Friday, February 20, 2009

Oscars and more ...

Nate Smith of recently posted his predictions for the Oscars:
  • Best Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight (86% chance of victory)
  • Best Supporting Actress: Taraji P. Henson, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (51% chance of victory)
  • Best Actor: Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler (71% chance of victory)
  • Best Actress: Kate Winslet, The Reader (68% chance of victory)
  • Best Director: Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire (99.7% chance of victory)
  • Best Picture: Slumdog Millionaire (99.0% chance of victory)

That Slumdog Millionaire ranks so high is interesting. Clearly it is a well made movie, with a very engaging plot and offers Western audiences an opportunity to indulge in a bit of schadenfreude at the level of poverty depicted. However, I suspect that much of it's success may have to do with it being the right story at the right time. This year, hope sells. Slumdog's rags to riches story is just the ticket.

I wonder, though, where Slumdog Millionaire will rank when the current hoopla is over. It will probably not rank with romantic classics such as "Roman Holiday", "When Harry Met Sally", "Breakfast at Tiffany's", "Casablanca", "It Happened One Night", "Love Story", etc. It isn't clear whether it is artistically good enough to compare to classics such as "Pan's Labyrinth" and "Shawshank Redemption", or even Boyle's earlier work, "Trainspotting". It may join the ranks of the hundreds of topical Oscar winners, which seem overrated in hindsight. Still it's a good movie.

On a different note, I recently saw Hayao Miyazaki's film, Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea. It isn't up to his usual standards. The central relationship is between two little kids whose love seems a bit too tenuous to be the cause of such an uproar. However, it is an fascinating take on the Little Mermaid, particularly in its depiction of the sea. For those who haven't seen a Miyazaki movie, you might want to try "Spirited Away" or "My Neighbor Totoro". Most of Miyazaki's movies are great, but these two stand out in a class by themselves for their sheer imaginative brilliance.

Finally, while on the subject of Studio Ghibli's movies (Hayao Miyazaki's studio), I should perhaps mention that if you do go farther afield than Miyazaki, you may want to try "Grave of the Fireflies" by Isao Takahata. In terms of the sheer sense of poignancy evoked, it ranks right up there with Vittorio De Sica's "The Bicycle Thief" (Ladri di biciclette) and Satyajit Ray's "Pather Panchali." It is a fascinating window on WWII from the point of civilians.

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