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Oscar Week: Best Picture -- Is "Slumdog Millionaire" Really Unbeatable?

POSTED:

We're only days away from Sunday's Big Moment, meaning the announcement of what movie takes the coveted Best Picture Oscar. All signs point to Slumdog Millionaire, Danny Boyle's little movie that could. Remember last year's little movie that could? That would be Juno. It didn't win. No Country for Old Men did. Remember the little movie that could from the year before that? That would be Little Miss Sunshine. It didn't win. The Departed did. Or how about the little movie that could from the year before that? That would be Crash. Hell, Crash did win. So what I'm saying is that anything's possible in the land of Academy voting schizophrenia. In any Oscar pool, there's nothing like winning when you've bet on a longshot. So let's take an alphabetical look at all 5 nominees for Best Picture, and chew on the pros and cons.

PRO: David Fincher's attempt to channel Forrest Gump with less of the sappiness scored the most Oscar nominations (13) of any film this year, never mind the other four nominees for Best Picture. Domestic gross is $123 million, way more than the other four nominees. Plus, it's much more in the style of the grand, old-fashioned epic Hollywood loves to celebrate -- or used to (it's been five years since The Lord of the Rings: the Return of the King took the prize).

CON: Call it what you will, it's still Forrest Gump recycled. It lost the important lead-up awards from critics groups, the Screen Actors Guild and even the idiot Golden Globes. Ben B didn't get the usual love.

LATEST BUZZ: Reports are coming in that the Academy old-guard is getting reluctant to award the gold to something as newfangled as Slumdog and that Ben Button better fulfills their reactionary impulses. In short, the forgotten man is back in the race.

FROST/NIXON

PRO: Ron Howard's film version of Peter Morgan's play has won widespread respect, especially for the performances of Best Actor Nominee Frank Langella as Richard Nixon and Best Actor Non-Nominee (whaaat!) Michael Sheen as his TV interrogator David Frost.

CON: Respect is rarely enough to go the distance. The domestic gross is even worse news -- a pitiful $17 million after 11 weeks in release, which makes it the biggest commercial failure in the Top 5.

LATEST BUZZ: Friday the 13th made $45 million last week. Frost/Nixon made $473,000 during the same time period. Translation: No chance.

MILK

PRO: Great reviews! Roger Ebert named Gus Van Sant's nontraditional biopic of assassinated gay activist Harvey Milk (Sean Penn at his peak) his No. choice in the Oscar Race. As did I. The Academy tossed the movie a mighty 8 nominations, always a good sign.

CON: The film's domestic gross -- $27 million -- could be better, much better. And the homophobia among some Oscar voters -- witnessed by the shocking loss of 2005's Brokeback Mountain as Best Picture to Crash -- shows no signs of abating.

LATEST UPDATE: No movie released in the 2008 election year has more political relevance, what with Harvey's home state of California voting in Prop 8 in November to ban gay marriage. If there's an upset in the Best Picture race, Milk would be a worthy one.

THE READER

PRO: It's a Holocaust movie, and the Academy is famously susceptible to the topic. Stephen Daldry's film concerns a former SS guard (Kate Winslet) dealing with guilt. The domestic gross of $20 million so far is nothing to shout about, but the fact that The Reader showed a bump in box office after the Oscar nominations were announced suggests the film is touching a chord.

CON: Many believe it's touching the wrong chord. Ron Rosebaum, of Slate, has called it the "worst Holocaust movie ever made," citing his horror that "a film that asks us to empathize with an unrepentant mass murderer and intimates that 'ordinary Germans' were ignorant of the extermination until after the war, now stands a good chance of getting a golden statuette."

LATEST BUZZ: It does have that chance. And the fact that The Reader is the last production from beloved filmmakers Sydney Pollack and Anthony Minghella, who died within months of each other last year, adds to its impact.

SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE

PRO: It's won the most Best Picture awards going in. It's domestic gross is a strong $90 million and growing. Danny Boyle's love story set in Mumbai has captured 10 nominations (second only to Ben Button's) and the public imagination.

CON: It didn't help that the parents of the film's child stars -- who played the Dev Patel and Freida Pinto characters in the early parts of the film -- claimed their children were exploited and paid less than Indian domestic servants. Also, many in India have protested the use of the word "slumdog," calling it an insult.

LATEST BUZZ: The film's momentum may have peaked. That's what happens when the underdog becomes the favorite. The race is closer now than anyone thinks.

There you have it. My heart's with Milk, my money's on Slumdog. Agree? Disagree? It's time to get in your own last word.

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ABOUT THIS BLOG

Peter Travers

Rolling Stone senior writer Peter Travers has reviewed movies for the magazine for more than 20 years. Send your comments and questions to him here.

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