Cast: Anil Kapoor, Irrfan Khan, Dev Patel, Freida Pinto
Director: Danny Boyle
Quick take: Two brothers find themselves on either side of the law. What’s changed from the seventies? The angry young man has become a system conforming consumerist, information has become power and people find escape through reality television, especially since life in modern-day India can be larger than film. Jamal Malik, a chaiwala from a call centre seems to know all the answers in the game show. Did he cheat? The most entertaining and only fast-paced film of the lot, Danny Boyle’s ode to Mumbai and Indian cinema, may not have set the local box office on fire here. But its unique texture, manic energy and inventive style gives the film an edge over the others nominees.
Pros: The kids – absolutely natural, Rahman’s peppy score, the recklessly wicked camerawork by Anthony Dod Mantle and the unique premise of setting a thriller in the backdrop of a game show. Also, the fact that Bollywood has never got its due at the Oscars may just go in favour of this film.
Cons: The unsettling shift from Hindi to English halfway into the film, the conveniently chronological order of flashbacks to suit the order of questions and the shameless sprinkling of Bollywood masala.
The Odds: Given its current record, clearly the favourite for Best Film and Best Director. Likely to take home the prize for Cinematography and the Best Original Score too.
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Cast: Kate Winslet, Ralph Fiennes, David Cross
Director: Stephen Daldry
Quick Take: A slow period film set in Germany about a fifteen year old boy who has an affair with a woman twice his age. They form an unusual bond over sex and reading. Kate Winslet is practically naked for half her screen-time and compensates by playing a deglamourised old woman for the other half of the film. The drama in this tragic romance does bring a tear or two but the brooding mood of the film weighs it down further considerably.
Pros: Kate Winslet’s presence, the suspense and the epic nature of the romance.
Cons: Sluggishly slow pace and if there’s anything between the lines, it’s difficult to read especially if you aren’t into literature or history.
The Odds: The only film that’s capable of creating an upset for the Best Director award over Slumdog Millionaire.
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The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Cast: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Julia Ormond
Director: David Fincher
Quick Take: Nearly three hours long, this story of a man born old and dying as a baby seems like Brad Pitt’s desperate shot at the Oscars. If Forrest Gump’s Momma always said: “Life’s a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get,” Benjamin Button’s ‘Mama’ always says: “You never know what’s comin’ for you.” Like Titanic, an old woman on her death-bed begins to tell the story of her lover.
Pros: Great production values, some fantastic effects, meticulous make-up and Brad Pitt, of course.
Cons: The pace. And you can say that again.
The Odds: The film with the most nominations may not go home with the most number of Oscars.
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Cast: Sean Penn, Emile Hirsch, Josh Brolin, James Franco
Director: Gus Van Sant
Quick Take: The biopic of America’s first openly gay man who was elected to public office as a member of San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors has Sean Pean deliver another fantastic performance that’s got him in the run for Best Actor. Gus Van Sant gives it a credibly authentic feel employing documentary techniques and lets Penn’s persona and portrayal take care of the rest.
Pros: Sean Penn, the speech-scenes and the sense of realism till the very end.
Cons: Too political and observational to be an entertaining film
The Odds: You can see why this has been nominated for Best Director and Actor but doesn’t seem to stand a chance for Best Film.
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Cast: Frank Langhella, Michael Sheen, Kevin Bacon
Director: Ron Howard
Quick Take: The documentary-like film goes behind the scenes of one of the most watched television programmes in American history – the controversial series of interviews where David Frost finally cracked the tough talking Richard Nixon. If Milk only borrowed documentary techniques, this one’s a full-fledged documentary with supers, dates, quotes, newspaper clips, reports and multiple-accounts of the television event but it is the face-off between two fantastic actors that makes this film watchable.
Pros: Frank Langhella’s dominating persona, the editing that tightens up a film that could’ve so easily fallen apart.
Cons: Too academic to be taken seriously as entertainment.
The Odds: The nod for a Best Director nomination is understandable. Does not stand much of a chance in the Best Film category.
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