The year was 2008. I will forever remember it as the year the Oscar race finally broke the NY Times’ David Carr, who watched the whole season buckle under a can’t-lose frontrunner.

It happens sometimes. You have years where a film is too big to ignore — Schindler’s List, Titanic — and then you have delightfully wide open years where any film could win. And then there are those years where a movie comes along that is so utterly beloved it wins EVERYTHING. When Slumdog Millionaire won the SAG ensemble it was all over but the shouting.

It was just one of those perfect storms. It was a similar dynamic to Million Dollar Baby vs. The Aviator. In this case, it was The Curious Case of Benjamin Button vs. Slumdog Millionaire. The Oscar race always needs those two things – the high achieving frontrunner and the little movie that could. The race is run almost purely on emotion, with nearly as much thought as one gives to clicking the like button on Facebook. Think of it like a whirlwind romance, where the object of your desire has the glow of perfection about them. You won’t be able to see this person clearly until many years later, once the fog of love has died down. And so it goes with Best Picture.

Then again, how could anyone not fall hard? It’s just a beautiful, beautiful film. It was an easy call, knowing how everyone would vote that year.

Vibrant, imaginative Danny Boyle brought his directing to the strange kind of disconnect between worldwide poverty and the dangling of the American dream – that you too can become a millionaire if you get lucky. The film would not turn on luck, in the end, but on integrity. And that might be, finally, why it soared like it did.

But there was another dynamic at play and one that has inflicted the Oscar race since. As American directors become darker, more daring and experimental, the Academy and the industry turn to foreign directors for more traditional stories. They are still the same kinds of films the Academy has always liked – very structured iconic roles – heroic men, women in need of rescuing (or the reverse). Beginning, middle and end, real actors, uplifting ending, some kind of morality at play. Although the following year The Hurt Locker would defy this theory, it would come roaring back in the next year with The King’s Speech and the following year with The Artist. Those nostalgic, familiar stories would trump filmmakers who were trying to break new ground.

That year the movie that broke new ground was David Fincher’s Benjamin Button, a film that blooms over time and becomes a deeper experience the older you get. Crushingly beautiful, the film is an examination of lost or missed opportunities. It toys with the notion of physical beauty, youth and the agony of it all slipping away. As is usual with Fincher, the film is filled with an array of diverse performers, with strong women throughout.

Despite its many nominations, Benjamin Button was not an across the board crowd pleaser like Slumdog. No other film I can think of in recent memory did to voters what Slumdog did. But Benjamin Button is a much bigger, deeper experience overall than the momentary but delirious fantasy that Slumdog offers. Returning to Benjamin Button year after year is like returning to most of Fincher’s canon – it is to see almost a different movie with each repeated viewing.

At the same time, Benjamin Button and ultimately Fincher’s method of filmmaking, was threatening to Hollywood as much of it was told with visual effects. Stunning though they were, that element continues to put up a barrier for film awards. There has always been the preference to reward nuts and bolts filmmaking, from the ground up, with dependence upon acting, writing and directing.

The luscious cinematography, the melancholy performances, the damn shame of how it all turns out. Damned if it ain’t life itself, not a fantasy but scratching at that thing that breaks your heart about life every day you wake up into it. No one will ever convince me that Benjamin Button was not the better film but it’s frustrating to have to make that choice. The Oscar race is not about the best, of course. It’s about how much you love seeing winners win. Danny Boyle was a guy no one ever got sick of seeing win anything.

My favorite thing about this clip is watching David Fincher squirm under the camera lens. Thing is about these awards is that they themselves offer up a fantasy. People have to want you to win, to feel as though their vote is bestowing something. That only added to the film itself — all dreams come true in Hollywood.

“For those of you at home…”

The other films that year were pretty great – Frost/Nixon, Milk and The Reader.

The Dark Knight changed the Oscars.

2008 will also be remembered as the year The Dark Knight changed the Oscars. 2008 was the last year there were five nominees. When The Reader took what many believed would be the Dark Knight’s slot, there was a big uproar. The Academy felt they needed to broaden the slate in order to honor films like The Dark Knight – genre/effects movies. But they would never figure that their current procedure for nominating films would continue to exclude genre movies; who is going to put The Dark Knight as their number 1? Or even their number 5? But with a slate of ten choices, as they did from 2009 to 2010? Genre movies have a better chance of getting in.

The death of Heath Ledger was one of the most talked about things that impacted the race and certainly made the omission of The Dark Night for Best Picture even more severe. But I believe it was a film worthy of that fifth slot, over The Reader. Stephen Daldry has a hypnotic effect on the Academy and probably because he is so friendly with the actors branch. Either which way, that a Weinstein coup unlike any other. It was a great example of Harvey Weinstein knowing instinctually what the voters will go for. That’s why we call him the Oscar whisperer.

How about you readers? What was your favorite film of 2009? We will be recording our podcast in the next few days.

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  • Joey

    Milk is an emotionally charged film (especially the ending). Do you think it would have been more successful in the hunt for Best Picture if it would have played in festivals and generated more word-of-mouth?

  • Brian S.

    I know I will get yelled for this – Slumdog Millionaire is overrated to me. Very much so after the Oscar sweep it had. Yes, it’s a great love story in a poverty setting in a different part of the world, but I didn’t feel that overwhelming liking and connection everyone else felt. I understand winning Editing, Score, and Song, but everything else should have gone to Benjamin Button, my favorite film of 2008. Milk, Frost/Nixon, Dark Knight, Doubt, In Bruges, Wall-E, and Man on Wire among my favorites of that year as well. The Wrestler, The Reader, Gran Torino, and Revolutionary Road were okay to me.

  • “I know I will get yelled for this…”

    That’s not yelling you hear, Brian. That’s me cheering.

