The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

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Postby Big Magilla » Mon Dec 29, 2008 2:04 pm

The technical guilds often make the difference. In a year when the big technical winners are films that are either not nominated for best picture or considered by many to be more commercial than artistic, best picture can go to something else, but when the technical awards go to a film that has some dramatic heft to it, whether it be a Gigi or a Ben-Hur or a Titanic, that film is virtually unstoppable.

I suspect that Slumdog Millionaire is a more of a critics' darling than a typical Oscar voter's idea of a best picture winner.

Although The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is more of a fantasy than Slumdog, it is grounded in realities that its audience knows well. Slumdog, for all its harsh realities, relies too much on fate to make everything come out alright in the end to really resonate with the tired old bones of the typical Oscar voter. Given a choice between a film that it is true to one's life experience or sense of how things really were or are (Gone With the Wind, The Best Years of Our Lives, Forrest Gump in many ways) or one that is more fantastic (The Wizard of Oz, It's a Wonderful Life, Pulp Fiction), Oscar voters often go for the one that feels closer to the truth.

I don't think Button has to set any box office records to win over Slumdog.

Of course, there's always the chance that Button and Slumdog will cancel each other out and a third film, Milk, or perhaps even Wall-E if it's nominated, will prove a surprise winner, but if Button and Slumdog are the favorites in the race, then I think Button has a clear edge.




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Postby OscarGuy » Mon Dec 29, 2008 1:45 pm

But aren't there also people who believe that Slumdog Millionaire is cold and calculating? That its performances are hardly of note and that the disheveled look of the production is too similar to movies like City of God, which are respected but not adored.

While I think your analogy of Reds/Chariots of Fire is certainly strong, let's also not forget Forrest Gump. While I wouldn't say it's a great analogy in terms of quality (I love Benjamin Button and dislike Forrest Gump), but it's one that's been made. Gump was a box office stunner that captured imaginations, but was up against the fun and happy British film Four Weddings and a Funeral, the well crafted populist film Pulp Fiction, the semi-political recent-history period drama Quiz Show and the somewhat sentimental story of triumph, and surprise nominee, The Shawshank Redemption. While I can't quite put Shawshank to any of this year's contenders, I think it could just as easily be compared: Benjamin Button is Forrest Gump, Slumdog Millionaire is Four Weddings and a Funeral, The Dark Knight is Pulp Fiction and Frost/Nixon is Quiz Show.

But, I'm sure we could endlessly parade these comparative examples. We'll see who wins the Golden Globe and just how high Benjamin's box office goes...if it can't hold on to audiences in a second week, then it's not nearly as sentimental as I think it is.
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Postby rolotomasi99 » Mon Dec 29, 2008 1:31 pm

OscarGuy wrote:Remember, it only needs to touch 21% of the Academy enough to be declared Best Picture for it to win. And let's not forget how much impact the tech voters have. They may go for sentiment, but also go for spectacle, which Benjamin Button has in abundance.

i go back to my 1981 oscar analogy. THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON is the long and lavish spectacle film with the lion's share of nominations much like REDS. SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE is the small british film which is exciting and sweet and is about the little man triumphing in the end like CHARIOTS OF FIRE.

i could easily see little SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE triumphing over great big THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON.

if THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON was just an unabashed sentimental film, then i think it could win. however, the fact that it seems cold to some of us hurts its chances with the sentimental crowd. i think there are some in the academy who would not vote for it whether it was sentimental or cold. they want to vote for something political like FROST/NIXON or MILK, or they want to vote for something fun like THE DARK KNIGHT.

i just think the fact that SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE is pure sentimentality while THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON seems sentimental to some and cold to others will herd the votes to SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE.
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Postby Zahveed » Mon Dec 29, 2008 12:01 pm

I saw the movie last night with my wife and I loved it. Possible SPOILERS follow.


It's the literal interpretation of the old joke on life. Benjamin's curiosity and wonderment as a child is equal to that of a senile old man. Pitt plays it well enough to where you can mistaken his character as a true old man at times but still have that innocence that young children have. Then when Benjamin reaches inner old-age, physically a child, you know inside he's elderly but you can mistaken him as a sociopathic child, a toddler learning (relearning) the basics of life, and a helpless infant. An infant as helpless as an 80+ year old man on his death bed. It's almost a normal story when Benjamin reaches his 40's when he tries to make a life with Daisy. They fall in love, they buy a home, and they make the best out of life but you are still reminded that he has an unusual condition and that state of happiness is interrupted by the constant reminder that everyone is bound to die at some point.

