The Academy Awards: The Critics Vs. The Crowd The top grossing films of 2008 were The Dark Knight, Iron Man, Indiana Jones, Hancock, and WALL-E. But the 2009 Oscar nominees for best picture are The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon, Milk, The Reader, and Slumdog Millionaire. So what do you think? Do Academy members have the best taste, or are they out of touch?
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The Academy Awards: The Critics Vs. The Crowd

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The Academy Awards: The Critics Vs. The Crowd

The Academy Awards: The Critics Vs. The Crowd

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This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Lynn Neary in Washington. And the nominees for best picture are "The Dark Knight," "Ironman," "Indiana Jones," "Hancock" and "Wall-E." Well, no, not exactly. Those were the top-grossing films this past year at the U.S. box office. The movies actually up for the Academy Awards, movies like "The Reader" and "Frost/Nixon," aren't blockbusters by a long shot. In fact, many did poorly at the box office. But it wasn't always this way. Back in Hollywood's golden age, movies like "Ben-Hur" and "Lawrence of Arabia" attracted both the critics and the crowds. These days, with a few exceptions, "Titanic," for one, the movies that snag a best-picture nomination are not the same movies that rake in the big bucks.

Later in the hour, "Sleepwalk with Me": We'll talk with the comedian who took his dangerous dreams to Broadway. But first, David Carr, arts and culture reporter for the New York Times, and none other than Murray Horwitz, our favorite film buff, are here to give us an Oscar update and weigh in on the critics versus the crowds. And we want to hear from you. Do the Academy Award nominees reflect your tastes? Which movies would you nominate, and why? Our number her in Washington is 800-989-8255. The email address is Join the conversation at our Web site; go to and click on Talk of the Nation. David Carr is also the author of the Carpetbagger blog, and he's out in California covering The Oscars, so he joins us from the studios of NPR West. Good to have you with us, David.

Mr. DAVID CARR (Arts and Culture Columnist, New York Times): Oh, it's a pleasure to be with you and Murray.

NEARY: And Murray is standing by here in Studio 3A, and great to have you, of course, Murray.

MURRAY HORWITZ: Good to be here. Hi, David.

Mr. CARR: How are you?

HORWITZ: OK, thanks. How're you doing?

NEARY: Let me start with you, David. Just remind us, first of all, which are the best-picture nominees. Let's go through the basic facts first.

Mr. CARR: The best-picture nominees include "Slumdog Millionaire," "The Reader;" the - there's "Benjamin Button," of course. Murray, help me out here. I'm just getting to my page.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HORWITZ: Oh, my gosh.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HORWITZ: You got me. You have this three - my three off the top. How about you, Lynn? You ever...

NEARY: "Milk."

HORWITZ: "Milk," that's right.

Mr. CARR: "Milk," thank you.

NEARY: And "Benjamin Button."

Mr. CARR: "Benjamin," right.

NEARY: "The Reader," "Frost/Nixon" and "Slumdog Millionaire."

HORWITZ: "Frost/Nixon," that was...

NEARY: Am I correct?

HORWITZ: Right, right, right. Yeah.


Mr. CARR: Yes, you are correct.

NEARY: I'm so glad...

Mr. CARR: Good thing somebody is - knows what they're doing here.

NEARY: I was in a sense...

HORWITZ: Any one of our listeners could have done this quicker than we did it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NEARY: I'm so glad I asked you that question, David.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HORWITZ: Now, try an easy one.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NEARY: OK, which movies - which one is generating the most buzz for best picture?

Mr. CARR: "Slumdog Millionaire" went out front to stay early in the season, an improbable story, really, when you think about it. You have a movie that's rendered one-third in Hindi, full of stars you've never heard of, that captures the heart of not just audiences; it actually has done business unlike some of these other films, goes out front and stays there, in a way, though, and I don't know what Murray thinks, but it's kind of a classic Oscar movie, in that it opens with a very exciting chase; it's got some very rugged sort of terrain in the middle, including endless poverty, child torture, gangsters roaming across Mumbai; but then, it ends in a big uplift with this dance scene, and people leave the theater feeling happy. And I think that's part of what has helped it just, you know, really grab the Academy and hang on to it throughout the season. I don't think anybody's going to touch him.

