OSCAR Films, 2008

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

            For once, five good and worthy films and not a blockbuster in the bunch. After last year’s show proved a deadly bore, the industry knows it must delight and surprise us this time or risk termination. 

            THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON – A complex story tackles big themes of love, age, memories and the meaning of home. All this is delivered in southern rhythms that capture us gradually and completely. A salute to the special effects artists and to a superb cast. Considering the confusing timelines of lives moving in different directions, Director David Fincher works a miracle. Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, and Taraji P. Henson simply break our hearts. 

            SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE – Cars, chickens bicycles, thieves, brutes and children sprout from the debris of a disappearing culture. Corruption, greed, and betrayal are what the children see. In search of his lost childhood love, Jamal goes on an Indian quiz show hoping exposure will find her. Director Danny Boyle draws lovely, authentic performances from Dev Patel and Freida Pinto. Survival is random and a matter of luck, but remember this is a fairy tale, and it’s a beauty. 

            FROST/NIXON – Those who remember the debates between British TV host David Frost and disgraced ex-president Richard Nixon will be looking for accuracy in the peripheral characters but will succumb eventually to a fine performance by Frank Langella who catches the anxiety and misery that drove Richard Nixon. Audiences may be limited because, for most of the country, the word Watergate is as alien as the Vietnam War. 

            MILK - Every idea whose time has come needs chaotic protests to signal its arrival. Harvey Milk’s life and death were his contribution to the gay movement. Choosing to follow chaos with civic contribution, he became a state official in San Francisco and served there until a fellow state employee battling his own inner demons could stand no more of Milk’s success. Sean Penn triumphs as a revolutionary turned statesman. 

            THE READER - A former concentration camp guard played by Kate Winslet lives a tiny life as a street car conductor who returns each night to a one room apartment. She lures a young boy into a summer long affair. Meet Hanna and Michael. Michael, a physical and emotional innocent, grows up to be Ralph Fiennes who reenters Hanna’s life after she is tried for war crimes. A love story rooted in secrets on every level is also engulfed by the questions of Nazi guilt. Kate Winslet is excellent in a disturbing performance. Director Stephen Daldry is extraordinarily perceptive. 

            Since we all watch movies through the lens of our own experience, it’s no wonder that few of us agree on almost anything that is interpretive. I offer up my own choices knowing full well they represent only the way a movie touched the raw material I brought to the theater. Actor: Richard Jenkins. Actress: Kate Winslet. Picture: although all five are fine movies, two are infused with a magical originality. Either of these deserves the prize: Benjamin Button or Slumdog Millionaire.


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