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The Artist wins Best Picture!

Congratulations to The Artist!

Click here to read the Anti-Film School review!

Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

by Steve Habrat

Of all the recent films that managed to snag the Best Picture Oscar, the only one that I really thought was undeserving of the award was Slumdog Millionaire. This is in no way me trying to tear the film apart or declaring to the world I disliked Danny Boyle’s tale about fate. In fact, I actually really loved the film, but I just though that there were better films in 2008. I loved Slumdog Millionaire’s energy, it’s appreciation for life and love, and it’s hero who is putting it all on the line for the girl he loves. Boyle is near the top of my favorite current filmmakers, one who managed to sneak into the main stream, and jumps from genre to genre like a frog jumping from one lily pad to another. You never know where he will land and it’s unbelievably exciting when it is announced that he is making another film. Slumdog Millionaire is perhaps his warmest and fuzziest movie, one that your grandmother can sit down and watch. It’s certainly far from films like 28 Days Later and Sunshine, both polarizing works of art but ones that you probably wouldn’t want to watch with granny. Well, unless it was my grandmother, who will watch basically anything, and yes, she saw Slumdog Millionaire.

Slumdog Millionaire follows eighteen-year-old Jamal Malik (Played by Dev Patel), who has found himself as a contestant of the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Jamal is only one question away from a sum of money that will change his life, a life that involved living on the streets. Before he is to answer that final question, Jamal is detained by police and interrogated, the police demanding to know how a kid from the streets is able to answer all of these questions. Jamal recounts a string of memories and events from his childhood that have allowed him to answer the questions. In the memories, he also remembers time he spent with his brother Salim (Played by Madhur Mittal) and Latika (Played by Freida Pinto), a girl who Jamal has been in love with since he met her.

Boyle is the type of director who is just so eager to move his film along, wanting you to get swept up in the zooming story, you practically end up with whiplash by the end. Boyle can’t resist framing images for the audience that are familiar and alien, a trait of his films that are his own cinematic fingerprint. It’s also insanely colorful, a nod to Bollywood films and Indian culture, making Slumdog Millionaire almost seem like an ode to the color wheel rather than a drama. At times, I almost feel like Boyle suffers from ADD, as his films are always so busy. The film’s story is certainly inimitable, putting an updated spin on the rags to riches story that we have all seen and heard before. I think this is what led to the sweep that Slumdog Millionaire had at the Oscars. Slumdog Millionaire was a hip interpretation of the rags to riches tale set to thumping M.I.A. tracks and a lively, hip-hop-py score by A.R. Rahman.

So what is my problem with Slumdog Millionaire winning Best Picture? The short answer is that it was a safe option. It wasn’t threatening to mainstream viewers. Milk turned off the more conservative crowd but I thought it was the second best film of 2009, behind The Dark Knight, which should have been nominated but was ignored. The Reader’s nomination was purchased and everyone knows it. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Frost/Nixon were both very bloated, Frost/Nixon being a little too dark to grab the win and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was a bit too whimsical at times (I liked them both very much but they were never going to win the gold). But I never thought my spirit was captured during Slumdog Millionaire and while I was moved while I watched it, I wasn’t after it ended. Milk was a film that stuck with me, both in style, message, and performance. Perhaps I just wanted the Academy to be a little bit bolder with their decision. I also think there was some bitterness that year, watching the snobby Academy wave off a film that was as defining as The Dark Knight, a towering achievement in blockbuster filmmaking that will live on much longer than Slumdog Millionaire will. People complained last year about The Social Network not winning even though it was a film that defined the current zeitgeist. The snub of The Dark Knight was much more glaring and troubling, hinting that many individuals of the uptight film community weren’t willing to give it a serious look even though it ended up being the highest grossing movie of 2008.

Enough with my ranting and back to Slumdog Millionaire. Not as fulfilling as I hoped it would be but good none-the-less, Slumdog Millionaire was exotic and a worthy entry in the works of Danny Boyle. In a way, Slumdog Millionaire winning Best Picture felt like a nod that was poorly timed. It was heartwarming to see the happiness and excitement burst forth from Boyle when he received the Best Director award, an enthusiasm that matched the enthusiasm of his films. And yes, I was happy for the clearly blown away cast as they took to the stage to claim their Best Picture award. Boyle will go on to make other great films (127 Hours was great) and I feel like there will be more awards in his future, but in a year where there was better and much more important films, perhaps Slumdog Millionaire shouldn’t have taken both of the major awards. History is history and Slumdog claimed it, something that cannot be changed so all we can do is evaluate the finished film. I hate to sound like a Scrooge but looking at things now, it’s how I feel about the 81st Academy Awards. Slumdog Millioniare is a beautifully made film that was, yes, one of the better films of 2008, but it hasn’t had the lasting impact on the medium of motion pictures that many predicted it would. The film is well worth your time even if it did get caught in the crossfire of a controversial year at the Oscars.

Grade: B+

Slumdog Millionaire is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.