HORWITZ: You know, I agree, David, although I've been impressed by a lot of the buzz around the curious case of "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button." But there was an older woman who said me, you know, my kids took me to see this "Slumdog Millionaire," and I just - something about it I didn't understand. I said, what's to understand? Boy meets girl; boy loses girl; boy gets girl. There's your movie...

(Soundbite of laughter)

HORWITZ: And so it really is a classic.

Mr. CARR: It's the Hollywood in the '40s, including, you know, a game-show trope in the middle of it...


Mr. CARR: That is very easy to follow and very winning as it rendered. It uses some very familiar Hollywood DNA, but infuses it with this sort of Bollywood aesthetic that you really can't take your eyes off of.


NEARY: So, it's the - and it's the kind of movie that the Academy likes because it has a sort of gravitas to it. It has it dealing with some very serious subject, but at the same time, it's uplifting and gives people a good time at the movie theater. It's, like, that combination of things seems to be what the Academy likes, right?

HORWITZ: Yeah, and it has this real social relevance. As David says, there's this whole, like, the worst poverty dramatized, you know, very, very early on in some rather disgusting ways. And so, it also has this, I wouldn't say, surface of social relevance. I think it really deals with some stuff, you know, on more than a surface level, so that it really touches all the bases.

NEARY: Yeah.

Mr. CARR: I think you could say that about a lot of the films that got nominated this year. "The Reader" takes the Holocaust as its central sort of consideration. "Milk" is a biopic of Harvey Milk, starring Sean Penn. "Frost/Nixon" steps up to a moment in American history and sort of recasts it. And then, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" isn't so much socio-topical, but it does have a strong message about, it doesn't really matter which direction you live life in; it matters how you live that life. So, it's not a bummer start to finish, but these are fairly serious, weighty films.

NEARY: Do you have a sense that people are excited about the Academy Awards this year?

Mr. CARR: I have a sense of exactly the opposite.

NEARY: But what do you - what accounts for that? Why is that? Is it this sort of discrepancy between what people are paying money to go see and, you know, what the Academy thinks is a good movie?

Mr. CARR: I think there's two tiers to it. One is, it is not great for the race to have something go out front and stay there and be a prohibitive favorite. If you remember last year, "There Will Be Blood" and the Coen Brothers movie, "No Country for Old Men," were banging heads throughout the season. It gave Oscar-ninnies and bloggers like me something to write about, something to grab onto. As it is, we've had to sort of fall back to the actor races and what's going on in them for things to talk about. That's one tier. And the other tier is the Oscar bump has really turned into a little bit of an Oscar potholes. "Slumdog Millionaire" has done well since it's been nominated. "Benjamin Button" has a lot of studio might behind it with Paramount. But "Frost/Nixon," "Milk," "The Reader," part of the reason people won't pull up to the show with that much expectation is because not a lot of people have seen these films.

NEARY: Yeah. Do you think any of the blockbusters, Murray, do you think any of the blockbusters should have gotten nominated?

HORWITZ: Oh, that's interesting. I mean, I really - as you mentioned, I think, at the very, very top of the hour that the big box-office blockbusters are not much represented in the Oscar nominations - "The Dark Knight," "Ironman," "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" - with one exception almost every year. And that is the big box-office-grossing animated features are almost always the nominated animated features. This year, "Wall-E" and, I think, "Kung Fu Panda..."

NEARY: But some people thought that "Wall-E" might get nominated for best picture.

HORWITZ: Right, there was...

NEARY: But it didn't.

HORWITZ: There was that - it did not. But there's a - but then again, you know, the Oscars are Hollywood's opportunity to tell the stories it wants to tell. And as David points out, these are rather weighty movies, and Hollywood wants to make certain statements that, I guess, maybe nominating "Wall-E" wouldn't have done. But I - one of the stories that it clearly wants to tell this year is the Heath Ledger story, and so, he gets nominated and is - I mean, he's probably the prohibitive-prohibitive favorite...

