Slumdog Millionaire is a very good film, and at this point virtually assured of winning Best Picture. It may even sweep the awards as many are predicting. A Slumdog win would be widely celebrated for many reasons. First of all, it sheds light on the tragic conditions in the Indian slums and raises the world’s awareness. Secondly, it is an inspiration to filmmakers to continue pursuing their passion projects. As most people know by now, there was a time when Slumdog could not even find a distributor. Nobody thought the public would embrace a film about orphans growing up in India. Boy, were they wrong!

But contrary to what you might be hearing, there ARE other films nominated too. In fact, one film up for Best Picture has garnered an amazing 13 total nominations, one of the highest tallies ever. So why does it kind of feel like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button doesn’t really exist? Let’s examine this for a minute.

As far back as the summer of 2008, Button was touted as the early frontrunner. This was based largely on an incredible trailer that captured everyone’s imagination. But as we have learned from past experience, being the early favorite usually has disastrous effects (see The Aviator, Munich, Dreamgirls, and Atonement), especially in this day and age when people love to find something to criticize.

When Button came out, it wasn’t as good as people anticipated, so the film’s momentum was stopped cold. It’s all an expectations game. Because expectations were astronomically high, the film had nowhere to go but down. Instead of the story being what an interesting, creative film Button is, the story in people’s mind was instead, “this isn’t quite as good as I thought it would be.”

Let’s be fair. Button has its fair share of flaws. It’s a little too long, the character of the protagonist is a little bland, and Brad Pitt is not quite the right actor for the role. Sparing the discussion over Pitt’s acting abilities, one problem with casting him as Benjamin is that he’s just too handsome to play the part. As Benjamin ages in reverse, people become invariably distracted by how much more handsome and good looking he gets. The movie becomes about Brad Pitt, not Benjamin Button.

That being said, past Best Picture winners also had similar flaws. Forrest Gump, Braveheart, and The English Patient were all arguably a bit long. They weren’t perfect films. The scripts weren’t necessarily all that original. But they were memorable films that connected with you on an emotional level. They were stories that stuck in your mind. They were movies that swept you up and transported you into a different world.

A strong case can be made that Button shares many of these qualities. It’s a moving love story about two people who can’t really be together because of the most unique of obstacles. They are going in different directions, age wise. Yet, despite this, they still love each other. The film explores deeply such powerful themes as life and death, age, the strength of the human spirit, and of course, love. Think about the way the film ends, and the mood that is captured at that moment. Now compare that to how you felt at the very end of Slumdog Millionaire, before the dance sequence.

The point is this: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a film that will stand the test of time. People will remember this film ten or twenty years into the future, because certain parts of the movie stick with you. Slumdog Millionaire, while a great film, is a film for our time right now. It captures the feeling people have, or want to have right now in these tough times. People are yearning for hope. Slumdog gives it to them.

But what should be the true test for a Best Picture? Shouldn’t someone at least say out loud that Academy voters need to judge these movies based on their contribution to the everlasting art of cinema, rather than sheer popularity? If a voter still deems that that film is Slumdog, then that’s fine. But at least it would be nice if voters put themselves through that mental process.

That being said, congratulations for BOTH films for giving us worthy choices, and for proving that the art of film-making is alive and well almost a decade into our new century.