'Slumdog' Drama, 'Milk' Strategy Upend Best Picture Race

Two days after the Slum Interview Heard Round the World forced a detour upon Fox Searchlight's Oscar express, at least one other Best Picture hopeful is making its own swift move for the win.

As noted last night by Anne Thompson, Focus waited to enter Milk in the wide-release scrum where Slumdog Millionaire and Frost/Nixon battled last week. The strategy accomplished more than just simple separation; it allowed the distributor to pocket the money it would have dumped on garden-variety awards-season ads and spend more aggressively tomorrow, calling attention to eight actual Oscar nods.

On one hand, it's not like Focus had much choice — Milk only had one Golden Globe nomination to pimp (a loss, at that). On the other, it's still a savvy economization of punches in the week when ballots were sent out, and in any case it has Thompson (and now us) surmising a scenario in which "Slumdog and its main rival, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, split the vote and Milk takes the best picture win."

It's not out of the question; if anyone knows about peaking too soon, it's Focus, still stinging along with the rest of us three years after Brokeback Mountain. We don't know when or even if Button will peak at all, but Slumdog is having a miserable time holding on to "darling" status while press on three continents chatter on about Child-ExploitationGate. We'll leave the sociocultural debate to the experts, but we were way in front of the raging Oscar-cultural debate as to which Slumdog nemesis might have pushed the story to coincide with the ballot-mailing. And don't look at Harvey, folks; he's just happy to be here.