  • Bryce Forestieri

    I hate to so often agree with the Palme d’Or, but they mostly get it. A remarkable year, but unlike the previous one, Hollywood can’t take much of the credit. It is obvious that the prevalent theme of the year was the family. Such unconventional, furtive incurssions into the mad houses. Demme, Desplechin, Stone, Koreeda, and Kurosawa raided and conquered. At use, the most varied cinematic styles. There was even room for another high profile attempt that falls short, but it’s best left unidentified.

    The Essentials

    1. GOMORRAH, Matteo Garrone
    2. CHE: PARTS I & II, Steven Soderbergh
    4. SPEED RACER, Andy & Lana Wachowski
    5. THE HEADLESS WOMAN, Lucrecia Martel
    6. THE CLASS, Laurent Cantet
    7. HAPPY-GO-LUCKY, Mike Leigh
    8. ME AND ORSON WELLES, Richard Linklater
    9. LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, Tomas Alfredson
    10. RACHEL GETTING MARRIED, Jonathan Demme
    11. A CHRISTMAS TALE, Arnaud Desplechin
    12. HUNGER, Steve McQueen
    13. TERRIBLY HAPPY, Henrik Ruben Genz
    14. W., Oliver Stone
    15. I’VE LOVED YOU SO LONG, Phillippe Claudel
    16. STILL WALKING, Hirokazu Koreeda
    17. IN THE CITY OF SYLVIA, Jose Luis Guerin
    18. THE WRESTLER, Darren Aronofsky
    19. THE DARK KNIGHT, Christopher Nolan
    20. WALTZ WITH BASHIR, Ari Folman
    21. DOUBT, John Patrick Shanley
    22. IL DIVO, Paolo Sorrentino
    23. IN BRUGES, Martin McDonagh
    24. THE SILENCE OF LORNA, Jean Pierre & Luc Dardenne
    25. BURN AFTER READING, Joel & Ethan Coen
    26. PINEAPPLE EXPRESS, David Gordon Green
    27. PONYO, Hayao Miyazaki
    28. REVANCHE, Gotz Spielmann
    29. JULIA, Erick Zonca
    30. SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, Danny Boyle
    31. WENDY AND LUCY, Kelly Reichardt
    32. THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE WEIRD, Kim Jee-woon
    33. GRAN TORINO, Clint Eastwood
    34. TROPIC THUNDER, Ben Stiller
    35. BRONSON, Nicolas Winding Refn
    36. TOKYO SONATA, Kiyoshi Kurosawa
    37. WALL-E, Andrew Stanton
    38. EVERLASTIN MOMENTS, Jan Troell
    39. SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK, Charlie Kauffman
    40. BOY A, John Crowley
    41. IP MAN, Wilson Yip
    42. GOODBYE SOLO, Ramin Bahrani
    43. ROCKNROLLA, Guy Ritchie
    44. FROZEN RIVER, Courtney Hunt
    45. CLOVERFIELD, Matt Reeves
    46. MILK, Gus Van Sant
    47. HELLBOY II, THE GOLDEN ARMY, Guillermo del Toro
    48. KUNG FU PANDA, John Stevenson, Mark Osborne
    50. TAKEN, Pierre Morel
    52. IRON MAN, Jon Favreau
    53. THE INCREDIBLE HULK, Louis Leterrier

  • Scott

    What drove me nuts about SDM was the utterly fictitious final emotional punch – when Latika answers the phone during his Phone a Friend moment on the show.

    Anyone who know anything about reality TV/Game shows knows they’re not filmed live and in the case of Millionaire, (regardless of country/regional version), the Phone a Friend is not a simple “okay who do you want to call?” they pause production to contact the person standing by and get them on the line.

    Maybe that sounds like a silly gripe on my part? But I wanted to like the movie way more than I did; leave it to Danny Boyle to skip over logical steps in favor of sensationalized emotion.

  • Zach Laws

    Remember when Scott Rudin was one of the producers on “The Reader,” and he took his name off the film over a dispute with Weinstein? That’s right, he was upset because (a) he didn’t feel the film was ready for a 2008 release and wanted to hold it until 2009, and (b) he wanted to focus his Oscar attentions on “Revolutionary Road” and “Doubt.” And so begins an Oscar rivalry to last the ages.

    Speaking of which, this was the year Kate Winslet was supposed to get two nominations, one for lead in “Revolutionary Road” and one in supporting for “The Reader.” She won two Golden Globes, took the SAG supporting for “The Reader,” but on Oscar nominations day, she got placed in lead for “The Reader” and “Revolutionary Road” barely registered. Funny how these things work out. Glad it allowed Penelope Cruz to win for “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” which got robbed of a screenplay nomination.

  • An outstanding year for animation, with Sita Sings the Blues, WALL-E, Ponyo, Idiots and Angels, Kung Fu Panda and Waltz with Bashir, and the year that gave Steve McQueen to the film world. The Dark Knight changed the whole cinematic landscape, not just for the Oscars but for blockbuster filmmaking in general. The Cannes jury made a brilliant choice; the Academy, not so much.

  • ‘Remember when Scott Rudin was one of the producers on “The Reader,” and he took his name off the film over a dispute with Weinstein?’

    Plus the Weinsteins haranguing Anthony Minghella on his deathbed, apparently.

  • John

    Loved so many top Oscar movies this year.

    Slumdog – beautiful, but Id have awarded BP to The Dark Knight.
    TDK – see above. Incredible.
    Benjamin Button – gorgeous, malenacholy, the type of film I like to re-watch and find more stuff to marvel at. i.e., Tilda Swinton’s performance.
    The Reader – never had an issue with it, Kate is sublime.
    Milk – Sean Penn blew me away.
    Frost/Nixon – solid movie.
    Wall-E – I get goosebumps just thinking about it.
    Rev. Road – good, just not great.
    Vicky Cristina Barcelona – my fave Woody in recent times, along with Match Point.
    I could go on. Loved this cinematic year.

