Since winning the Golden Globe for best drama, Slumdog Millionaire has become the presumptive Best Picture of the year. While I can certainly say that the film was fun and engaging, I can't escape the feeling that this just isn't the best picture I've seen this year.
The film utilizes a clear nonlinear narrative wrapped around the protagonist's participation on the Indian version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" and his interaction with the police investigating allegations of cheating. Through this device, the movie explores the young boys history growing up in the slums of Bombay/Mumbai and the rich history the city has experienced in its rapid modernization over the last 10 years or so. This history, and the way the film celebrates the culture generated in Bollywood (Note my clear sidestepping of the issues surrounding the British Director) are the most interesting parts of the movie, and deserve attention from a wider American audience.
Beyond this, the acting and music of the film earn their recognition, with acting better than the majority of child stars, and excellent frenetic rhythms that capture the spirit of the action. Also: Don't miss the Bollywood dance routine over the credits that will certainly have you leave the theater smiling.
The Not So Good:
Beyond the cultural aspects, the main plot of the film is very weak. There's a touch of sappy romance and some good brotherly drama, but nothing in the plot is innovative. With a basic knowledge of the game show, I was quite sure of the ending (including what the final question would be) within the first half hour. While this is not terrible in itself, the movie does little to make the trip to that end point particularly diverting.
Walking out of the theater, despite my Bollywood smile (although, why are they dancing to a song in Spanish?) I wasn't left with anything to contemplate or discuss with Mrs. Bongo. We both were generally pleased, but there was no lingering thoughts that needed exploration.
So, while I enjoyed the movie, color me unimpressed at this as the frontrunner for the Oscar. While I have yet to get to all the Best Picture nominees, this field seems littered with such "safe" picks. Particularly, Benjamin Button (a renamed Forrest Gump with disturbing effects) is typical unappealing studio junk. I think the Oscars got scared about ratings after last years group of edgier nominees and thus are back to old tricks for a show. Hence the Academy passsing on the hilarious Ricky Gervais for the completely boring Hugh Jackman. As a Fanboy I will lament Dark Knight getting passed over and still hold out hope for Ben Burtt and Wall-E.