THE YEAR: 2009
- The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
- The Reader
- Slumdog Millionaire
THE WINNER: Slumdog Millionaire, the British drama disguising itself as a Bollywood export.
WHY THEY (PROBABLY) DIDN’T WIN: While I can’t say I didn’t enjoy Slumdog Millionaire, I can say that there were many better films that year, including (but definitely not limited to) the other nominees. I can guess that the Academy fell in love with Slumdog‘s charm, its atypical happy-ending love story, the way it portrayed themes rarely seen in modern Western cinema (though dominant in Bollywood) and ultimately, because UK production brought a seemingly-Bollywood movie to the forefront that was unlike anything else nominated that year.
WHY THEY SHOULD HAVE: As Bollywood star Aamir Khan put it, this was a movie about India, rather than being an Indian movie itself. Sure, you already knew that. But this is a realization that changes the way you look at the movie. Against the roster of great movies about India of the past, it doesn’t carry with it as strong a political message (think Gandhi and Water). Instead, it’s a love story about a guy who aims to win back the girl of his dreams by winning a game show she watches, with fate on his side. It actually sounds more like the premise of a Bollywood movie, ie. love is destiny and it will always prevail. But against that line-up of films, that are countless that outdo it and never had a hope of reaching the Academy (think Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, Om Shanti Om. And those are just a handful that did well with an international audience). Come to think of it, this is neither a great movie about India, nor even an Indian movie at all.
On the other hand, Milk told the story of a political gay rights hero, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button told a magical story suspending our belief beyond imaginable possibilities while keeping us deeply enthralled, and Frost/Nixon reminded us of one of the hugest political scandals in Western history. All films were brilliantly acted, stunningly designed and carefully directed. Meanwhile, Slumdog reminded some of us of better Bollywood movies we’d rather be watching instead.