    I do agree though that the 8 wins for Slumdog was too much.

  • m1

    What baffles me about the Slumdog Millionaire win is how often journalists refer to it as the “safe” choice. Really? A movie featuring a cast of largely unknown actors, set in India, and containing scenes of child endangerment, religious persecution, child prostitution, poverty, children being blinded by having hot oil poured into their eyes, children being drawn into gangs, etc. is considered “safe”? Really? Just goes to show that some journalists are willing to spout desperate nonsense about the winner when their own favorite loses.

    Anyway, I did revisit Slumdog very recently and fell in love with it all over again. The chemistry between the two lead actors, Danny Boyle’s incredibly vibrant direction, the near-flawless non-linear structure, the beautiful cinematography and music-simply extraordinary. It’s amazing how it holds up on repeat viewings. If Benjamin Button had won over it, Milk, and Frost/Nixon it would have been the equivalent of Crash winning over the other four nominees in 2005. No, thanks. Here’s my top 20:

    1. WALL-E (my opinion of this has grown on repeat viewings)
    2. Waltz with Bashir (masterful piece of foreign animation)
    3. The Wrestler (masterpiece from Aronofsky with great performances from Rourke and Tomei)
    4. Slumdog Millionaire
    5. The Dark Knight (Nolan’s best film to date)
    6. Milk
    7. Frost/Nixon (towering performances from Langella and Sheen, eloquent dialogue, sharp direction from Howard)
    8. Man on Wire
    9. Let the Right One In
    10. The Class
    11. Happy-Go-Lucky (incredibly engaging star-making work from Sally Hawkins in the lead)
    12. Tell No One (very fun French action thriller; seek it out if you haven’t seen it)
    13. Rachel Getting Married
    14. Frozen River
    15. Kung Fu Panda
    16. Bolt
    17. Iron Man (TDK wasn’t the only noteworthy superhero movie that year)
    18. Definitely, Maybe (underrated rom-com)
    19. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
    20. Horton Hears a Who!

    And my personal ranking of the Best Picture nominees:
    1. Slumdog Millionaire
    2. Milk
    3. Frost/Nixon
    4. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
    5. The Reader (Winslet’s performance is fantastic; the movie is emotionally flat. I can see how this could have been great but ultimately it did very little for me)

  • Bryce Forestieri

    And here’s how I’d have filled out my awards ballot (ranked in order of preference)

    Best Director

    1. Matteo Garrone – GOMORRAH (w)
    2. Steven Soderbergh – CHE: PARTS I&II
    3. Sam Mendes – REVOLUTIONARY ROAD
    4. Andy & Lana Wachowski – SPEED RACER
    5. Lucrecia Martel – THE HEADLESS WOMAN

    Best Actor

    1. Benicio del Toro – CHE: PARTS I&II (w)
    2. Mickey Rourke – THE WRESTLER
    3. Michael Fassbender – HUNGER
    4. Josh Brolin – W.
    5. Leonardo DiCaprio – REVOLUTIONARY ROAD
    6. Jakob Cerdergren – TERRIBLY HAPPY
    7. Toni Servillo – IL DIVO
    8. Francois Begaudeau – THE CLASS
    9. Colin Farrell – IN BRUGES
    10. Tom Hardy – BRONSON

    Best Actress

    1. Sally Hawkins – HAPPY-GO-LUCKY (w)
    2. Kirstin Scott Thomas – I’VE LOVED YOU FOR SO LONG
    3. Maria Onetto – THE HEADLESS WOMAN
    4. Anne Hathaway – RACHEL GETTING MARRIED
    5. Kate Winslet – REVOLUTIONARY ROAD
    6. Tilda Swinton – JULIA
    7. Arta Dobroshi – THE SILENCE OF LORNA
    8. Meryl Streep – DOUBT
    9. Maria Heiskanen – EVERLASTING MOMENTS
    10. Michelle Williams – WENDY AND LUCY

    Best Supporting Actor

    1. Heath Ledger – THE DARK KNIGHT (w)
    2. Salvatore Cantalupo – GOMORRAH
    3. Phillip Seymour Hoffman – DOUBT
    4. Christian McKay – ME AND ORSON WELLES
    5. Eddie Marsan – HAPPY-GO-LUCKY
    6. Michael Shannon – REVOLUTIONARY ROAD
    7. Brad Pitt – BURN AFTER READING
    8. Jean Paul Rausillon – A CHRISTMAS TALE
    9. Liam Cunningham – HUNGER
    10. Robert Downey Jr. – TROPIC THUNDER

    Best Supporting Actress

    1. Lina Leandersson – LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (w)
    2. Elsa Sylverstein – I’VE LOVED YOU FOR SO LONG
    3. Rosemary DeWitt – RACHEL GETTING MARRIED
    4. Kirin Kiki – STILL WALKING
    5. Maria Vaner – THE HEADLESS WOMAN
    6. Claire Danes – ME AND ORSON WELLES
    7. Lene Maria Christensen – TERRIBLY HAPPY
    8. Amy Adams – DOUBT
    9. Marisa Tomei – THE WRESTLER
    10. Frances McDormand – BURN AFTER READING

    Best Film Editing

    1. Marco Spoletini – GOMORRAH (w)
    2. Roger Barton, Zach Staenberg – SPEED RACER
    3. Pablo Zumarraga – CHE: PART I&II
    5. Joe Walker – HUNGER

    Best Original Screenplay

    1. Mike Leigh – HAPPY-GO-LUCKY (w)
    2. Lucrecia Martel – THE HEADLESS WOMAN
    4. Steve McQueen, Enda Walsh – HUNGER
    5. Stanley Weiser – W.