(Soundbite of laughter)

HORWITZ: Of all the awards.

Mr. CARR: The lock of all locks, Murray.

HORWITZ: Right, right, right, right, right.

NEARY: All right, let's take - we're going to take a call now.


NEARY: We're going to go to Andrew, and he's calling from Cleveland, Ohio. Andrew, go ahead.

ANDREW (Caller): Hi, Lynn. Thank you for taking my call. I'm coming in right at the right moment, I guess. "The Dark Knight" not being nominated, I felt, was a huge blow not only to moviegoers, but the fans of the character. I mean, here's a character that has endured the Joel Schumacher era...

(Soundbite of laughter)

ANDREW: With "Batman and Robin" and "Batman Forever" and went on to be a transcendent film for its whole genre by coming out of the Emerald City of Joel Schumacher and going into more of an Al Pacino "Heat"-style film. And to see it not nominated as best picture, when it accomplished all those things for the movie industry, I felt that that was a disservice. Equally as much, I feel that all the awards have overlooked some really fantastic performances by Gary Oldman and Aaron Eckhart, you know, as other supporting roles. Unfortunately, they were dwarfed by Mr. Ledger's, you know, really amazing turn as the Joker. But to not see it nominated - and then no offense to your program - but then to have it lumped in with other blockbusters like "Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull," which was just a horrible film, it's just that I feel, you know, I feel bad - I know it's hard to feel bad for a movie that made as much money as it did, but I do feel bad for that movie...

(Soundbite of laughter)

HORWITZ: Well, I'll tell you, I think that they're crying all the way to the Stamford Fund or something. They...

(Soundbite of laughter)

HORWITZ: Just don't feel too sorry for them. It was the number-one...

NEARY: They made over $500 million.

HORWITZ: Yeah, it made a lot of money...

Mr. CARR: Yeah, but...

HORWITZ: And I will say, David knows more about this than I do, but didn't you get the sense among movie people that people liked "The Dark Knight," but they thought, if you were going to be nominated for anything, it would be the best three pictures of the year? It was a movie that ended about three times.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CARR: I am going to ride with Andrew to the extent that there's nothing wrong with this Oscar season that couldn't have been solved by the inclusion of "Dark Knight." It would have been great narrative for the awards themselves. I think that the problems that Murray point out - points to are real in that third act; I'm sure Andrew could explain it to me, but it would probably take about 45 minutes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CARR: The one thing that you'd have to say if you're Warner Brothers is, what do you guys want? We took a comic-book movie, got a grade-A director in Christopher Nolan, and a performance for the ages out of Heath Ledger, a film palette that was noir, was spooky, fully realized vision of Gotham, and we can't sneak in for a best picture? What do we got to do?

HORWITZ: It's a fair point. You mentioned Warner Brothers. Let me ask you a question, David. To what extent - because we hear about this a lot, but you're out there, and to what extent is it a - there's a kind of cynical view that the Oscar nominations are a function of, you know, who's got clout, what producer, how much marketing money is behind it. You know, I know Fox Searchlight put a lot of money into promoting "Slumdog Millionaire." The producer is somebody - or the producer of "The Baader-Meinhof Gang," for example, which is up for best-foreign-language picture, is somebody known in Hollywood. I mean, how much does that kind of political in-stuff that we don't see have to do with it?

Mr. CARR: Zero to none, I would say. "Slumdog Millionaire," yes, Fox Searchlight supported the film, but they didn't buy a single cover ad in any of the trades. They kept it on the down-low, worked the underdog stuff. If marketing might and money spent counted for anything - and it does in the nominations - "Benjamin Button" got 13 nominations...

NEARY: All right. We're going to talk about "Benjamin Button" when we come back from our short break, so hold that thought, David. If you want to give us a call, the number is 800-989-8255. I'm Lynn Neary. It's Talk of the Nation from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

NEARY: This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Lynn Neary in Washington. The 81st Academy Awards are Sunday night. Many actors get a vote; so do lots of directors, producers and other insiders. You and I do not get a vote, and often, the big winners on Oscar night were not big winners at the box office. So, do the Academy Award nominees reflect your tastes? Which movies would you nominate, and why? Vote by phone at 800-989-8255, or submit your ballot via email to, or join the conversation at our Web site; go to and click on Talk of the Nation. Murray Horwitz is with us. He's Talk of the Nation's favorite film buff.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HORWITZ: I'm not feeling very buff, Lynn, but...

