Is ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ Next in Line for Oscar Backlash?

Dev Patel in Slumdog Millionaire

Photo: Fox Searchlight

I remember back in 2006 when Superman Returns was released and the film scored a 77% Rotten Tomatoes ranking marking it “Certified Fresh” which means it joins the pantheon of films to have earned such a moniker including Citizen Kane, Toy Story, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story and, of course, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. It’s a cornucopia of quality. Trouble is, I thought Superman Returns wasn’t all that good. Not that I hated it or anything, I just simply thought it was slow and it was boring. However, the more and more I heard how good it was — or how this was great and that was amazing — I began to argue against the film. Sooner rather than later I found myself almost loathing it, until suddenly I had to ask why.

Arguments for Superman Returns included adjectives such as “breathtaking” and “emotional”. My answer to this was simply, “No, it’s not,” but that didn’t change the fact that hearing about how great it was helped matters. To get to the point, the love some people had for the film created debates in which I found myself hating on the film far more than I actually did. The people I was talking to argued for the film on such a level that I felt I had to match it just in order to get my point across. However, as it inevitably would turn out, neither person arguing convinced the other as much as we simply reinforced our own conviction and actually enhanced them. There was a time I had to say to someone, “I actually don’t hate the film this much, but you are making me dislike it more and more.” They returned the same sentiment, but in reverse, and so it goes… a mini-backlash was born. Even though it was an entirely self-aware backlash.

Last year Juno was the victim even though it ended up winning an Oscar. The passionate love for the film caused haters to come out of the woodwork. It’s the same way it is now commonplace to hate Titanic. I guess the people that purchased those $600,788,188 worth of tickets have all died off. Either that, or people simply don’t feel it deserved the acclaim it received back in 1998. I mean, how could a movie about a ship we all knew was going to sink, while Kate Winslet dragged Leonardo DiCaprio into the back of that car and made hot sweaty love to him, actually become the highest grossing film of all time and go on to win 11 Oscars? How dare it! I hate it!*

I can’t help but wonder if Slumdog Millionaire is next in line or if it is “backlash proof” because I can already feel a mild annoyance with all this praise bubbling up inside of me.

I gave the film an “A-” when I reviewed it even though I wish I had knocked it down to a “B+” or even as low as a “B-“. I think the review reads quite accurately as to my opinion and I certainly don’t dislike the film, but at the same time I don’t believe it is worthy of all the award attention it is receiving and certainly not as the frontrunner for the Oscar Best Picture, which is where it sits at this time. It just won four Golden Globes including Best Picture (Drama), was nominated for 11 BAFTA Awards and on the 25th it will compete for a pair of Screen Actors Guild Awards. How many Oscar noms will it receive on January 22?

Some project upwards of nine with the film as the frontrunner to win four, including Picture and Director. Is this the “little film that could” that actually can? Is it that good, or is it just a matter of it hitting theaters at the right time? Did audiences simply need an uplifting story of love triumphant and Slumdog just happened to be the best of the bunch as it mixed serious drama with a very hokey and formulaic ending? If that’s the case then why was The Dark Knight so popular? Was Jamal the anti-Joker and therefore the two nullified each other?

It’s a strange film for certain and I think in a stronger year there would definitely be a greater potential for backlash, but in a year with a rather weak crop of Oscar contenders there is no reason not to grab hold of the little guy and usher him into the upper echelon of films. I just wonder where it will fall in terms of film history. Will Slumdog be a film that is talked about ten years from now? I look back at recent Best Picture Oscar winners and see a ton of films people tend to get upset with including Crash, Shakespeare in Love, Titanic, Forrest Gump and even Braveheart. Hell, people get mad Return of the King won the Oscar in 2003 just because Fellowship of the Ring and Two Towers didn’t win in their years. It’s strange, I look back and it seems that ever since 1993 and Schindler’s List won there are more and more people upset and dismissive with the Best Picture Oscar winner. Is Slumdog the next in line or is it the start of a new age?

Obviously the more popular something is the more people are going to dislike it, but in my case that’s only true because I keep hearing how great something is and I don’t particularly agree. Hellboy 2 has an 88% Rotten Tomatoes ranking and I have been very vocal about my opinion on that one, but the more and more I hear how great it is I get this natural human urge to say otherwise. Even Iron Man was praised more than I believe it should have been, but since that one’s not winning any major awards people won’t be scrutinizing it nearly as much.

In terms of Slumdog Millionaire I believe it will survive and not become the victim of too much backlash simply because it is a film that is hard to hate. It’s an uplifting film with a great soundtrack and a unique way of telling a cliché story. I still believe it doesn’t deserve all the love it is receiving and is likely to receive, but this is one film I don’t believe has enough problems with it to ever really criticize too harshly. Especially since the final moment of the film offers up the emotional punch that leaves audiences with a smile.

*I actually love Titanic… I know, you hate me now.

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