Oscar Spitballing: Best Picture 2008

Best Picture is, of course, the biggest prize of the 81st Annual Academy Awards, and it’s a two-dog race. or maybe it’s really just a Slumdog race. Here is a closer look at our five nominees.

Slumdog Millionaire
Danny Boyle’s surprise hit, rescued at the last moment from a straight-to-DVD release, has the heat to put it in the favored slot, as it’s hard to find anyone who wasn’t affected by the film. Unknown actors speaking half the time in a foreign language generally doesn’t work in America, but it’s a time of hope and change. Coincidentally, all five Best Picture nominees are also nominated in the Best Director category, so there’s a good chance that somebody’ll sweep the final two categories in the broadcast, but there’s an outside chance that the Academy will toss Boyle a Best Director award for being generally awesome, while still going with the softer choice of Benjamin Button for the big prize. However, it’s been such an overwhelming favorite to beat out the more-nominated Button that they’ve suffered a bit of backlash, which is what Americans generally do when too many people tell them they have to love something in a short period of time. Then there are those reports of Oscar voters saying they liked this film, but insist that “it’s just not an Oscar movie,” and cast their ballots for Button, and it’s very rare to win the top prize without a single acting nomination. Yet Slumdog seems like the kind of film that’s hard to resent or distrust for very long, especially when it’s such a unique entry among the more typical Nazi movie, historical sagas and, well, Forrest Gump, if we insist on boiling these complex and interesting films down to dismissive phrases. There’s too much going for Boyle’s team, and it will likely carry them over the top.

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The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
With a near-record 13 nominations, including Best Director David Fincher, Best Actor Brad Pitt and Best Supporting Actress Taraji Henson, this film is still managing to be underdog not only to the Slumdog in this category, but in just about every non-technical competition, and that’s particularly intriguing. There’s definitely a pervasive sense that maybe it’s a bit too “Oscary, a bit too long, and it hasn’t done that well in most other award balloting. Still, it’s a very intriguing concept that’s fascinating to watch unfold, and cynics may be falling all over themselves to be cynical about old Benjy Butts much too eagerly. It’s a good all-around movie in all the classic ways – something moving, something magical, something for the young and the old, something that makes us look at life from a different perspective and something perfect for the medium of film. It’s just that, for as innovative as it is technically, it still feels a bit too traditional, and a bit too turgid. Then again, after last year’s crop of films being those quirky and abrasive arty pieces, maybe the Academy really wants something comfortable that fits nice and easy.

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Almost entirely snubbed by the Golden Globes, the accolades are bountiful for Milk this time around with 8 nominations, including Best Actor Sean Penn, Best Supporting Actor Josh Brolin and Best Director Gus Van Sant. The story of America’s first openly gay elected official is the kind of inspiring change-the-world story Oscar loves. Penn’s performance is absolutely stunning, and let’s be honest – Hollywood is a very gay-friendly place. With the passage of Prop 8 causing such an uproar in California, there’s always the potential that the left-wing sensibilities will come out in force to make a statement on the Academy’s worldwide stage that all this ‘separate but equal’ malarkey needs to stop.

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The Reader
Kate Winslet’s turn as an elder seductress forming a young teenager’s enduring concept of love before he discovers that she was once a Nazi is strongly affecting, rolling around one’s head long after one has left the theater. The fact that it’s the last film produced by late Hollywood heavyweights Anthony Minghella and Sydney Pollack might also have earned it the sympathy vote to get it the go-ahead, and the notorious Weinstein award-season machine is always a force to be reckoned with. However, that hasn’t seemed to make a strong enough dent yet in Slumdog’s momentum, and audience response to the film is widely varied. The Weinsteins will have to be happy with their film being the film of choice in this, Winslet’s year to get hers.

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The battle of wits between the disgraced former president Richard Milhous Nixon and the airy talk show host David Frost is compelling viewing, especially in this day and age of a new political awakening (and thus we can only hope that maybe Conan O’Brien will somehow get George W. Bush to admit everything he did wrong sometime in 2012). Frank Langella’s crafty yet oblivious, self-absorbed yet sympathetic portrayal of Nixon, which he transferred from the stage to the screen, earned him the Best Actor nod that some say he should have received with last year’s Starting Out In The Evening. Michael Sheen’s Frost is an underrated factor as well, playing a man who incessantly resists focusing on the task at hand until it’s almost too late. But Ron Howard’s dry historical drama doesn’t have the visceral oomph that its competitors bring. It’s a scintillating character study, but it does not a Best Picture make.

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What Will Win: Slumdog Millionaire
What Should Win: Slumdog Millionaire

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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