    Best Adapted Screenplay

    1. Braucci, Chiti, Di Gregorio, Garrone, Gaudioso, Saviano – GOMORRAH (w)
    2. Peter Buchman, Benjamin van der Veen – CHE: PART I&II
    3. Andy & Lana Wachowski – SPEED RACER
    3. Cantet, Campillo, Begaudeau – THE CLASS
    4. Justin Haythe – REVOLUTIONARY ROAD

    This many citations for lensing might seem like superfluous overkill, but in such a formally daring year, I found to include them was justified. As always, the creme de la creme is evident, but then there were quite a few flawless, even innovative works that I couldn’t conceive not mentioning one way or another.

    Best Cinematography

    1. Steven Soderbergh – CHE: PART I&II (w)
    2. Hoyte van Hoytema – LET THE RIGHT ONE IN
    3. Marco Onorato – GOMORRAH
    4. Natasha Braier – IN THE CITY OF SYLVIA
    5. Roger Deakins – REVOLUTIONARY ROAD
    —————–just missed the cut——————
    6. Declan Quinn – RACHEL GETTING MARRIED
    7. Wally Pfister – THE DARK KNIGHT
    8. Barbara Alvarez – THE HEADLESS WOMAN
    9. Sean Bobbitt – HUNGER
    10. Dick Pope – ME AND ORSON WELLES

    Honorable Mentions: Emmnuel Lubezki – BURN AFTER READING; Luca Bigazzi – IL DIVO; Anthony Dod Mantle – SLUMDOG MILLIONARE

    Best Original Score

    1. Johan Soderqvist – LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (w)
    2. Alberto Iglesias – CHE: PARTS I&II
    3. Hans Zimmer, James Newton Howard – THE DARK KNIGHT
    4. Max Richter – WALTZ WITH BASHIR
    5. Carter Burwell – IN BRUGES

    Honorary Mentions: Kazumaza Hashitmoto – TOKYO SONATA; A.R. Rahman – SLUMDOG MILLIONARE

    Best Aninmated Film

    1. Ari Folman – WALTZ WITH BASHIR (w)
    2. Hayao Miyazaki – PONYO
    3. Andrew Stanton – WALL-E
    4. John Stevenson, Mark Osborne – KUNG FU PANDA
    5. Bill Plympton – IDIOTS AND ANGELS

    Best Production Design


    Best Visual Effects

    1. SPEED RACER (w)

    Best Costume Design

    5. W.

    Best Sound Mixing: GOMORRAH
    Best Sound Editing: CHE: PARTS II&II
    Best Makeup: THE WRESTLER

    Best Foreign Language Film

    1. Laurent Cantet – THE CLASS (France)
    2. Tomas Alfredson – LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (Sweden)
    3. Arnaud Desplechin – A CHRISTMAS TALE (France)
    4. Henrik Ruben Genz – TERRIBLY HAPPY (Denmark)
    5. Hirokazu Koreeda – STILL WALKING (Japan)

    Best Documentary Feature

    1. Ari Folman – WALTZ WITH BASHIR (w)
    2. Agnes Varda – THE BEACHES OF AGNES
    3. James Marsh – MAN ON WIRE

  • m1

    I have more to say about Slumdog Millionaire. I’m happy it won not only because I thought it was the best of the 5 films nominated, but also because Fox Searchlight was finally rewarded for its fantastic catalog of cinema they’d built over many years. The studio had had some well-deserved Oscar success with Sideways, Little Miss Sunshine, and Juno in previous years but it was only the year following Juno that FS finally hit the jackpot. A very well-deserved win for a wonderful studio. And in the years following they’ve given us films like Crazy Heart, Black Swan, 127 Hours, The Descendants, The Tree of Life, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Enough Said, and 12 Years a Slave-all good to fantastic films in my eyes.

  • Sebastian Flores

    I loved the movies this year. Please, could you talk a little bit about the following films in the podcast. They are at my top. They are all great.
    1. Waltz with Bashir
    2. The edge of heaven
    3. Let the right one in
    4. Burn after reading
    5. Vicky Cristina Barcelona
    6. The orphanage
    7. Wall-e
    8. Rachel getting married
    9. Hunger

  • steve50

    Favorites of that year:
    I’ve Loved You for So Long
    Wendy & Lucy
    In Bruges
    Tell No One
    Frozen River
    (and for complete silliness and a good time) Burn After Reading

    Soderbergh’s Che was an ambitious, but bloated disappointment. Fincher wasn’t far behind, either, in personal letdowns.

    Looking back, no major Hollywood pics made a lasting that year, other than The Dark Knight.

    BTW, I listened to an hourlong interview with Kelly Reichardt (Wendy & Lucy) yesterday. She laughs at the label of “queen of pessimism” that some moronic critic assigned her. I hope she keeps making films.

  • Jerry Grant

    I don’t need to write a comment because m1 nailed it!:

    “What baffles me about the Slumdog Millionaire win is how often journalists refer to it as the “safe” choice. Really? A movie featuring a cast of largely unknown actors, set in India, and containing scenes of child endangerment, religious persecution, child prostitution, poverty, children being blinded by having hot oil poured into their eyes, children being drawn into gangs, etc. is considered “safe”? Really? Just goes to show that some journalists are willing to spout desperate nonsense about the winner when their own favorite loses.

    Anyway, I did revisit Slumdog very recently and fell in love with it all over again. The chemistry between the two lead actors, Danny Boyle’s incredibly vibrant direction, the near-flawless non-linear structure, the beautiful cinematography and music-simply extraordinary. It’s amazing how it holds up on repeat viewings. If Benjamin Button had won over it, Milk, and Frost/Nixon it would have been the equivalent of Crash winning over the other four nominees in 2005. No, thanks.”