The Hurt Locker (2009)

by Steve Habrat

Despite what you may think of the Academy Awards, I think most who saw Kathryn Bigelow’s Iraq War film The Hurt Locker can agree that it was indeed the best film of 2009. Paranoid and frantic while taking absolutely no stance on the Iraq War, Bigelow masterfully sculpts a beast of a film, leaving us just as shaken up as one of the soldiers is after a bomb blast. It’s tough to wrap your head around the idea that a film dealing with a war that was as unpopular as the Iraq War would have no comments about the war itself. Instead, this is a boys being boys film, one where Bigelow presents three radical personalities (one timid, one by the books, and one who relentlessly lives on the edge), puts them in a bomb suit, and shakes them up violently to see what makes them tick. The film begins with the quote “The rush of battle is a potent and often lethal addiction, for war is a drug”. The Hurt Locker turns out to be more than just a psychological study of the toll urban warfare takes on a soldier, but is also a movie about the crippling addiction of pushing the envelop and tempting death.

The Hurt Locker begins in 2004, just shortly after the U.S. invasion of Iraq. After the grisly death of Staff Sergeant Matt Thompson (Played by Guy Pearce), the reckless and testy Sergeant First Class William James (Played by Jeremy Renner) comes in to take his place as a bomb diffuser. James joins Sergeant JT Sanborn (Played by Anthony Mackie) and Specialist Owen Eldridge (Played by Brian Geraghty) and the group sets out on a string of missions including suicide bombers, car bombs, roadside bombs, etc. Sanborn and Eldridge try to keep their small group together and guarded where anything and anyone can become a threat. As James relentlessly tests the patience of Sanborn and Eldridge with his irresponsible behavior, Sanborn and Eldridge begin to fear for their own safety as well as begin to entertain ideas of finding a way to get rid of James. James, on the other hand, gets a thrill out of tempting death and his addiction to the “rush of battle” has caused him to become an outsider when playing the role of civilian.

Bigelow shies away from using familiar faces in her film, allowing the soldiers to seem like actual soldiers serving a tour of duty rather than a bunch of pampered actors sipping bottled Fiji water. This approach gives The Hurt Locker a heavy does of realism and randomness that can’t be matched by many other war films. Her fidgety camera that will unexpectedly zoom in on possible threats adds another layer of anxiety to the experience. Anyone can die at any second and Bigelow doesn’t want you to escape that nail biting dread. Pearce was the only recognizable actor in The Hurt Locker and he is knocked off in the first ten minutes of the film. Hell, if Pearce can get it, than any of these soldiers can bite the dust at any time! The Hurt Locker posses a documentary feeling throughout the course of its runtime, sometimes making you forget that you’re watching a movie. When snipers open fire on the group in one particular scene, you are practically ducking behind your coach and hugging the ground for dear life. Every battle doesn’t descend into quick cut gunfights, but rather embraces drawn out tension mixed with anticipatory trepidation of where the threat will come from next. Can you trust that man holding that cell phone? Is that car loaded with explosives? Are the citizens watching from their windows carrying a detonator or gun?

The Hurt Lockers presents three radical forms of the soldier. Eldridge represents the skittish soldier who fears death above all else, where every day could be his last. Sanborn is the by the books man who views his duty as just another day on the job. James is the one addicted to the “rush of battle” and views war as a drug. He can’t escape the thrill of it. Each performance is heavy and the relationship between the three main characters is never firing on all cylinders. Very rarely do they all click and work hand-in-hand, when they do they are alarmingly efficient. The most complexity lies in James, who cares more about the corpse of a boy who is currently having his guts ripped out and having them replaced with explosives over his own child back on American shores. Rarely does he talk about his wife, only when he is probed and had a little to drink. He struts towards bombs with his chin and helmet held high, loving every step he takes towards possible death. When he finds a bomb that could wipe out a large area, he rips off his bomb suit and goes about disarming the bomb comfortably. If it blows up, the suit won’t save him. But you have to wonder if he would really care if it did blow up. James also symbolically serves as the bottle that Eldridge and Sanborn are dropped into. When a rush shakes up James, the worst and the weakest points emerge from Sanborn and Eldrige

There is never a down moment in The Hurt Locker, one that doesn’t enthrall and hold your eyes to the screen. From the directing all the way to the script, the film is absolutely perfect, an atypical accomplishment for any film that makes its way out of Hollywood. The film opened the eyes of mainstream audiences to the talents of Jeremy Renner, who is finally becoming a household name. I firmly believe that The Hurt Locker is an instant classic, a film that will join the ranks of classics like Apocalypse Now and Platoon. In fact, the movie stills impacts me every time I see it, leaving a crater in stomach. It is a film I will never forget seeing in theaters for the first time and walking out of absolutely silent, verbally paralyzed by the sheer intensity of it. If you have never seen The Hurt Locker before, it may be wise to experience it with someone who already did just so they can have 911 ready. Why? Because you may pass out from holding your breath.

Grade: A+

The Hurt Locker is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.

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