31 January 2009

Best Picture: Ranking the year's crop

. . . or I should say ranking the 4 I've seen since my interest in Frost/Nixon is minimal at best.

4. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: A technically impressive film with one great performance (that'd be Cate Blanchett) that nevertheless left me pretty unaffected. Full of clunky historical allusions to space shutte lanches, hurricanes, and music of The Beatles, this film was doomed from day one with a screenplay that values Q-U-A-N-T-I-T-Y of elements over any particular emotionally affecting quality. The end take on a slightly creepy vibe as well that I don't think was intentional. Had this not been the presumptive Best Picture winner before anyone saw it, I doubt anyone would still be paying attention to it outside of the techinical categories.

3. The Reader: A perfectly adequate movie in every way but not one I'm likely to remember for much longer. Whereas I'll still be impressed with a few of David Fincher's visual tricks for a while, most of this movie has already evaporated from my subconscious. Kate Winslet will probably win Best Actress for this, which is a shame because I can't think of anything particularly special in what she did here. Most of the film's attempts at sensual eroticism came off a little silly, and the plot is a pastiche of been there, done that elements. The best thing it has going for it is David Kross, a young actor who I hope finds better vehicles to display his growing talents in the future.

2. Milk: Well-made and perfectly acted by a group of solid actors, it does a good job of setting itself up as a period piece without resorting to jarring historical introductions. Instead, it integrated vintage television footage and newsreels in seemlesly, blending them into the film's narrative structure. Depicting events that feel as relevant today as they ever have, this film finds itself at the #2 spot simply because, try as Gus Van Sant might, I don't think there's a way to make a biopic that doesn't feel in some small way that it's all been done before, especially in the past decade. The screenplay also suffers from a few over sentimentalized points that just didn't need to be there (the kid in the wheelchair as exhibit A).

1. Slumdog Millionaire: Say what you will, but I think this would be a uniquely strange choice for Best Picture, even if it's path to the top spot of a film coming out of nowhere near the end of the year is all to familiar from the recent past (Million Dollar Baby, etc . . .) Danny Boyle's messy, hyperenergetic visual and storytelling style fit perfectly into the story, compensating for the (at times) visible inexperience of his lead actors. This is not a perfect film, but it's an interesting one, as most Danny Boyle films tend to be, and one that's distinctly different and diverse pedigree of creators would be a welcome choice for the top prize. Call it Crash 2.0 all you like (though, really, I have NO idea where you can make those comparisons from), but I'd be quite happy to see it go home with a golden boy.


Cal said...

Milk is the only one of these five that can really be considered as "best of" anything. I agree Slumdog is a totally against-type winner but in the worst way possible. An emotion-heavy mish-mash.

RJ said...

We'll agree to disagree. I'm happy to be in the internet minority.

Vance said...

I would have stuck in Frost/Nixon in 4 and Buttons at 5, but basically, yeah, it looks about right!

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