We were able to accomplish exactly what we had hoped to accomplish this weekend, catching four movies over two days, three of which will be under serious "Top Ten" consideration, two of which will be THE MAJOR OSCAR CONTENDERS, and one of which will be anointed the filmic equivalent of Barack Obama.
After probably the best, most exciting and inspiring film-viewing weekend of the year, I have come away convinced that Slumdog Millionaire will win the Best Picture Oscar. Why? Well for one, the film is one of those exciting, lightning-in-a-bottle film experiences that clicks on every level, in every way.
The second reason is: Barack Obama.
This was the year of Change. This was the year of Hope. This was the year of inspirational victory overcoming insurmountable odds. That was the story--and will be the legend--of Barack Obama. That is the tenor of this country at this powerful moment in time. And that describes Slumdog Millionaire in a nutshell.
The power of the film lies in the unabashed inspiration of its story. A young kid who grew up fending for himself in the streets of Bombay sits one question away from winning 20 million rupees on the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? The film poses the central question right from the start: How did he do it? The answers lie in the smallest of moments, in the most unexpected of places. What becomes clear is that knowledge does not come from birthright, and that winning a quiz show has nothing to do with education. Sometimes a life lived is preparation enough. Or, of course, it may just be destiny.
Danny Boyle, forever respected but scarcely awarded, will surely go into this year's Oscar ceremony the prohibitive favorite to win Best Director. After toiling within the British and American film industries for over a decade, and after churning out ambitious film after ambitious film that have been respected but not lovingly embraced, the man has finally found The Film. Boyle has always been an extraordinary visualist, but his style has always been applied to ambitious-yet-peculiar genre films with sinister twists (Trainspotting, The Beach, 28 Days Later). Here, working from a beautifully realized script by Simon Beaufoy (also the prohibitive Oscar favorite at this point), and working with Indian co-director Loveleen Tandan, Boyle has abandoned all elements of unnecessary oddity and arch but let his visual skills take flight in ways they never have before, crafting what is the most strikingly beautiful, gracefully envelope-pushing visual experience of the year. He uses the camera to create senses of joy, risk, pain, fear, tension, anger, and love. And in the power of the film's motion, the vividness of its colors, and the emotional power of its editing (yes, that's possible), the film exposes the the lush beauty and harsh reality of a 'slumdog's' life in India. It should act as a wake-up call to all viewers about the state of India's mean streets, especially in light of the recent attacks in Mumbai. This is the sort of breathless, visionary directorial panache we usually only see from the likes of Scorsese or Mereilles...or a fresh newcomer who comes out of nowhere with his talent fully formed. Indeed, Slumdog Millionaire in many ways represents a rebirth for Boyle, even though he was never in need of one.
From its opening shots of the tattered slums of Bombay to its closing Bollywood-referencing dance sequence, Slumdog Millionaire is captivating magic. It pained me. It overjoyed me. It made me laugh. It made me cry. It made me feel very passionately--one of the great wonders of this beautiful art form, and one of the defining characteristics of this beautiful film.