SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE the Best Movie of 2008?

The National Board of Review announced their choice for the best film of 2008: Danny Boyle's SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE. Now those who know me well, or those who simply read my reviews on this site, must know that this genuinely shocked me, and I pretty actively disliked SLUMDOG. Even more shocking to me than the best movie award is the acknowledgement to Simon Beaufoy script, for Best Adapted Screenplay as I find the screenplay particularly reprehensible. Now I realize that I'm not going to agree with every honor bestowed by critics groups around the world, but I'm always a bit surprised when a movie I dislike fairly seriously garners enough support from other film buffs to win such honors. I'm sure Beth Caldwell is feeling the same way about all the honors being bestowed on FROZEN RIVER.

Anyway, upon reading this I immediately wanted to find out more about the NBR, to see how authoritative they might be. This is what I discovered on their website:

"The screening membership comprises knowledgeable film buffs, academics, young film professionals, and students in the New York metropolitan area."

Hmmm... I guess this must just be a highly divisive film. I know there are Chlotrudis members whose opinions I respect who love SLUMDOG as well.

The NBR's other honors follow:

Film: "Slumdog Millionaire"
Director: David Fincher, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
Actor: Clint Eastwood, "Gran Torino"
Actress: Anne Hathaway, "Rachel Getting Married"
Supporting Actor: Josh Brolin, "Milk"
Supporting Actress: Penelope Cruz, "Vicky Cristina Barcelona"
Foreign Language Film: "Mongol"
Documentary: "Man On Wire"
Animated Feature: "Wall-E"
Ensemble Cast: "Doubt"
Breakthrough Performance by an Actor: Dev Patel, "Slumdog Millionaire"
Breakthrough Performance by an Actress: Viola Davis, "Doubt"
Directorial Debut: Courtney Hunt, "Frozen River"
Original Screenplay: Nick Schenk, "Gran Torino"
Adapted Screenplay: Simon Beaufoy, "Slumdog Millionaire"
Eric Roth, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
Spotlight Award: Melissa Leo, "Frozen River"
Richard Jenkins, "The Visitor"
The BVLGARI Award for NBR Freedom of Expression: "Trumbo"

TOP TEN FILMS

* "Burn After Reading"
* "Changeling"
* "The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button"
* "The Dark Knight"
* "Defiance"
* "Frost/Nixon"
* "Gran Torino"
* "Milk"
* "Wall-E"
* "The Wrestler"

TOP FIVE FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILMS

* Edge Of Heaven
* Let The Right One In
* Roman De Guerre
* A Secret
* Waltz With Bashir

TOP FIVE DOCUMENTARY FILMS

* American Teen
* The Betrayal (Nerakhoon)
* Dear Zachary
* Encounters At The End Of The World
* Roman Polanski: Wanted And Desired

That was an interesting debate between Ty and Wesley, although I disagree with both of them, because I clearly disliked the film more than Ty, and Wesley loved it. Looking at the scenes from the film in this clip does force me to admit that visually the film is very well done. Boyle is nothing if not a visual stylist. Where I take offense is in the emotional shorthand.

Ty admits that "the emotional resonance rings true" for him, and that is the single largest issue I have with the film. There is NO emotional resonance in this film. Everything emotional is told with cheap shorthand, and we are expected to accept that the two main characters love each other. We're certainly never shown them falling in love. We're expected to accept a certain plot development with the main character's brother near the film's end which totally rang false for me. Wesley calls this a fairy tale, but at least in a Hollywood fairy tale, they actually manipulate your emotions. SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE has no emotional impact whatsoever.

Gil mentions the final Bollywood-style dance number, and there we can agree. I think it was the first time the film let itself have some genuine fun. I think if the entire film had been told as a Bollywood-style production, I would have LOVED it. Instead Boyle and screenwriter Simon Beaufoy (who I think is the real culprit here) try to graft some serious issues onto an otherwise empty, puff piece of celluloid. It just doesn't work for me.

While it has been a few months since I saw the film, I recall that when I saw Slumdog Millionaire in Toronto, I was impressed as to how it surpassed my expectations. The premise of the film is arguably a bit hokey – a young man, who has grown up as an orphan on the streets of Mumbai, is on the verge of winning millions on India’s version of “Who Wants To Be a Millionaire.” And in doing so, he may just get his chance to reconnect with his long-lost love. In embracing the film, the viewer must be willing to accept the fantasy/feel-good element of the story.

However, director Danny Boyle utilizes his skills as a filmmaker to draw the viewer into the world of modern-day India and the larger-than-life experiences of the main characters. From the beautiful score to the amazing cinematography, to the final Bollywood-style dance number, the story resonated that much more with me.

Now, I admit that seeing Slumdog Millionaire in Toronto enhanced my experience of the film. It was only the second time that the film had been screened in public, and it was apparent that the director, screenwriter, main actor, and actress were surprised and overwhelmed with the crowd’s enthusiastic reaction to the film. I couldn’t help but get caught up in the moment and frankly, that’s part of the reason that I attend film festivals, especially Toronto.

But when I look back on the film, I am especially impressed that the filmmakers were able to construct a film that has proven to be accessible to such a wide audience – not just to the arthouse audience but to people who would not typically want to see a film about orphans growing up on the streets of Mumbai. Serious social issue films can be hard to watch. When I screened films for the Boston Latino International Film Festival, I would often come across great films that would address difficult subject matters such as poverty and crime. Unfortunately, it could be difficult to get people to come see these films as the subject matter would turn off a large portion of the audience who weren’t interested in that type of cinematic experience. With Slumdog Millionaire, I found that these tough topics were addressed yet the story still succeeded in entertaining me.

I must mention that one of the more interesting debates on Slumdog Millionaire has been between Boston Globe film critics Ty Burr and Wesley Morris. To check it out, go to:
http://www.truveo.com/Take-2-Globe-review-of-Slumdog-Millionaire/id/3938...

Oddly, I neither hated or loved SLUMDOG... just didn't feel too passionate about it. But hating a universally loved film isn't all that uncommon - for instance, I absolutely loathe everything about Chlotrudis winner REQUIEM FOR A DREAM except for Ellen Burystn's performance.