MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Oscar nominations came out this morning. "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" had the most nominations with 13, and "Slumdog Millionaire" had 10. Joining those movies in the Best Picture category - "Milk," "Frost/Nixon," and "The Reader." And there's a complete list of Oscar nominees at our Web site npr.org/movies. Please check that out, but first we wanted to check out what our film critic Bob Mondello has to think about all this, and he joins us now in the studio. Hello, Bob.

BOB MONDELLO: Hey, it's good to be here.

NORRIS: Let's first talk about a big surprise - small movie, "Frozen River."

MONDELLO: That's true, it's a very small movie to have gotten two major awards. A lot of people haven't seen it yet. It's about a Mohawk woman in upstate New York who sort of coerces a white woman into helping her smuggle illegal immigrants across the Canadian border.

(Soundbite of movie "Frozen River")

Ms. MELISSA LEO: (As Ray Eddy) You're not going anywhere until those people get out of my trunk.

Ms. MISTY UPHAM: (As Lila) I'll give you half, now let's go. Let's go.

Ms. LEO: (As Ray Eddy) I'm not taking them across the border. That's a crime.

Ms. UPHAM: (As Lila) There is no border here. This is free trade between nations.

Ms. LEO: (As Ray Eddy) This isn't a nation.

Ms. UPHAM: (As Lila) Let's go.

MONDELLO: Melissa Leo got a best actress nomination for playing Ray, the white woman, and Courtney Hunt, who also directed, got an original screenplay nomination. I actually - between that and - I've been walking around all day saying, "The Reader," "The Reader"?

(Soundbite of laughter)

MONDELLO: How did that get in there? And I finally realized it's the Weinstein Brothers' movie, and they're the guys who at Miramax used to be able to turn small movies into big award pictures, and they've done it again.

NORRIS: So we move now from small films and big surprises to big films. And Bob, you don't seem to like "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" quite as much as the Academy does. Why not?

MONDELLO: Well, I think it's all right. This is life is like a box of digital effects...

(Soundbite of laughter)

MONDELLO: Is my reaction to that one. It's OK. It's fine. But I - you know, I think the reason that the Academy seems to be so excited about it is that it's a romance, so it can get lots of acting nominations, and it's also a special effects movie, so it can get all that little stuff. You know, the best special effects and costumes and...

NORRIS: We're talking about a man who ages backward and all the effects that go along with doing that.

MONDELLO: That's right. The only times that a picture's gotten more than 13 nominations were "Titanic" and "All About Eve." Well, think about "Titanic." It's a romance with special effects, so that follows that. "All About Eve" came out in 1950 at a time when they split everything between black and white and colored pictures. There were a whole lot more awards back then, that's why it got 14. So they're anomalies, and I think this one fits into the pattern of that.

NORRIS: I, for the record, happened to like the "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," so...

MONDELLO: I'm really glad. I didn't dislike it. I just, you know, I think life is like a box of digital effects.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NORRIS: Now what was left off the Academy's list?

MONDELLO: Well, the one that everybody is talking about got left off for Best Picture and Best Director, "Dark Knight," the Batman movie, which is the most popular movie of the last decade. It had made more money, almost a billion dollars, worldwide.

And then, also people are talking about how "Wall-E" got left off the Best Picture because you got this category now of Best Animated Picture, and otherwise it probably would have been in there. This category, which has become some sort of a ghetto for animated films, is now a Pixar category to lose, it seems to me. Every time they have a picture come out, it ends up there and it ends up winning. So I think "Wall-E" will be no exception. It's an extraordinary movie.

NORRIS: February 22nd is the big night. So what if someone hasn't seen many of these movies who wants to study up before the Academy Awards on February 22nd, what should they go out and see?

MONDELLO: Well, actually the Academy, through its choices, has made that really easy this year. You'll be comfortable in all of the major categories if you see just eight movies. Four of them are the Best Picture nominees, excluding "The Reader," which I don't think has a chance. And if in addition to that, you see "Doubt," "Rachel Getting Married," and "Frozen River" for Best Actress and "The Wrestler" for Best Actor, I think you will have seen everything that you need to see to win your office pools.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MONDELLO: The major categories are like that. You know, the one thing that I think you should not leave off that list because you think you might not enjoy it is "Slumdog Millionaire," which I know people are coming to it late. You know, they're sort of discovering it late. It hasn't opened all over the country yet. But when it does, it is just this wonderful picture - a fantastical romance about a kid who's from the Indian slums, gets on the TV show, "Who Wants to be a Millionaire."

(Soundbite of movie "Slumdog Millionaire")

Unidentified Man: It's getting hot in here.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DEV PATEL: (As Jamal Malik) Are you nervous?

Unidentified Man: What?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Man: Am I nervous? It's you who's in the hot seat, my friend.

Mr. PATEL: (As Jamal Malik) Oh, yes.

NORRIS: That's Dev Patel in "Slumdog Millionaire," playing Jamal, the lead character, who's supposed to be in the hot seat on "Who Wants to be a Millionaire," but seems to be the calm one there.

MONDELLO: He does seem to be.

NORRIS: But there probably aren't a lot of calm people in Hollywood, right now.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MONDELLO: Well, not at this point, no.

NORRIS: Waiting for the big day. I know you don't like to make predictions so I won't even ask you.

MONDELLO: Thank you.

NORRIS: But I will encourage listeners to go to our Web site. Again, that's npr.org/movies, if they want to find out more about these nominations. Thanks so much, Bob.

MONDELLO: It's always a pleasure.

NORRIS: And that was our film critic, Bob Mondello.

(Soundbite of music)

NORRIS: You're listening to All Things Considered from NPR News.

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