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A Best Picture Contender’s Guide to Running Against Slumdog Millionaire

Martin Klimas's Amaryllis IV (2007)

Like Juno and Little Miss Sunshine before it, Slumdog Millionaire — based on its small budget ($15 million), distributor (Fox Searchlight), and uplifting story (a Mumbai street kid makes good on a TV game show) — was cast early on as 2008's Little Movie That Could. But with recent honors from the National Board of Review, the British Independent Film Awards, and the Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association, along with the failure of any starrier, larger-budget movie to generate consensus among Oscar watchers, Slumdog has coasted backlash-free to front-runner status in this year's Best Picture race. Can smaller art-house fare like Australia and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button possibly compete? Probably not! Even so, for publicists running rival Best Picture campaigns, Vulture has drafted a set of anti-Slumdog talking points (caution: Spoilers ahead!) that might prove helpful.

It's Too Dark: It may not quite deserve its R-rating, but the film's middle section is pretty grim. Sure, The Dark Knight was the bleakest-ever superhero movie, but not even in Christopher Nolan's worst nightmares did he imagine homeless orphans being blinded on purpose to maximize their earning potential as street beggars.

Everybody's Sick of Underdogs: With the election of Barack Obama, the unanticipated box-office success of Four Christmases, and Ben Silverman's astonishing ability to keep his job despite his hilarious incompetence, isn't it about time we let a big guy win, just once?

No Big Performances: Not only are there no name actors in the movie, there's not even any real acting. Sure, Dev Patel (in his first-ever film role) is great as Jamal — but the appeal of his performance is more about his subtle, unlearned charm than any flashy emoting that would look good in a fifteen-second Oscar clip. And with actors making up the Academy's largest voting bloc, this could actually be a problem.

It's Too Dark: It may not quite deserve its R-rating, but the film's middle section is pretty grim. Sure, The Dark Knight was the bleakest-ever superhero movie, but not even in Christopher Nolan's worst nightmares did he imagine homeless orphans being blinded on purpose to maximize their earning potential as street beggars.

Not WWII-y enough: Were you aware that Slumdog Millionaire is one of the few films coming out this fall that doesn't feature Nazis? Is Danny Boyle trying to make us forget the Holocaust?

Ending Too Uplifting: Given the troubled economic, environmental, and political straits we currently find ourselves in, would it really be responsible for the Oscars to reward a movie that just hands its hero 20 million rupees and lets him live happily ever after, dancing in Bollywood-style production numbers? Wouldn't Slumdog have better reflected our times if the bank foreclosed on Jamal's home and he died in a global-warming-induced super-hurricane while campaigning against Proposition 8?

It Pals Around With Terrorists: Have you heard that Slumdog's soundtrack features M.I.A., the daughter of a member of the Tamil Tigers, a violent Sri Lankan secessionist organization? Does this crap only work in presidential campaigns?

Too Oddly Constructed?: Sure, everybody agrees the movie's final act is totally thrilling (if a little hackneyed and formulaic), but what about its first two-thirds? Doesn't the film's plot device — which sets up flashbacks to Jamal's crappy childhood with Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? questions — feel slightly hokey and contrived? No? Hmm. We loved it too. Good luck, Benjamin Button!

Photo: Courtesy of Fox Searchlight