‘Button’ on the rocks?

Posted by · 11:04 pm · December 23rd, 2008

Brad Pitt in The Curious Case of Benjamin ButtonSasha Stone over at Awards Daily points us to Roger Ebert’s two-and-a-half star review of “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” and I have to say, it’s a pretty rough assessment.  Scattering his piece with notions like “[t]he movie’s premise devalues any relationship” and “[g]iven the resources and talent here, quite a movie might have resulted,” Ebert finally closes with this swipe at the film:

According to the oddsmakers at MovieCityNews, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” is third among the top five favorites for best picture. It may very well win. It expends Oscar-worthy talents on an off-putting gimmick. I can’t imagine many people wanting to see the movie twice. There was another film this year that isn’t in the “top five,” or listed among the front-runners at all, and it’s a profound consideration of the process of living and aging. That’s Charlie Kaufman’s “Synecdoche, New York.” It will be viewed and valued decades from now. You mark my words.

I can’t help but consider the fact that Ebert’s tastes are typically comparable to the Academy’s.  Might this reaction and some of those “it lacks a soul” quips begin to eat away at the armor?  Or can it sustain with voters siding with, say, James Rocchi’s opinion that the film “isn’t about a man who lives backwards or a woman who lives forwards … Get past the plot, the pitch, and the technique, and you can see it as a reminder that all we can do is live now.”

Personally, I have a lot of respect for the film and certainly the effort.  After a couple of viewings, I saw it as one of the year’s best.  But I completely understand the arm’s-length feeling some viewers are taking away from it and, again, can’t help but wonder what, if anything, that might ultimately mean for Oscar.

It’s an intriguing question popping up this season.

→ 24 Comments Tags: , | Filed in: Daily

24 responses so far

  • 1 12-23-2008 at 11:11 pm

    JAB said...

    honestly, seeing this movie is what i’m looking forward to most about christmas.

  • 2 12-23-2008 at 11:37 pm

    Ryan Adams said...

    “I can’t help but consider the fact that Ebert is prototypcial [sic] when it comes to Academy tastes. ”

    That’s a pretty little sentence, Kris, but I have no idea what it means. Unless you’re saying Ebert is a prototype of AMPAS tastes to remind us that he’s been around since before the Oscars existed.

    But I’ll translate into English and assume you mean something like he’s the “quintessential” or “consummate” or “exemplary” Oscar expert.

    To which I’d respond: Wrong. Why does everybody think Ebert is the Moses of Oscar? Just because he got the fluke Crash right?

    He also said Babel would win Best Picture — though he conceded the outside chance that Little Miss Sunshine would win instead. Last year he said Juno would win.

    I don’t think there’s anything cornball enough for Ebert to love this year, and it’s got him all disoriented.

    Maybe you mean to say “Ebert is pontifical when it comes to Academy tastes.”

    I’ll buy that.

  • 3 12-23-2008 at 11:42 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Yeah, that’s what I meant, Ryan. Sorry, was it confusing?

    I don’t think he’s the Moses of Oscar, I just think his tastes line up, more often than not, with Academy members. That’s all. And I don’t think that’s so far out of bounds.

    (Thanks for drawing my attention to a typo, though.)

  • 4 12-23-2008 at 11:47 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Screw it, poor word choice. I’ve clarified.

  • 5 12-23-2008 at 11:50 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Also, you’re bringing up his predictions and I’m not talking about that, I’m talking about his taste being somewhat in line with the Academy’s, nothing about his skill as an Oscar “expert.”

  • 6 12-24-2008 at 12:01 am

    Ryan Adams said...

    “Sorry, was it confusing?”

    Nope, it wasn’t confusing at all. I knew exactly what you meant, Kris. I’ve just taken a beating at AD, so I thought I come around here to stir up trouble too ;-)

    We agree about Ebert and we agree about Benjamin Button. Wrong of me to go all semantical on your ass. You’re a gentleman for not taking the bait.

  • 7 12-24-2008 at 12:36 am

    Hans said...

    Hmm, I’ve begun to question Ebert’s relevance lately. He gave high marks to “The Happening” and put out a Top 20 that was devoid of inspiration or chance-taking.

    Still, though, I think Button’ll be fine, and it might just benefit from the fact that by now, I think, most academy voters have made up their minds.

    (Have they?)

  • 8 12-24-2008 at 1:57 am

    Jonathan Spuij said...

    Well this sure makes it a little less obvious it’ll get a BP nod. It will get all the tech nods but might flanter in the main categories. And yes I am really looking forward to this as well.

    And shit, somebody just lit some fireworks meters from my window. Scared me to death.

  • 9 12-24-2008 at 6:44 am

    Ben M. said...

    If it was just Ebert it wouldn’t mean me much, but it seems quite a few people are having this cold reaction to the film.

    I still think it will grab a BP nod and probably win lot of techs (though the door is now open for a snub particularly if the $150 million + film stumbles at the box office) but right now it is hard to see this film winning picture or director over Slumdog.

  • 10 12-24-2008 at 7:03 am

    BurmaShave said...

