'Deadspin' Founder Will Leitch & Starpulse's Mike Ryan Debate The 81st Academy Awards
An Academy Awards telecast that Mike will be live blogging this Sunday night at 8:30 PM EST, in real-time, here on Starpulse.
"Slumdog Millionaire is the film world's first globalized masterpiece." Joe Morgenstern - Wall Street Journal
"Slumdog Millionaire is a ruthlessly effective paean to destiny, leaving nothing to chance." Michael Phillips - Chicago Tribune
"This is a breathless, exciting story, heartbreaking and exhilarating at the same time." Roger Ebert - Chicago Sun-Times
"This is the dumbest, most trumped up 'love story' I can remember. This is the cinematic equivalent of whippets." Will Leitch - Deadspin
Let me start by saying that I am unequivocally not on the Slumdog Millionaire bandwagon; I think it is a serviceable movie with a very unique story. There is little doubt that it should win for Writing (Adapted Screenplay) but I am far from sold on its merits to be the Best Picture of 2008. Then again, my favorite film from 2008 -- The Wrestler -- was not even nominated. At least, though, I do understand why Slumdog Millionaire is garnering the attention and awards it has to this point. Albeit far-fetched, it is different.
To tell the truth, I can see your point. Though, later on in your statement you go on to compare Slumdog Millionaire to Oscar winning dreck American Beauty and Crash. This, sir, seems far from fair. In fact, I think Slumdog Millionaire compares favorably when compared to the other four Best Picture contenders that were actually nominated. Though, it would not have my vote.
Check out more on the movies nominated for Best Picture
Slumdog Millionaire, Milk, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Frost-Nixon, The Reader:
If I was a voting member of the Academy -- and I was not allowed to write in The Dark Knight, The Wrestler, Wall-E, or Revolutionary Road -- I would most likely vote for Milk based on the performances, alone, of Sean Penn and Josh Brolin. Particularly Brolin, who is masterful in his ability to invoke sympathy from a character that will commit, in time, such a deplorable act. In any other year not involving Heath Ledger, I think Brolin would be a shoo-in, followed closely by Michael Shannon who stole every single second of limited screen time that he had in Revolutionary Road.
I would also vote for Frost-Nixon over Slumdog Millionaire. The movie could be accused of bordering on camp, but Frank Langella was extraordinary as Nixon -- a role that could of easily become a parody -- and would be my vote for Best Actor if not for Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler. Of course, Langella has no chance of winning because -- as I wrote in a previous column -- this race will come down to Rourke and Sean Penn. I do believe -- for numerous reasons such as: movie topic, the bridges Rourke has burned, the fact Penn won the SAG -- that Sean Penn will win the Oscar that Rourke really does deserve.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a film that just screams "Hey, nominate me for an Oscar." But really, is there anything really special about it? Like, Slumdog Millionaire, it's serviceable. But, as stated, at least Slumdog Millionaire is original. The only thing original about Benjamin Button is which version of Brad Pitt's accent he will use from scene to scene. I have no idea why The Reader is even nominated. Oh wait ... that's right: Harvey Weinstein. It's a nice enough story, but I can think of numerous films that should have been nominated before The Reader. What's troubling is -- if you believe the Entertainment Weekly article -- this is the only movie that has a chance to beat Slumdog Millionaire due to Weinstein's campaigning! Kate Winslet's performance in The Reader is far from the best performance of 2008 . It's not even her best performance of 2008! She was far superior for her role in Revolutionary Road. Let alone Meryl Streep for Doubt or Anne Hathaway for Rachel Getting Married -- a movie I did not particularly care for.
So, Will. Would you prefer a world in which a sub par The Reader is named the best picture over a film -- Slumdog Millionaire -- that is, if nothing else, original?
Mr. Ryan -
All told, I'm probably a little harsh on Slumdog Millionaire. It's better than Crash and American Beauty. I just don't understand why people are so moved by the film. I think it might be the Bollywood scene at the end. It's the only Quality Movie that allows you to leave the theater feeling happy. Sadly, that seems to be enough for people. And don't give me that "it's a fable" business either. Calling it a "fable" is just a trumped up way of saying "It doesn't have to hold together in any logical sense, and it doesn't have to present any believable likable characters outside of the lead because … it's a fable!" That's a neat trick. Somewhere, Michael Bay is trying to convince someone that Transformers is a "fable."
I don't remember ever being that impressed with Brolin before the last couple of years. (I even thought he was the one person tonally off in Flirting With Disaster, which is criminally forgotten.) I'm not sure what happened, though, because he's been progressively great in No Country For Old Men, W. (which is gonna age better than people think, I suspect) and especially Milk. Penn's likable in that film, but there's a bit too much Important Man in his Harvey Milk. He never really lets the man be an actual man: He's too busy Standing For Something. And I still think Rourke might win. Not only would his personal story be the one takeaway from what's looking like an oppressively dull Oscar ceremony, but he has the unique trump card of actually deserving it. That movie actually improves on second viewing: It's less conventional than a lot of people have claimed it to be.