    100%. If Button had won, it would have been called one of the worst BP winners in recent memory, somewhat below A Beautiful Mind. It would have been seen as a “safe” repeat of Forrest Gump but a sympathy vote for David Fincher, Brad, and Cate. It’s great that it hits people very deeply and personally. I think it’s a very good movie and in some ways extremely poignant, not to mention beautiful cinematography. But the narrative that Slumdog was the “safe” one in this dichotomy is really strange to me.

    Also: Revolutionary Road really sadly missed out this year. Perhaps Leo’s best performance, and the most flawless Sam Mendes film.

  • Al Robinson

    Question for the podcast: How come when Danny Boyle won Best Director, it didn’t also go to Loveleen Tandan, since she’s listed as a co-director.

  • ‘If Button had won, it would have been called one of the worst BP winners in recent memory, somewhat below A Beautiful Mind.’


  • Al Robinson

    To me, The Dark Knight has overtaken that year. Back in 2008 and 2009, when I was seeing these films for the 1st time, I was originally feeling like my favorite film was The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. I was really impressed with the technology of putting Brad Pitt’s face on different bodies. Plus, I just thought the story was the best of all the great films that year. I still do, I think that Benjamin Button is the best story, ahead of Tropic Thunder, The Dark Knight, Revolutionary Road, Changeling, The Wrestler, and Iron Man.

    Over the years, my favorites have been, and current are:

    1. The Dark Knight
    2. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
    3. The Wrestler
    4. Iron Man
    5. Revolutionary Road
    6. Tropic Thunder
    7. Slumdog Millionaire
    8. Changeling
    9. The Bank Job
    10. Pineapple Express

  • Al Robinson

    Suggestion for the Podcast discussion:

    2008 was a rare year when two of the top current directors, David Fincher and Christopher Nolan released classics in the same year. Lately it feels like those two have an unofficial rivalry. In 2010, they went head-to-head again, with Fincher’s The Social Network, and Nolan’s Inception, even though both lost to Hooper’s The King’s Speech.
    I just find these two interesting. I’m very excited that this year we get another head-to-head matchup for Oscars again with Fincher’s Gone Girl and Nolan’s Interstellar. Even though, I feel like once again, both will not-win, which is ridiculous. Both are overdue for Best Picture and Best Director.

  • phantom

    To this day I don’t get what was so great about Slumdog Millionaire and how it could have not only come close to it but actually beat the instant classic timeless masterpiece that is The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Same goes for Hugo vs The Artist and Lincoln vs. Argo. Come to think of these three films (Lincoln, Hugo, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), I suddenly realized that…well…could it be ? Maybe the Academy is simply not capable anymore to recognize an instant classic masterpiece ?

    P.S. To me Slumdog Millionaire, The Artist and Argo are OK films, definitely well-executed but not even close to any kind of “best” status let alone “best film of the year”.

  • m1

    “instant classic timeless masterpiece that is The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.”

    But this is kind of the point, isn’t it? There were many people who loved Benjamin Button for sure. Beautiful production values, great Oscar-nominated performances from Brad Pitt and Taraji P. Henson, epic romance-what’s not to appreciate? But, there are many detractors of that film too, and many who would argue that it is a bloated, safe, and sappy piece of work. What it really comes down to is the critical reception, and Slumdog Millionaire got much better reviews than Fincher’s film (and by a pretty large margin, too).

    This is not to demean Benjamin Button. It is certainly a well-made movie, and a successful change of pace for Fincher after tackling suspense-driven material like Zodiac and Fight Club. But I would not have supported a win for it, especially not over its competition. Fincher should have won for The Social Network (although I do think The King’s Speech is a fantastic movie, but that’s another story). As for the other two Best Picture races you mentioned:

    Hugo vs. The Artist: I like both of these films equally, both gorgeous tributes to Hollywood but not without their flaws. The Artist has incredibly gorgeous production design and great performances from Dujardin and Bejo, but it’s a little slight in the story/screenplay department. Hugo was a daring step for Scorsese to take, but the movie has some pacing problems and slight tonal issues in my eyes. Between these two I think The Artist is slightly better but that year both The Descendants and Midnight in Paris (as well as the non-nominated A Separation) topped my list.

    Lincoln vs. Argo: Two great fact-based movies, the former Spielberg’s best movie in years, the latter Affleck’s best directorial effort to date. I’m still convinced that Argo is the better movie because of how tightly wound it is; Lincoln is great (as well as incredibly fascinating) but struggles to juggle numerous characters and falls into the cliched trappings of period dramas quite a bit. My personal pick would have been the extraordinary, beautifully detailed, tough-minded, complex Zero Dark Thirty. Shame that the torture controversy derailed that one, but it’s still a masterpiece in my eyes.

  • m1


    What an eloquent, beautifully written response.

  • Joey

    I am glad that Winslet finally won an Oscar, but, like everyone says, it’s for the wrong performance. Her Revolutionary Road work is so exceptional. That scene in the bar with David Harbour where she just gives up is so heartbreaking.

  • Lorece

    I’m struggling to understand how anyone could say that Benjamin Button would have been considered “one of the worst BP to win.” The Curious Case of Benjamin Button has been one of my favorite films of the last decade and a completely deserving film for the Academy’s Best Picture prize. I don’t begrudge Slumdog Millionaire but I definitely don’t think it was the best picture that year. I would most likely place it after Button and Milk. I own all of these films minus The Reader (which I don’t think should have been nominated) so it was a surprisingly good year for film. I also want to mention The Dark Knight of course and Changeling which I loved as well.
    @Al, I like your mention of the Nolan v Fincher unofficial rivalry. They are two of my favorite directors and I can’t wait to see their films this year. Here’s hoping at least one of them will come away with the Golden Statue next year.

