Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Slumdog Is The New Crash


Can you feel it? It's electric. The momentum behind Slumdog Millionaire is undeniable. As sure as Heath Ledger will take the Best Supporting Actor Oscar, Slumdog Millionaire will win Best Picture and in every other category it's nominated for. And it will win for all the wrong reasons.

When Slumdog Millionaire ended and the lights came up in the theater, I turned to my wife and asked her what she thought. She said "yeah." Allow me to clarify. It wasn't a "YEAH" like "SHIT YEAH." It was like "yeah?" Now, she will deny this as she has done so since we saw it, but it was there and I heard every bit of it. And what's more, I agreed. She might as well had said "meh." It's about the same thing. And that's Slumdog Millionaire in a nutshell and I would say most of this year's Oscar picks. Everything should have worked, but it didn't.

Slumdog has taken the top prize at the Golden Globes and more recently at the SAG Awards. In conjunction, news channels have been running stories about the slums of Mumbai as if we never knew there were slums there before. There is a feel good factor working here and it has nothing to do with great filmmaking.


A great picture is the result of everything working together. Everything. And while Slumdog provides us with a few positives, the most obvious being the story structure, it's lacking in several categories. But right now that doesn't seem to matter. What seems to matter is that Slumdog Millionaire is making the world a better place by exposing its ugly parts. We've seen this happen before with Crash. And the hangover from that has yet to go away, all these years later.

Feeling good about a movie is not a bad thing. But it can't be the only thing. Everyone is so caught up in the story on and off the screen that they're not realizing this film is seriously lacking in the best picture department.

I guess we will see come Oscar night.

31 comments:

Anonymous said...

Amen, Piper. I haven't seen the movie, and I think it's because of the feel-good fever that I'm afraid I might catch.

jake

Fox said...

I'm kind of wondering if Slumdog will be caught peaking too soon and something like Milk could play spoiler.

Plus, the recent angry reactions in India over the word "slumdog" could taint the feel-good feeling of Boyle's movie.

Ultimately, I think Slumdog is still a shoo-in, but just like Brokeback got upset by Crash, maybe...

Sarah said...

"Slumdog Millionaire" may be a shoo-in for the Best Picture Oscar but it's still one of the best films I've seen this season -- great story, great editing, great cinematography and an amazing soundtrack. There's nothing wrong with "feel good" if it's done right.

Anonymous said...

Ray,

Is it better than Gran Torino?

Anon

PIPER said...

Jake,

I'm not against "feel-good" I just don't think it always makes for a fantastic film. The movie is certainly not awful, it's just not incredible.

Sarah,

Yeah, but I'm not sure it was done right. The ending is suspect. The relationship between the brothers was one dimensional. There is no standout performance.

It's not without its good parts, but not all the good parts are there.

PIPER said...

Fox,

It's possible. I don't know when actual voting happens.

I haven't seen Milk. Is it more deserving than Slumdog?

Fox said...

I haven't seen Milk. Is it more deserving than Slumdog?

Personally, no. I'm just analyzing the sitch from the outside. Plus, they don't let me vote anymore since I made that one movie. (the movie that was YOUR idea, btw! I'll never forgive you...)

Ray said...

@ Anonymous - Yes, it's better than GRAN TORINO.

SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE hasn't been sitting well with me since I saw it. It's a feel-good movie, and I think it's easy to get caught up in that emotional jolt. It's much like THE DARK KNIGHT in that respect ... there's another film that gives you a lift on first viewing, but then shows its cracks on repeat viewings.

Actually, what you list here as a positive - the story structure - is one of the things that most irritates me about SLUMDOG. When you start considering it, the fact that the hero just coincidentally had an experience that helps him answer those fifteen questions is just a little irritating to me. I guess it's all in how you look at it. Some people view it as fate tilting in favor of an underdog. Others view it as a screenwriting contrivance.

As time goes on, I'm leaning toward the latter rather than the former. I dunno ... I may need to write down my feelings about this.

Ray said...

And so I did:

http://sammyray.com/183/films-that-fade/

DirtyRobot said...

The more I hear about Slumdog Millionaire, the less I want to see it.

Lisa Bee said...

It's high time someone said this. I really enjoyed Slumdog Millionaire (and agree the story structure was one of the standout parts), but I don't think it's worthy of Best Picture. I still haven't seen The Reader or Frost/Nixon yet, but I thought both Benjamin Button and Milk were more complete, well-rounded experiences. And Wall-E, which wasn't even nominated, trumps them all.

PIPER said...

Ray,

I'll check out your post. I'm interested to see what your thoughts are.

Robot,

It's worth checking out at least so you can form your own opinion.

