Between George W. Bush about to (finally) leave office and Slumdog Millionaire scooping up all those awards at the Golden Globes the other night, 2009 is already shaping up to be a great year, one with change for the better.
Both events prove that sometimes good does overcome all, even in America. In the case of the Danny Boyle-directed Slumdog Millionaire's deserved four Golden Globes awards (not to mention its inevitable upcoming Oscar wins next month), it is a refreshing reminder that, even when you have given up hope, that a truly original piece of art can triumph in the face of all odds and get mainstream acceptance. To paraphrase one of the film's stars Dev Patel (who plays the 18 year old Jamal), "Maybe it is written" that sometimes the underdog can win.
If you haven't seen this movie already, get thee to a theater today or this weekend. It's so good and satisfying on so many levels, and is hands-down the best movie of the past year (far better than even Milk, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Gran Torino, and The Wrestler -- all really great films in their own right) and hence the most deserved winner of any recent era Golden Globes that I can recall. And while the story description, the tale of a boy from the Mumbai slums who reaches the final round of the Indian version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire with Bollywood vet Anil Kapoor playing the Indian Regis Philbin as host, is accurate, it really doesn't capture the true essence of this great film, which, at its core, is a traditional Hollywood (and/or Bollywood) rags-to-riches/love-story.
But this tale is told in a way that breaks all of the tired unwritten Hollywood rules (usually inflicted on directors by meddling producers) that ruin so many promising films. Examples of these bullshit unwritten rules? That to score a hit you should only have well known, previously proven, big budget stars in leading roles (even if it is an animated film, get a recognizable actor to voice over) or that you should always always avoid subtitles and foreign (non English) language. Slumdog Millionaire goes against the grain on all counts, and more. And that is its greatest strength.
Imagine if Slumdog Millionaire had been a big budget Hollywood production: we would have had someone like Keanu Reeves with a thick Indian accent playing Jamal, just as Brad Pitt with his affected Southern drawl was mistakenly cast in the lead role of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button when any decent actor (preferably totally unknown and hence not a distraction from the wonderful story line) would have been much more effective. Like Benjamin Button, Slumdog is both a powerful love story and a tale of overcoming incredible obstacles in one's turburlent life.
Slumdog Millionaire's jaw-dropping cinematography and soundtrack demand that it be viewed in the finest movie theater you can find. The soundtrack by Indian composer A.R. Rahman (who won the Globe for best musical score) features M.I.A. on three tracks, and is available on CD at Amoeba Music. Meanwhile, the cinematography is to die for. It wasn't simply shot "on location" but "of location" since it so accurately captures the feel and very vibe of the various beautiful (and not so beautiful) Indian locations it travels through that you really feel like you are there.
When you compare Slumdog Millionaire with another recent film shot on trains traveling through India, Wes Anderson's The Darjeeling Limited, it is obvious that Boyle, his crew, and his cast have managed to perfectly and respectfully capture the feel of a place as an insider -- not as some outsider looking in. Furthermore it very subtly presents a fresh, non-Western look at the changing world today in such scenes as the outsourced call center where Jamal works as a chai-boy, or the privileged American tourists in search of "the real India," or in the restaurant kitchen where the fresh water bottles are routinely refilled & resealed with tap water for the unsuspecting tourists.
Finally what I also loved about watching Slumdog Millionaire was just as the 120 minute film, which never loses its momentum, was rolling to a close, I found myself thinking, "Damn, a Bollywood movie without the requisite mass dance scene!" and right then at that exact moment, a huge, wonderfully choreographed dance, featuring hundreds of dancers, colorfully erupted on the big screen in the final railway station dance scene. Brilliant!
So, to summarize: go see this movie ASAP and in a theater with a decent screen/soundsystem, buy the hauntingly beautiful movie soundtrack on CD at Amoeba Music which includes three M.I.A. songs two versions of "Paper Plances" -one a DFA remix, and peep below the (Danny Boyle approved) remix of the movie trailer by UK video duo producers Addictive TV, all done drawing from sounds/visuals from the movie.