Sunday, November 13, 2011

Academy Awards Best Picture Revisited: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)

I had planned on watching the Best Picture winner, Slumdog Millionaire, but I must have let someone borrow my copy, because I could not find it.  So I went with one of the other four nominees that I had not seen in a while, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.  The other nominees this year Milk, Frost/Nixon, and The Reader.

Button was directed by the talented director David Fincher, who directed great films like Alien 3Se7en,
next Fight Club, Zodiac, and in 2010 The Social Network.  Fincher like Tarantino is known for quirkier/darker films.  Along with feature films, Fincher has worked with musicians to help direct  documentaries of their work, and work with music videos.  His first major foray into the feature film was in 1992's Alien 3.  While Alien 3 is not the strongest in the series it was a solid endeavor, and if they had kept it at three films this franchise would have been impeccable. 1995's Se7en has not ounce of light, there is always this bleak rainy feeling. Fight Club (1999) is his darkest and most obscure piece of work as a director; he handles the adapted material well, and this one of my favorite films.  In the the midst of these two works of greatness Fincher had two let downs, The Game (1997) and Panic Room (2002).  Both films had solid casts and premises but there was just not much there.  Fincher came back to his true stylistic form in 2007 with Zodiac.  Zodiac is a dark ominous thriller that details the story of the hunt for the Zodiac killer.  Then in 2008 Fincher was honored with his first Academy Award nomination for directing The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

I have to be honest, Fincher is not my favorite director, but he holds high rank in my opinion with current film making.  Button should not have been his first nomination in the directing category, and I am kind of appalled that it took the Academy 17 years to honor this man.  Fincher's directorial work should have garnered him numerous accolades, but this picture is about more than David Fincher!

In 2008 the five films nominated for Best Picture were: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, Milk, The Reader, and Slumdog Millionaire.  This was the year The Dark Knight, the film with the second highest rated film with critics, and a popcorn flick to boot was left off the list.  The same can be said with Wall-E.  Wall-E was the first animated film that deserved to be nominated and win in a long time!  This was also the year of The Wrestler an amazing film about a man struggling to make it into the world of professional wrestling.  Those three previously mentioned films were some of the best film making and the Academy ignored them.  With only five nominees they picked the wrong five.  I would have nominated The Dark Knight, Milk, Slumdog Millionaire, Wall-E, and The Wrestler.

In reality the 2008 Best Picture race winner was locked up early on.  Slumdog Millionaire steam rolled the competition.  Millionaire had taken a classic story of the under dog an put a Bollywood spin on the subject matter.  The Academy felt as though they were being hip and edgy by rewarding a cross cultural film that could transcend to America.  Benjamin Button had no chance but it was most likely in second because of the the big important production value, and the gravity of the story that spanned decades.

In reality if there had been ten nominees Benjamin Button would have probably made my list, but with five it did not have a chance for me.  Benjamin Button feels like Forrest Gump, and there are numerous transferable qualities of both stories. namely because both films were written by the same person Eric Roth.  Button feels self important like Gump does from a critics stand point.  Button like Gump is about a boy who is different from birth, who has a hard time walking, meets a girl who treats him different from those around him and they fall in love and are defined as soul mates (like Forrest and Jenny), benjamin works on a boat, and the film uses historical context to help tell the story.  Roth's screenplay is entirely different from F. Scott Fitzgerald's short story, and the only real similarity is that the central characters name is Benjamin Button.  Roth seems to use gimmicks from other screenplays to force charm in this film.  I still cry at the end, not to seem heartless.
Brad Pitt

The film had 13 nominations, more than any film that year, including Best Picture, Best Director-David Fincher, Best Actor-Brad Pitt, Best Supporting Actress-Taraji P. Henson and Best Adapted Screenplay.  Statistically speaking, the film with the most nominations going into the night typically wins the Best Picture Award, but this film did not do so.  I would have only nominated this film for the Best Director honor.  Fincher's direction is the star of this show, and everyone else is along for the ride.  Pitt received his second nomination for this film, but should have received a nomination in the Supporting Actor category this same year for Burn After Reading.  2008 had people who had won previously talk about the different actors.  When Goldie Hawn talked about Taraji P. Henson, I did not get the praise for her performance, or what Hawn had said, and I still do not.  The screenplay has glimpses of greatness, but also major story flaws that could have been cut out.  I will finally admit that my fried Mike was right about the scene with the clock at the beginning.  The scenes symbolism was forced and heavy handed.

I sound like a grump, I know, and the thing is, I do not hate this film, but I do not think it's special or worthy of taking away the spot films that were better.  This category has two films that were much worse The Reader and Frost/Nixon.  Both of those films had strong leading performances, but were otherwise boring.  In a year with much more exciting films I am saddened to look back and see the Academy played it safe once again.  They honored another Holocaust film because it seemed important, and honored another film about Nixon because because of its subject matter.

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