Nominees: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, Milk, The Reader, Slumdog Millionaire
Prediction: Slumdog Millionaire
The little movie has the big mo. A film that seemed destined for direct-to-DVD after the original U.S. distributor, Warner Independent Pictures, closed up shop, Slumdog clicked at film festivals, then with art-house audiences and finally with real people. Folks who might be scared away from a story of vicious violence and even more horrifying poverty hear from their friends that it's really an enthralling fable of love conquering all. There's a minor irony: the first hit film from India in the U.S. should be directed by an Englishman the Raj reconstituted. But people love it; they really love it. And odds are, Oscar will too.
Preference: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Two epics about decent young men searching for their life's loves: that's Slumdog Millionaire and Benjamin Button. Either would be a worthy Oscar champ. If Slumdog has a leg up, it's because audiences love it, whereas they only admire Benjamin, at a slight remove. The first film draws them into its story, the second has them staring through glass at a strange, if marvelous creature. But Benjamin Button's amalgam of world-of-tomorrow techni-craft and old-Hollywood narrative magic make it, by an inch, the superior picture.
Robbed: Synecdoche, New York
What am I, nuts? Didn't Rex Reed ask if this was the worst film ever made? Charlie Kaufman's comedy of ambition, obsession, failure and death not only flew under the radar, it metaphorically flew into an Airbus engine. But the movie had a breadth of vision few American movies even attempt, let alone pull off. It's just one kind of film the Motion Picture Academy ignores each year.