Monday, February 23, 2009

Sweepdog Millionaire

Last night's Oscars were more than just one more installment in the Academy's annual impression of the best in film. It was a coup.

Slumdog Millionaire won Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Score, Best Original Song, Best Cinematography and Best Sound Mixing. Seven Oscars for what is essentially a foreign film. It's true that Benjamin Button walked off with the effects awards, and that Sean Penn won Best Actor for Milk and Kate Winslet Best Actress for The Reader, but the show was Slumdog Millionaire's by a mile. In an interesting step, the Academy made a point of recognising a foreign film without actually recognising it as a foreign film: it was not nominated for that award (an interesting side note: Waltz with Bashir, the Israeli effort covering the war in Lebanon which garnered a Golden Globe, six Israeli awards and a handful of critics' circles accolades, was passed over by the Academy for a Japanese film).

For me, Slumdog Millionaire is recognition that the film industry is bigger than Hollywood. "Bollywood," as the Indian film industry is known, is bigger than Hollywood in many ways. It has more stars, it produces more films and its global gross receipts rival Hollywood's numbers.

Somehow, though, the US media - and the Academy - often forget that.

The one thing that worries me is that, by making such a big deal of Slumdog Millionaire, the Academy may believe it's done its duty to foreign film and return to ignoring it for some time. After all, this film is only one of hundreds coming out of Europe, India, Southeast Asia and the Americas (North and South) each year, yet only this one merited consideration for these awards in the Academy's eyes. How many more brilliant efforts were overlooked? How many have been overlooked in the past? There is a global community of performers, directors, and film professionals: if the Academy intends to remain relevant it needs to recognise that with more than a single "Best Foreign Film" award.

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