What Won Instead: Slumdog Millionaire
Since 2008 I’ve divided people into two rudimentary categories - those who liked Slumdog Millionaire and those who didn’t. I fall into the latter camp. Any film which contains this exchange of dialogue is instantly going to get my hackles up and get my hackles up it did.
Jamal (Slumdog Millionaire): Run away with me.
Latika (Slumdog Millionaire’s Mot): And live on what?
Jamal (Slumdog Millionaire): Love
This Slumdog Millionaire fella is supposed to have grown up on the harsh streets of India so how is it that he’s so naive to think that being in love will provide some sort of income? It wont.
There are many other reasons for my disdain towards Slumdog Millionaire not least because middle-class hippy types lauded it as one of the greatest films ever made and would practically accuse people of racism if they didn’t agree. But as far as I’m concerned, Slumdog Millionaire is a garish and ridiculously plotted film that dilutes the very real and tragic circumstances of poverty in India.
It went on to win eight academy awards including best picture. However the film that should have won that year wasn’t even nominated. That film is The Wrestler, one of the most subtly and beautifully written films ever made.
The Wrestler is not colourful and gregarious like Slumdog Millionaire. Nor does it have an uplifting ending or a song and dance routine which was made all the more obnoxious by the scores of imitations that flooded the TV and internet in 2008 and early 2009. (I instantly hated Slumdog Millionaire 5 percent more when I saw Ellen De Generais and the crew of her TV show doing the dance) Everything about Slumdog Millionaire strikes me as gimmicky. To quote a ubiquitous adage ‘It’s style over substance.’
The Wrestler though is the complete opposite. It doesn’t look pretty and nor is it supposed to. It tells the truth about human suffering and doesn’t once patronise the audience. It also has Mickey Rourke delivering one of the best performances of his career (also snubbed at the Oscars), although at the very least he was nominated.
The best picture category wasn’t the only instance of Oscar injustice that year either. Jai Ho the piercingly irritating song from Slumdog Millionaire won best original song. Bruce Springsteen’s title song from The Wrestler didn’t get even get a nomination. I know music is extremely subjective but have a listen to both and if you prefer the former then you’re a loon.
2. THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION
What won instead: Forrest Gump
‘Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.’
Unfortunately at the 67th Academy Awards ceremony in 1995, when Forrest Gump won best picture, what we got was Turkish Delight when we could have had a Roses’ Hazelnut Whirl. (This analogy works really well if, like me, you hate Turkish Delight and love Roses’ Hazelnut Whirls)
Forrest Gump is at the most an enjoyable film but suffers from being cloying and somewhat contrived. The Shawshank Redemption on the other hand is the kind of film that you own on DVD, blue ray and there’s probably a dusty VHS copy at the back of some drawer. Despite this, whenever it’s on TV you just have to sit down and look at it again. It’s one of the most re-watchable films ever made even though it’s nearly 2½ hours long. It frequently scores high on Top 100 best movie lists particularly ones that are voted for by the public. It’s the film equivalent of bubble wrap. Everybody loves it and those who don’t are weird.
So how then did Forrest Gump manage to get the Oscar over Shawshank. Well there are a number of reasons. First of all there’s the Tom Hanks factor. He had become an academy darling having proved he could take on dramatic roles the year before with his Oscar winning performance as a man dying of AIDS in Philadelphia.
Also there was the fact that The Shawshank Redemption had done poorly at the box office so it was still a relatively unknown film when it got the nomination. Forrest Gump on the other hand was a phenomenon and although it doesn’t seem like much now, those scenes where Tom Hanks was inserted into actual footage of old news clips was a huge deal at the time.
The main reason though that Forrest Gump was the winner that year is that the Academy loves triumph over adversity stories especially if they involve a character with some sort of physical or mental disability. Although breaking out of prison is certainly triumph over adversity, the problem is that Tim Robbin’s character, Andy Dufresne, undertook this as a handsome intelligent man whereas Forrest Gump managed to do remarkable things even though he was thick. Perhaps if the character of Andy Dufresne had a hair-lip things might have been different but alas we’ll never know.
What Won Instead: The English Patient (The Mind Boggles)
Where do you begin with this? Let’s talk about Fargo first. A violent, disturbing, hilarious, wonderfully written, wonderfully directed and wonderfully acted film. This is a film that breaks conventions such as not having the hero, Frances McDormand, appear until about 30 minutes in. I was 14 years old when I first saw it and I couldn’t believe what I was watching. I had never seen anything like it and to this day it’s a film that blows me away.
It was nominated for 7 academy awards and won 2, Frances McDormand (best actress) and The Coen Brothers themselves for best original screenplay. The most interesting nomination though was the fact that their editor Roderick Jaynes was nominated for best editing which is funny considering he doesn’t exist and is merely an alias the Coen brothers use as they themselves edit their films. Rumour has it the Coens had convinced Albert Finney to dress up as the fictitious Jaynes and accept the award if they won but the academy got wind of their shenanigans and wouldn’t allow it. You might deem this as proof of a lack of sense of humour on the Academy’s part but then how do you explain The English Patient winning 9 Oscars including best picture.
The only positive aspect about watching The English Patient is the sense of nostalgia it evokes. Sitting through it from start to finish conjures up similar feelings that you had when you were a child and that one day of the year when you had to sit with your parents and look at the budget instead of cartoons. It’s unbelievably dull. I know I’ve seen it, somehow, somewhere. I know there’s a guy in it whose face has been burnt and someone rides a motorbike but apart from that nothing. It’s instantly forgettable. The only thing I really remember about it is that it robbed Fargo of a well deserved Oscar.