Every character that dies in the story, and wasn't Benjamin, had a story to tell. (Have I ever told you that I was struck by lightning seven times?) They did what they loved and never stopped, even when roadblocks were put in place. Benjamin's only story was his aging process, but everyone ages and dies. The only things in life that he loved were the people around him and they either died or he had to let them go on without him. Despite this, it's still Benjamin's story. You see the world unfold around him through his eyes which were surprisingly the eyes of a common life. He made childhood friends, experimented with sex and alcohol as a teen, got a job, fell in love, and left his family because of a problem he had. When you watch the film, you are Benjamin. You see what happens around him, you hear the stories he hears, even if you don't have a story of your own, and love the people he loves, even if you don't necessarily love yourself.

I found most, if not all, of the acting well done. When it comes to the special effects used, you have to ignore the face the fact they were even used. Most people that know it was digital aging tend to remind themselves throughout the film that its not real. If you don't do that you'll get lost in it.

**** out of ****
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Postby OscarGuy » Mon Dec 29, 2008 11:28 am

But that's the thing. Benjamin Button may have emotional downturns, but I don't really consider it a downer like the other films I've mentioned. And look at the 70s. It took how long before a upper film actually won Best Picture? You went from Oliver! in 1968 all the way to The Sting in 73 and then to Annie Hall in 77. And I just don't see Slumdog as equivalent to either of those three films. Annie Hall is the true oddball in this list. It's the only film that isn't a period piece that would appeal to the techs. Slumdog just doesn't feel like the triumphing escapist film.
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Postby Penelope » Mon Dec 29, 2008 10:57 am

But as I pointed out below, this run of downer Best Picture winners over the past few years is why many voters may opt for the more unabashed feel-good film, Slumdog Millionaire.
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Postby OscarGuy » Mon Dec 29, 2008 9:10 am

If the audience is evenly split between cold and detached and emotional, then that's a 50-50 split. That's well more than enough to propel the film to Best Picture.

I think Slumdog may be too feel-goody. How many feel-good films have won Best Picture recently? The Lord of the Rings is really the only one you could consider a feel-good movie because Chicago I find a little more cold in its resolution even with a somewhat "happy" ending. No. Instead, we have The Departed, No Country for Old Men, Million Dollar Baby, Crash...these are all downer films that don't really make you feel good at the end. Matter of fact, I'd say it's almost time for a sentimental film to take the picture award, which could very well be Benjamin Button. Remember, it only needs to touch 21% of the Academy enough to be declared Best Picture for it to win. And let's not forget how much impact the tech voters have. They may go for sentiment, but also go for spectacle, which Benjamin Button has in abundance.
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Postby rolotomasi99 » Sun Dec 28, 2008 11:28 pm

OscarGuy wrote:This is not even remotely close to Kubrick/Polanski-style cold. I know Kubrick fairly well and while I would have to agree there was seldom strong emotional attachment to his characters, Benjamin Button is not cold at all, IMO.

while many on this board have yet to see the film and weigh-in, it seems for the moment we are as divided as the nation's critics about the emotional content of the film -- though i do not think anyone here question's the cinematic quality of the movie.

the group i saw it with was equally divided. some felt it was emotionally detached while others felt it was wonderfully warm. if we and the critics are so divided about THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON, i wonder if the academy will feel the same.

SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE's chances just got better from my perspective; not because the film is better, but because it seems more like the type of film the academy likes to rally around. "hope" sure seems to be the theme of 2008/2009. the academy could very easily go for the more hopeful films of the two big contenders.
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Postby OscarGuy » Sun Dec 28, 2008 8:47 pm

SPOILERS...possibly.

This is not even remotely close to Kubrick/Polanski-style cold. I know Kubrick fairly well and while I would have to agree there was seldom strong emotional attachment to his characters, Benjamin Button is not cold at all, IMO. I'm a sentimental kinda guy. I wept at English Patient, but not at Cold Mountain. I cried more than a couple of times in Benjamin Button. I thought it was fairly well tied to its characters. Even characters that I didn't even know I had emotional investment in (such as the Opera singer). This is the perfect film for a romantic-minded Academy. It has all the technical wizardry it needs to be successful as well.

Watching Tilda Swinton, the only word that kept popping into my head was radiant. Her role was so small, but so evocative. Fincher did great framing and lighting her to give her the otherworldly qualities of a 40s leading lady.

Taraji P. Henson is strong, though I like Swinton better. This is Cate Blanchett's most reserved performance to date. While I love most of her performances, I think this one is just too subtle for the Academy to get. There's no money moment for them to just latch on. I did see where Pitt was a bit aloof in certain spots, but I think it fit his emotionally stunted character quite well. Julia Ormond was fine, but if there's one flaw with the picture it is with the present-day material. Much like Titanic, it felt a bit stunted emotionally, but not so much so that it was distracting (like in Forrest Gump).

