Well, the Academy has spoken, picking this year’s Oscar nominees, and they couldn’t be safer or more boring ... except for those categories in which “Milk” figures in somewhere. At least that’s what the San Francisco Chronicle’s completely unimpressed critic Mick LaSalle thinks.
When it comes to the Academy Awards, a great movie can always count on a certain number of people voting for it for the right reasons. But in order to claim victory, a great movie can’t just rely on discerning individuals. A great movie must also attract people who will vote for it for the wrong reasons. A month or two ago, it seemed that “Milk,” in addition to getting the votes of people who recognize its achievement, might also get the votes of Academy members who simply want to flatter themselves as right-thinking, socially concerned individuals. (Or who want to atone for passing over “Brokeback Mountain.”) But the socially-concerned vote seems to be going now to “Slumdog Millionaire,” which has become this season’s litmus test for deep sensitivity.
The best picture contest will thus be decided between people who want to feel good about themselves (“Slumdog Millionaire”) and those who mistakenly see “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” as innovative. “The Reader” and “Frost/Nixon,” also nominated, won’t be a factor. The membership will split along age lines, too. Older voters, attracted to the original message that mortality is a really, really lousy thing, will favor “Benjamin Button,” and younger voters, who confuse muscular editing for passion, will favor “Slumdog.”
Of course, there’s an outside chance that the clueless vote will split, and “Milk” will somehow slip in there. But don’t count on that. The clueless vote seems in particularly strong force this season.
Leave it to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to devise a bad list of nominees from a pretty good year for movies. How bad? Not as bad as the human mind can conceive, and not quite in the realm of deliberate perversity, but bad. Any worse, and it would have been hard to imagine Academy president Sid Ganis getting through the announcement without laughing and saying, “Ok, just kidding.”