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Movies: "Slumdog Millionaire" Dominates the Oscars

By Anthony Sheppard

Why I'm happy Slumdog won, despite not being a big fan

I can't remember the last time, if ever, that a best picture nominee seemed like such a certainty to win the Academy Award. Prior to Sunday's awards, "Slumdog Millionaire" had already swept the guild awards (Producers Guild, Directors Guild, Screen Actors Guild ensemble, Writers Guild adapted screenplay) and won four Golden Globes, seven BAFTA's (the British Aacademy Awards), three British Independent Film Awards, five Broadcast Film Critics Awards, the American Society of Cinematographer's Award, and enough other awards and nominations to fill the rest of this column. So it really wasn't any great surprise that it won eight Academy Awards (picture, direction, editing, cinematography, adapted screenplay, song, score, sound) and it would have been a major upset for it not to have won the major categories.

That said, some of you may remember that I wasn't especially enamored of the movie. I suspect I may like it more if I saw it again simply because I might have accepted its flaws prior to such a re-screening, but I was originally bothered by certain aspects of the story that seemed to undercut the theme and the message. It was certainly well-made and deserving of a lot of critical acclaim and attention, but it rubbed me the wrong way just enough to leave me with mixed feelings. However, I am very happy that it won, for what are probably a couple of the wrong reasons.

"Slumdog Millionaire" is, to a certain extent, "the little movie that could" of this year's awards season. That may seem an odd comment about a film that became an awards juggernaut, but this is a film that at one point looked like it wouldn't even gain a theatrical release in the US. Getting distribution deals is a tough process. Industry executives aren't exactly adventurous with their studio's bank accounts, and "Slumdog" was a tough sell in terms of content and genre. But now that it has trampled almost all of the competition, it's likely to shake things up a bit.

Hollywood is, in my opinion, at its worst when it gets settled into a rut, happy to produce remakes and sequels and looking for seemingly guaranteed blockbusters with huge star power and gimmicky plots (like Brad Pitt aging backwards, or the latest in a caped hero franchise). Studio reps are likely to fall all over themselves, for a while at least, looking for the next "Slumdog," despite the fact that some of them had a hard time finding the last one. Undoubtedly they will fail multiple times, but they will probably uncover a few gems. It may be slightly easier for a year or two for independent filmmakers to find a willing ear for projects that seem a little less formulaic and mainstream than normal-which is good timing for indie filmmakers in California, following the film production tax incentive written into the new budget.

In addition to this welcome stirring of the Hollywood pot, I'm happy for several of the people associated with Slumdog, primarily director Danny Boyle. Boyle has had prior successes with films as diverse as "Trainspotting," "28 Days Later," and "Millions." If this triumph makes it easier for him to get a green light on future projects, then I'm all for it. Similarly, writer Simon Beaufoy ("The Full Monty," last year's under-appreciated "Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day", and several others) is worthy of more attention, even if I wasn't thrilled with every aspect of "Slumdog." And I expect more good things to come from lead actor Dev Patel, and this will accelerate his exposure to good scripts and opportunities.

But getting back to my reservations, it is true that Boyle has made a great film about a boy overcoming family adversity, in a fairy tale style, and with large sums of unlikely-seeming cash involved. But I think that's a better description of his earlier "Millions" (2004) than it is of "Slumdog Millionaire." So if you liked Slumdog, or even if you didn't, go back and rent "Millions."

The 2nd Annual Sacramento All Sketch Comedy Festival

I'll be taking a break from the silver screen this week, for three days of comedy as Sacramento All Sketch returns to the 24th Street Theater. Not only is this likely to be a great lineup of comedy talent, with some neat people returning from last year's festival, but I feel confident in recommending it over the cinematic releases of "Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience" and "Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li" (titles that are colon-centered enough to keep a hungry tapeworm happy, but less likely to thrill audiences of non-teens/tweens).

All Sketch is produced by a couple of local talents who are deserving of support and praise: Keith Lowell Jensen, comedian, author, and filmmaker; and Sid Heberger, manager and co-owner of the Crest Theatre, champion of K Street's toughest times and much of the reason that the 10th Street block has survived and thrived as well as it has. No strangers to sketch comedy, they are also the co-founders of the I Can't Believe It's Not Comedy (ICBINC) troupe. It was touring with ICBINC and playing in comedy festivals in cities such as San Francisco and Seattle that inspired All Sketch.

Visit AllSketch.com for the full schedule, performer biographies, and ticket information.


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