It’s no secret that Danny Boyle’s “Slumdog Millionaire” is shaping up to be one of the indie darlings of 2008. The film was the uncontested hit of the Telluride festival, bowing to sensational reviews, of which Todd McCarthy’s (key phrases: “a blast;” “fantastic energy;” “a vital piece of work”) represents the consensus.
Almost immediately, Oscar buzz began building around the film, with pundits suggesting that the film’s combination of gritty sociological themes and ultimately uplifting narrative would prove irresistible to voters seeking to annoint this year’s ‘little film that could.’ (Glib comparisons have been made to “Juno,” based on, well, nothing really — except it’s a small film that audiences like.)
Now, the latest to board the “Slumdog” train in Toronto are Tom O’Neil and Jeffrey Wells. In this video from Gold Derby, O’Neil says the film has the “passionate rooting factor” that a film needs to get those first-place votes on the nomination ballot. In closing, O’Neil and Wells agree that the film is “without question” one of 2008’s five Best Picture nominees. Article continues after the cut:
This is all very well, but I must say I remain a bit guarded. Of course, I haven’t had the advantage of seeing the film yet, but I have some caveats with their theories — not least that declaring any film a certain nominee in early September is, frankly, asking for it.
If indeed the film is as good as the buzz suggests, I like the idea of it being a Best Picture contender — it sounds decidedly fresh and eccentric and global, all adjectives the Academy could use more of in their repertoire. And I’m totally on board with the idea of some recognition for Danny Boyle — a filmmaker who is consistently intriguing, even when he wildly misses the mark.
But I’m not entirely sold. For all the hype, it’s a largely downbeat, partly Hindi-language picture with no big names attached, about a social and geographical world that couldn’t be more alien to most Academy members. They may have got cooler in recent years, but are they ready to take that leap?
Wells admits in the video that the first two-thirds of the film are “a slog” that is difficult to watch — but that the payoff is magical. Fair enough, but we know many voters don’t exactly have the greatest attention spans. How many of them will eject the DVD before said payoff?
O’Neil doesn’t believe “Slumdog”‘s foreign status is an obstacle to its chances, citing such recent foreign-language (or partially so) nominees as “Il Postino,” “Life Is Beautiful,” “Babel” and “Letters from Iwo Jima” as evidence. True, but all those films had significant names — or Harvey Weinstein — attached. (Danny Boyle is no slouch, but he ain’t Clint Eastwood either.)
In its favour, however, “Slumdog” will have pretty much the undivided attention of Fox Searchlight, an outfit that has worked wonders in awards season lately with such crowdpleasers as “Juno” and “Little MIss Sunshine.” (Though they did drop the ball in handling the similarly foreign and quirky “Once,” which deserved recognition for more than its original song.)
If it sounds like I’m dismissing “Slumdog”‘s chances, I’m not. (Hell, I haven’t seen it.) I just wonder if people aren’t jumping the gun a bit here. What I keep going back to is last year’s “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” — another challenging, inspiring foreign picture with significant critical and audience support, and hefty studio backing.
From the get-go, I was convinced “Diving Bell” was a Best Picture nominee — one that could garner enough first-place votes to make the cut — until nomination morning, when it was narrowly squeezed out by five titles that had in their favour either more name recognition or more mainstream appeal.
“Slumdog Millionaire” could be this year’s underdog. But so could a number of other films. That’s assuming there will even be room for an underdog amid the glossier studio product yet to open. From where I stand, until we’ve seen more of the latter, declaring anything a certain nominee is somewhat premature.