Thursday, January 26, 2017

Decade of Best Pictures: SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE

Welcome back to the first DECADE OF BEST PICTURES series of reviews where we will be taking a look at a decade of Best Picture winners over the course of 10 days. In this series we will be looking at the decade of Best Pictures from 2005-2015 in reverse chronological order! This eighth entry will be for the 2008 Best Picture winner SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE!

Slumdog Millionaire is the 2008 Best Picture winner from acclaimed English director Danny Boyle, with Indian co-direction by Loveleen Tandan. The film follows a character named Jamal, from the slums in India, as he competes on the Indian version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire and is interspliced with him being questioned and explaining how he gets so many answers right. The film stars Dev Patel, Freida Pinto, Madhur Mittal, Anil Kapoor, and Irrfan Khan.

Overall, I think Slumdog Millionaire is a perfectly fine film but I don’t know if it is a special one. The film has a really unique visual style (especially if you’re not acquainted with either Danny Boyle or with Indian cinema), has very strong performances across the board, and ties the emotional heart and soul together well in the conclusion. The film is also kind of disposable, however, and given the passage of time (and the fall from grace of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire) the film doesn’t hold up quite as well as it used to.

The style of this film is what makes it so unique and special. Danny Boyle brings a lot of his signature elements to bear on this film and his fingerprints are all over this thing. But, instead of this being merely a Danny Boyle film, he also managed to incorporate a Bollywood/Indian feel to it that sets it apart from the rest of his filmography (and made this a very unique film on the awards scene in 2008. Coupling this with great performances, especially from Patel, Pinto, and Kapoor, makes this film incredibly engaging. Everyone in the ensemble is on point. The film really turned on Patel being pitch perfect, which he was. This film works because of Patel, no question about that.

This film also has a very distinct soul. There is a core emotional story that engages you and as you’re moving up the Millionaire rungs you feel that emotional core coming more and more to the surface and, though you probably already know how it ends, you feel a palpable tension that is amazing and almost indescribable. That level of audience engagement is a powerful thing and why I think this wound up being as successful as it was.

Despite its strengths, I do think Slumdog Millionaire is a touch disposable. The story is unique, but simple and predictable. The characters are good but, at least for me, not defining of anything in particular. Also, despite the wild tonal shifts included to show both the dark and light sides of this story, I found the film to be overall too light. The films ends happily with a really neat dance bit to the Oscar-winning (and great) song “Jai Ho” and that just felt a little too disingenuous for a lot of the darkness in the story and that would still be there. Despite this, I still left with a smile so I won’t say this made it bad, I just think it made it slightly disposable.

In addition to those problems, I felt the age of this film even though it isn’t even 10 years old yet. The film came out at the tail end of Millionaire’s popularity and now that show is almost a distant memory (at least stateside). I found a weird nostalgia coming back watching it and I couldn’t help but feel like I was back home in the early 2000s which is not, per se, how I felt I should feel watching a film in the collection of “Best Pictures.” It makes it feel very small in scope which is a little a disappointing in retrospect.

Overall, Slumdog Millionaire is a perfectly fine and interesting film but it suffers from being dated and disposable. It also hurts me to know when this won and the much more deserving film that came out that year that didn’t even merit a nomination in the eyes of the Academy.

Ryan’s Score: 7.5/10

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