'Button' plays both sides of the movie aisle


Talk about meeting in the middle. David Fincher's "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" tells of the romance, during the years when their ages overlap, between an old man who grows young and a young woman who grows old.

Paramount execs are facing their own overlap issue as they market their big holiday bet to awards voters and moviegoers.

"Button," opening on Christmas Day, is a rarity in the specialty-division era: a movie with a big budget (at least $150 million), flashy visual effects and big expectations. But it also features many auteur touches, the awards hopes of a prestige picture and a melancholy tone more common to art house movies. "Big blockbuster themes," Fincher says of his film, "(like) death and loneliness."

So how will the studio bid for broad audience acceptance while also courting the hearts and minds of Academy voters? Consider a few of the factors in play:

The Pitt effect. Studios marketing Brad Pitt movies like showing his face. But the point and the joy of "Button" is that Pitt spends much of the film looking like an old and then a middle-aged man. Paramount has created posters showing him at various stages but still must make decisions about when to show off the CG and when to deploy Pitt as we know him. Just don't downplay those aging effects, because his decades-spanning performance could earn Pitt his first Oscar nom since "Twelve Monkeys."

Fincher fanatics. By reteaming Pitt and his "Seven" and "Fight Club" director, the movie should attract some hard-core Fincher fans even if this time out the helmer is telling a gentle, emotional fable. As for Fincher's Oscar prospects, by shifting from genre fare to a mainstream love story, he could earn the Academy's respect.

Girls against boys. "Button" has something for all chromosomes: wartime action for guys and sweeping romance for women.

Movies are like a box of Gump. "Button" shares with "Forrest Gump" an epic scope, fabulist qualities, folk wisdom and, in its hero, a Southern man who is a magnet for historical events. Both films also boast the work of screenwriter Eric Roth.

A deep bench. Fincher, Roth, Pitt and Cate Blanchett aren't the only possible Oscar contenders here. From its makeup and visual effects through the crafts categories, "Button" could impress most of the Academy's branches, further buttressing its best picture shot.

The Kennedy factor. Starting with "Seabiscuit," of the past five movies Kathleen Kennedy has produced before this year, three have earned noms for best director or picture.

Who needs kids? Films that deal with aging tend to attract older people. That doesn't usually make for a record-setting opening weekend but could contribute to the movie's legs. And it will speak to senior members of the Academy. Movies about lost youth, after all, tend to be wasted on the young.