Besides the eternal Oscar quandary of what to wear, there was really only one important question on the minds of Hollywood's insiders this week: Can anyone bump the movie
from its unlikely, yet seemingly inevitable, route to Oscar glory at the 81st annual Academy Awards Sunday in Los Angeles?
Like most true art, the movie is as full of as many paradoxes, contradictions and subtleties as life itself. Slumdog Millionaire is gritty yet exotic, challenging yet rewarding, local yet global, depressing yet uplifting, accessible yet artistic, modern yet traditional, romantic yet cruel.
Slumdog... overcame almost as many obstacles as its underdog Indian hero on its way to critical and commercial success that saw it conquer cineplexes around the globe and capture almost every major prize in the film world so far.
The film is based on a book by Indian novelist and diplomat Vikas Swarup about an Indian pauper who draws on his life events in Mumbai's sprawling slums to reach the final of India's premier quiz show. In the hands of British director Danny Boyle and screenwriter Simon Beaufoy, the story was turned into a modern masterpiece that works on numerous levels with impeccable timing.
Those looking for a political parallel could point to the rise of Barack Obama from an unknown state senator to the post of US president, as proof that this is a time for underdogs to shoot spectacularly to the top.
But Slumdog... really has no parallels as the first film from the developing world to stand on the verge of grasping Hollywood's greatest honour. Though the Curious Case of Benjamin Button has more nominations, Oscar observers believe that Slumdog... is still likely to come out on top as it has done at the Golden Globes and numerous other competitions.
The biggest challenge to the Mumbai-based extravaganza actually comes not from ...Button but from Milk. The liberal voters of the Academy surely have a soft spot for the inspiring gay rights story. Together with the fact that Milk is also an excellent movie, that Sean Penn is an Oscar favourite, and that Hollywood would love to make a statement on the simmering gay marriage issue, Milk could upset the Oscar cart.
Curiously, ...Button and the other top contenders are likely to excel in the acting categories where Academy voters already entirely ignored the Slumdog... cast. But in the race for Best Picture, Best Director and Adapted Screenplay, you would have to be foolhardy to bet against Boyle's one-of-a-kind movie.
It's unclear what a win would do for those involved in Slumdog.... Ever since his genre-busting Trainspotting, Boyle has been regarded as a visionary director. Unfortunately, his big budget follow-up to that low-rent drug drama was the fatally flawed "The Beach" starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
Yet the symbolism of a Slumdog... victory would resonate well beyond the film world.
Though some Indian activists have denounced the movie as poverty porn, to outside eyes it represents the resilience, resourcefulness and vibrancy that India embodies.
Ultimately, its feel-good vibe would also reflect the message of hope amid gloom that Obama has popularised.
Just as importantly, by choosing a global film that the world can relate to, an Oscar vote for Slumdog... would reinforce the sense that the US can no longer monopolise global culture or political power.
After eight years in which the US launched a disastrous war in Iraq, denied global warming and caused the worst worldwide financial crisis in 70 years, maybe the Oscars, like Obama, will help redeem its image.