I’ve believed for years that 2008 was a weak year for Oscar contenders and to be fair, when compared to 2007, it’s still easy to accept that as a fact and shrug.
In reality, it was a more than competent year that I spent a long time denying myself by only seeing three of the five nominees. And typically those three were the weakest of the nominations by quite some stretch.
But now I’m caught up so let’s take a look at who won, who should have and who I’d nominate given a vote.
And the Oscar goes to…
2008 Best Picture Winner: Slumdog Millionaire
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Frost/Nixon is an entirely competent movie that, to its credit, supplies way more laughs than expected. The main concern is that at some point it entirely stops feeling like its own story which is remarkably strange for a movie based on not only real-life but a play based on that true story. As the tension ratchets up during interviews between journalist David Frost and U.S. President Richard Nixon, it becomes apparent that the script is more content to crib its escalation from A Few Good Men going so far as to culminate in a moment so reminiscent of “You can’t handle the truth!” that I still get them confused in my head sometimes.
On the other side of the fence, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button feels so wholly like its own thing that it can in spots feel alienating at times. Wholly breezy by the standards of a director as distressing as David Fincher, it is nonetheless entirely able to bring the goods that a film-maker of such perfection chasing notoriety demands. Although a movie about a man ageing backwards sounds way too twee and fantastical to appeal to Academy standards, seeing The Curious Case play out shows why it was practically a shoe-in for a nomination.
It’s kind of strange to watch Milk today and remember the climate that movie was released against. Today gay marriage is legal all over the United States but at the time California was voting on whether that state alone would allow it. Spoiler alert: they didn’t. As a result, Milk felt like as much of a political statement as it was a celebration of a widely revered public figure in LGBTQ history. Despite all of this, the thing that impresses most about Milk is its sensitivity. It is a very gentle and loving movie and one that seems to place much more stock in showcasing beauty than focusing on the forces attempting to tear love apart. It’s a movie that could have very easily been an issues movie but ultimately remains a movie about a man who loved his life enough to try and make the lives of others better. If Milk had won the award, I would have had no problems with that whatsoever.
Did Slumdog Millionaire deserve to win?
Not in the slightest. It’s a movie so riddled to the rim with gimmicks in lieu of any genuine narrative structure that it’s kind of an embarrassment. Also, its slavish commitment to Bollywood convention feels laughable the moment the closing credits begin and the entire cast literally springs into a song and dance routine.
What nomination should have won?
Although I didn’t see it until very recently, I’m entirely astounded that The Reader didn’t get much more attention than it did. As much as holocaust movies have been pummelled into the ground as Oscar-bait, this one takes a look at the atrocities of WWII but does so a few steps removed and gives itself space to breathe, analyse motivations and ask some very tricky questions about why people did what they did. It’s not an easy or a comfortable watch and there’s a lot of validity to some of the more concerning interpretations that The Reader has inspired but it skirts on the edge of a still very emotional blade in entirely brave fashion.
Wild Card winner?
The feature directorial debut of playwright Martin McDonagh, In Bruges, is perhaps not the most prescient or skillfully structured writing of his career but almost a decade later it remains both the funniest and darkest of black comedies that I have ever seen. Not content to invoke raucous and relatable laughs, McDonagh invokes his characters with legitimate heart-ache, some of which is only hinted at but all of which strikes like a bullet. Watching a movie so magical, you know you’re awake but it feels like you’re in a dream.
This was where it started getting difficult. Except it didn’t until I started catching up with the gaps in my knowledge solely so I could write this series. I had seen neither Milk or The Reader until the last week or so and they turned out to be my two favourite movies nominated this year. In my original assessment, I had assumed it would be Benjamin Button that I would pick but it goes to show that you really should give everything a chance.
Looking forward to tomorrow’s list. These pieces are about to get a whole lot longer.
Check back here tomorrow for my evaluation of 2009’s winner.
Agree? Disagree? Have a better Wild Card? Drop me a line in the comments!