At this point, I leap to Slumdog's defense, because I think it's actually better than two other films nominated. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is boring, but not because it's slowly paced or long. It's boring because it has nothing to say. Can you give me ONE personality trait of Button? Just one. Not positive, not negative: Just one. Brad Pitt's not bad in the film, because he has no character to play. He's not an actor in the film: He's a tour guide.
But The Reader is so much worse: I think it's the worst film to be nominated since Crash. Ron Rosenbaum at Slate has done an outstanding job of vivisecting the film's appalling amorality, but since I didn't write a book called "Explaining Hitler," I'm not sure I can speak to the same topics as him. I can just talk about it as a movie, and it's endlessly pandering and slothful. Are we really supposed to care that she can't read? SHE WORKED IN A NAZI DEATH CAMP. I think pretty much everything else pales. I love how, when the film first came out, there were some rumblings about the kid being underaged (and naked throughout half the film). That's the least of this movie's problems. The Reader is the reason the Oscars have lost so much relevance, and the reason so few will watch this year. For good reason.
A thought: Lots of nudity among the acting nominations this year.
Are you now trying to convince me that Michael Bay's plotless, though kind-of-pretty, Transformers is not a fable? Though, the decision to alter Soundwave's non-robot persona in the upcoming sequel from a tape recorder to a jet plane is an all-out abomination; this would be the equivalent of Atticus Finch's profession changed to a pirate. I digress.
You're right! The only personality trait I can think of for Benjamin Button is "nice." Ben Button is a nice guy. Watching a nice guy for 159 minutes is, well ... kind of dull. And I think the only thing it's trying to say is: "Hey, in case you were thinking that ageing backwards is great, well, it's not." In a way I almost admire that Benjamin Button has no deep-seated underlying message; though, at least try and be interesting.
Your analysis of The Reader brings us to the bigger issue -- aside from the fact this film, at one point, jumps from the late 1960's with David Kross, age 18, playing Michael to the mid 1970's with Ralph Fiennes, age 46, playing Michael. Again, I digress: Obviously these are not the best five films of 2008. Now, one could argue: How can anyone truly say what really is or isn't the best film in any particular year? Without over philosophizing, the answer to that is: Well, they do. And usually they do an OK job doing so; it's just quite discouraging how off-base this year they were. Slumdog Millionaire is one of those films that I really have no problem with its nomination -- as the fifth film with its nomination being its reward -- but not it actually winning!
I love the Oscars. I really do. But I am worried, as you mentioned, of their continued irrelevance. We really live in a world where Bolt is nominated for an Oscar but Bruce Springsteen isn't for his haunting "The Wrestler," from the film of the same name? I am aware of your affinity for the French foreign language film The Class, which has been rightfully nominated, but only in the Foreign Language Film category. I can't even take that category seriously because one of my favorite films of 2008, the Swedish import Let the Right One In, was snubbed. This film should have been nominated for Best Picture, let alone Foreign Language Film.
Along these lines: My deepest condolences on the Woody Allen lack of a nomination this year.
Mr. Ryan --
Re: Your apparent understanding of the Transformers universe: I have no idea what you're talking about. Some of us went outside and played when we were kids.
Mock insults aside, I really just could not believe how awful the Transformers movie was. (I know this has nothing to do with the Oscars. And thank God for that.) I've actually been a secret Michael Bay fan -- if you're going to be the Antichrist, at least do it in STYLE -- but there, he didn't even seem to show up to work. But why are we talking about Michael Bay again?
I think calling Ben Button "nice" is giving him one more personality trait than he actually has. But let's talk about Springsteen. I kind of think something must have just gone wrong. That's an OBVIOUS nomination, to the point that there's no real reason to snub the song, the movie or Springsteen. He's been nominated (and won!) for a lesser song. There was just no reason not to nominate him there. I can't remember the last time I had fewer rooting interests at the Oscars. I guess I'm rooting for Rourke, and either Cruz or Tomei, and The Class, and WALL-E (though Bolt's better than you give it credit for), and ... um ... Ledger I guess? And none of those five films look like Oscar winners to me. It's not too late to give it to Dark Knight, is it?
And Woody never shows up anyway. I doubt he minds, or even noticed.
But yes: Let's just hope that Hugh Jackman, finally, at last, comes out of the closet during the show. That might get the ratings the show desperately needs.
Will Leitch is the founder of Deadspin, current contributing editor to New York Magazing and a columnist at The Sporting News. Will's latest book, "God Save the Fan," is now in paperback.
"Mike's Pulse" is a column written by transplanted Midwesterner and current New Yorker Mike Ryan. For any compliments or complaints -- preferably the former -- you may contact Mike directly at email@example.com
Don't forget to check out Mike's live blog comments on the 81st Academy Awards this Sunday at 8:30pm. Check out the Starpulse main news page at that time to find Mike's live blog.
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