NPR Movie Critic Reviews Pre-Oscar Predictions

NPR's Bob Mondello says his Oscar predictions — 15 correct picks out of 24 — were terrible. He says though he thought Mickey Rourke would win Best Actor, the right person, Sean Penn, won the award. Mondello also says the Oscars garnered a bigger audience than they did last year.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block. Though there was anticipation of surprise winners at the Oscars, last night proved a slam dunk for a slumdog. "Slumdog Millionaire" took home eight awards, including Best Picture, and most of the awards were much as expected.

And Bob Mondello is with us to talk about the Oscars. He's our film critic. Bob, you had predicted going in that you would do terribly in the Oscar pool. How'd you do?

BOB MONDELLO: And I did terribly. I got 15 out of 24. This is just barely over 50 percent.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MONDELLO: I mean, I should be able to do that well if I'm guessing blindly. It was embarrassing, and I even got the Best Actor wrong. I bought what they were saying about Mickey Rourke being, you know, this underdog that everybody was going to want to go with.

BLOCK: In "The Wrestler."

MONDELLO: And I think it went to the right guy, which was Sean Penn for "Milk." He was just superb as Harvey Milk, but I guess I bet against him because I was trying to win the pool.

BLOCK: And that didn't work out too well for you.

MONDELLO: No.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BLOCK: On Friday on the program, Bob, you also said that what the producers of the show were trying to do to get more audience wouldn't work.

MONDELLO: Yeah, well, I was wrong about that, too. It actually did better than it did last year. Now, let me, in my own defense, say that better than the worst ever is not all that great.

BLOCK: Yeah. Nothing to write home about.

MONDELLO: On the other hand, congratulations. It bounced it up a little bit.

BLOCK: Who knows why?

MONDELLO: Well, that's exactly right. Because the awards show, when you look at it, you know, it's all about pacing. It's all about the awards that the audience cares about. It was sort of eking them out so that people will be interested. So, for instance, they didn't do the Best Supporting Actor, usually one of the very first things, until pretty late in the show.

BLOCK: It took forever.

MONDELLO: Exactly. Because everybody was curious about Heath Ledger, you know. And, of course, he won, which was an incredibly emotional moment, I thought.

BLOCK: Won for "The Dark Knight," posthumously.

MONDELLO: Right. Yeah.

BLOCK: Bob, at the end of the evening, of course, "Slumdog Millionaire," the big winner, and it was not a sure thing that this movie would even end up on movie screens.

MONDELLO: No, that's true. At one point, it was going direct to video. Warner Independent was in the process of shutting itself down. Warner Brothers had decided to get rid of the independent arm of its company. And this was going to go direct to video. And then they worked a deal with Fox Searchlight to distribute the picture in theaters.

Can you imagine that this picture, which has now made over $150 million worldwide, almost didn't get released in theaters at all? And it's proving enormously popular with audiences, which I think makes a real case for the notion that the big studios ought to have independent film groups.

This is a low-budget picture by comparison with the ones that everybody thought might win awards, like "WALL-E," which cost several hundred million dollars to produce. And the Batman picture, which also cost several hundred million dollars to produce.

This is a very small-budget picture, and in Hollywood terms, they don't really know how to push those anymore. They happened to do it really well with this one.

BLOCK: Yeah, and Fox Searchlight has also done "Juno," "Little Miss Sunshine," "Sideways."

MONDELLO: That's right.

BLOCK: They've had a great track record.

MONDELLO: Yes, they have.

BLOCK: What do you think this says, Bob, the triumph of "Slumdog Millionaire" and what it may say about Indian cinema, foreign cinema, anything looking forward?

MONDELLO: They would love for this picture to do for Indian cinema what "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" did for Hong Kong cinema, what "Year of Living Dangerously" did for Australian cinema. It would be really nice if this did that. And I think there's a possibility, but they've made a lot of attempts with things like "Bride and Prejudice," which was a sort of a Bollywood version of "Pride and Prejudice," to invade the U.S. market. And they haven't really been successful here.

Now, the U.S. market is still close to half the worldwide market. So, it's important for other film industries to be able to get into the U.S. market, but who knows if it'll actually happen. I hope it does because a lot of their pictures are very interesting. But there's no question that those are proven crowd-pleasers.

BLOCK: And, again, when we say this was a movie that came from India - British director, British producer.

MONDELLO: Exactly. And French financing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MONDELLO: So, yeah. I think you can make a case that this was one of the most international Oscar casts ever.

BLOCK: A little Monday morning quarterbacking post-Oscars from NPR film critic Bob Mondello. Thanks so much.

MONDELLO: It's always a pleasure.

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