(Soundbite of laughter)

NEARY: And David Carr is the arts and culture reporter for the New York Times, and he writes the Carpetbagger blog for the Times' Web site. We were just talking about "Benjamin Button" before the break, and let's hear a clip of tape from that film.

Not ready with the clip, but we will hear it momentarily. We...

(Soundbite of movie "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button")

Mr. BRAD PITT: (As Benjamin Button) I'm not as old as I look.

Ms. ELLE FANNING: (As Daisy - Age 7) You know, you don't seem like an old person. Are you sick?

Mr. PITT: (As Benjamin Button) Well, I heard Mama and Tizzy whispering. They said I was going to die soon, but maybe not.

NEARY: All right. That was "Benjamin Button," and as we were saying before the break, that got 13 nominations, the most. What do you guys think about that? Did it deserve it?

HORWITZ: Well, David was about to talk, you know, about the marketing involved. You're saying they didn't market that at all, David? Or...

Mr. CARR: They marketed a ton. I think that clip nicely embodied the problem that they confronted. I think you're better on the movie analytics, but you have two really wonderful stars in Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, people want to look at, but they spend a lot of the movie, sort of, going toward each other and then going away from each other, and they have some chemistry while they're together.


Mr. CARR: And then the clip itself, you could say, was that "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" or maybe was that a clip from "Forrest Gump"?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CARR: It sounds a little familiar. It's got that folksy Americana thing going and the same screen writer, and I think part of the reason that the Academy liked but did not love "Button" is they thought they had seen that film or, at least, that voice before.


NEARY: I've got an email here from Tom in San Francisco, and he makes that point exactly. He says, I don't understand what the hubbub around "Benjamin Button" is all about. It's simply "Forrest Gump II"...

(Soundbite of laughter)

NEARY: But not nearly as well-done and by the same guy, even. And he says, there's even a YouTube video comparing them side by side. I can't understand why this received this many nominations.

Mr. CARR: You should check that video out. It is hilarious.

HORWITZ: I can just hear the pitch meeting. It's "Forrest Gump," only with, like, a really old guy, you know, something like...

Mr. CARR: And did I mention Brad Pitt?

(Soundbite of laughter)

HORWITZ: Right, right, right, right.

NEARY: Well, of the other movies nominated for best picture, David, is there anyone that's going to give "Slumdog" a run for its money at all?

Mr. CARR: I'm not feeling that - the people who are sentenced to blogging about this every single day...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CARR: Have come up with various scenarios about "The Reader" sneaking through because it is a movie about the Holocaust; it does have Harvey Weinstein, who's sort of famous for swinging out of nowhere and grabbing best-picture Oscars. I'm not feeling it. I've been in Los Angeles for three, four, days going to precursor events, speaking to young Academy members, old Academy members. I think when the fate got sealed is when the Screen Actors Guild said the best ensemble picture of the year was "Slumdog Millionaire." Now, here is a film that includes none of their friends, no work for them, no sort of train track to something that might be good for their lives, for their industry, and they still could not resist it.

HORWITZ: I'd like - I defer to David on this. I'd also say, though, that one of the reasons we tune in - and it'll be important to see what the ratings are like this year; they're looking for a big boost, and it'll be interesting to see if they get it - but - because there are surprises. I remember just a couple of years ago when Jack Nicholson - part of the story that Hollywood wanted to tell that year was "Brokeback Mountain." It was supposed to be the big "Brokeback Mountain" year, the big sort of gay-rights year, and Jack Nicholson opened the envelope for big picture, and he went...

(As Jack Nicholson) Whoa, it's "Crash."

(Soundbite of laughter)

HORWITZ: And it was a big surprise...

NEARY: Yeah, yeah.