  • Some of the films above in others’ lists are ones I count towards 2009, so an omission for something like Gommorah or Ponyo just means it is in the following year’s list. My top films of 2008, a year that couldn’t quite equal the greatness of 2007, but I’ll be damned if it didn’t try:

    1. The Dark Knight
    2. WALL-E
    3. Man On Wire
    4. The Wrestler
    5. Waltz With Bashir
    6. Tell No One
    7. In Bruges
    8. The Class
    9. Rachel Getting Married
    10. The Edge Of Heaven
    11. Synecdoche, New York
    12. Speed Racer
    13. Let The Right One In
    14. Boy A
    15. Chop Shop
    16. Snow Angels
    17. Pineapple Express
    18. The Signal
    19. Dear Zachary: A Letter To A Son About His Father
    20. The Visitor
    21. Iron Man
    22. Slumdog Millionaire
    23. Tropic Thunder
    24. The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button
    25. Role Models
    26. Trouble The Water
    27. Step Brothers
    28. Encounters At The End Of The World
    29. Cassandra’s Dream
    30. Milk
    31. Hamlet 2
    32. Kung Fu Panda
    33. Gran Torino
    34. The Reader
    35. Nothing But The Truth
    36. Be Kind, Rewind
    37. Frost/Nixon
    38. Burn After Reading
    39. Vicky Cristina Barcelona
    40. Revolutionary Road
    41. JCVD
    42. The Foot Fist Way
    43. Choke
    44. The Incredible Hulk
    45. Happy-Go-Lucky
    46. Valkyrie
    47. Hellboy 2: The Golden Army
    48. Forgetting Sarah Marshall
    49. Appaloosa
    50. The Wackness

    The next 4 if you don’t count the 4 documentaries in the above list:

    51. Doubt
    52. Frozen River
    53. Pride And Glory
    54. Cloverfield

  • Ligaya


    What an eloquent, beautifully written response.

    My thought exactly, I’m being serious. And it was elegant & succinct to boot. Thanks, Paddy.

  • My ballot for the other main categories:

    Chris Nolan – The Dark Knight (win)
    Darren Aronofsky – The Wrestler
    Faith Akin – The Edge Of Heaven
    Jonathan Demme – Rachel Getting Married
    David Gordon Green – Snow Angels/Pineapple Express (for the full spectrum of emotions he ran through in his 2 incredibly diverse films that year)

    Mickey Rourke – The Wrestler (win)
    Phillip Seymour Hoffman – Synecdoche, New York
    Andrew Garfield – Boy A
    Robert Downey Jr. – Iron Man
    Sean Penn – Milk
    Colin Farrell – In Bruges/Cassandra’s Dream/Pride And Glory
    Richard Jenkins – The Visitor
    Sam Rockwell – Snow Angels/Choke
    Leonardo Dicaprio – Revolutionary Road
    Steve Coogan – Hamlet 2
    Francois Begaudeau – The Class

    Anne Hathaway – Rachel Getting Married (win)
    Kate Winslet – The Reader/Revolutionary Road
    Meryl Streep – Doubt
    Michelle Williams – Wendy And Lucy
    Sally Hawkins – Happy-Go-Lucky
    Lina Leandersson – Let The Right One In
    Kate Beckinsale – Snow Angels/Nothing But The Truth
    Naomi Watts – Funny Games
    Melissa Leo – Frozen River
    Rebecca Hall – Vicky Cristina Barcelona

    Supporting Actor:
    Heath Ledger – The Dark Knight (win)
    Eddie Marsan – Happy-Go-Lucky
    Michael Shannon – Revolutionary Road
    Brad Pitt – Burn After Reading
    Phillip Seymour Hoffman – Doubt
    Aaron Eckhart – The Dark Knight
    Danny McBride – Pineapple Express/Tropic Thunder
    Ralph Fiennes – In Bruges
    Robert Downey Jr. – Tropic Thunder
    Gary Oldman – The Dark Knight

    Supporting Actress:
    Hanna Schygulla – The Edge Of Heaven (win)
    Marisa Tomei – The Wrestler
    Amy Adams – Doubt
    Vera Farmiga – Nothing But The Truth
    Frances McDormand – Burn After Reading
    Samantha Morton – Synecdoche, New York
    Viola Davis – Doubt
    Penelope Cruz – Vicky Cristina Barcelona
    Rosemarie Dewitt – Rachel Getting Married
    Taraji P. Henson – The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button

  • Al Robinson

    OT: Bryce, did you lose power tonight? Were you within range of Hurricane Arthur?

  • Bryce Forestieri

    “Snow Angels/Pineapple Express (for the full spectrum of emotions he ran through in his 2 incredibly diverse films that year)”

    This is legit. ANGELS was of course on a previous list of mine.

    “Bryce, did you lose power tonight? Were you within range of Hurricane Arthur?”

    Al, I’m not in NC at the moment, but as far as I know, nothing happened in my area. It didn’t even rain.

