Q: When Is A Dog Not A Dog? A: When It’s A Slumdog!

I meant to get this post up before the Academy Awards began. Thought they were tonight. The farce is currently underway, apparently. Just saw a report that Penelope Cruz won Best Supporting actress for her role in Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Not the worst decision they could have made.

Before any more results come through, I am compelled by an irresistible urge to express my incredulity that Slumdog Millionaire and the Best Picture award have ever been uttered in the same breath, let alone appear certain to be forever united in a gold-plated figurine called Oscar.

Not that the little prick retains any status as an icon of cinematic excellence. What are the Academy Awards but a Disneyesque dream come true for a lucky few box office stars, the ultimate preen and strut event for Hollywood celebrity, and a glitz fest guaranteed to deliver some squirmy moments for the rest of us? Only the naïve, the ingenuous and the Hollywood movie fraternity still afford Oscar any serious critical cred.

Sentiment, hype, box office success – and more recently, political correctness – are the key drivers of the Awards jury decisions, not excellence of performance. That is not to say that there are no winners worthy of their awards. It is to say, though, that artistic merit is not the only criterion, or even the dominant one in many cases (and of course, it should be!). How else do you explain Best Picture winners like Dances With Wolves, Forrest Gump(!) and Titanic?

This year, it is all but certain you can add Slumdog Millionaire to that list of barkers. The hype and sentiment has been overwhelming. As with Heath Ledger’s Best Supporting Actor Award, which no doubt has been inscribed with his name for months, the Academy dare not give Best Picture to any other nominee. To do so would be to deny the event a dramatic finale of unprecedented sentimental power – and that would be unthinkable.

The Awards won’t be telecast here until tonight, but I can see it now: the cute little scrubbed-up slum kids walking down the carpet to the stage to a standing ovation and a veritable gush of celebrity tears. Is the Academy going to deny us that dramatic moment, or Hollywood the illusion of delivering these poor kids from impoverishment to the Promised Land? No fucking way!

Further, to deny Slumdog Millionaire Best Picture would be seen as a slap in the face to the entire Indian continent. Never has the bully of political correctness loomed so large over the Awards (well, not since Dances With Wolves).

This wouldn’t rile me so much if Slumdog Millionaire was even half-decent, but as a movie this thing stinks. Let’s leave questions of exploitation aside (which we shouldn’t), and consider the work on purely cinematic terms. The premise is ludicrously implausible. The plot is full of holes. The best acting by far is by the slum kids, and they only feature in the initial stages of the movie. The writing is pretty bloody chronic. But worst of all is the direction.

Danny Boyle seems confused about the nature of this deformed creation. It’s been labelled a feel-good comedy. One slum kid falls in a cesspool and emerges covered in shit. Real funny. Slum kids are blinded by pimps to enhance their begging potential; cops run rampage with batons through the slums, bashing the lead character’s mother to death; the brother sticks a gun in his mouth and blows his brains out as an adult made bad; the protagonist is tortured with electricity and beaten mercilessly at the copshop. Real feel-good.

Yet in amongst all this pain and misery and degradation, we have a love story of epic innocence. “But what will we live on?” asks the female lead when her hero suggests running away to marry. “On love”, he replies, dewy-eyed. YES – that’s what he says!

The day after his electrocution ordeal, the protagonist wins millions on a quiz show and meets his babe at deserted Mumbai central station (QUE!?), and it all goes to goo with their first (very chaste) kiss. Well, not quite – Boyle suddenly switches to song-and-dance mode with a full ensemble Bollywood dance routine on the station platform before the credits roll. This thing doesn’t know what it is. You’d find more resolved identities in any schizo ward.

Fuck me, I dunno. Seems the whole world has fallen for this malformed mess of a movie. I’d make the usual concessions about multiple valid points of view and differing critical perspectives, but the flaws in Slumdog are so bloody obvious. The blindness of the mob under a tsunami of hype, watched over by the sentinel of political correctness…that’s the only way I can explain the glowing critical reception.

Anyway, the announcement will be coming through soon. If Slumdog doesn’t win Best Picture, I’ll eat my monitor. But best picture? Bunk!

For other Boomtown Rap movie reviews, see Movie Review Archives

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