The awards race usually doesn’t reflect reality. This year, in particular, the films that have survived the brutal competition and managed an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, do not reflect the public’s choices for the best films of the year, and they don’t reflect the critics choices, and they don’t particularly reflect the choices of the fans or geeks. There is only one film in the pack that does. Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire, which turns out to be the strongest Oscar contender since The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, meaning, it is winning everything.
The film has already won, in addition to the critics’ awards, the USC Scripter award for Best Adaptation, the Screen Actors Guild ensemble award, the Producers Guild and finally, the Directors Guild. It has only the Writers Guild left to conquer before it heads to the Kodak where it is expected to sweep.
So why Slumdog? Why now? Does any other film even have a remote chance of upsetting it? Probably not. But if any did it would either be The Reader or The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Both of those are more traditional Academy fare. Slumdog is different, with shades of Bollywood, a non-star cast, and subtitles. It also got a distribution deal by the skin of its teeth only after people started seeing it at Toronto and Telluride. All of that is now legend and it is one of the many reasons people can’t resist voting for it.
The film is also proving itself formidable against the inevitable backlash. There seems to be some controversy in Mumbai as to whether the film is an honest portrayal or exploitation, whether it is something to be proud of or something to protest. It is the kind of controversy that hit A Beautiful Mind, with members of the Nash family coming forward to expose its inaccuracies. It didn’t hurt that film’s Oscar chances and it won’t hurt Slumdog’s.
It’s ironic, though, that the very same film that likely caused millions of Americans to fall in love with Mumbai and its citizens, is now being asked to condemn the film in the name of some of its citizens. The truth is that Slumdog Millionaire isn’t a good movie because it is set in Mumbai. It could be set anywhere and be as good – South Central Los Angeles, Harlem, or Mexico City. It might have been a tougher sell as a Best Picture winner but it would certainly be one of the most popular films of the season.
Slumdog’s success, though, is partly due to its stars, Dev Patel and Frieda Pinto. A change of location would mean that actors as well suited as these two also be found. Patel and Pinto’s participation in publicizing the movie has made the difference. They are always there, right by Danny Boyle’s side, reminding us of their grand love story.
It’s also due to a savvy studio that figured out early on that with a film like this, less is more. But for a few ads here or there, word of mouth is what’s getting this film through. When was the last time that happened?
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the film comes at a time when the country is ready to let go of the past and look towards the future. It may be as unrealistic as a Hollywood movie but no one can argue with the heart.
Sasha Stone also writes for the website, awardsdaily.com