HORWITZ: To just about everybody. So, suddenly...

NEARY: So, it could happen.

Mr. CARR: Somebody saw it coming. I picked up a lot of money when "Crash" won...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CARR: And there was a late-breaking palpable momentum, much like you feel right now for Mickey Rourke. Sean Penn should be the presumptive lead actor, a role for the ages, really, really remarkable performance, playing against type. And yet, Mickey Rourke's backstory compels people, interests people...


Mr. CARR: And I think people want to see him get up there and make the speech. Something that the Academy members do is sometimes program that show through their selections.

HORWITZ: Right, right.

Mr. CARR: And as Murray points out, this year, they're really trying juice up the show.


NEARY: Let's hear a little bit, though, from Sean Penn, who is one of the nominees for best actor, and he's in "Milk," and let's see if we have a clip of that tape now.

(Soundbite of movie "Milk")

Mr. SEAN PENN: (As Harvey Milk) First order of business to come out of this office is the citywide gay-rights ordinance, just like the one that Anita shut down in Dade County. What do you think, Lotus Blossom?

NEARY: All right. But you don't think Sean Penn's going to win, is that what you were just saying?

Mr. CARR: Well, I think he certainly deserves it. He opens the movie with a sort of the meet-cute scene with James Franco that I think is just an unbelievable example of the craft of acting. And the other thing is Mr. Penn is not generally fond of the awards circuit, but he believes in this film, believes in this role, and is out - been out imitating a human being as often as he can in interviews, trying to push the film...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CARR: And he still might get turned back partly because he just won a couple years ago for "Mystic River," but partly because of Mickey Rourke as well.


NEARY: All right. Let's see if we can get a call now. We're going to Jan, calling from Waynesboro, Virginia. Hi, Jan.

JAN (Caller): Hi.

NEARY: Go ahead.

JAN: I would vote for "Wall-E" as best picture. It's a beautifully crafted movie, it addresses good versus evil, and it's nice when good wins, and it's a fabulous romance, a romantic story, and it's two machines that are having the romance. I think it's a wonderful story.

NEARY: Yeah. Not only is it great animation, which it's nominated for...


NEARY: But it is a good story.

HORWITZ: And not only - and a sort of classic story, as Jan points out. It's really - as imaginative as it is and as much as you heard a kind of vibe in the animation and the filmmaking community about "Wall-E" having broken some new ground - which wasn't completely clear to me, but anyway - at bottom, again, it's this romantic story; it's a good yarn, much as "Slumdog Millionaire" in its category, is a very movie-movie, very classic.

JAN: Yes.

NEARY: Yeah, it was completely captivating.


NEARY: It was a really captivating story. Well, thanks for that nomination.

JAN: Thank you.

Mr. CARR: Part of what "Wall-E" got to was there was so much homage to the film history over and over that I thought it might actually sneak through and join "Beauty and the Beast" as one animated film nominated for best picture.

NEARY: All right. Let's take another call. We're going to go to Naomi. She's calling from San Francisco. Hi, Naomi.

NAOMI (Caller): Hi, there. How're you doing?

NEARY: Good. What's your nomination?

NAOMI: "Gran Torino." I was so disappointed that it wasn't nominated. I found it to be so inspirational. Here's this grumpy old man, and he sacrifices for his community. It was just so beautiful and heroic, and I felt like he healed his own wounds and he brought his whole neighborhood together. It really deserves it.

HORWITZ: Can we give some props to Clinton Eastwood here? I mean, he just - I don't think I've ever seen a Clinton Eastwood film that wasn't at least very much worth watching. But here, again, if indeed Hollywood uses the Oscars to kind of tell the stories that it thinks are the most worth telling - I mean, look at the best-picture nominees; you've got "Milk," you've got "Frost/Nixon," "Slumdog Millionaire," "The Reader," "Benjamin Button" - whatever side of social commentary you're on, clearly, "Gran Torino" is on the other side of...

(Soundbite of laughter)

HORWITZ: Where the Academy is, and it's not a story they want to tell.

