Reader Andrew points out:
Slumdog is making history here. What are the only 2 other movies to win Golden Globe (Best Picture- Drama), Critics Choice, SAG ensemble, PGA and DGA???
Lord of the Rings Return of the King and American Beauty, both of which also won BAFTA. Chicago won Golden Globe BP (Musical or Comedy) and the other awards but lost the BAFTA.
Probably Slumdog will, when all is said and done, win more than Beauty. Return of the King has to still top the charts with the most total wins across the board. Is anyone counting?
Let’s look at the year in campaigning and explore why Slumdog took the lead and triumphed so spectacularly.
The first thing is that, as we’ve always said, a good movie is a good movie is a good movie. It doesn’t matter what time of year it is released and it doesn’t matter which studio puts it out and it doesn’t really matter that much what kind of ad campaign it brings (although there is something to discuss here but we’ll get to that later). It will triumph because of there is nothing more powerful than word of mouth. No passionate blogger’s “early word,” no enthusiastic critic’s high praise, a winner like Slumdog is a film anyone can watch and respond to. What it is is right on its face. There is no symbolism to uncover, no fancy performance at the center, no attempt to add artistry – it is just a good story well told. And that makes it stand out from the bunch coming out of a phase in Oscar history where the Best Picture contenders were more intellectually challenging.
Slumdog has the benefit of being a general audience film dressed up in an art house package. Voters can feel that they are still choosing the little indie but all the while they’re responding to it on a different level. This isn’t a movie you watch with your brain engaged; this is a story that sweeps you up, carries you away to a far off land, and drops you safely back home with all of the ends tied up, where the boy gets the girl AND the loot and everything and everyone is in harmony with the universe.
That’s Frank Capra, that’s good old fashioned movie making for the huddled masses. This movie is prestigious because it was directed by the brilliantly versatile and quite artsy fartsy Danny Boyle and because it wears the Fox Searchlight label. No one is forcing anyone to like this movie. They just do. And it keeps winning because Seachlight is doing everything right. It might just keep winning anyway but there are some things the campaign has done to keep it on the right track.
Finally, what helps Slumdog this year is the political climate mixed with the economic disaster that surrounds us. This isn’t a time for naval gazing or deep contemplation of the human condition. This isn’t a time to meditate on violence or the darker sides of human nature. That might hurt too much when we are all hurting pretty badly, even those of us who aren’t hurt are feeling it all around us. Obama has brought a feeling of renewal and hope, Slumdog fits right in with that.
All of these things are why the film has a clear path to victory but the only reason it keeps winning is because it is a good movie. Top to bottom, this film, like all of Boyle’s work, is vivid and breathtaking. The music is so good and the actors he chose are perfect. I mean they are actors only a really smart director would find. This film would not have worked without Dev Patel as Jamal. And Frieda Pinto, in her own way, it perfectly suited to Latika. Latika has, throughout the film, a sad, dreamy expression on her face, even as a young orphan called into the tunnel to get out of the rain. That sweetness never leaves because that is what Pinto looks like all of the time. So, while she didn’t have to do much except look pretty the sadness to her expression is what makes us ache to have them be together; we need to see Jamal rescue Latika and he does. Technically she runs away but still, you get the idea.
What Fox Searchlight did this time was make it about the movie and not about the campaign. Both Juno and Little Miss Sunshine, in trying to look like a solid Best Picture candidate, both overdid it. If Searchlight had come on that strong with Slumdog voters would not have felt like they were discovering the movie and that is essential.
None of the Best Pictures in the last three years were “Oscar movies.” They weren’t made for nor designed to win Oscars, and certainly not the Best Picture Oscar. No Country was an early critics’ darling and it wasn’t exactly a general audience movie. In fact, that film won on the Coens’ name and the brilliance of the performances. The Departed and Slumdog made it through because they were good movies. One can argue that Martin Scorsese was due and that is what pushed The Departed through but the truth of it is that it’s partly that, but it’s also that The Departed was simply the best of the five nominated that year.
The worst thing a film can be is the frontrunner when the year starts. Not the season, but the year. That was the curse of Benjamin Button. It never had a chance to unfurl in the right way. It was set up, predicted everywhere as the frontrunner before it opened, and by the time it opened the critics had their claws bared. This is the position no film ever wants to find themselves in unless they are a movie like Titanic or Schindler’s List. And even then. No one had very high expectations for Titanic. It was getting bad press about being way over budget and being a runaway production.
I went back and read through some old archives at Movie City News and I found that David Poland wasn’t even talking about Titanic as an Oscar movie heading into the season. It opened first and then became an Oscar movie.
So the lesson here is that you have to have the goods. If you don’t have the goods you can maybe get a lot of nominations, maybe a win here or there but Best Picture could elude you.
This year, the Oscar movies were being held from Toronto, for instance, where Slumdog got such a clear green light, in hopes of dampening the chatter around them. This worked in a way but didn’t work in another way; no matter what time a film like Frost/Nixon or Benjamin Button is released, word will have gotten out long before and thus expectations risen sky high.
It gets back to the idea of big studio versus independent. Slumdog is a true independent, picked up after it got the high acclaim.¬† The movies that have studios behind them make up the other four in the category so by sheer numbers, the studios are still winning the game.
And the Oscar predictors didn’t do half bad either, with Slumdog being the one major surprise; The Reader had always been on our radar but it looked, for a time, like it would get lost in the shuffle.
The Reader is really the year’s biggest surprise (by now, the Slumdog surprise has worn off). After there was a lot of bad press about the spat between Weinstein and Rudin over Sydney Pollack on his death bed, and Stephen Daldry protesting releasing it because it wasn’t ready, and the audience testing, and Kate Winslet torn between Weinstein’s movie and Rudin’s movie – that was a story worthy of a book. Or at the very least a long Vanity Fair article. It doesn’t look like, so far, anyone has picked it up but if you were writing a book about this year’s race, that would be the most interesting chapter, especially when you cap it off with the Academy allowing four producers to be acknowledged.
And so it is with this that 2008 comes to a close. It may not be over technically but it feels over. When Slumdog won the SAG it felt over to me. All that’s left is just how many Oscars will Slumdog win. Will it do what ROTK did and clean sweep this sucker? Or will another film squeak in in the 11th hour and steal screenplay? We’ll have to wait and see.
In the going through the motions category, we still have BAFTA, the Eddies and the WGA before the Oscar ceremony. At this point it doesn’t look likely that any film could derail the Slumdog train. But if I did it would be either The Reader or Button. Why not Milk or Frost/Nixon? I think the Academy remain largely homophobic. It makes me sad but it is, I think, a reality. It has nothing to do with the quality of the film. What hurt Milk the most was losing the SAG ensemble vote, which it should have won (and deserved to win, imo). It might not be homophobia at all; it might be just that everyone loves Slumdog more. Who can ever tell these things. And Frost/Nixon feels like Michael Clayton to me – a solid contender in its designated slot.
As Iggy Pop would say, “it’ll all be over soon!”