Sunday, November 09, 2008

Phone a friend

The holiday movie season got underway this past weekend with the release of Madagascar 2 (earning $63 million, which is a Pixar-esque number for DreamWorks Animation). It is also the unofficial start of awards season for Hollywood. In addition to the big crowd pleasers like Twilight and Marley & Me, Christmas is when the studios roll out the big guns for Oscar. This year, that includes Sean Penn as murdered gay-rights crusader Harvey Milk in the biopic "Milk," Brad Pitt as the anti-Dorian Gray in "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman in the film version of John Patrick Shanley's acclaimed play, "Doubt"; "Frost/Nixon," "Australia," "Revolutionary Road" . . . the list goes on. And that's just the Hollywood slate.

This week, however, a smaller film that is more Bollywood than Hollywood opens that I hope doesn't get lost in the shuffle. "Slumdog Millionaire" is the latest film directed by Danny Boyle ("Trainspotting" and "28 Days Later") and it is said to be amazing. The basic premise of the story is this: Jamal is an 18 year-old orphan from the slums of Mumbai. Incredibly, he finds himself one final answer away from winning 20 million rupees on India's version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire."

Perhaps too incredibly. Because when the show breaks for the evening before he can answer the last question, Jamal is arrested by the police on suspicion of cheating. After all, how could a boy from the slums really have come by all that knowledge legitimately (NB: WWTBAM is Einstein-level hard in India. Apparently it makes America's look like Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader?). We then see, as Jamal recounts the story of his life to the incredulous police investigator, exactly how he came to know the answers to each of the questions from the show. And the real reason that he is competing in the first place (hint: it ain't for the money).

"Slumdog" won the People's Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival in September and has been getting boffo reviews in the meantime. I know I'll be in line this week when it opens here in limited release. It feels like this year's little movie that could and hopefully it can build the kind of momentum that has carried similar films, like "Little Miss Sunshine" and "Juno" into recent award success.


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