Narrowing it down

Posted by · 9:59 am · November 22nd, 2008

Over at Awards Daily, Sasha Stone has taken it upon herself to whittle down the Best Picture race to a brisk 11-title list, and it makes for sobering reading:

“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
“The Dark Knight”
“Gran Torino”
“Rachel Getting Married”
“The Reader”
“Revolutionary Road”
“Slumdog Millionaire”
“The Wrestler”

I can’t be the only person looking down that list and gloomily wondering, “Is that it?” (I suppose some might argue for “Australia” still, but even the positive early reviews don’t give me a great feeling.) Sadly, not only is Stone probably right, but she’s still being relatively generous — I would strike “Rachel Getting Married” off the list without too much hesitation. Meanwhile, the level of hype centering on Clint Eastwood’s Best Actor campaign for “Gran Torino” has me wondering whether those who have seen it don’t deem it Best Picture material. (I remain among those unpersuaded by the film’s trailer.)

It seems to me that “Doubt”‘s chances of a Best Picture nomination depend entirely on how much award steam it gathers in the acting races, while “The Reader” remains a puzzle to me — it has the right credentials, the trailer looks solid, but why don’t I sense more excitement around it? Harvey Weinstein is still struggling to regain his golden touch at the Oscars, and it remains to be seen whether that early bout of bad press over the film’s release-date kerfuffle will linger.

I’m glad to see “The Wrestler” in the list, and I remain hopeful that the critics’ awards might lend it some momentum beyond a dead-cert nod for Mickey Rourke, but the film is a tough sell (Jeff Wells is already wondering whether older voters might find aspects of the film offputting) and the Academy doesn’t feel obliged to nominate an intimate character-oriented indie every year.

Pretty much everything on the list has pros and cons — only “Slumdog” at this point feels to me like it can’t miss, yet curiously, it also feels like it can’t win either. I’ll say the same for “Benjamin Button” if/when it gets a pass from the critics at large — minus the “can’t win” bit, of course.

It’s a shaky list — to me, at least — and I’d love something to come in out of left field and dent it, but it’s difficult to see that happening. I had hopes for “Happy-Go-Lucky” earlier, but the momentum just isn’t there, except for Sally Hawkins’ critically-lauded performance. In fact, I was hoping earlier this year that anything international might come in and upset the apple-cart in the top category, taking advantage of the widespread perception that this is a less-than-stellar year for US cinema. Only “Slumdog Millionaire,” however, sort of fits that bill, and nothing else is forthcoming.

“Slumdog,” together with “The Dark Knight,” is also the only alternative to the stately, tasteful adult-skewing dramas hogging the buzz. (Isn’t it interesting that there has been so little emphasis so far on the fantasy components of “Benjamin Button?”) Overall, I can’t escape the feeling that after an eccentric couple of years for the Academy, which saw them reach outside their comfort zone to honour several playfully abrasive works, it’s back to business as usual.

Roll on 2009, I say.

→ 14 Comments Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Filed in: Daily

14 responses so far

  • 1 11-22-2008 at 10:34 am

    michael mckay said...

    Predictions for final five:

    The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
    Revolutionary Road
    Slumdog Millionaire

    Not sure on the last film…in my mind it’s between Gran Torino, Frost/Nixon, and The Dark Knight. Right now…I’m actually leaning toward The Dark Knight.

  • 2 11-22-2008 at 10:36 am

    sean said...

    I’m not convinced about Gran Torino either. I watched the trailer and it looks a little trite. Eastwood’s performance seems kind of silly too like he’s playing “Grumpy Old Dirty Harry”. But who knows maybe in the context of the film, it’s genius. Still, there’s too many great movies coming out for it to even be a priority for me.

  • 3 11-22-2008 at 11:27 am

    Joel said...

    The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
    The Dark Knight
    Revolutionary Road
    The Wrestler

  • 4 11-22-2008 at 12:20 pm

    Andrew L. said...

    The three locks seem to be Benjamin Button, Milk, and Revolutionary Road.

    And I guess Dark Knight can/will (?) slip in after all. It’s not a bad film, but it’s hardly worth creaming your pants over; I still feel the film could have used more editting. Other than Ledger and Eckhart (an opportunity squandered, imo), I actually preferred Iron Man as a whole. Though neither film exactly screams Best Picture material.

    As for the the fifth, it’s between Slumdog and Doubt. It’ll be a welcomed miracle if The Wrestler gets pushed into Best Picture category; just from viewing the trailer, I seem to care more about and feel more dramatic grit from The Wrestler than Doubt.

  • 5 11-22-2008 at 2:28 pm

    Zan said...

    Sorry if I missed the boat on it, but is Che pushed to 2009? There is literally no buzz, and I haven’t even seen a trailer or poster for it.

  • 6 11-22-2008 at 2:31 pm

    Zan said...

    Oh, and what Andrew said about The Wrestler is right on. I hope it doesn’t end up as this year’s Gone Baby Gone or Assassination of Jesse James because that would be quite an oversight. And by ending up like those, I mean it only making out with 1 or 2 nominations.

  • 7 11-22-2008 at 2:41 pm

    Scott Ward said...

    Zan, I’m pretty sure Che has been released, because I’ve read several reviews.

    Plus, Peter Travers had a ***1/2 star review of the film in the last Rolling Stone issue, and I can never recall them publishing a very early review.

    But I’m with you. Kind of disappointed that this didn’t turn out to be something big.

  • 8 11-22-2008 at 3:12 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Zan & Scott: As far as I know, “Che” is getting a limited Oscar-qualifying run in December, with a wider release (as two films) in January.

    It’s a moot point, though — “Che” isn’t getting anywhere near the Oscars, believe me. A nod for Del Toro’s superb performance is the only remote possibility, but I don’t see it happening.

  • 9 11-22-2008 at 3:30 pm

    Roger said...

    No Defiance then…?

  • 10 11-22-2008 at 3:54 pm

    Diego said...


    But my predictions are:

    Benjamin button
    Slumdog millionaire
    Revolutionary Road/The reader/TDK

  • 11 11-22-2008 at 4:09 pm

    aaron said...

    Saw the wrestler. Really, really good.

  • 12 11-22-2008 at 8:00 pm

    leocdc said...

    and Wall-E!!!???

    For me the greatest movie of 2008 so far.
    I love so much that movie, and I think that deserves all the praise that received and also deserve a nomination for Best Picture considering the movies that are being released this year (not a strong selection i’d say xD)
    bye greetings from Chile
    I love this site

  • 13 11-22-2008 at 11:30 pm

    Scott Ward said...

    Thanks for clearing that up Guy.

  • 14 11-25-2008 at 11:10 pm

    Zach Baum said...

    What About the Visitor?