It’s as if the Academy could think about only one election at a time: In the past, releases from the spring (“Crash”), summer (“Gladiator”) and fall (“The Departed”) stood a chance at Oscar gold, but not so with this year’s top nominees, which all opened after Nov. 4. Despite
attracting noms in lesser categories, such critical and popular midyear favorites as “The Dark Knight” and “Wall-E” couldn’t make the Acad’s best picture cut.
Of the five that did, only “Slumdog Millionaire” began its Oscar journey by hitting the festival circuit earlier in the year. The film was the talk of Telluride and went on to woo audiences in Toronto before slowly rolling out in November. (Last year’s winner, “No Country for Old Men,” won its first raves at Cannes, but that didn’t work out as well for “Changeling” or “Che” this time around.)
Focus waited until just after the election to open gay-rights biopic “Milk,” a decision that was controversial with those who feel Harvey Milk himself would have used the publicity to fight California’s Prop. 8. Instead, the attention around the issue seems to have boosted the film, which some feel could succeed where “Brokeback Mountain” didn’t.
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” made the most of its Christmas release, leading this year’s crop in sheer number of noms. But not every 11th-hour release can make the final ballot. “Frost/Nixon,” “The Reader,” “Doubt” and “Gran Torino” opened within a week of each other in early December, but only the first two made it into the picture noms. Those who write off “The Reader” as the Academy going easy on Holocaust-themed films overlook the fact that flashier entries “Defiance” and “Valkyrie” didn’t make the cut.
Given voters’ short memories (or perhaps an honest preference for recent releases), the best picture question ultimately comes down to which film the org will want to remember for years to come.