In “Worst Best Picture” we search every single Best Picture Oscar winner of all time from 1927 to present to uncover the worst of them all. Conventional wisdom says that 2005’s winner Crash is the worst winner in history. We won’t stop until we’ve tested every last one. Read the the first, our review of Crash, here. Posts will be relatively spoiler free, but there may be some details revealed. Today’s installment is the 2008 winner Slumdog Millionaire. Is it better than Crash?
The poster for Slumdog Millionaire calls it “the feel-good film of the decade.” Most of the other 85 winners to date are decided not “feel-good” movies, so Slumdog at least has that going for it. Honestly, your enjoyment of Slumdog is going to come down to your answer to that basic question: was this fun for you?
Slumdog is the story of two boys who grow up together but fork off into different paths. They both grow up in the streets, but one, Salim, joins a crime ring and one, Jamal, ends up working in a call center. Jamal uses the call center’s database to look up a long-lost love and then uses the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? to try to reunite with her. It’s an interesting plot point and likely the only thing you’d know about Slumdog without seeing it. As of now, the show is still on in the US (though it’s not the phenomenon it once was) and thus this doesn’t feel all that dated to me, yet. It’ll be interesting to see how that ends up in 20 years. Could you imagine if Midnight Cowboy had an extended scene in the middle based on Password?
Everything here is about the game show. Jamal works his way through the show’s questions because he miraculously knows every answer from some small moment of his life. He knows a question about cricket because he was in a dangerous situation where a TV was on, playing that cricket match. He knows a question about a $100 US bill because he got one, one time, from some American tourists. It’s all about coincidence — or fate! — and your tolerance for that sort of thing will determine if Slumdog is cute or tortuous for you.
I generally hate unexplained luck like that in a movie, but it works here. Slumdog is fun without leaning too heavily on why Jamal is so lucky. He knows all this stuff because he needs to know it to be on the show. He’s on the show because this is the only public platform he can think of to reach out to the girl he loves. Sure, okay, that all checks out. Without the internal doubt of the movie — Jamal is repeatedly accused of being a fraud, because no one would know all this stuff from his station in life — this is just a starry eyed movie about the triumph of love. With it, it’s an implausible story, to be sure, but it’s one that feels almost possible.
The Best Part: The performances are all pretty lackluster (most everyone is a teenager or a gangster in this movie) compared to the standard Oscar fare, so thankfully Anil Kapoor is exceptional as the host of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? He’s brash and cocky and does a good job of selling the show-within-a-film as real. It feels like a show people would actually watch; he is the ultimate “host” in this movie.
The Worst Part: Oh, man, do I not care about this love story. Jamal is a complete cipher for “goodness.” He never develops an opinion or feeling of his own, he’s just the prism through which good intentions bends into actions. Latika, the girl of his dreams, is a girl that he barely gets to know as a child. There’s something we buy as an audience about two people who met when they were insanely young and then lost touch being in love, but think about that person in your life. Think about “risking it all” for that girl or boy from the first decade of your life. People may be mad at the conceit of a game show where a boy knows all the answers — and only these answers — but I just wish there would be a love story where the people had time to actually fall in love.
Is It Better or Worse than Crash? Is a game show more convenient than a car crash as a catalyst? I guess that’s a push. The only non-Indian people in Slumdog Millionaire are two ridiculously stupid tourists that are either actually in fanny packs or just act like they are, so it’s difficult to offer a traditional “race” viewing of the movie. Certainly there is something worth considering in that Danny Boyle (a white British guy) directed the most iconic Indian Best Picture, but within the film itself there isn’t much to go on. The comparison here is one of believability. If you hate the main element of Slumdog (the game show) as much as I hate the main element of Crash (everything is connected, man) then you will see these as very similar. It’s possible that Slumdog is your pick for the worst on the list. I say it’s nothing compared to most of these, but it’s certainly less harmless than the assault-on-plot-and-character that is Crash.
Worst Best Picture Archives: Crash | Terms of Endearment | Forrest Gump | All About Eve | The Apartment | No Country for Old Men | Gentleman’s Agreement | 12 Years a Slave | The Last Emperor | The Silence of the Lambs | The Artist | A Man for All Seasons | Platoon | The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King | The King’s Speech | Rain Man | The Departed | The Bridge on the River Kwai | Marty | Gigi | It Happened One Night | Driving Miss Daisy | Shakespeare in Love | Wings | Midnight Cowboy | Rocky | Gone with the Wind | Chicago | Gladiator | Cavalcade | The Greatest Show on Earth | You Can’t Take It With You | The Best Years of Our Lives | The Godfather | Casablanca | Grand Hotel | Kramer vs. Kramer | The French Connection | In the Heat of the Night | An American in Paris | Patton | Mrs. Miniver | Amadeus | Crash, Revisited | How Green Was My Valley | American Beauty | West Side Story | The Sting | Tom Jones | Dances with Wolves | Going My Way | The Hurt Locker | The Life of Emile Zola | Slumdog Millionaire
Alex Russell lives in Chicago and is set in his ways. Disagree with him about anything at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @alexbad.