  • S

    Benjamin Button & Dark Knight make the year seam like nothing but overrated hype. I highly doubt that anyone would talk about Dark Knight the way they do if Heath Ledger hadn’t died when he did. Nolan transformed the comic book film genre three years earlier with Batman Begins but Dark Knight took it right back to the silly Batman tv series of the 1960s. Benjamin Button proved that there is such a thing as a bad idea. Removing all logic of story-telling as we know it was merely a pretentious attempt at being original. Nevertheless, there were great films; sadly those 2 along with the deserving Slumdog Millionaire are the only ones generally in discussions like this.
    My picks:
    1. Wall-E
    2. Slumdog Millionaire
    3. Gran Torino
    4. Frost/Nixon
    5. Changeling
    6. Milk
    7. The Visitor
    8. Doubt
    9. Man on Wire
    10. Rachel Getting Married
    Best Director: Andrew Stanton, Wall-E
    Best Lead Actress: Sally Hawkins, Happy-Go-Lucky
    Best Lead Actor: Sean Penn, Milk
    Best Supporting Actress: Hiam Abass, The Visitor
    Best Supporting Actor: Robert Downy, Jr., Tropic Thunder
    Best Adapted Screenplay: Slumdog Millionaire
    Best Original Screenplay: Wall-E
    Best Original Song: “Gran Torino” Gran Torino
    Best Original Score: Slumdog Millionaire
    Best Film Editing: Slumdog Millionaire
    Best Cinematography: Man on Wire
    Best Production Design: Wall-E
    Best Sound Mixing: Wall-E
    Best Sound Editing: Wall-E
    Best Visual Effects: Tropic Thunder
    Best Costume Design: Milk
    Best Makeup: Tropic Thunder
    Best Animated Feature: Wall-E
    Best Documentary Feature: Man on Wire
    Best Foreign Language Feature: Man on Wire (France)

  • I surely didn’t think that there was anyone else out there who loved The Curious Case of Benjamin Button as much as I. It has joined the small list of films that I watch again and again: The Dead, The Tree of Life, The Long Day Closes, just to name a few of them. Like with them, every time I see BB I find more to admire in it.
    — Jonathan

  • John

    Huge fan of Benjamin Button. Melancholy, hypnotic, beautiful.

  • Jake Bart

    Love BENJAMIN BUTTON, certainly a top-tier film in a year that was not particularly strong in terms of Oscar ready films or otherwise. The essay that accompanies the Criterion release (I believe it’s by Kent Jones), as well as the extensive special features are well worthwhile for other fans of the film or those interested in the depth of Fincher’s craft.

    It didn’t really factor into my top 10, but I have no issue with SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE reaping Oscar gold. It is a resoundingly okay film, with spirit, warmth, and a hefty dose of craft. And, to be honest, that’s the kind of film you have to expect to win the big Oscars of the night. Where I draw the line, however, is when it starts picking up Sound Mixing over the revelatory WALL-E Just smacks of unintelligent, down-the-line voting.

    I terms of the nominees, I’d say it’d be a two way race between BUTTON and MILK for my vote. I’d probably go with BUTTON simply because it has more images and moments that have stayed with me. The section with Tilda Swinton is sublime near-perfection. Swinton’s work was clearly worthy of more attention that it received, but the same can be said of even her most praised performances.

    I’ve no issue with Penn winning for MILK. It’s a great performance in a very good, very moving film. Rourke, his closest competition, is just as good, but I may be wholly alone in thinking Aronofsky’s stylistic intrusions kind of botch the inherent power of Rourke’s (and occasionally Tomei’s) work. For better results with similar intentions, seek out Jonathan Demme’s RACHEL GETTING MARRIED where Demme succeeds in most every way that Aronofsky does not.

    MILK’s Screenplay win is more questionable. It’s well-wrought biopic-ery, but doesn’t sing the way IN BRUGES does. (Apologies if that sounds to Jeff Wells-ian, but it’s late.)

    Odds and sods:
    SYNECDOCHE, NY is far and away the most lasting 2008 film for me personally and I might not have believed that to be possible when I first saw it. My #1 pick easily.

    BURN AFTER READING is slowly but surely working its way out of the NO COUNTRY shadow (a la LEBOWSKI and FARGO) and deserves cult status next to the Coens’ finest pure comedies. Brad Pitt’s work here is more worthy of a nomination (in Supporting) than anything he does in BUTTON.

    THE DARK KNIGHT is perhaps the last great summer film to really seemed to inject some juice into the popular culture, igniting excitement and passion. Hope we get another soon.

    DOUBT kind of got shot down as just an actor’s picture. It is, more or less, but damn if it isn’t thrilling to see those actors in that material.

    My Best Picture Rankings and Picks from Nominees
    2. MILK

    Director: Fincher
    Actor: Penn
    Actress: Hathaway
    S. Actor: Ledger
    S. Actress: Davis
    O. Screenplay, IN BRUGES
    A. Screenplay: BENJAMIN BUTTON

    Personal Ballot
    3. RACHEL GETTING MARRIED (Spoiling for Demme’s return to fiction filmmaking)
    5. IN BRUGES

    Director: Demme
    Actor: Philip Seymour Hoffman (for SYNECDOCHE, NY)
    Actress: Hathaway
    S. Actor: Ledger
    S. Actress: Tilda Swinton (for BENJAMIN BUTTON)
    O. Screenplay: SYNECDOCHE, NY
    A. Screenplay: BENJAMIN BUTTON

  • Robin Write


    Taking part in all this awards talk over the many years I find exhilarating for the most part. But sometimes I hear things that just simply annoy me {on the back of the 2007 podcast too – which I thoroughly enjoyed by the way}. There seems to be, and not just here, a tendency to laugh at the Oscars like they are a big industry joke and they don’t really matter so much. Then you hear deep-fueled opinions of how awful it is when this movie wins over that movie – like how was that possible. What we also tend to do is judge movies on their Oscar success. There is almost resentment for movies that won, that were actually really good. But we can’t all agree with the winners, and that is part of the whole exhilaration we get from Oscar-watching I guess. But how seriously do we take the Oscars from one day to the next?

    Onto 2008 then:

    First of all, let me just drop into the mix the aesthetics of movies often comes from personal experiences. In this instance, 2008 was the year I met {online} my now Greek wife, and a lot of these movies are ones we watched together, fifteen hundred miles apart, via Skype. We also both saw Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull at the cinema in the weekend we met – me in England, she is Greece. We watched Cloverfield and The Happening together in a cottage in Kent, England.