Lisa,

I have yet to see The Reader, Benjamin Button or Milk. Wall-E is a good movie but I think the last part of it keeps it from being a great movie. I was still very impressed with it. But Wall-E was nominated in the animation category will it will surely take. I'm going to write a post about the animation category as well.

Anonymous said...

To those who posted:

I haven't seen Slumdog so I can't comment but I find it hard to believe that only one person (Sarah) disagree with Piper that it is undeserving of Best Picture.

Either the Academy really blew the nom or a lot of you out there aren't speaking up.

Brian

Matt Gamble said...

Slumdog is a solid film, not a great movie, but certainly not a bad one either. The Academy has certainly awarded Best Picture to far worse films (Crash just being the most recent).

It's a solid nomination, certainly better then The Reader and Frost/Nixon. Though I'd even say Benjamin Button is a bit of a reach as is Milk. There are better films made this year, but those are rarely the ones who get nominated. It's just how it goes.

Anonymous said...

I truly don't understand how you can form your opinion of what does and does not deserve to be nominated (or to win) when you haven't even seen all the movies.

All the nominees are good, and all have their flaws.

I think all movies are a little too coincidental in their story structures. That argument can be made for all films. I'm confused by Ray's comments.

Gran Torino was a lousy movie, btw. I mean straight up not good. And you know me Piper, I like everything. I need to be physically wounded in a movie to not like it, according to my Mrs.

And Clint being Clint is not a valid criticism, imo. He was fine, but the rest of the acting was plain old bad.

sF

PIPER said...

Matt,

Thanks for your comments. By no means do I mean to compare the two in quality. My comparison has to do with the "feel good" momentum that both Slumdog and Crash carried with them. The idea that these pictures should be rewarded not by their merits as good films, but because they are important by what they do culturally.

Anon (Steve)

I appreciate your comments and for adding a little color to this discussion.

My opinion of whether a movie does or does not deserve to be nominated has more to do with past winners than with the current batch. Slumdog simply does not have all the parts working to be considered for best picture. Is it better than everything else nominated? It might be. I would say it's better than Frost/Nixon and Doubt. But I wouldn't say it's better than Rachel Getting Married which did not get nominated.

I put Slumdog up against last year's winner No Country For Old Men and there's no comparison. No Country is a far superior movie and deserves to be best picture.

I will also say that in what I've seen, 2008 was just not a good year for films. So in that case, I guess we're just left with awarding a picture that doesn't deserve to be among all the greats. It's certainly not the first time it has happened. It just seems to be happening more often than not these days.

Branden said...

I saw Slumbog (my word for it) and I was not blown away by it. It was a nice movie, but I did not feel that it was Best Picture material.

It winning at the SAG awards proves that people are brainwashed thinking that this is the best movie ever.

That couldn't be further from the truth. The acting was the worse thing about the film.

I articulated in more on my review of the film on my blog.

Paul Arrand Rodgers said...

I really liked Slumdog. I haven't written a review yet, but it makes the cut for Best Picture for me.

What doesn't make the cut is Frost/Nixon. Benjamin Button, too.

PIPER said...

Branden,

Thanks for your comments. I think the swelling for support for the movie goes to show that everyone just really wants a feel good movie to win. It makes since considering that everything around us seems to be failing. The Oscars should be a milestone in movies. Not just in technique, but a reflection of the times. If I look at it that way, it makes a bit more sense. I just wish it were a better film.

Paul Arrand Rodgers,

I'm curious to know why you think it makes the cut.

I agree with you on Frost/Nixon, and can't weigh in on Benjamin Button since I haven't seen it.

Fletch said...

If it doesn't make the cut, what does? If it doesn't win from the five choices, what does?

Those are the most important questions, to me. Of the available choices, I think it's the best one, with Milk not far behind. But a win by any of the other three (I've seen them all) would be a disappointment to me.

That's not to say that Slumdog is perfect. But how can you hate on it and not suggest an alternative, especially if you've not even seen the five choices?

This seems petty, and the comparison to Crash unfair.

PIPER said...

Fletch,

The purpose of this post wasn't supposed to be about something not making the cut. It's about Slumdog having a lot of momentum behind it that is undeserving.

If I had said in my post that I've seen all the pictures and this is the one that's not like the others, that would be one thing. But I didn't. It's just obvious right now that Slumdog seems to be the clear favorite and I don't agree with that. And it doesn't require me to compare it to the other films of the year. Like I said in a previous comment, I hold Slumdog to the standards of past winners that I thought were deserving. Most recently, No Country For Old Men. There's no comparison between the two films.


If I were to pick a picture that should have been included, I would say Rachel Getting Married. To me that was a far better picture and more interesting than the pictures I've seen in the category. But that's not what this post is about.

My comparison to Crash has to do with the feel good-ness that is the motivation behind this movie winning. People are caught up in the underdog story and they're not paying attention to the details going in to making a great film. Or maybe they are and they're just glossing over them. The same could be said with Crash.

