Monday, February 16, 2009

99% chance of Best Picture fail

Nate Silver gives "Slumdog Millionaire" a 99% chance of winning the Oscar for Best Picture.

I hated Slumdog Millionaire. It's just a horribly told story. Given the title and the first fifteen minutes of the movie, you know...

a) that the hero wins on "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?"
b) that he wins because the questions all happen to pertain to things that have personal significance to him.

Again, you know these things in the first fifteen minutes. So why is this a two hour movie? Because of the flashbacks that explain the personal significance. With each question from the squirrelly game show host, asked in biographical order of course, we get more backstory on the hero, his brother, and his true love.

But it's just backstory! Nothing actually happens in any one or any set of flashbacks that constitutes a second plot. I spent most of the flashbacks waiting for them to end so we could get back to see what happens in the main plot, only to remind myself that we already know he wins and that this, the flashbacks, is really what it's all about. At which point I check my watch. The "Three Musketeers" grow older and go their separate ways, but the hero never gives up on them. etc. etc.

So that's how the Best Director of the year stretched out a simple, stupid gimmicky plot that he gives away immediately into two hours of motion picture magic: flashbacks*.

There is only one conceivable reason why a movie this bad is almost certainly going to win multiple Oscars, and it is the fact that the hero of the pointless story is Indian, and he wins on the Indian version of "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?" after being asked India-related questions that are coincidentally relevant to his Indian life experience.

I would have thought by 2008 the idea of India being a real country where people had hopes and dreams and game shows, just like in America, would have lost some if not all of its novelty. But "Slumdog" owes everything to its being-set-in-Indianess (with a director named Boyle it is not an Indian film).

Making matters worse, it seems to acknowledge as much. The film constantly invites the audience to feel more worldly just for having watched it, never more openly than in the tour guide scenes (featuring tourists who are so clueless as to elicit embarrassment and pity from even the least-traveled viewer).

Apparently it worked, because nowhere in all these glowing reviews does anyone mention that the film is stone cold boring. The closest anyone comes is Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle, who acknowledges that it "has a problem in its storytelling," and that it "unfolds in a start-and-stop way that kills suspense, leans heavily on flashbacks and robs the movie of most of its velocity." But even this, the film's harshest review is entitled "'Slumdog Millionaire' Ultimately Pays Off."

No! No it doesn't! That it is a Nate-Silver-Says-99% lock to win the Oscar for Best Picture is only proof that you don't need a good story if you manage to flatter your audience's sense of sophistication.

* Screen time breaks down approximately as follows:
20% - Scenes from a game show whose outcome is known in advance
10% - Post-victory interrogation scenes, setting up flashbacks
70% - Assorted flashbacks

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