    Movies contribute to the events of your life. And they can shape your opinions of them. Maybe this is partly why the wife and I particularly loved Wall-E and Slumdog Millionaire – great movies about time, distance, hope, obstacles, love. A magical time for us. And movies to some extent. So please give us a shout out on the podcast. 😀

    This was a really good year for movies though. The Dark Knight was the blockbuster / sci-fi / fantasy movie almost stepping over into Oscar-worthiness. Though they messed that up in the end. Tropic Thunder was the silly comedy that people actually laughed at and liked. Wall-E was yet another compelling effort that made us forget we were watching an animated movie. Let The Right One In was a remarkable vampire movie, like none we have seen before {my avatar already told you I liked this though}. I still look back at these years and try and figure out the Best Picture list with nine or ten.

    Some notes for the podcast then:

    # With Burn After Reading, you get the chance to mention the Coen brothers for a change. 😀
    # Were Changeling and The Reader actually that good?
    # Please don’t talk about Twilight or Australia.
    # Did you spot the casting link between The Visitor and AMC’s The Walking Dead?
    # Watching Milk, Frost/Nixon, and Doubt were like watching great plays.
    # Kate Winslet should have won Best Actress for Revolutionary Road, not The Reader.
    # Two things I remember fondly was the music used in Rachel Getting Married, and the performance of Sally Hawkins in Happy-Go-Lucky.

    If you have read this far you have done very well…

  • Robin Write

    # And on The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button {which I forgot}, we both liked it. Is this his least Fincher film to date? And will you talk about the Forrest Gump comparisons?

  • Robin Write, Nothing like waking up to a good rant.

    What we also tend to do is judge movies on their Oscar success.

    I never do that. Never.

    There is almost resentment for movies that won, that were actually really good.

    ok, yeah, I sometimes do that. Because “really good” isn’t “Best” — and the bigger the gap between “good” and “best,” the worse my resentment grows. Although I try to keep that in check unless it’s a nightmare year: one of those years when the weakest of all the nominees wins. Sadly that happens 2 or 3 times every decade, in my opinion. When 20%-30% of the time the worst BP nominee wins, it’s hard not to feel some resentment. When the Academy pulls boners like that, then yes, I lose respect for them.

    No issue with the rest of your points, and I agree with almost everything else you said.

    Or at least I’m not resentful about the other things you say that I wouldn’t say.

  • Robin Write

    I suppose the points I made that you highlighted there go hand in hand. For instance, I might down-talk movies like The King’s Speech and The Artist simply because Inception and The Descendants didn’t win Best Picture.

    Though I should blame the “Academy” for that. Or the voters. Or just get myself a punchbag.

  • Thomas Riest

    Slumdog remains one of my favourite films of all time. Yes it’s Cinderella, yes its a shluppy love story but It was just a well-crafted film. All of its Oscar-Nominated elements came together effortlessly. It just worked. I live anything Fincher, Dark Knight was incredible, Milk was heartbreakingly moving. WALLE is probably in the top three of a film studio that has churned out over a dozen smash hits in the last 20 years. But its still Slumdog that I will go back to before any of the others.

  • Ruth

    2008 was one of my most memorable oscar races. I think it was the first time ever that I had seen all the contenders prior to the ceremony. I was very much on the Milk train. I also thought that The Reader was stronger than quite a few of the other nominations, I was happy with its nomination. At the time, In Bruges and Revolutionary Road were also contenders for my favourite of the year.

    Personal Top 25:
    1. Happy-Go-Lucky
    2. Milk
    3. Hunger
    4. The Wrestler
    5. Waltz with Bashir
    6. WALL-E
    7. Still Walking
    8. Revolutionary Road
    9. Vicky Christina Barcelona
    10. Let The Right One In
    11. In Bruges
    12. The Reader
    13. Quarantine
    14. Not Quite Hollywood
    15. Wendy & Lucy
    16. Quantum of Solace
    17. Doubt
    18. Ponyo
    19. Martyrs
    20. The Black Balloon
    21. Burn After Reading
    22. Slumdog Millionaire
    23. The Dark Knight
    24. Pontypool
    25. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
    HM: Gomorrah, Frost/Nixon

    I still consider Milk the stand out of the nominees.

  • Kai Lor

    While people do now regard Slumdog Millionaire now as the “SAFE” Oscar choice, it does need to be reminded that it is a film that almost went straight to DVD and featured a international cast of unknown actors and many who have had virtually no acting experience before partaking in the film. While there are arguments that Slumdog could be identified as safe, it is also a need to be reminded how much risk and obstacles the film went just to be made and given a chance in the schemes of all things.It’s the type of the film that hit all the right notes with voters being in the right place at the right time. While the film has not aged as well with me as I would like, no one can deny the type of magic that Slumdog Millionaire manages to evoke when watching it. It is the quintessential underdog tale with a love story at its core and sticks its landing with its finale. While it is full of charm and feel goodness, that by no way should be a slight against the film. Slumdog Millionaire is beautifully crafted and well made filled with vibrant colors and gorgeous music with thematic universal elements that struck a core with audiences alike. Most importantly, it makes you feel. The film’s narrative was filled with sugary rootability. It was like an unstoppable train that was primed to steamroll and there was no way stopping.

  • Simon Warrasch

    From the actual Oscar Nominees i would have picked:

    Picture: “Milk”
    Director: Gus van Sant “Milk”
    Leading Actor: Sean Penn “Milk”
    Leading Actress: Anne Hathaway “Rachel getting married”
    Supporting Actor: Michael Shannon “Revolutionary Road”
    Supporting Actress: Marisa Tomei “The Wrestler”
    Original Screenplay: “Milk” / “Wall-E”
    Adapted Screenplay: “Frost / Nixon”
    Animated Movie: “Wall-E”
    Foreign Movie: “Revanche”

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