstanding).

    And thanks for digging my banner. GWH is definitely one of those films that really helped spur my interest in movies.

    Thanks for following!