Tuesday, September 01, 2015

OVP: Picture (2008)

OVP: Best Picture (2013)

The Nominees Were...

Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall, and Cean Chaffin, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Brian Grazer, Ron Howard, and Eric Fellner, Frost/Nixon
Dan Jinks and Bruce Cohen, Milk
Anthony Minghella, Sydney Pollack, Donna Gigliotti, and Redmond Morris, The Reader
Christian Colson, Slumdog Millionaire

My Thoughts: I think at some point I'm just going to have to acknowledge that these write-ups are going to take a lot longer than I expected, as once again this write-up got spread over three months (at least it wasn't eight months like some other years we've gone through).  Either way, we'll be starting up 2014 either very late this week, or more than likely first thing next week so if you're an Oscar fanatic like yours truly you won't have to wait too long for your next OVP installment.  Until then, though, I feel like it's time for us to discuss these five films for the last time (if you're newer to the blog, click up-top for an explanation of the OVP and down-below for past Best Picture and 2008 contests).

Slumdog Millionaire is the film that has received the most ire of these five films throughout the write-ups, but it's worth noting that it was a unique sort of movie initially to receive all of these accolades.  Films from Bollywood have largely been forgotten in the world of the Oscars, and it's worth noting that Bollywood productions continue to do pretty decent-sized business in the US, even though the exact markets where they are playing is always a bit of a mystery (every year they release the Top 10 foreign-language films in the United States and 2-3 Bollywood productions I have never heard of in my life somehow end up in the list).  So it is cool that a film with people of color at the center managed to make it to the Best Picture field, though I would have preferred greatly if the film had been, you know, any good.  Between the stale performances by Dev Patel and Freida Pinto, the predictable plot, and the annoyingly cutesy way they mirrored the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire gimmick with the flashbacks, the film is really poor, one that wouldn't have been able to make it in a stronger year for the Best Picture field.

Because even if The Dark Knight and WALL-E had made it (one of those rare years where you could argue the blockbusters would have genuinely improved the quality of the field), this wasn't a particularly strong lineup.  Perhaps the only good thing that came from the weakness of the field was that Milk managed to score a nomination when it might have normally just been relegated to Best Actor.  Gus van Sant's movie is so bold and fresh.  It's one of those rare biopics that genuinely feels alive and like it's playing with the form.  Perhaps because we get to see Harvey Milk as a man, someone tempted by lust and power, even as he is a decent human being, the film feels like it will actually age well.  I loved the way that the film also, despite Harvey's name in the title, found a way to be about some of the side characters and show a little bit about the insularity of the gay world of the 1970's (where your family was essentially this series of men that you spent your life with since your blood family had abandoned you).  The film unfolds in a way that makes you genuinely get to the end of the picture wishing that Milk's assassination, which you know is coming, wouldn't be, and when you get so engrossed that you start to resist your own knowledge of what is coming next, that's a sign of a movie doing its job right.

Sadly this isn't the case with Froxt/Nixon, the other historical biopic that managed to make it to the Best Picture race.  At the time I loathed this film, but generally even the most hated of films tend to cool a bit as you get further away from them.  As I've mentioned a couple of times, the interviews themselves are quite well-done; Sheen and Langella are both good actors and have had such practice in these roles from their tours in the West End and on Broadway, and the way that Howard frames these scenes they feel both cinematic but have the theatricality that translates easily from the boards.  Still, though, the rest of the film is boring-Sam Rockwell and Oliver Platt are kind of a snooze, and Kevin Bacon too extreme by half.  The entire film you're just hoping that we'll return to the interviews, and that's not really what you should be hoping for in a movie.  You want the audience to be savoring every moment if you're going to be calling yourself a Best Picture.

This is also the case with The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, the nominations leader who got to that point by checking off pretty much every tech box the Academy had (seriously-how many films get nominated for every visual tech category?!?), though I haven't been superbly kind to it (it's nabbed a pair of OVP awards thus far).  The film's problem isn't just that it's too long and that it's too surface-level, it's also that the film doesn't respond well to long and surface-level.  Based on a short story, the most compelling thing about the movie is the way that time sort of drips away, but that doesn't happen at the rate it should and we're frequently on diversions like war that just don't get into the hearty meat of the film.  There's things to admire here (the Visual Effects, while a little sloppy in hindsight, are still pretty cool, and Cate Blanchett's late scenes in the films are quite marvelous), but I couldn't help but think that the film itself was a bit tame and disappointing considering the caliber of those involved.

I still maintain, years later, that The Reader wasn't the film that deserved all of the hate from the Dark Knight crowd who hated on the Academy for picking a film that was admittedly right in their wheelhouse (a romance set during the Holocaust-that's pretty Oscarbait).  Still, I loved the movie.  I liked the weird briefness of the affair, and I thought that Winslet, Fiennes, Kross, and Olin were all marvelously cast.  The film gets so much mileage from showing the limited nature of Hanna.  She's a character that hasn't experienced much of the world, and of course never will, but lives through books in a way that many introverts find solace.  It's a little glib in some cases (we don't always get into the morality of Hanna herself, though the law students get very expositional in this regard in the film's weakest scenes), but the love story is fascinating and Winslet/Fiennes sell tortured affair better than pretty much anyone in film today not named Kristin Scott Thomas.  All-in-all, it's a film that I still count amongst my favorites of that year even if I'm in the minority.

Other Precursor Contenders: The Globes went for nearly a carbon copy of the Best Picture lineup for their Drama category, with only Revolutionary Road making it in with Milk on the outskirts (Slumdog won).  The Best Comedy race was therefore a bevy of new names, including Burn After Reading, Happy-Go-Lucky, In Bruges, Mamma Mia!, and the victorious Vicky Cristina Barcelona.  The PGA Awards were similarly close to the Oscars, though in this case it was The Reader that was sacrificed and The Dark Knight put in its place (Slumdog took the top spot).  Finally at the BAFTA they strangely went for a carbon copy of both the nominees and the winner at the Oscars, despite Milk in particular seeming like a pretty American tale for them (they usually resist wholly American films).  The sixth place probably was The Dark Knight, though I'll entertain postulates of Changeling or Revolutionary Road in the comments section if you're so inclined to make them.
Films I Would Have Nominated: Definitely WALL-E, a film that has grown on me furiously through the years and is easily my favorite in hindsight amongst the rather limited batch of nominations.  I would also surely nominate the funniest film of 2008, In Bruges, one of those great flicks that will hopefully live on in 2 AM showings on a low-ranking HBO channel or on Netflix recommendation lists. Finally, I would indeed have nominated The Dark Knight.  I don't think it's the egregious snub that others did at the time (WALL-E was the best movie of the bunch), but I do think it deserved to be nominated for Best Picture, particularly when in comparison to a relatively slight film like Frost/Nixon.
Oscar’s Choice: Oscar continued on his merry way with Slumdog Millionaire, trumping Benjamin Button and The Reader.
My Choice: Definitely Milk followed quickly by The Reader.  None of the other films come close, but I would probably follow it with Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, and Slumdog.

And there we have it folks-2008 is officially over with!  We'll roll over to 2014 next week, but in the meantime get your last thoughts on Milk, The Reader, Slumdog Millionaire, Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, and most importantly all of those films you thought they should have been competing against out in the comments!  What was your favorite film of 2008?

Past Best Picture Contests: 2009201020112012, 2013

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