Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Trendy Oscar time

I love The Oscars. The glamor and the dresses and the predictions and the parties and the way this town turns upside down for the night - all that interests me. But it seems like the longer I live here, the more aware I get of how much the movies don't really matter on Oscar night. I know I'm like the umpteen thousandth person to realize this, but, you know, still.

Lacy Eye Theater said the other day that Slumdog is the new Crash, and I think I know what he means. I thought Slumdog was fantastic, just like everybody else, but it certainly does seem to be the critical darling right now. Last night on The Daily Show lead actor Dev Patel was on, which wouldn't be weird except, when was the last time John Stewart interviewed an actor who wasn't already his best friend? In the same episode, Stewart implied that Benjamin Button isn't a very good film.

Which brings me to my point. It seems like right now Benjamin Button is the kid who can't get no love while Slumdog is the adopted child who can do no wrong. I liked, nay LOVED, both films, but I don't get this disparity.

I know there are some who genuinely disliked Benjamin Button, although a lot of them have reasons that baffle me. "It has no conflict," "It has no theme," "They didn't make use of the premise," "What's the big deal? He ages backwards, so what? I did that yesterday." "It's Forest Gump revisited."

The Forest Gump thing - okay, I get that. I liked Forest Gump too, but I guess to some there's only room for one grown up fairy tale in this town.

But the rest of the criticism I don't really get. There's tons of conflict all based around a solid central theme. If you just don't like it, okay. But I think a lot of people are claiming not to like it because not liking Benjamin Button is the new thing. It's the most Hollywood of the Oscar nominated films with the most effects and the big hot star and the high concept and probably the most steadycam shots and perfect color correction. Therefore, it must be a terrible film.

Meanwhile, look at Slumdog! It's about foreign people and has a lot of hand cam shots and nobody heard of it before therefore it is the best movie ever.

And Milk is about the gays, so you can't really hate on that one even though it has a big star and a Hollywood budget. And The Reader - has anyone actually seen The Reader? And Frost/Nixon, well we've kind of run out of jokes about Nixon and there's nothing in the trailer but two guys talking to each other so there's not much there to make fun of.

I just wonder sometimes how many members of the Academy actually watch each film before voting, and how many just look at what their buddies are voting for and go along with the crowd.


  1. Yeah, I really didn't like Slumdog. Buttons was not a perfect film, but it was still pretty damn brilliant.

    Slumdog is this years indie film that could. Like Crash, or Little Miss Sunshine. It makes all the rich bastards feel good about themselves that they actually saw an indie film.

    The Wrestler was the best movie of the year though. Still can't believe it was almost entirely ignored.

  2. I know, I don't understand the Benjamin Button backlash. Me thinketh they doth protest too much-- maybe it's because BRAD PITT is the leading actor in the movie and people always love to bash him because of the stupid love triangle gossip bullshit.

    Slumdog does have a lot of love, but it got a lot of haters, too. I hope MILK wins an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay-- it deserves to win.

    I'm also looking forward to the Oscars!

  3. Reasons I hated Benjamin Button:

    1. The original short story is funny and clever, and the movie is nothing like the short story. (The short story was also logically coherent - the main character didn't start out as a baby and then end up as a baby again.)

    2. Brad Pitt is not a good actor. Brad Pitt has been a handsome, charismatic, bad actor since long before he ever met Jennifer Aniston.

    3. Thematically, it was overwrought, clumsy and heavy handed. Yes, time passes. When time passes, things change and normal people get older. I get it. I don't need another image of a clock to beat it into my head.

    4. It is too long and has no overarching structural integrity. It is basically a series of vignettes, which is fine, but any of them could have been cut for time with no loss to the film as a whole.

  4. Anonymous12:59 PM

    Actually, I thought and think Slumdog is an average film at best. Dev Patel is the story of that film. His performance makes the movie, were it not for him the story falls flat.

    Personally, I thought The Visitor and Frozen River were better films. And in the case of The Visitor it at least didn't have that cliche Hollywood ending, instead it stayed true to what realism is all about.

    And I can't support MILK because it was filmed during the writer's strike and the writer continued to work on despite the work stoppage. I find, as a writer, that appalling, thus my non-support.

  5. Oh, Caitlin. So misguided. What were your favorite movies of 2008? I'm not talking about the pretentious list you keep in your back pocket just in case. The five films you enjoyed most last year.


  6. Brangalina backlash?


  7. Hmm, off the top of my head, in no particular order, I think my favorite movies of 2008 were Milk, Pineapple Express, Wall-E, Vicki Cristina Barcelona, and Forgetting Sarah Marshall. That's if we're talking about films that I enjoyed the most, not the films that I thought were objectively the best.

    I have no problem understanding why some people liked Benjamin Button, but I didn't. I was bored and annoyed throughout the entire movie. I'm curious, Matt, why do you find my personal response so misguided?

  8. I'm pretty sure the short story BENJAMIN BUTTON is based on opens with the character born as a full-grown adult, so I'm not sure where 'logically coherent' comes into play there.

    If I was making a list of the best of 2008 the top 4 would be LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, IN BRUGES, BURN AFTER READING and VICKY CHRISTINA BARCELONA. After that they kind of blend together. Maybe MILK, maybe THE WRSTLER, hell, maybe even THE BANK JOB. THE READER was actually better than I expected and I would easily recommend it...but I wouldn't have nominated it for Best Picture. I liked BENJAMIN BUTTON but didn't love it, which was pretty much my response to SLUMDOG. Maybe this is just one of those years where the Oscars just don't get me very excited. But I hope Mickey Rourke wins.

  9. Caitlin,

    I don't know. I was feeling asshole-ish this morning. It happens.

    Forgetting Sarah Marshall was underrated.

    I don't think Buttons is the masterpiece I was hoping for. I'm a huge Fincher fan, and it's only his fifth best film in my opinion. But I think it was one of the most ambitious movies of 2008 and for the most part it succeeded with me.

    He swung for the fences and got a triple. Most filmmakers these days bunt or work the count for a walk. Pussies.

  10. Anonymous2:37 PM

    I saw Slumdog at a film festival in a packed theater with Danny Boyle in attendance, speaking before and after the movie, and I left feeling like I was the only person in the entire theater who didn't think it was the greatest movie ever made. The "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" frame really just made the whole thing repetitive and a little bit silly. I might have liked it better as a mini-series.

    I loved Benjamin Button. Though it was long, slow, methodical, and thematically heavy-handed, I completely disagree with you, Caitlin, on your first two points. The original short story was funny and clever, maybe, but it's completely irrelevant to a 21st century audience. The circular nature of life was an intentional addition to the movie (your life starts and ends as an invalid), hence the use of the clock. The story's anecdotes were all completely obvious. It was written as a throw-away idea and was not considered with anywhere near the same attention to detail.

    And I've always thought Brad Pitt was an underrated actor, and I thought he was fabulous in this movie.

  11. Matt -- Check out BEYOND THE MAT.

    I'm curious if your opinion of THE WRESTLER changes after seeing that.

    Don't get me wrong, I liked The Wrestler a lot. But there was this nagging voice in my head that kept reminding me I'd seen this movie before. And it wasn't a fake documentary. It was a real one.

  12. James

    I've always wanted to see Beyond The Mat. I'll do that. I don't think it'll change my opinion but you never know. I already don't think The Wrestler was a perfect movie. I had issues mainly with the daughter story line.


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