I think all of the elements in the film come together in a magical way and I must say I very much enjoyed it even if it didn't have the, to quote one of my friends who saw it with me, "ups and downs" most action films have. It was fairly flat, but I think it worked quite well.
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Postby rolotomasi99 » Sun Dec 28, 2008 12:45 pm

kaytodd wrote:And it would be only a slight exaggeration to say that evaluating Pitt's performance is like evaluating Tom Hank's performance in Polar Express. It felt like I was not watching Pitt perform in much of the film. But it was great makeup and fx work.

i have no way of proving this, but i swear it felt like pitt said more in voiceover than he did with on-screen dialogue. i think that might have been part of my problem identifying with his character. he felt so passive. someone else here pointed out the film had three narrators. it seems strange for someone as visually focused as fincher to feel he needed to keep so much unnecessary running commentary. it felt more like listening to an audiobook than watching a movie sometimes.




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Postby kaytodd » Sun Dec 28, 2008 2:27 am

I was glad we did not see Benjamin Button get involved in any historical events a la Forrest Gump. The possibility of audiences being reminded of the earlier film probably weighed on Fincher's and Roth's mind.

I think Slumdog would be a more deserving BP Oscar winner than Button (though neither are, among the 2008 releases I have seen, as deserving as Milk or Rachel Getting Married), but I think Roth deserves an Oscar more than Beaufoy. Both wrote screenplays that dramatically diverge from their source material and effectively became original stories. But I found Roth's story to be far richer and moving than Beaufoy's, which would admittedly not be a difficult feat. An earlier poster expressed it well when he said that the film felt cold and distant and, while the story was moving, he just did not care about the characters. I deeply cared about the characters in Slumdog and that made it a more satisfying filmgoing experience.

As so many have said, the film looks great and all the technical aspects are first rate. Desplat would be a very deserving Oscar winner. The music was perfect without drawing attention to itself. The performances are adequate and competent but none merit an Oscar nom, IMO. If Pitt, Blanchett, Swinton (she would be the most deserving) or Henson get noms, a more deserving performance will be overlooked. And it would be only a slight exaggeration to say that evaluating Pitt's performance is like evaluating Tom Hank's performance in Polar Express. It felt like I was not watching Pitt perform in much of the film. But it was great makeup and fx work.

***1/2 out of ****




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Postby rolotomasi99 » Sun Dec 28, 2008 12:42 am

Big Magilla wrote:Getting back to the film itself, I think the criticism that the film is too cold, distant, lacking in emotion or whatever is total bunk. The screenplay is so unrelentingly sad that it doesn't require any outward displays of sentiment to make its audience feel.

it was cold. it was kubrick-level cold when it should have been spielberg-level sentimental (without been howard or zemeckis-level sappy). fincher was the wrong person for this movie.

from wikipedia:
"In October 1998, screenwriter Robin Swicord wrote for director Ron Howard an adapted screenplay of the short story, a project which would potentially star actor John Travolta. In May 2000, Paramount Pictures hired screenwriter Jim Taylor to adapt a screenplay from the short story. The studio also attached director Spike Jonze to helm the project. Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman had also written a draft of the adapted screenplay at one point. In June 2003, director Gary Ross entered final negotiations to helm the project based on a new draft penned by screenwriter Eric Roth. In May 2004, director David Fincher entered negotiations to replace Ross in directing the film. In July 2005, Fincher negotiated a deal with the studios to direct Benjamin Button and Zodiac back-to-back, with Zodiac being produced first."

i am going to go out on a limb and guess maybe fincher made THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON so he could get financing for ZODIAC. if so, then i am glad he directed the former movie because the latter film is a gem and i am grateful it exists.
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Postby The Original BJ » Sat Dec 27, 2008 11:00 pm

I had so hoped this would be The One for me this year, so I'm sorry to say that it's not. But unlike some of you, I do think this is a very good picture, and may be the film I root for on Oscar night (though it just as easily could be Milk or Slumdog...or even WALL-E if nominated...looks like I won't have a strong favorite this year.)

Admittedly, I'm a bit of a sucker for films about "lives lived." (Despite its problematic view of history, I quite like Forrest Gump, and think Big Fish is one of the best unheralded studio movies this decade.) So I relished the way Benjamin Button used a big canvas to explore powerful ideas about time, mortality, the inevitable loneliness of life, the big dreams we must let go, et al. And I agree with Magilla -- this is a plenty emotional movie, achingly sad and full of feeling without being cloying.