    Regardless of BUTTON’s eventual quality (I’m probably seeing it over the weekend), SYNECDOCHE is a masturbatory and absolutely wretched film.

  • 11 12-24-2008 at 7:52 am

    Kokushi said...

    Ebert is a very good critic but when he gave The Usual Suspects a 1.5/4 and Reservoir Dogs 2.5/4 but to facking Hancock and The Mummy 3 3/4 stars i beging not to care much whe he said, i still read his reviews but wtf with these ratings.

  • 12 12-24-2008 at 8:16 am

    daveylow said...

    I may be wrong but I think the main thing Benjamin Button has going against it is that it is 2 hours and 45 minutes long. Unless it’s dazzling for all that length, audiences may not warm to the film. I think for the first few weekends it will attract attention because of Brad, but I wonder after that.

  • 13 12-24-2008 at 8:29 am

    McAllister said...

    Ebert used to be my favorite (and one of the only critics whose opinions I read every time)… but he seems to have become a bit assinine in the past year or two.

  • 14 12-24-2008 at 8:35 am

    Zan said...

    Poor guy. Slowly slipping into senility, especially after calling “Rendition” last year’s best film. Don’t forget his raving review of “Lakeview Terrace.”

  • 15 12-24-2008 at 8:50 am

    Joel said...

    Zan: “Juno” was his best of last year. He thought “Rendition” was excellent, but it didn’t make his list. And he was spot on with “Lakeview Terrace,” by the way

    And I don’t think “Benjamin Button”‘s chances are hurt. Too many good reviews for that.

  • 16 12-24-2008 at 10:51 am

    nick said...

    Rendition is extremely underrated. It wasn’t the best film of last year but it’s a helluva lot better than most critics made it out to be.

  • 17 12-24-2008 at 11:26 am

    Xavi Rodriguez said...

    Well, kris is like Variety iffy case about Meryl Streep and right now, she and Anne Hathaway are lock for Oscar Winning, after Revolutionary Road snub (I believe that Winslet only win in supporting or nothing) and strange race for Happy-Go-Lucky.

    Roger Ebert is a good film critic but he hasn’t the last word. After all, Chocolat, Babel, Crash and A Beautiful Mind did it with less that 75% in RT and the last two actually won.

  • 18 12-24-2008 at 11:40 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Very true, Xavi. I’m certainly not saying it’s impossible.

  • 19 12-24-2008 at 2:24 pm

    Aaron said...

    Roger Ebert’s movie tastes often do not correlate with the Academy. Take the 2000 Oscar best picture lineups…He gave both Erin Brockovich and Gladiator (the winner) 2 star reviews. Chocolat got a mere 3…I love Roger Ebert, but last year when he put Juno at the top of his list, I simply cringed. WTF was up with that?!?!?

    and plus a 2 1/2 star review is not abysmal, necessary. I still hope to God Benjamin Button receives a best picture nominee. And I think it will. Please don’t have both Doubt and Frost/Nixon. I might throw up.

  • 20 12-24-2008 at 2:29 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    I’m not arguing it’s chances of getting a nod. I think it’s pretty secure for that. I’m talking about winning the award, and with reviews like this (which aren’t really few and far between), that could be a tough climb. Especially with a universally accepted film like “Slumdog Millionaire” in the mix.

  • 21 12-24-2008 at 8:51 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Ken Turan has panned the film outright:



    The odd thing is, when I first saw the film last month, I felt like I would be in a minority on the “it’s strangely cold” thing…I was certainly the only guy out there on the record with it. But it seems like it’s becoming a majority assessment.

    Personally, I think a lot of these critics were too quick to publish a reaction after one viewing. It takes some time for this film to settle in. A second look goes a long way toward packing the emotional punch. But it’s rare for the critical fraternity to take that kind of time, and certainly, you won’t catch too many Academy members giving a film a second look.

  • 22 12-25-2008 at 12:11 pm

    Chad said...

    holy moly. just got back from this movie and it is an epic fail. roughly five minutes in 160 were spent on the complexities presented by someone aging backwards. the rest was just recycled bullshit from Forrest Gump. “you never know what’s coming for you”. cool. thanks eric roth.

  • 23 12-26-2008 at 8:25 am

    jp said...

    sorry to be this way but I just saw the film and thought it was amazing. i found it to be a breathtaking experience with rich performances all around and stunningly beautiful photography.
    i would rank it with synecdoche and rachel getting married as one of the best films of the year and i hope it is able to beat out slumdog for best picture (a film I enjoyed immensely but am finding to be more overrated by the day)

  • 24 12-26-2008 at 2:28 pm

    Victor said...

    I thought “Benjamin Button” was an epically grandiose, affecting film. I know others have deemed it “cold,” but I didn’t get that feeling at all. It’s otherworldly in a magical realist sense of the word for sure, but the emotions and characters feel genuine despite the idiosyncrasies and embellishments of the semi-fantastical world.

    I think I may like it more than “Slumdog” and definitely more than “Milk.”

    I don’t get the backlash against the film. A.O. Scott’s rave review captures it quite well.