City Desk

The “Curious Case” of Oscar Hype

If there's one thing we all learned from the Grammys' star-studded death rattle, it's that award shows which attempt to program the tastes of the nation are on their way out. (How many of your friends actually agreed that Coldplay's Viva la Vida was the best rock album of the year?)

So the fact that this Sunday's 81st Annual Academy Awards has crept up with little to no hype is hardly surprising, nor is the fact that the Academy singled out David Fincher's (of Fight Club fame) The Curious Case of Benjamin Button as the Academy Awards' Viva la Vida, bestowing upon the bloated F. Scott Fitzgerald adaptation a mind boggling 13 nominations.

From the moment the film hit theaters, Benjamin Button was destined to be an Oscar fron trunner: Sanitized film version of a respectable author's work? Check. One hot half of a Hollywood "It" couple in the title role? Check. Overwrought treatment of a "Big Idea" gripping the youth-obsessed national psyche? Check.

Screenwriters Eric Roth (who won an Oscar for his successful adaptation of Forrest Gump in 1995) and Robin Swicord (responsible for the 1994 adaptation of Little Women) wrote the womanizing and boozing damn near out of Fitzgerald's Benjamin Button, significantly sweetening the novella's sour split between Benjamin and Daisy (the real reason Benny leaves Daisy is because he can't stand her wrinkles and saggy body, not the fear of "Oh my, what will the neighbors think?"). The fruit of their labor is as standard and pedestrian as a McIntosh apple, making Fitzgerald's complex character sympathetic, flat and easier to swallow. Which is good news for Brad Pitt, who, in his middle-age, has the range of a department store mannequin. Best Actor? Pfft.

Aside from being a watered-down version of a stiff cocktail delivered by a lazy bartender, the film as a whole just isn't as strong as the other nominees. Of course, Benjamin Button deserves to win Best Makeup and Best Visual Effects–in the five-minute sequence wherein Button travels the world, the rugged, lank-haired and tanned Pitt looks better then ever–but Best Picture? Button is up against some serious heavyweights in that department. Director Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire has been cleaning up at festivals and various awards shows, while Ron Howard's Frost/Nixon, Gus Van Sant's Milk and Stephen Daldry's The Reader have the "Big Idea" schtick pegged, with a political edge to boot.

AP (via the New York Times) posited the question "'Benjamin Button': Biggest Oscar Loser in the Making?" Here's hoping so.

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