This year’s crop of academy award nominations for Best Picture is one of the poorest in a series of very lean years. Try to remember which films won best picture in the past five years. When I did this little exercise, I could not recall a single winner. I don’t think the Academy is at fault. The industry is obsessed with blockbusters and comic book mentality films. There isn’t much to work with. And although this is likely to elicit howls from younger generations brought up on a diet of sex, violence and video games, most of what makes it to the big screen these days is mindless pap. The fact that there is a nomination for best supporting actor in a comic book film says a great deal about the state of the American film industry, although there was clearly a huge dollop of sympathy in the nomination of Keith Ledger.
Of those films nominated this year, I have dismissed out of hand the two docudramas, Frost/Nixon and Milk although two of the best male performances clearly came from those two films. If I saw the real thing on Television why do I want to pay good money to see a revisionist version on Film? Milk at least provided material about Harvey Milk’s political career which was not widely known. The Curious Case of Benjamin Buttons is Forrest Gump without humor or Tom Hanks or a believable script. I admit to not yet having seen the Reader, which, of course, only opened in the local theater which wastes most of its 16 screens on comic book movies and shoot-em-ups and blow-em-ups and rarely screens anything worth seeing. That leaves Slumdog Millionaire which I saw last evening. This is kind of feel good, gangsta, diversity pitch in which boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy finds girl, boy loses girl and so on. It is when Harry Met Sally with all the aforementioned complications. It is a well crafted Saturday morning serial a la the Perils of Pauline. It is hardly worthy of Best Picture of the year and if it is, well then filmmaking is really in trouble. The final scene of Slumdog Millionaire with its Busby Berkeley, Bollywood dance routine is more than passing bizarre. This is not the final scene of Zatoici which ingratiates because it is clearly a tongue in cheek homage. This is a straight up bit of West Side Story tacked on to an already overburdened mélange of silliness. Oh well, I have yet to see The Reader, and I suspect that like on most Oscar evenings of late, I will curl up with a good book.
February 4, 2009