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Friday, February 20, 2009

Oscar Series: Best Picture

Best Motion Picture of the Year
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Paramount and Warner Bros.), A Kennedy/Marshall Production, Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall and Ceán Chaffin, Producers

Frost/Nixon (Universal), A Universal Pictures, Imagine Entertainment and Working Title Production, Brian Grazer, Ron Howard and Eric Fellner, Producers

Milk (Focus Features), A Groundswell and Jinks/Cohen Company Production, Dan Jinks and Bruce Cohen, Producers

The Reader (The Weinstein Company), A Mirage Enterprises and Neunte Babelsberg Film GmbH Production, Anthony Minghella, Sydney Pollack, Donna Gigliotti and Redmond Morris, Producers

Slumdog Millionaire (Fox Searchlight), A Celador Films Production, Christian Colson, Producer

Here were are at the end of the 2nd annual Oscar Series. We look at Best Picture. This category is always a touchy subject. Some films make it people don't think deserve to be there. Others don't make it, but probably should have been nominated. It's the ultimate lose/lose situation. Then, what makes matters worse is when the Academy gives this award to an undeserving. 80 films have been given the honor. Some definitely worthy. Others definitely not. After Sunday, there will be 81 films in the elite club. Millions of people will forever see that film's name on one of the giant pillars of the Kodak Theatre.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was the early frontrunner. Everyone expected it to dominate the Oscars. It did garner 13 nominations, but the film has suffered the same fate as last year's early frontrunner, Atonement. Really three of the last four early frontrunners simply failed to put take home the top prize. The Aviator fell to Million Dollar Baby. Brokeback fell to Crash. The Departed took the top prize in 2006, but it wasn't easy. Then, last year Atonement fell to No Country. It's basically becoming bad luck to be the early frontrunner.

Button still has a couple positive factors that could give it an upset. First, it did lead with 13 nominations. That's only one shy of the record (14 by All About Eve and Titanic). Second, I look at the producers, Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall (Cean Chaffin is other producer and first time nominee). Both are greatly admired in the film industry. This is Kennedy's sixth nomination and Marshall's fifth. Both are winless. Actually, Kennedy will become the biggest loser in this category if she goes down on Sunday. I seriously think people are overlooking their stature in the film industry. They've produced some important films through the years (E.T., Raiders of the Lost Ark, and The Color Purple). This film also has the backing of two major studios: Paramount and Warner Bros.

The Oscars are as much about good movies as they are about politics. I'm sure politics have been in play the last month. Will it pay off? I still think no. Button has still managed to lose to Slumdog in everything. It would be shocking and a true accomplishment if they can steal this award on Sunday. The Academy likes to do their own thing and Button is a type of film that has won in the past. I consider this film to have the best chance (along with Milk) for an upset.

Frost/Nixon is a solid film, but it really seems to lack any passionate support. That has been it's problem from the very beginning. People need to love your film in order to win Oscars. I feel like people really like this film. Nothing more and nothing less. It's not flashy, but yet it's effective. It's all about acting and simple direction. It is based on a true story about disgraced President Nixon, so that helps. The Academy tends to be older, so maybe it will hit home for some members who experienced Nixon's downfall first hand.

Like Button, this film still has managed to do little noise. It's lost everything to Slumdog. It does have Ron Howard (fourth nomination) and Brian Grazer (fourth nomination) as well s Eric Fellner (third nomination). It also is from Universal, yet this film has immensely struggled to gain any traction. If Frank Langella pulls a huge upset in Best Acting, then maybe it's possible Even then, I would say it probably has the worst odds to win.

Milk is possibly in the best position to pull off an upset. Though, the probability of that happening is probably 1%. This is Dan Jinks and Bruce Cohen's second nomination (won Best Picture in '99 for American Beauty). I really have a soft spot for Focus Features (Universal's independent branch) who put this film out. They have put out some great films this decade (Brokeback, Eternal Sunshine, The Pianist). Yet, they can not win a Best Picture if their life depended on it. A lot of people thought they dropped the ball with Brokeback with a poor campaign. I don't think that's the main reason Brokeback lost, but I think it attributed to it.

Then, there's Milk. Here's a film that actually people considered a frontrunner when it first came out and it fell out of their hands again. This is a solid biographical film anchored by a strong lead and supporting cast. While set in the 70s, it actually hits a lot of contemporary issues. This film should have won Best Picture in a weak year for films. I worry that if this film couldn't win the SAG in January, can it really win the Best Picture? Even Crash was able to beat Brokeback for SAG. Along with Button, I think Milk has a very small chance, but I wouldn't bet any large amount of money on it winning.

The Reader has been getting a lot of heat since it was nominated. Part of it is actually unfair since people assume it took the fifth spot in Best Picture (and Best Director) from The Dark Knight or even WALL-E. No one actually knows that for sure. There's a chance it could have topped the nominated ballot (unlikely, but possible) or finished higher than fifth. This is the fourth nomination for the late Anthony Minghella, seventh nom for the late Sydney Pollack, second nom for Donna Gigliotti, and first for Redmond Morris. It also has the strong backing of Harvey Weinstein.

A lot of people don't like this film. I don't think it's horrible and I actually intend to watch it again (probably after the Oscars). It seems like a film that improves with a second viewing. An upset here on Sunday would be one for the ages. It would be even a greater accomplishment for Harvey than when he won for Shakespeare over Private Ryan.

All hail Slumdog Millionaire, which has put together the most impressive awards run ever. It won the Globe, BAFTA, BFCA, DGA, PGA, SAG, and WGA to name a few. It racked up a good amount of critics awards. This film is a true phenomenon. Most people think this is a slam dunk. From this film's track record that would seem to the case. It very well could sweep the whole Oscars (9 for 10 due to being double nominee in Original Song).

I'm probably in more of the club that thinks an upset is a possibility. If there's one thing I learned from when Crash beat Brokeback it's that anything is possible. Or how can we all forget when Polanski beat Scorsese? Upsets happen at the Oscars even in big races. Slumdog winning everything was possibly the worst thing that could have happened to it. Academy voters may be getting sick of it and vote for another film to simply mix it up.

This film is enjoyable. A true feel good film, which is especially nice when the unemployment rates are high, the economy is horrible, and people are trying to get their lives back on track. What better way than to embrace a film about a kid in the slums, who wins a million dollars on a game show.

I worry that Slumdog does not fit the typical winner of this category. Will the Academy vote for a film that uses "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" as a plot device? It also lacks an acting nomination. It's set in a foreign country with a bunch of no name actors and many of the key artistic contributers are all first time nominees including producer Christian Colson. That stuff could hurt this film. Still, with all those factors against it, I just don't see it losing for the simple reason that this film has defied the odds. It feels like every early award show people gave legit reasons why it would lose and it won. It even won a SAG ensemble award over strong casts of Milk and Doubt. Unbelievable.

If Slumdog wins on Sunday the biggest question is how will this film be remembered? I'm going to hold off for getting into this until Monday, but it's something to think about during the Oscars. What will be this film's place among the 80 other Best Picture winners from the past? What will people think when they see that film on one of the large pillars at the Kodak? We may very well have to be ready to answer those questions on Sunday night after the final envelope is opened.

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