"Slumdog" takes on underdogs at Oscars

Mon Feb 9, 2009 8:22pm EST
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By Gregg Kilday

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Fire up the curry and vindaloo.

Anyone throwing a viewing party for the Academy Awards on February 22 would be smart to have plenty of Indian condiments on hand. Ever since its world premiere at the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado last August, "Slumdog Millionaire" has been climbing toward a best picture Oscar just as surely as its hero Jamal successfully answers questions in his quest to win 20 million rupees.

But don't start dishing out the chutneys and naan just yet.

Sure, all signs point to a big Bollywood finish at this year's Oscar show. Fox Searchlight's "Slumdog" scored 10 nominations, second only to the 13 for Paramount's "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button." It picked up four Golden Globes, including best drama, and top honors from the directors, producers, screen actors and writers guilds.

But upsets do happen. Just three years ago, "Crash" edged out "Brokeback Mountain" for best picture, moments after the Academy celebrated "Brokeback's" Ang Lee as best director. "Shakespeare in Love" derailed the best picture hopes of would-be shoo-in "Saving Private Ryan" in 1999. And in 1982, "Chariots of Fire" staged a last-minute surge that saw it grab the brass ring from "Reds."

"Chariots" was a feel-good indie that stole the spotlight from a pricey, prestige-laden studio pic. This year, the roles of David and Goliath are reversed. The $160 million "Button" currently looks like the underdog, while "Slumdog," which at one point was going straight-to-DVD, has been busy running victory laps.

But "Button," David Fincher's adaptation of the F. Scott Fitzgerald short story, does have history on its side. Only two films, 1950's "All About Eve" and 1997's "Titanic," have amassed more nominations (14 each), and they both took the best picture prize. And of the eight previous movies that collected 13 nominations, five of them -- including 1994's "Forrest Gump," also penned by "Button" screenwriter Eric Roth -- also went on to clinch the best picture title.

Additionally, "Button" displayed strength in a wide swath of categories, which ordinarily would suggest it has broad support among the Academy's 5,810 members. "Slumdog," conversely, struck out in the four acting categories, where "Button" is represented by actor Brad Pitt and supporting actress Taraji P. Henson. In the eight-decade history of the Oscars, only ten movies -- most recently 2003's "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" -- have won best picture without receiving any acting nominations.   Continued...