I would say that it's a much better film than Crash, but still not best picture quality. And in my opinion I think it's a fair comparison, which is why I made it. If you disagree, that's fine.

And this post isn't petty. If I said that this picture was undeserving because Jamal was ugly and wore his hair funny - that's petty. Saying a picture isn't best picture quality because it doesn't have all the parts working - that's criticism.

Fletch said...

Sorry if I offended, Piper - that was not my intention

It just seems to me like this is your standard-fare backlash, reading along the lines of "I didn't care for this and I think it's getting too much hype, therefore I will bash it despite the fact that [in your post] I'm not offering up a better movie to win [this year]." Clearly, loads of people think it is great filmmaking.

And then everyone else jumped on the bandwagon, too.

I don't know if when you say the "feel good story" you're referring to the plot of the film or the story of the making of the movie, but I think that's besides somewhat irrelevant. For starters, it received pretty universal acclaim from the moment it opened (and before, in Toronto), so it's not like people have been brainwashed into thinking it's good. And it's also not like it was made by an unknown entity - Danny Boyle himself is hardly a feel-good story. I knew it was in my top five when I walked out of it. There hasn't been any outside forces influencing my pick of it as Best Picture (instead, that has mostly to do with the films it's up against).

Comparing it to No Country (or There Will Be Blood, another film that's vastly superior to it) seems pointless to me as well. They're not in the same Academy year, and nothing can be done about that. I don't think anyone's saying that it is the best movie ever (or even better than those two).

PIPER said...

Fletch,

I would be lying if I didn't say the last sentence from your earlier comment pissed me off a bit, but I'm over it.

I'm really not alone in my feelings about this film. There are a lot of people who believe it to be a fine picture, just not a great one. And the feel good aspect does relate to on and off the screen. I don't think people are brainwashed, but I think they get caught up in the moment. And right now I'm not talking you or any critic. I'm talking about academy voters. And you can't say they don't do this from time to time as Crash is a perfect example.

And I don't think I'm wrong comparing Slumdog with past winners. Why shouldn't I? If you put together a list of great movies, shouldn't this be among them? Isn't that what we're arguing about? The BEST picture of the year?

Now if the movies just aren't up to snuff this year, then that's on Hollywood. And I'm within my right to cry foul because I don't believe in picking the least sucky of the batch just because that's what's offered up. But I'm an idealist and that's the cross that I bear. Right or wrong.

And I assure you this is not some kind of standard contrarianism post here. There are movies that are good, but when they start being mentioned as Best Picture bait, they must be judged in a different way and with different eyes. I'm not saying it's wrong to like this film or get caught up in the story of it. I'm just saying it's wrong to say it's the best picture just because of that.

Anyway, I appreciate your thoughts here Fletch and your debate. It's a lot more fun this way. I was anticipating this kind of backlash and was surprised it didn't come earlier.

Paul Arrand Rodgers said...

I haven't seen Rachel Getting Married yet, so the two that I'd choose to make it to best picture in F/N and CCOBB's stead are:

Revolutionary Road
The Wrestler

With Gran Torino following close behind. I haven't seen The Reader yet, so I'm unsure as to its worthiness.

I haven't written anything about Slumdog yet that I could just point to a blurb or something, but there were four movies this year where, by the end, I found myself gripping the cup holders: Gran Torino, Milk, The Wrestler, and Slumdog Millionare. On his blog, Roger Ebert writes of some newfangled scientific thing called "Uplift" - I felt it big time as the movie's plot converged.

I don't know...I thought that everything that mattered, that needed to happen to make this a Best Picture candidate, was there. Boyle's directing especially.

Fletch said...

"And I don't think I'm wrong comparing Slumdog with past winners. Why shouldn't I?"

You essentially answered this question by saying that it's on Hollywood, but I still must respond to this part:

"And I'm within my right to cry foul because I don't believe in picking the least sucky of the batch just because that's what's offered up."

What are we do to, then? Not crown a Best Picture winner?

You can be the idealist. I feel your pain and understand where you're coming from. I'll be the realist. :)

PIPER said...

I realize that idealism doesn't get me anywhere except frustrated. But I can dream, can't I?

I wrote a post last year about a category without an oscar. You can check it out there.

http://lazyeyetheatre.blogspot.com/2008/02/category-without-oscar.html

Jason Bellamy said...

Piper & Fletch: Good thoughts from both of you. I can identify with each side of the argument.

One point from the original post I want to respond to: "Feeling good about a movie is not a bad thing. But it can't be the only thing."

I know what you're saying here, but I'm not sure I agree. If we like a film, we feel good about it. Period. Ebert has a little maxim that goes something like, "No great film can be depressing." I know what he means.

