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 Slumdog Millionaire 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.
It 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.
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 films from the developing world to stand on the verge of grasping Hollywood’s greatest honour.
2. Best Song (Jai Ho): Music by Rahman, lyrics by Gulzar
3. Best Song (O Saaya): Music by Rahman, lyrics by Rahman & Maya Arulpragasam
4. Best Film: Christian Colson,
5. Best Director: Danny Boyle
6. Best Adapted Screenplay: Simon Beaufoy
7. Best Sound Editing: Tom Sayers
8. Best Sound Mixing: Ian Tapp, Richard Pryke, Resul Pookutty
9. Best Cinematography: Anthony Dod Mantle
10. Best Film Editing: Chris Dickens
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 movie.
Ultimately, its feel-good vibe would also reflect the message of hope amid gloom that Obama has popularised.
Just as importantly an Oscar vote for Slumdog would reinforce the sense that the US can no longer monopolise global culture or political power.