The Oscars 2011: How real are the reality-based Best Picture nominees?

By The Associated Press

Oscar has always loved films based on true stories – 100 out of 485 Best Picture nominees since 1927 would qualify – but never more than this year. Four of the 10 features on the Best Picture slate are based on real characters and events: “The King’s Speech,” “The Fighter,” “The Social Network,” and “127 Hours.”
Eavesdrop on departing moviegoers and you will inevitably hear, “I’d love to know what really happened.” Here are some facts behind the “true-life” stories contending for this year’s Best Picture Academy Award.
– Gloria Goodale, Staff writer

“The King’s Speech”

This film shows the poignant struggle of Prince Albert, later known as King George VI of England, to overcome a lifelong stutter. In the process, the film compresses years of an unconventional relationship between Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue and the future monarch.

After his disastrous speech at Wembley on Oct. 31, 1925, Prince Albert, second in line to the British throne, began what would become decades of work with Mr. Logue. Their first meetings prepared the prince for a trip to Australia, says grandson Mark Logue. Their progress on controlling the stammer allowed Prince Albert to deliver the 1927 opening speech to the Australian Parliament in Canberra.

Rather than the intense few months depicted in the film, Logue and the prince worked together off and on in the decade leading up to Albert’s 1936 ascension to the throne. After his student became king, Logue was on hand for virtually every public speech the king gave until his death in 1952.

“127 Hours”

On April 26, 2003, 27-year-old mountain climber and outdoorsman Aron Ralston, veteran of 49 of Colorado’s 14,000-foot-plus mountains, headed into a remote southeastern section of Utah for a solo day of adventure – without telling anyone his route or destination.

At 2:41 on that Saturday afternoon, his life changed forever. He dislodged an 800-pound boulder that tumbled down a gorge, pinning his hand – and him – for nearly six days. He landed in a 3-foot-wide slot canyon near the Maze District of Canyonlands National Park. After running out of water and filming intensely personal farewell videos to friends and family, the dedicated outdoorsman made the drastic decision to amputate his forearm – a move that saved his life.

This was not the Aspen mountaineer’s first brush with burial by stones. Mr. Ralston and a companion had been caught in an avalanche while backcountry skiing in the Colorado Rockies. The avalanche buried him to the neck and completely covered his companion, but he dug them both free within 15 minutes.

Ralston is now a motivational speaker, sharing the lessons he learned about the value of life while facing near-certain death.

“The Social Network”

Much has been written about the dramatic liberties screenwriter Aaron Sorkin took with the story of Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg, who launched his now-multibillion-dollar business while still a Harvard undergraduate.

While Mr. Sorkin chose to create what he calls a “metaphor,” depicting the young tech whiz as a loner and a social nerd, the truth is quite different. Far from being painfully dumped, Mr. Zuckerberg is still with the same longtime girlfriend. More important, he was not motivated to create Facebook from a sense of alienation and isolation, but as an expression of his own desire to see the world connected, say both Zuckerberg and those who have known him for a long time.

Facebook now has more than 600 million global members and counting, and Zuckerberg himself, now the nation’s youngest billionaire and Time magazine’s Person of the Year, has pledged to give away half his wealth during his lifetime.

Why do we love them so much?

The time is ripe for reality-based fiction, says Jason Hewitt, founder of Films in Motion in Baton Rouge, La. Reality television has fed what he calls people’s voyeuristic impulses. “People love to see what other people can do and compare themselves to the lives of others,” he says.

The explosion of sophisticated special effects has left a void for the viewer, he notes. “People can’t relate to the perils or jeopardy of a big, noisy super-hero film,” he says. To make a meaningful connection, the film experience must return to a human level. “True stories bring back that sense of human scale,” Mr. Hewitt says. And it doesn’t hurt that they are often far less expensive to make than the effects-heavy blockbusters, he adds.

Of course, many of these films add a healthy dose of narrative padding. One wry observer, who had lived through the events depicted in “Lawrence of Arabia,” quipped, “The only real thing in the movie is the sand and the camels.”

Nonetheless, people love to know that a tale is essentially true, says author and therapist Debbie Mandel. During a recession and with the world falling into chaos, “Moviegoers are looking for movie therapy: How did the protagonist overcome a handicap, physical, emotional, or spiritual? If he or she can do it, then so can I,” she writes in an e-mail.

This year’s spread of true-life tales matches only two others in scale. In 1934, the Academy nominated 12 films for Best Picture, of which four were based on real events in the lives of Cleopatra, poets Robert & Elizabeth Barrett Browning, the Rothschild family, and Pancho Villa.

1941 was the year of ”Citizen Kane,” a film loosely based on newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst – who tried to suppress it. That year saw three other reality-based films on the list of 10 Best Picture nominees:

“Sergeant York,” a biographical film based on the life of Alvin York, the most-decorated American soldier of World War I.
“One Foot in Heaven,” based on the autobiography of a minister and his family.
“Blossoms in the Dust,” a Depression-era film starring Greer Garson as Edna Gladney, who worked to destigmatize adoption and children born out of wedlock.