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Noah Forrest

By Noah Forrest

Wondering About Slumdog

So the big show is coming up this weekend and I’m sensing an overall feeling of inevitability about the results on Sunday. And I don’t think that should be the case.

The truth of the matter is that in most of the categories, each entrant is a worthy winner and if that’s indeed the case, then there shouldn’t be so many favorites at this stage. Is Slumdog Millionaire really that much better of a film — in the eyes of the voters — than Milk or The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, to the point that it will run away with the Best Picture award?

Is Mickey Rourke really that much better in The Wrestler than Sean Penn in Milk or Richard Jenkinsin The Visitor? It seems a bit like politics, where the loudest voices get the most attention and right now the “little” movie about an Indian game show seems to have the loudest supporters. And while it’s definitely a good film, I wonder why it’s such a shoo-in.

And the other thing that eats at me, I can’t help but think about what the historical implications are. Every year, it seems that the Oscar voters are listening to those loudest voices instead of really studying the films and deciding which film and which performance will make the most sense to the people who are watching these films in twenty years. Instead of going with the wave of affection for a particular picture, I just wish the Academy voters would sit down and watch every nominated film over and over and think long and hard about their decisions. Because the truth of the matter is, if each voter took their job a little more seriously, films likeShakespeare in Love — or, shudder, Crash — wouldn’t win Best Picture.

And before the hate mail starts rolling in, let me say that I like Shakespeare in Love, but you will never convince me that people will still be studying that film in another ten years. Hell, it’s been ten years already and most people you would meet probably think that Saving Private Ryan won that year. And Crash became relevant, only because it’s one of the most ludicrous and overtly politically-driven choices the Academy has ever made.

Rocky won Best Picture in 1976 and clearly, that is still a film that resonates with enough people that a fifth sequel was produced in the past two years. But comparing that film to the other nominees like Network and Taxi Driver, it’s confounding that such a simple motion picture could take home the big prize. But the sad fact is: the simplest film almost alwayswins out.

So that brings me to this year and Slumdog Millionaire, a film that I thought was sublime and wonderful. But, compared to the other four nominees — even The Reader — the themes, the subtext and the storyline are incredibly simple. There is a good guy, there are bad guys and there is a girl. What we want is for the good guy to get the girl and the money and for the bad guys to be punished. But what seems to throw people off with this film is that it’s set in exotic India, which comes with unique locales, characters and issues. At the heart of the film, though, is a conceit that is not so different from, say, a feather blowing in the wind; it’s about a kid who is in the exact right places in the exact right times and then gets asked twenty questions that he happens to know the answers to, not because he’s intelligent, but because he’s lucky. It’s a film that has that one element that the Academy will always respond to when it’s done well: whimsy.

I don’t try to be a contrarian, but I must say that when a large collection of individuals make a decision about something subjective, I tend to raise my eyebrow and wonder why this is so. And I really do wonder what it is about Slumdog Millionaire that makes it different from the other four films; what does it do that the other films do not? Where is it tugging the Academy, in their minds or in their hearts? The answers to these questions is that it’s a heartfelt film that makes people sad and then smile and does it all with relative ease. If a film makes you feel two disparate emotions within a two-hour running time, does that then make it a great film?

Well, the answer to that question is: sometimes. Truth be told, I’ve cried at lots of bad films and smiled through lots of sophomoric comedies, but that didn’t make them great films. Our emotional connection to a film really shouldn’t be what tips the scale in favor of one film or another because our emotions are so easily played by myriad cinematic tricks: music, lighting, the way an actor’s lip quivers at just the right moment or the way the rain falls at the most inopportune time. So what does Slumdog do, when it comes to hitting our emotional sweet spots, that the other four films don’t?

A good portion of Danny Boyle’s film has to do with kids in very distressing situations, witnessing some terrifying and violent scenes. And if you really want to tug at someone’s heartstrings, either put a child or a dog in a precarious situation and have them find their way out of it and audiences will be rapt. But cinematically speaking, does Slumdog do something special that Frost/Nixon doesn’t or is it just that we emotionally connect more with the chai-walla than with the ex-President?

I don’t have answers for a lot of these questions because I can’t get in the minds of the Academy voters and all of the answers are subjective, but I still feel like they are questions worth asking ourselves. Film is an art form that is meant to be studied and if a movie is going to win cinema’s highest honor, then it should be one that is profound enough to withstand a detailed examination. And I think it’s a little disheartening that most of the nominated films are so facile that one viewing is enough. We might like these films, but we have to be honest with ourselves and say: these are not the most difficult pictures ever made.

I think that Slumdog Millionaire is, ultimately, a fine choice for the Academy Award, but I have so many questions about its longevity. There have been so many Best Picture awards in the past that have gone to films that rode a wave of publicity to history, but haven’t been films that history has been kind to. At this point, like many of the people that will be voting it as Best Picture of 2008, I can’t be sure what history will say about Slumdog Millionaire, but I do know that it’s not even the best Danny Boyle film. Trainspotting is a film that is just as mind-blowing and relevant as it was twelve years ago; will Slumdog stay as relevant, especially in light of the rapid growth of India?

Since the best film of the year is never even nominated most of the time, the best that we can hope for is that the Academy will vote for a film that means something to the year that we lived. I can’t look into the future and tell you which film will be studied the most — although I would say A Christmas Tale is a good bet — so I can understand if people want to ride the wave of hope, all the way to a Best Picture statuette. And as much as I want to be a contrarian about it, this year it seems like Slumdog Millionaire might just be the right movie at the right time. I guess it really was written.

– Noah Forrest
February 17, 2009

Noah Forrest is a 25 year old aspiring writer/filmmaker in New York City.

The opinions expressed in these columns are the writers and do not neccessarily reflect the opinions of Movie City News or any of its editors or other contributors.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

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~ David Simon