If Slumdog Millionaire would have lost in all of the eight categories in which it won, I truly believe my feelings about it would be the same. Really, I do. I've said before that the Oscars should have no bearing on how we feel about the films we've seen, just as the Grammys don't in any validate whether the music we listen to is "good". The people who really care about the Oscars are typically in the business of celebrity worship or box-office calculations. All I want to do is celebrate the last year in films, and if there is occasion to celebrate the specific films that really touched me, well then that's just a bonus.
In fact only three of my Top 10 films from 2008 received nominations in any category, so it's not like I had a lot invested here - awards aside, those are all still my top ten.
But the big one, #1 with a bullet, just happened to get showered with gold. And I have to say - simply seeing each of its components (editing, cinematography, score, original song, etc.) individually recognized did solidify my admiration for this film. So it was a great night for me (especially considering my review on 11/21/08: "the best movie I've seen so far in 2008 - and it's not even close."), capped off by a feast of Indian food to celebrate the occasion.
For fun, here are my thoughts on some of the other highlights from the ceremony...
The Winners: No major surprises at all, which is...a little surprising. I ended up 19/24, missing:
- Best Supporting Actress (a bad upset pick)
- Best Sound Mixing (though I did say Slumdog deserved to win in my predictions, I didn't think it would)
- Best Documentary Short (a CNN story on Pinki Sonkar should have made this win more obvious to me)
- Best Animated Short (should have gone with my heart, La Maison was another I thought deserved to win)
- Best Foreign Language Film (wrong upset pick)
The Set: Much was made about this year's set design being a throwback to the "golden years" of the Academy Awards, but it looked the same to me aside from some cramped seating. Which is to say it looked just fine, as usual, so I don't even want to know how many millions of dollars were spent to design it.
The Genre Montages: The comedy montage was the best of the bunch, and incidentally a lot funnier than Pineapple Express actually was. I was a fan of the romance montage as well, but the others seemed repetitive, lackluster or just unnecessary. This isn't a bad idea, but it could use just a bit more work. And why no "drama" montage?
Mickey Rourke: Too bad he goes home empty-handed - he wanted it so much more than Penn.
Least Surprising Upset: Departures winning for Best Foreign Language Film. I know I chose The Class here, but it was down to the two of these after I picked up on a lot of buzz about Waltz with Bashir's near-certain loss. No documentary or animated film has ever won in this category, so it was in a pretty deep hole to begin with. Tough year for this movie, but again, if you're looking for validation that it was a good movie then you're looking in the wrong place - it's OK, you can still like it!
Most Enjoyable Upset: For me, this would have been either a win for either Viola Davis or Trouble the Water, but La Maison en Petits Cubes winning Best Animated Short Film was one of my favorite moments of the night, mostly because I got to hear three seconds of the musical score by Kenji Kondo again. As I said in my reviews of the shorts, there was nothing wrong with Presto, but La Maison was so good that I'd pay full price just to see it again (which I might have to do since it still can't be found online). I think the Animated Short category is quickly becoming one of my favorites after only two years of seeing the nominees.
(UPDATE: I found it - watch it here before it's gone!)
The Memorial Tribute in Song: Nice, but didn't really achieve the intended effect of discouraging audience applause, which makes everyone uncomfortable because the thing turns into a popularity contest.
Best Reminder: I had forgotten how great Alexander Desplat's score for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was. Make it third best of the year, after Slumdog Millionaire and Revolutionary Road (which wasn't nominated, even though Thomas Newman was still up for WALL*E, giving him a total of 10 Oscar nominations and not one win).
Kate Winslet: Finally - good for her.
Best Reminder, Part II: The second time I saw Slumdog Millionaire I was completely floored by the cinematography. Seeing the clips for a third time briefly here, it was clear to me that despite all of the brilliant work done by others this year (The Dark Knight, The Fall, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), the cinematography by Anthony Dod Mantle was unmatched.
Most Selfish Moment: The "musicals are back" blowout. Connect these dots: Bill Condon was the co-producer for this year's ceremony and designed the entire program; Bill Condon also directed Dreamgirls, which was roundly considered to be snubbed when it didn't receive either a Best Picture or Best Director nomination two years ago. Hmm...
Biggest Relief: Not seeing Miley Cyrus during the entire proceedings.
Best Presenter: Will Smith - I say line him up for the hosting duties in another year when he's not nominated.
Worst Presenter: Robert Pattinson - I didn't see Twilight and I had to look up how to spell his name just now. This kid was just creepy throughout the whole show, including when he was leering from behind Mickey Rourke as Best Actor was about to be presented, causing my sister to wonder aloud, "Maybe he really is a vampire."
The Reader: This contradicts my "I don't care about the Oscar winners/losers" message, but all the nominee space this movie took up (with the exception of Kate Winslet) still doesn't really seem justified, especially when Hugh Jackman can make a really funny - and accurate - joke about it nobody having seen it. It wasn't a terrible movie by any means, but since it didn't end up actually winning anything else we'll be forever left to wonder what movie could have received more attention in its place.
The Fellowship of the Actors Presentations: Interesting idea to have members of the exclusive winners' groups give a tribal council before welcoming the new member, but it felt kind of like a fraternity or sorority initiation, or worse, a reality show. But it was a fresh idea and the recognitions for each nominee were nicely written.
Ben Stiller: Funny...but not as funny as it would have been had the exact same gag not been staged at the Spirit Awards on Saturday night, with almost all of the same people in the audience.
Best Acceptance Speech: Heath Ledger's family. It's extremely rare for actors to receive recognition in this way, and that was about as nice as it could have been.
Best Acceptance Speech, Part II: The Japanese winners of Best Animated Short and Best Foreign Film dropping astonishingly witty lines in their brief, heartfelt thank-yous. Just to clarify because I don't think it was obvious (and I would have totally misunderstood it had I not seen the credits at the end of La Maison): Kunio Kato wasn't just making a random joke about "Mr. Roboto" because he couldn't say much else in English (here's the text). The production company for his winning film is called Robot, so he was actually making a really brilliant joke by using the lyrics to the song as part of his speech.
The Closing Credits: I thought this idea of showing 10-second clips of upcoming movies was going to be really bad, too fast, too choppy. It ended up being...OK, not really showing me anything I hadn't seen yet and also not alerting me to any upcoming movies that I didn't already have on my radar. Probably got a lot of people to tune in for the credits, though, so I guess that was a success. If it's OK that nobody actually saw the credits.
Speaking of credits, here's the capstone for the night (and for the second year in a row, the rightful winner of Best Original Song):