Release date: Dec. 25
A shimmering melancholic romance about the most unusual of criss-crossing lovers — a man (Brad Pitt) who ages from infirmity to infancy, and a woman (Cate Blanchett) who grows old like we all — “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” is imagery wizard David Fincher’s big-canvas play for mass acceptance, and he’s fashioned an effects-laden but character-driven epic that recalls the sweetly doomed, emotional glamour of Hollywood’s golden era.
Aging is a theme that resonates with an Academy often criticized for its predilection toward the sentimentality of the subject (“On Golden Pond,” “Driving Miss Daisy”). But Oscar-winning screenwriter Eric Roth elegantly fused F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story with a decades-spanning love story, another favorite genre with voters (the Roth-written “Forrest Gump,” “Reds”). It helps give “Button” a chance at a category-sweeping juggernaut, with Fincher on track to score his first Academy nomination.
At five nods with one win, Blanchett is fast becoming a yearly Oscar night fixture, and her Daisy is another full-bodied portrayal of sensuality and intelligence that wouldn’t be out of place among leading actress turns of the ’30s or ’40s. One-time supporting actor nominee Pitt (for “Twelve Monkeys”), meanwhile, has an unusual role that fortunately plays to his strengths: love of character parts and brooding ambivalence about his beauty. It could mean his first lead actor nom. Strong supporting work from the lively Taraji P. Henson as Benjamin’s adoptive mother Queenie, and last year’s supporting actress winner Tilda Swinton as Ben’s aristocratic first love could yield other noms.
A Fincher movie is usually a cause for technical celebration, and “Button” covers all the bases, from the sepia-to-spectrum richness of the visuals (Claudio Miranda) to the century tour of clothing styles (prior nominee Jacqueline West), and from the stunning New Orleans-based production design to the performance-capture-meets-makeup aging effects that put Pitt’s wrinkled face on a shuffling, diminutive body.