Sunday, January 25, 2009

Links: Slumming

Jim Emerson hate-hate-hated Slumdog Millionaire. I enjoyed watching it, but had a number of reservations - like how it hits that yucky "sweet" spot between wallowing in misery and providing feel-good uplift - which have grown over the past few weeks. But here's how honest backlash works: my reservations aren't growing simply because the movie is winning awards and being praised all out of proportion to its actual (modest) merits, but it is because the movie has been winning awards and getting praise from all over the place that I've kept thinking about it. I liked Zack and Miri Make a Porno and My Brother Is an Only Child about as much as I liked Slumdog Millionaire, but those movies haven't collapsed under any great claims made for them. I saw them, I enjoyed them, I mostly forgot about them*. If I spent twenty minutes thinking about their problems, I might start liking them a lot less than I did when I left the theater right after seeing them, which is essentially what has happened to me with Slumdog. (I mean, without even getting into the movies that I really liked from last year, there are about twenty that I saw that are better than Slumdog**.)

I also liked Steve Sailer's suggestion that Slumdog would have been better if it hadn't been edited in such an "on the nose" manner. Steve proposes a cut of the movie where we see all of the questions in rapid succession at the start of the film and then, instead of cutting back-and-forth between the game show and Jamal's story, we just see the story and have to try to find the answers in there ourselves. A little more interactivity definitely would not have hurt.

And while I (obviously) don't agree with everything Ross Douthat writes here, I do agree that the Academy Awards would be a lot better if the voters weren't so "risk averse". I don't think The Dark Knight was the best picture of the year and I don't think it should get a slot just because it made so much money, but still... It's a very strong (if flawed) movie that resonated with audiences and critics and it would have been exciting to see that kind of movie go up against the more usual kinds of Oscar fare like Slumdog Millionaire. (Also: they should have given Clint Eastwood an acting nomination and Danny McBride a supporting actor nomination for Pineapple Express.)

(I should also note that after seeing and being relatively underwhelmed by Slumdog Millionaire my brothers accuses me of not really liking it only because it was popular and critically acclaimed. In my defense, I pointed out that among my favorite movies of the year were Wall-E, The Dark Knight, and Vicky Cristina Barcelona - hardly minority tastes. While it's true that I go out of my way to defend movies when I feel the fix was in on them - as with Speed Racer and The Happening - I never let other people's enthusiasm for a movie get in the way of my appreciation for it.)

*I've remembered a couple of performances, especially Elio Germano's in Brother.

**Wendy and Lucy, Baghead, The Tracey Fragments, Iron Man, Tell No One, Mad Detective, Be Kind Rewind, The Visitor, Changeling, Pineapple Express, Man on Wire, Reprise, It's a Free World..., Punisher: War Zone, Diary of the Dead, Leatherheads, Ghost Town, Charlie Bartlett, Sukiyaki Western Django and Definitely, Maybe.

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