NEARY: I was surprised, actually. I haven't seen "Gran Torino," but just because it was Clint Eastwood, I somehow thought, you know, Clint Eastwood automatically...

(Soundbite of laughter)

NEARY: Gets some kind of a nomination.

HORWITZ: It - you know, I enjoyed the film. I liked the film a lot. Strangely, I thought - I always play this game that, I guess, you shouldn't play when you're watching - you should take a film on its own terms - but I thought the director, Clint Eastwood, kind of miscast the lead role, Clint Eastwood. I would have loved to have seen it with, say, a Gene Hackman or someone. It's hard for me to believe Clint as a retired assembly-line worker in a Detroit plant.

NEARY: Oh, maybe he can't transcend his celebrity anymore. Well, thanks, Naomi, for calling in.

Mr. CARR: One of the problems with "Gran Torino" - and there are so many people out there like Naomi - is that it dropped just a little too late. And Mr. Eastwood has had a habit of coming in late with films. This year, he made the "Changeling" early, which looked like Oscar bait and face-planted. If "Gran Torino" had come out two weeks earlier, like "Letters from Iwo Jima," like "Mystic River," like - he would have grabbed on to yet another nomination. He missed it just by - the build time wasn't there.

NEARY: All right. Let's take another call. We're going to go to Jerry, calling from Missouri. Hi, Jerry.

JERRY (Caller): Good afternoon.

NEARY: How are you?

JERRY: Very good.

NEARY: Good.

JERRY: I'm a film buff who's 75 or 85 percent of the time disappointed, because most films are very formulaic and you can watch the film and kind of picture what the pitch meeting was like. But I have to say, I was very much astounded by "The Reader." It's one of the most ambiguous films I've even seen, that after you leave and, you know, for days afterwards, it - there are so many questions about the motivations of the characters and what really - you're not really told what you should think of them, which is not the norm. I just thought it was an extraordinary performance by Kate Winslet and also extraordinary that a film like that actually got made. And I guess we can leave that to the late Sydney Pollack and Anthony Minghella. At least their reputations were able to bring something that I thought was far and above what we normally see in the entertainment realm.

NEARY: Well, before I ask our guests to respond to your nomination, Jerry, I want to play a short clip from "The Reader."

(Soundbite of movie "The Reader")

Ms. KATE WINSLET: (As Hanna Schmitz) What are you studying in German?

Mr. DAVID KROSS: (As Young Michael Berg) I'm studying a play. You can read it.

Ms. WINSLET: (As Hanna Schmitz) I'd rather listen to you.

NEARY: There is the great Kate Winslet. I just think she's such a great actress. And what did you think of "The Reader"? It's a very complex film.

HORWITZ: It is a complex film, and it's based on a novel that did exactly what - wanted to do exactly what it did with Jerry and with the rest of us, that there is a whole generation, at least, and maybe more than one, of Germans growing up who had mentors, had people they respected, people they admired, and then they found out these people did some really, really horrible things. So, that's a movie that's really about something, and again, that makes it Oscar fodder, plus there's the Hollywood angle. It is Kate Winslet; you see her naked, I mean, there's all these other things that - you should forgive the expression - it has going for it. I don't know. David, what did you think?

Mr. CARR: I think that "The Reader" is a film that it came on the wake of "Revolutionary Road," which is another Kate Winslet film that she made with her husband Sam Mendez and came in quietly. And it's a film where Jerry and others - you and I included - will take what we want from it. It's - you reassemble the film on the sidewalk and you either come up with, well, it excused the culpability of this woman because of some problems she had in her personal life for assisting in the incineration of fellow human beings. And other people will say it assigned blame broadly to an entire generation of Germans. And it's a lot what you bring into the movie that affects what happens when you land on the sidewalk, I think.

NEARY: All right. Thanks for your nomination, Jerry. And I want to remind everybody that you are listening to Talk of the Nation from NPR News. Let's go now to Sandra - oh, sorry. I got the - messed up there. Sandra is calling from Durham, North Carolina. Hi, Sandra.

SANDRA (Caller): Hi.

NEARY: Hi. Go ahead.