And it looks divine! The photography and production design are eye-popping, but even more impressive are the makeup/special effects used to create Benjamin's many ages. I'd love to watch a behind-the-scenes feature detailing how they actually created these looks -- in the film's last act, it practically looks like the filmmakers got a hold of Brad Pitt circa 1994.

The problem, I think, is that I'm not sure the script has all that much thematic depth to it. Like fellow Oscar-frontrunner Slumdog Millionaire, this is an impressively directed, beautifully visualized film featuring a great, original story, that really hits you in the heart...that ultimately espouses philosophies no deeper than those written on a fortune cookie. What I mean by this is that, while Button has a knockout concept, as Benjamin's life progressed, the film never surprised me as much as I'd have wanted it to. Some of the picaresque events that fill the film seem standard, and the insights are pretty much what you'd expect from this sort of movie. There's nothing wrong with this per se, but I think it prevents the film from operating on a higher level for which its ambitions would clearly indicate it strives.

And while Forrest Gump has a questionable view of history, history barely even seems to exist at all in Benjamin Button beyond changing fashions and decor. I've not read the Fitzgerald story (though I've heard it's very different), but knowing the author, it would seem that time and place would have to serve a much larger role in defining the protagonist's periods of life than it does in this film. For me, this was a little bit of a missed opportunity for the film, as the dichotomy between Button's outward & inside ages during specific historical periods might have been worth exploring.

Plus, the contemporary section is woefully problematic. To begin with, there's far too much of Old Daisy talking about her life -- did the filmmakers not trust that their story would have enough power on its own? That the events in the film don't need to be explained to us? And the device used to provide entry-way into the story -- Benjamin's diary -- is awkward and cumbersome. The mother-daughter history is never really established enough to make us feel the impact of these revelations to Caroline (or even why some of this information -- like Mom's ballerina days -- would have been withheld from her.) And the use of Katrina seemed tacked-on and tacky.

But the main thrust of the story is gripping and powerful, populated by lively actors along the way. Jared Harris (who I actually know a little) is a hoot as a tugboat captain, and Tilda Swinton is one of those actors for whom every movie in which she appears automatically improves by nature of her being in it. Taraji P. Henson is lots of fun as Button's mother, though she never really gets the big scene that would make her a top prize contender. Pitt and Blanchett both do moving work -- personally I preferred Pitt last year in Jesse James, but he's got a challenging concept of a character to play and he manages to make this passive role interesting. I'm not surprised that Blanchett has been MIA at the precursors, as it's not so dynamic of a role (though if the Academy nominated her for The Golden Age, I guess anything's possible...!)

On the whole, an ambitious and powerful film that's just a bit frustrating for not being a little bit better. Still, I wouldn't be surprised (or upset) to see this win Best Picture, and director attention for Fincher would make me even more enthusiastic.

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Postby Big Magilla » Sat Dec 27, 2008 7:22 pm

Thankfully the only audience noise I encountered at my local theatre during the first Saturday matinee showing was occasional laughter and applause at the end. There was even a baby who kept quiet during the entire film and the old ladies behind me shut up once they were told to do so by the on-screen notice.

Getting back to the film itself, I think the criticism that the film is too cold, distant, lacking in emotion or whatever is total bunk. The screenplay is so unrelentingly sad that it doesn't require any outward displays of sentiment to make its audience feel.

Although anyone can "get" the film, I suspect its greatest appeal is to older audiences who wonder if they will die like Cate Blanchett's character in full memory and regret or like Brad Pitt's character in almost total forgetfulness.

This is the kind of film that wins Oscars. It's Gone With the Wind to Slumdog Millionaire's Wizard of Oz, The Best Years of Our Lives to Slumdog's It's a Wonderful Life and Forrest Gump to Slumdog's Pulp Fiction. It is, however, more David Copperfield than Forrest Gump in its telling.

Brad Pitt, always a better listener than talker, does his best acting ever. The reverse aging effects are uncanny when Pitt begins to look like his Thelma & Louise era self. Cate Blanchett, an actress who I usually "catch" acting was true and real to her character here, especially as she aged. Tilda Swinton was terrific in a small role as Pitt's first lover and Taraji P. Henson was Hattie McDaniel, Louise Beavers and Ethel Waters rolled into one as Pitt's surrogate mother. I can see the film matching the 14 nominations of All About Eve and Titanic. It's bound to sweep the technical awards.
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Postby Zahveed » Sat Dec 27, 2008 6:18 pm

At least disable it during bad previews so I can rag on them.
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