Every year, try as I might, I’ve never managed to see all the Oscar-nominated films. This year, however, I finally put my foot down; no matter what it took, I was determined to see all the selections. Just in case you’re wondering, that breaks down into roughly 1219 minutes in a theater seat, and a little over $120 including drinks and popcorn. So with complete honesty, I stand before you now and say, “YO ADRIAN, I DID IT!” Now without further delay, here’s my breakdown on who is rightfully nominated, who doesn’t deserve the nod, and who the real Best Picture Oscar contenders are.
The Well Deserved
Argo: Aside from being Ben Affleck’s best directing job to date, this is an extremely well-crafted story. The film is based on true accounts of joint forces between the CIA, and the Canadian Ambassador in the early 1980’s to rescue American diplomats who were trapped and hiding in Iran. Everything in this film from the production design to the writing and casting is top notch. In fact, Argo just picked up this year’s SAG Ensemble Award. It’s rare to have a film that delivers such a tense dramatic ride even though the outcome is already known. Don’t be surprised if Argo takes home top honors, as it seems to be doing very well at all the other awards shows.
Django Unchained: Who would have thought a film by Quentin Tarantino would ever be nominated for Best Picture? Yet, for the second time, here we are. Quentin goes even further back this time, and drops us off in pre-Civil War America. Two bounty hunters, one a German dentist, the other Django (the D is silent) a freed slave, work their way across the country to recover Django’s wife. This tale of retribution is all at once entertaining, thought provoking, and gloriously violent. What’s really surprising though is the horrendous snub of Leonardo DiCaprio for Best Supporting Actor. He accomplishes what is no doubt his best work ever as a gentile, yet terrifying Southern plantation owner. It’s a sure bet this isn’t going to win the Oscar, but kudos to the Academy for putting this film in contention.
Life of Pi: Back in 2006 Ang Lee took home the Best Director Award for Brokeback Mountain. He’s nominated again this year along with his film Life of Pi, and not since Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon has he delivered such a visually beautiful film. If you’re wondering how a movie about a boy stranded at sea with a tiger can hold your attention for 127 minutes, trust me, it does. Life of Pi may not be the frontrunner in this contest, but the story alone is remarkable and well deserving of the nomination.
Lincoln: Director Steven Spielberg’s historically accurate vision of our 16th president’s last days comes in as the heavy favorite with twelve nominations. This film is not so much about North versus South, but focuses more on how difficult it was for Lincoln to pass the 13th Amendment, and what steps (backdoor dealings) had to be taken to accomplish such a feat. Full of genuinely soul-stirring moments and startling realizations of what popular opinion on slavery was at the time, this film succeeds in telling a rivetingly powerful story. While there can be discussion about whether this film will win Best Picture or not, one thing not up for debate is Daniel Day Lewis’ portrayal of Lincoln. To put it bluntly, no one else in the Best Actor category even has a shot at winning.
Silver Linings Playbook: Pulling double duty as writer and director, David O. Russell gave us one of 2012’s best surprises. This offbeat drama centers around two people who have some serious mental issues that need to be worked out. Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper steal this entire film as the two leads, but there’s also a great supporting cast including Robert De Niro, Chris Tucker, and Julia Stiles. While the ending might be a bit cliché for some, the majority of this movie crackles with sharp dialogue and weirdly entertaining emotional scenes. Look for this to be the dark horse that might just run away with more than a few awards.
Why were they nominated?
Les Misérables: Tom Hooper did a spectacular job with The King’s Speech, so it’s hard to fathom how he messed up this musical classic. Les Mis is known for having a loyal fan base, and while some loved it, the general consensus is that it just didn’t work. Strong performances from Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman hold the ship afloat for a while, but soon you start asking questions. For instance, was Russell Crowe really the best choice for Inspector Javert? What is Hooper’s fascination with sticking the camera down the actor’s throats? Did this movie have to be so freaking long? From someone who has seen the live stage version multiple times, I found this adaptation extremely disappointing.
Zero Dark Thirty: Let me start off by saying that the performances in Zero Dark Thirty, including the main character played by Jessica Chastain are fantastic. My main problem with the film was the pacing. From beginning to end there never seemed to be a sense of urgency. While there should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that Katherine Bigelow is an extremely talented director, this film doesn’t seem to fire on all cylinders. If you were going for real time accuracy regarding the assault on Osama bin Laden’s compound, that scenario probably plays out better in book format. Ten years is a long time to be on a terrorist manhunt, but I don’t want to feel like I’ve spent that long watching a film about it.
Beasts of the Southern Wild: I still don’t know what this movie is about. From what I could piece together, it revolves around a little girl that lives with her unstable father in the swamplands referred to as the “Bathtub”. There’s also a strange homage to the afterlife via a floating whorehouse, and for some reason giant warthog-like creatures inhabit the young girl’s imagination. For all the praise this film received, it just left me scratching my head.
Amour: Raise your hands if you would like to watch an over two-hour-long French film that is composed largely of static shots and focuses on the deteriorating health of an elderly woman. Me neither. SPOILER ALERT: The elderly husband taking care of his wife finally can’t bear the pain of watching her suffer anymore and smothers her with a pillow. Which is exactly what I wish someone would have done to me so I didn’t have to sit through this entire film. Some critics have said this is an “emotional stirring and unflinching look at what real love becomes”. My advice, watch the much better French film that was released this year, Rust and Bone. Not only is it emotionally moving, but you actually get to watch something happen.
The Top Contenders
Lincoln: This film has Day Lewis’s uncanny performance and undeniable direction from Steven Spielberg. But even if it does have the most nominations, I still wouldn’t pick it as a clear lock. Case in point, if you’re old enough to remember the 1985 Oscars, The Color Purple was nominated for 11 awards and didn’t win a single one.
Silver Linings Playbook: In 2006, Crash shocked everyone when it beat out Brokeback Mountain to take home Best Picture. A few years before that, Shakespeare in Love drew gasps from audience members when it bested Saving Private Ryan to take home the same honor. With great performances and a unique story, Silver Linings Playbook definitely has my vote for the possible upset win at this year’s show.
Argo: There some pretty remarkable films released in 2007, but the one that really caught my attention was Gone Baby Gone. I almost fell out of my chair when I learned Ben Affleck had directed it. And just like a fine wine, he’s gotten better with age. Of all the films that came out this year Argo felt just a little bit better than the rest. Hollywood insiders will tell you that when a film is really good, it’s because everyone from the production assistants to the Executive Producer put their very best effort into it. With Argo, I firmly believe that the case.