SANDRA: You were talking about ambiguous movies, and I wanted to ask Mr. Carr especially about "Synecdoche, New York." And I was flabbergasted that it got so ignored this nomination season, because I think it was just a spectacular and incredibly brave film, because it is so absurd and it's - in terms of "Slumdog" being some - kind of a formulaic old-style Hollywood film, I think a lot of the films this year that were nominated are kind of things we've seen before. And "Synecdoche," when I saw it, was such a standout because I had never seen anything like it.

Mr. CARR: I had the unenviable task of writing about Charlie Kaufman as director in "Synecdoche, New York." And I say "unenviable" not because it wasn't an extremely worthy, ambitious film, but part of the job as a newspaper writer is to explain what you're seeing, and I've got to say that a lot of that film was beyond my ken. I mean, Murray can talk more about what it contributes to film history, but I am a movie-movie guy. So, when "Slumdog" just sort of gets up and goes along fairly formulaic lines, I'm in row three with the big bag of popcorn cheering it on.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CARR: Now when I left "Synecdoche" I was - there was so much meta piled up around my theater seat that it took me awhile to exit the theater. And I'm still scratching my head about that movie, but I've watched it again and I will watch it again.

NEARY: All right. Thanks for the nomination, Sandra.


SANDRA: Thanks.

NEARY: I haven't seen it, but that seems to be a very common reaction.

HORWITZ: Well, it's really worth seeing, and as David said, I think you better go. It's sort of like a John Coltrane solo; you can't go in - you'll enjoy it and say, wow, this is something really, really special the first time you encounter it, but you've got to go back to get all the meaning of it, and if then, you know?

NEARY: All right. Let's take a call from Carl, calling from Odessa, Texas. Hi, Carl.

CARL (Caller): Hi. How are you?

NEARY: I'm good, thank you.

CARL: I wanted to say I was upset that "Iron Man" got totally overlooked, but I can't say I was totally surprised.

NEARY: Why were you upset? What did you like about it?

CARL: Well, "Iron Man" was well-directed; it was well-acted, well-written. Just because its subject material is rather low-brow it seems to be totally blown over, and that happens a lot. That's very sad, I think.

HORWITZ: I didn't even think - I agree with you, and I have to say, Carl, I didn't even think it was that low-brow. I also thought that - I started to say Beau Bridges. but it's not, it's his brother, Jeff Bridges, was - talk about playing against type, he was one of the really scariest villains I'd even seen in a movie.

CARL: He was. He was a very good...

HORWITZ: I love that movie, and you got me - I mean, you had me at "Iron Man."

(Soundbite of laughter)

HORWITZ: I don't - I mean, would I have nominated it for best picture? I don't know. But like David, I love movie-movies and that was one of the best movie-movies of the year.

NEARY: All right. Thanks for your call, Carl.

Mr. CARR: I'm a fellow member of the "Iron Man" cult partly because when you see Robert Downey land in the middle of it...


Mr. CARR: You can just see him turn to the camera and go, I totally got this, man.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HORWITZ: Right, right, right.

NEARY: Now, he got nominated, but not for "Iron Man," right?

Mr. CARR: Yeah, it's a tragedy. I loved "Iron Man." I did a story on Downey before the movie came out, and I just said, this thing is going to be huge, and it was at the box office, but to your point at the top of the hour, Lynn, no love from the Academy, zero.

HORWITZ: Yeah. And the other thing - don't forget, with the nomination for "Tropic Thunder," to Hollywood tends to go - and at this - I guess it's the actors who nominate actors - they tend to go for what a colleague of mine once called stunt roles. So, people win for playing blind people - this has always been the case. People have been playing blind people; they - people with disabilities of one sort or other, mental and physical, people playing very, very old people, very, very young people. And in the case of "Iron Man," I thought "Iron Man" was a better role than of playing a white actor playing a black actor, which is a stunt.

NEARY: All right. Thanks for being with us, Murray, our favorite film buff, and David Carr, thanks to you. David Carr is the arts and culture reporter for the New York Times. You're listening to Talk of the Nation from NPR News.

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