The Motion Picture Association of America has finally surveyed the industry’s best and on Feb. 22, at the 81st annual Academy Awards, will choose who gets Tinseltown’s highest honor. So without further ado, here is a look at this year’s Best Picture nominees:
This Gus Van Sant biopic about the life and death of gay rights activist Harvey Milk will be a tough competitor for Oscar’s biggest prize. With its crisp performances, stellar film editing, and an incredible soundtrack brimming with classical music, “Milk” is a fantastic picture. Sean Penn shows yet again his mastery of the acting craft, while James Franco’s performance (coupled with his performance in “Pineapple Express”) is beginning to reveal the young actor to be a tour de force. This picture should not be underestimated as a possible winner.
Not only is it a quality picture, but political films always hit home with the Academy. I especially loved this film’s use of stock footage from old news reels.
Ron Howard’s adaptation of the stage play “Frost/Nixon” is a fascinating film about David Frost’s interviews with Richard Nixon. But more importantly, it is about the lives of these two men and what the interviews meant to them both. While “Frost/Nixon” isn’t my choice for best picture, I believe its cast can claim the year’s best performances.
Frank Langella is pitch-perfect in his portrayal of Nixon and at times seems to completely disappear into the man. This is a solid watch.
This adaptation of the book by the same name is about a love affair between a 15-year-old boy and a woman in her mid-30s. The film plays as a heavy, dramatic love story and stars Kate Winslet, Ralph Fiennes and rookie actor David Kross. While “The Reader” is a compelling picture, it’s difficult to sympathize with characters who are so completely in the wrong. According to my sister, the book reads this way as well.
Again, the story was interesting but in the opinion of this humble critic, “The Reader” undeservingly stole the nomination right out from under “The Dark Knight.” However, I’ve learned never to write off a sleeper like this. Remember “Crash” in 2004?
‘THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON’
The unprecedented special effects used in this film are enough to give “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” a look. Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett turn in decent performances, and the story is quite fascinating. However, of all the nominees, this film feels the most like “Oscar bait.”
Also, the often cited similarity to “Forrest Gump” is quite evident. This isn’t a surprise, however, since both films are by the same writer.
‘SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE’Until I saw “Slumdog” a few weeks ago, I was convinced that “The Dark Knight” was the best picture of 2008. And while some of the praise for this film might seem over the top (Richard Corliss of “Time” called it “a buoyant hymn to life”) I was completely swept up by “Slumdog Millionaire.” This rags-to-riches story held me in the palm of its hand for each of its 120 minutes.
The story is uplifting. The music is perfect. The editing is incredible. The urban filmmaking style of director Danny Boyle (“Trainspotting,” “28 Days Later”) makes “Slumdog Millionaire” a complete joy to watch. Some films are showered with unearned praise. This is not one of them.
That said, this is my pick for the best picture of 2008. I have a feeling the Oscar simply BELONGS to “Slumdog Millionaire.”
Lane Blevins is a recent graduate of East Tennessee State University and an aspiring filmmaker.