Slumdog Millionaire follows Jamal (Dev Patel) as he uses the knowledge gained from a lifetime of poverty and hardship on the streets of Mumbai to answer questions on India's "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire." Like an Indian Charles Dickens character, we see Jamal overcome hardship, navigate the dangerous streets, fall in love, and learn the art of survival with the help of his brother Salim and Latika, a fellow orphan. The vivid colors and dizzying energy of the city provide a kinetic backdrop for the action, mirroring Jamal's struggle for survival and ambition - and it's the same ambition that drives Jamal to success that drives his brother and Latika in very different directions.
It's hard to believe, but Slumdog Millionaire almost didn't get released. Even though it's a British production mostly in English, the big studios thought that Western audiences wouldn't relate to the struggles of young Indians. Wouldn't relate? The film relies heavily on the very British themes of class distinction and colonialism. The plot is based on the very American concept of rising from nothing and achieving great success through hard work and determination. The vast majority of the Academy is American or British, so it seems highly unlikely that they can't relate to something in the film. Also, it's an upbeat, feel-good fairy tale with a sweeping, epic love story and clearly defined heroes and villains set against historical events. Plus, it doesn't have the highest number of nominations, making Millionaire the underdog in some tight races - and what American doesn't love to root for the underdog? It's practically designed for Oscar consideration.
Slumdog Millionaire is up for 10 Academy Awards: Cinematography, Editing, Score, two for Best Song, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Adapted Screenplay, Directing, and Best Picture. As the front-runner for Best Picture, it is also strongly favored for Director, Adapted Screenplay, and Film Editing. Its kinetic score is also favored to win but its votes for best Song will likely be split and the technical awards will go to stronger effects films. Working against Slumdog is its complete lack of acting nominations and those two in the Song category, but I think it will pull through and take the big prize.