Monday, Feb. 16, 2009

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

It received 13 nominations and is the only Best Picture finalist this year to have earned more than $100 million domestic ($123 million so far). That's a respectable gross for a tough-sell epic with a star (Brad Pitt) whom fans are more eager to see on Access Hollywood than in a movie theater. Benjamin Button is also the kind of movie — grand, popular, multi-generational, nobly sentimental — that used to sweep the Oscars. Many would say it's exactly like the Oscar winner of 1995, Forrest Gump, which was written by the same guy, Eric Roth. ("If you see only one version of Forrest Gump this year," intoned the announcer in a viral parody of the film, "make it The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. It's exactly like Gump, except no AIDS." Yet the Button man from New Orleans might have been the one to beat this year, if the kid from Mumbai hadn't shown up and seized moviegoers' hearts. Which proves that movies, like politics, aren't always predictable. Benjamin B. is Hillary to Slumdog's Obama. Odds of winning: 10 to 1

Director: David Fincher

An impossible project, on a huge budget ($150 million), with no inherent suspense: a man is born old, gets younger, dies. Somehow Fincher, mostly associated with slick, grisly thrillers like Se7en and Zodiac, pulled it off. Directors know how hard it is to execute this sort of juggling act; Slumdog's Danny Boyle, for one, has expressed unbounded admiration for Fincher's work. Remember, too, that Hollywood is no slave to the auteur theory: four times in the past 10 years, Best Picture and Best Direction have gone to different films. But I don't think that'll happen this year. Slumdog should take both categories. The Academy will award a film it loves over one it admires. Odds of winning: 5 to 1

See TIME's top 10 films of 2008