What I think is unfortunate is that crowd pleasing films like "Crash" and "Slumdog" almost always result in a sort of critical backlash from those of us wary of pleased crowds; as if it means the movie can't be "serious" if it's uplifting. (Heck, the most popular slam of "Schindler's List" is that Spielberg closes it out with a life-affirming, hopeful depiction of the survivors (realistic though it is), as if that lessens the artistry.)

But that said, if you react to "Slumdog" with "meh," then you react with "meh," and the argument that it isn't a "great" picture is honest and fair. To me what we're seeing with "Slumdog" is a very enjoyable film that surprised audiences initially and resulted in over-hype that it now can't live up to (frankly, I'm not sure any of this year's nominees could live up to over-hype). Perhaps if Piper and Mrs Piper saw "Slumdog" before the hype, it would have been a pleasant surprise rather than a disappointment. (Which is not to imply that under those conditions you'd consider it "great.")

To sort of move this into a related tangent - and here's where I identify with Fletch - what irks me is when Best Picture winners are vilified for their success. "Crash" would be an example. "American Beauty," too. Now, we can sit here and debate whether those were among the top five films of the year, or whether they were the best of the nominated films, but that's not the point as I make this argument. In the long term, those films should be evaluated in and of themselves. It's not their "fault" that people voted to give them awards amidst an exercise that is more about marketing Hollywood than recognizing greatness.

So if you're reaction to "Slumdog" is "meh," then it's "meh." And you have every right to argue that. I just think it's interesting that when serious film fans (me included) have a "meh" reaction to a more ambitious project, sometimes that emotional non-reaction is discounted in the face of the technical artistry. And I don't think that's an improvement.

PIPER said...

Jason,

Thank you for your thoughts. You make good points on both sides.

It's important to note, which I did not in my post, that as a love story I found it very interesting. I'm always interested in seeing how they can reinvent the love story. So the "feel good" aspect as it relates to the love story is not a strike against it in my eyes. In fact, I told my wife after that I was glad to see that they didn't go the "indie" route and have the guy or girl offed at the last second to somehow make it more important.

It should also be noted that I saw this long before the fanfare began. I had been told it was worth seeing, so the Mrs. and I saw it. I was not disappointed in it, I just felt like I should have been more moved by it. My immediate takeaway was that it had everything it needed to be an incredible movie, only I didn't find it incredible. It frustrated me that I couldn't put my finger on why I didn't like it. And so I kept quiet thinking myself a cynical idiot for not liking it more. But then I began to read other blogs and get their thoughts on it (good and bad) and with that I began to solidify my opinion more about it - thus leading us to this post.

And Jason and Fletch, I am guilty of vilifying a movie because of success. I have traditionally done this. It's not that I hate it's success, it's just that I don't believe it's deserving of these things. I have felt this way most recently with Juno and Little Miss Sunshine. Both movies that I thought were fine, but not fantastic.

Again, thank you both for your thoughts and your debate.

Jason Bellamy said...

"...it's just that I don't believe it's deserving of these things."

Fair enough. And I can relate to that emotion, too. My point is that I hate seeing something like "Juno" (good example) reduced to, "Oh, 'Juno,' that movie sucked!" if what the person really means is, "Oh, 'Juno,' it's okay, but it wasn't one of the five best movies of 2008."

Now, someone can still think "INSERT HYPED FILM HERE" just plain sucked, with hype having nothing to do with it. But what truly sucks for furthering the appreciation of film is when a movie becomes a whipping boy for people's Oscar frustrations.

I mean, at least "Crash" and "American Beauty" can show off their hardware. In this day and age, it's better to be the Academy's sixth-favorite film than it's second, because almost everything that gets put under the nominations microscope gets torn to pieces. Shame.

To be clear: I'm not saying that's what you've done with the original post here. I'm just expanding on my previous comment. Good discussion.

PIPER said...

Jason,

You make a good point about the blogosphere and film blogging more specifically. Things are either awesome, or they suck. That leaves very little room for intelligent debate. If there is debate, it's usually extreme.

I would be lying if I said hype didn't get to me and didn't affect my feelings about a movie from time to time. That's not the case with Slumdog, but I have sometimes stayed aways from a movie because everyone is so "crazy" about it. I'm not sure if that's smart or not.

Like I said to Fletch, when a movie moves into the realm of Oscar contender (as Slumdog has) it needs to be judged with different eyes. I can like a movie, but not think it deserves the best picture of the year.

I've been on the other side of hype as well. The Departed is a fine film, but not good enough for Scorsese to get best director. I had to do a lot of internal selling to swallow that one. The same went when Gangs Of New York was nominated. I am such a fan of Scorsese that I willingly take the leap if need be, knowing full well that I shouldn't.

And you're right Jason. Good discussion.

Anonymous said...

You guys beat this post to death.