June 23, 2018
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‘Slumdog Millionaire’ stealing ‘Dark Knight’s’ deserved glory

By Christopher Smith

While stewing over the Academy Award nominations this past week, and apparently developing an ulcer in the process, some observations struck. Let’s discuss.

At some point in Hollywood, likely when most were resting comfortably while their Botox settled in, somebody erected a huge wind turbine in the hills, turned it on and placed it at the back of Danny Boyle’s “Slumdog Millionaire.”

As I write, that movie is being lofted along the winds from this award show to that award show, winning — always winning — as it hurtles toward the mother of all award shows, the Academy Awards, which air Feb. 22 on ABC.

Would somebody please unplug that turbine? Would they shut it down, stop the momentum and let “Slumdog” slump? The trouble isn’t that it’s a bad movie — it’s actually a very good movie. It’s just that it isn’t the year’s best movie. Not even close. Sure, that’s subjective thinking, but this is, after all, a column. And here’s the thing: When momentum such as this builds, there’s often no stopping it. Unless there’s a major upset, “Slumdog Millionaire” is going to win best bicture, which is a shame.

Here’s another one for the tsk-tsk pile. By far, “The Dark Knight” was one of last year’s best films and yet, it wasn’t nominated for best picture, likely because it’s an action film and thus not considered worthy of serious critical acclaim. That’s too bad, because when you’re dealing with a movie as outstanding as “The Dark Knight,” you realize that the Academy has overlooked a genre masterpiece, not to mention the man who directed it, Christopher Nolan.

With the exception of “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” no other movie nominated this year for best picture — “Slumdog Millionaire,” “Frost-Nixon,” “The Reader,” “Milk” — brings together all of the complicated elements that, when done seamlessly, work to create that absolute illusion for which movies are designed.

“The Dark Knight” did. Judging by the seven technical nominations it received, such as best film editing, best cinematography and best art direction — one certainly might assume it’s deserving of a best picture nod.

But no. In spite of Heath Ledger’s nomination for best supporting actor, which he will win, all of these accolades nevertheless amounted to zip when it came to being nominated for the biggest prizes, best picture and best director. While some might believe that earning half a billion dollars domestically is honor enough for any movie, the Academy Awards presumably are about the best of the best, period. So, it seems odd that “The Dark Knight” was shut out of the best picture and best director races, but then so was “Revolutionary Road,” and don’t even get me started on that.

Okay, get me started and let’s talk about a curiosity that movie poses. The five women nominated for best actress are Anne Hathaway for “Rachel Getting Married,” Angelina Jolie for “Changeling,” Melissa Leo for “Frozen River,” Meryl Streep for “Doubt” and Kate Winslet for “The Reader.” You read that last one correctly, and it is hoped it stopped you cold.

While Winslet is very good in “The Reader,” her part in that movie is nothing more than a supporting role. It’s not her movie. So, knowing that, why wasn’t she nominated for her superior performance in “Revolutionary Road,” another movie oddly snubbed by the Academy? That would have been the correct fit for the best actress category, and I believe her outstanding performance in the film would have strengthened her chances of winning against Hathaway and Streep, who are busy building the kind of momentum that counts. That said, having two strong performances in one year from Winslet, who the Academy really wants to honor, won’t hurt her one bit.

More snubs? We’ve got your snubs. Take Bruce Springsteen. Why wasn’t his song, “The Wrestler,” nominated for best original song for “The Wrestler”? It deserved to be. Speaking of that movie, why wasn’t it nominated for best picture over, say, “Frost-Nixon”? As great as Mickey Rourke was in the role, the movie and its cast rose to the level of his performance, with Darren Aronofsky being overlooked for best director.

Getting back to my argument about “The Dark Knight” (no, I won’t let it go), shouldn’t the animated “Wall-E” also have been nominated for best picture? Does the fact that it’s an animated film steal away its greatness? The movie is incredible. Look at what Pixar achieved with what essentially is a silent film. Sure, it’ll win the consolation prize of best animated feature, but it should have had a shot at the top spot, taking the place of “Slumdog Millionaire,” for instance, or “The Reader,” the latter of which is a good movie, but hardly among the year’s best films.

But enough grousing. What did the Academy do right? Plenty. It shrewdly found Michael Shannon in “Revolutionary Road” and nominated him for best supporting actor, which he shares with Josh Brolin in “Milk,” Robert Downey Jr. in “Tropic Thunder,” Philip Seymour Hoffman in “Doubt,” and the aforementioned Heath Ledger in “The Dark Knight.”

The Academy also didn’t forget Penelope Cruz’s amazing, unhinged performance in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” and so it nominated her for best supporting actress, in which she shares the spotlight with four other actresses who deserve to be alongside her — Amy Adams and Viola Davis for “Doubt,” Taraji P. Henson for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and Marisa Tomei in “The Wrestler.”

Also not forgotten was Richard Jenkins for his complex, rousing performance in “The Visitor.” The longtime character actor is nominated for best actor, with four other men rightfully joining him — Frank Langella for “Frost-Nixon,” Brad Pitt for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” Sean Penn for “Milk” and Mickey Rourke for “The Wrestler.”

So, who’s going to pin down this year’s awards? Who’s going to slump against the ropes? Better yet, who’s going to put the ice on my ulcer? As we do every year in these pages, we’ll put our necks on the chopping block and handicap the awards the week before the show.

WeekinRewind.com is the site for Bangor Daily News film critic Christopher Smith’s blog, DVD giveaways and archive of movie reviews. Smith’s reviews appear Mondays, Fridays and weekends in Lifestyle, as well as on bangordailynews.com. He may be reached at Christopher@weekinrewind.com.

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