January 23, 2009 in Nation/World

‘Curious,’ ‘Slumdog’ lead Oscar nominations

By John Horn Los Angeles Times
Associated Press photo

“Slumdog Millionaire” director Danny Boyle, left, and actors Shabana Azmi and Anil Kapoor dance as they arrive for the premiere in Mumbai, India, on Thursday.
(Full-size photo)

And the nominees are …

Best Picture: “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” “Frost/Nixon,” “Milk,” “The Reader,” “Slumdog Millionaire.”

Actor: Richard Jenkins, “The Visitor”; Frank Langella, “Frost/Nixon”; Sean Penn, “Milk”; Brad Pitt, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”; Mickey Rourke, “The Wrestler.”

Actress: Anne Hathaway, “Rachel Getting Married”; Angelina Jolie, “Changeling”; Melissa Leo, “Frozen River”; Meryl Streep, “Doubt”; Kate Winslet, “The Reader.”

Supporting Actor: Josh Brolin, “Milk”; Robert Downey Jr., “Tropic Thunder”; Philip Seymour Hoffman, “Doubt”; Heath Ledger, “The Dark Knight”; Michael Shannon, “Revolutionary Road.”

Supporting Actress: Amy Adams, “Doubt”; Penelope Cruz, “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”; Viola Davis, “Doubt”; Taraji P. Henson, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”; Marisa Tomei, “The Wrestler.”

Director: David Fincher, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”; Ron Howard, “Frost/Nixon”; Gus Van Sant, “Milk”; Stephen Daldry, “The Reader”; Danny Boyle, “Slumdog Millionaire.”

Foreign Film: “The Baader Meinhof Complex,” Germany; “The Class,” France; “Departures,” Japan; “Revanche,” Austria; “Waltz With Bashir,” Israel.

Adapted Screenplay: Eric Roth and Robin Swicord, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”; John Patrick Shanley, “Doubt”; Peter Morgan, “Frost/Nixon”; David Hare, “The Reader”; Simon Beaufoy, “Slumdog Millionaire.”

Original Screenplay: Courtney Hunt, “Frozen River”; Mike Leigh, “Happy-Go-Lucky”; Martin McDonagh, “In Bruges”; Dustin Lance Black, “Milk”; Andrew Stanton, Jim Reardon and Pete Docter, “WALL-E.”

Animated Feature Film: “Bolt”; “Kung Fu Panda”; “WALL-E.”

Cinematography: “Changeling,” “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” “The Dark Knight,” “The Reader,” “Slumdog Millionaire.”

Film Editing: “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” “The Dark Knight,” “Frost/Nixon,” “Milk,” “Slumdog Millionaire.”

Associated Press

HOLLYWOOD – They are now the leading contenders for the top Academy Award – and while “Slumdog Millionaire” and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” could hardly be more different in plot, style, spirit and budget, they epitomize the increasingly perilous path artistically ambitious movies face in Hollywood.

Thursday’s nominations for the 81st annual Oscars brought a leading 13 nominations to “Benjamin Button,” while “Slumdog Millionaire” collected 10 nominations. The recognition marked a significant, though not unexpected, triumph for two films that have faced overwhelming odds – one movie was more than two decades in the making and the other was nearly abandoned by its original U.S. distributor.

“This gives me so much hope,” said Paul Federbush, who acquired domestic distribution rights to the $14 million “Slumdog Millionaire” for Warner Independent Pictures before Warner Bros. closed the division in May. That temporarily put the release of the often-gritty fable about an Indian game show contestant on hold until Fox Searchlight, a division of 20th Century Fox that has become Hollywood’s most accomplished distributor of independent film, stepped in to release the picture.

Federbush, who has been unemployed since Warner Independent shut down, was speaking from Mumbai, where news of “Slumdog Millionaire’s” nominations was announced at the start of its raucous Indian premiere. “I still believe in the strength of a story and that a great movie can break through no matter how many challenges are in the system,” he said.

That optimistic sentiment was echoed by screenwriter Eric Roth, who overhauled a laconic 1922 F. Scott Fitzgerald short story into “Benjamin Button,” a skillfully crafted epic largely shot in New Orleans about a man who ages in reverse. Since the 1980s, the project passed through the hands of numerous directors, producers and studio executives before Paramount Pictures and Warner Bros. took the leap with director David Fincher and in 2006 decided to make the $150 million film.

“It’s risky financially, and it’s risky creatively,” Roth said of movies like “Benjamin Button,” which, even though it stars Brad Pitt, cannot be easily parsed into a 15-second television spot. “It’s just more difficult to make movies that are not easily explained. But part of the Hollywood tradition is to make something you’re really proud of – it’s not just about selling shoes.”

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