The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Winner: Slumdog Millionaire
Remember how this was supposed to be the year that AMPAS recognized an animated film for only the second time in this category (Wall-E; Beauty and the Beast pulled it off in 1991, and that was without a separate category for animated films) and/or a superhero film for the very first time (The Dark Knight)? Well, it didn't quite happen that way, did it? Instead, we ended up with 10 nominees the next year to make up for it, and trash like The Blind Side managed to sneak in because they wanted to prove they're not "out-of-touch" with "America," only to prove that they are certainly out-of-touch with their mission to honor the best films of the year. Leave the crap that's popular to the People's Choice Awards, and give 10 quality films Oscar nominations. But that's a rant for another time.
The films that were nominated aren't a bad bunch, with a couple of really fantastic offerings. The weakest of the bunch is easily The Reader, which proves that the erotic Holocaust drama is one genre that will not catch on anytime soon. That's not to say its a terrible film, but its wildly uneven and not Best Picture material. Benjamin Button is the kind of epic that AMPAS always loves, and the film provides an excellent (if overlong) mediation on aging and the mortality of love. Frost/Nixon is a powerful ensemble film, and in recounting the interviews between former President Richard Nixon and BBC reporter David Frost, creates plenty of drama as Frost slowly cracks the stubborn President over Watergate. Milk was a timely film, as Prop 8 was being voted on in California at the time, but it was also an entertaining biopic about a politician who just happened to be gay. But when it comes to inspirational films, Slumdog Millionaire blazes with such exotic energy and dramatic pacing that its easy to forget the film's smart storytelling, excellent performances and touching emotional core.
Here's how my ballot would have looked:
1. Slumdog Millionaire
4. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
5. The Reader