Academy Awards: What is the best picture?

It’s that time again, where the best movies voted on by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences duke it out to be named 2012’s Best Picture. The Academy Awards has a history of choosing movies that are heavy on the artsy side and make the average moviegoer want to buy a ticket to “Transformers: Rise of the Explosions Exploding on the Dark Side of the Explosions Part II.” However, this year four of the nine nominated movies grossed over $100 million and another film just under that mark. The good news is that cinematic art is becoming more appealing to all demographics. The bad news is only one can win. So, here are my reviews and predictions for the 85th Best Picture nominees.

Movie poster. Image from IMDb.
Movie poster. Image from IMDb.

“BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD”

This movie can be classified as one the Academy’s artsy picks. It’s shot from the point of view of a child after a horrible storm that has destroyed her Louisiana town. The movie focuses on survival and the idea of being part of a pack, but this metaphor is broken near the end of the movie. Throughout the whole film there are cuts to extinct beasts roaming the land and even though it would be logical that these are the little girl’s imagination, the beasts show up and then simply leave after having a moment with the little girl. The father in the movie is a despicable man, but the director asks you to feel compassion for him, of which I have none.

There are some beautiful angles, a fantastic score and a charming performance by Quvenzhané Wallis, who is now the youngest actress to be nominated for an Academy Award at the age of nine. Other than that, it seems to be grasping for symbolism that just isn’t there. Its biggest weakness was that it’s too artsy for its own good.

Why it won’t win: This movie shouldn’t be counted out completely. Stranger things have happened. “Crash” beat out “Brokeback Mountain” in 2005, and, of course “Shakespeare in Love” won over “Saving Private Ryan” back in 1998. “Beasts of the Southern Wild” has too many mixed reviews from critics and, simply put, is in a league in which it can’t compete.

ZERO DARK THIRTY”

This film chronicles the events leading up to the assassination of Osama bin Laden. Director Kathryn Bigelow used a similar method from her last film, “The Hurt Locker”, by getting firsthand accounts of the events and documenting them into film.  What Bigelow does better than almost every director is she communicates every necessary piece of information. Unfortunately, this created the movie’s biggest problem – the length. Two hours and thirty-seven minutes to be exact. There are many scenes that could have been lumped together to help cut down on time.

There are exciting moments, though. It focuses on many terrorist attacks as well as torture, but oddly enough, the raid on bin Laden’s home is the most boring scene. My only guess is because the viewer knows what is going to happen because bin Laden was killed in 2011. It’s like if you were about to watch Lincoln get assassinated but first you had to watch the entire play. There is no suspense because the viewer knows history. Check back in ten years and see if it gets more intense. The film ends on a great note of ambiguity, which does redeem it.

Why it won’t win: Bigelow’s previous movie “The Hurt Locker” won Best Picture in 2009. That alone will keep it out of contention. It may seem like a stupid reason, but that’s the politics of the Academy. Keep an eye out for Jessica Chastain to win Best Actress.

“SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK”

Don’t be fooled. This movie is not as big of a romantic comedy as the trailer might lead one to think. In fact, it’s pretty darn dramatic. Bradley Cooper plays Pat Solitano, a recently divorced man just released from a mental health facility that he was put in because of angry outbursts caused by his bipolar disorder. He soon finds out he can get in contact with his ex-wife through Tiffany Maxwell (played by Jennifer Lawrence). Tiffany is a young widow who develops a sex addiction to cope with her sadness.

The script does follow the normal rom-com formula. Girl likes guy, guy likes someone else. They fight. Guy realizes he likes that girl. No new ground here. What is refreshingly original are the characters. Take notes, Jennifer Aniston. The characters aren’t constantly fighting and getting offended about things that don’t matter. They are both mentally and emotionally hurt which makes the arguments they do have incredibly believable. The audience is watching real people, not some goofy grown children with a “craaaaaazzzzyyy” family. It’s a surprisingly complete film from start to finish, but unfortunately….

Why it won’t win: It’s still a romantic comedy. The Academy needs something with more of a struggle in it, and although the Academy loves movies with mental disabilities (“I Am Sam,” “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape,” “Forrest Gump”), “Silver Linings Playbook” chose the wrong ones. Keep your eye on Jennifer Lawrence in the near future. She earned her second Best Actress nomination and she has plenty more to come in her career.

“AMOUR”

This is the only foreign film to receive a Best Picture nomination this year. This French film is the epitome of realism. Anne (played by the now nominated Emmanuelle Riva) suffers a stroke and has to be taken care of by her husband Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant).

Were you waiting for more? That’s it.

Anne slowly suffers as Georges does his best. Riva is spectacular and gets my vote for Best Actress as she continues to get weaker and more delirious in this movie.  The film also has one of the saddest and most blunt lines in cinema history. After Anne is immobilized in her bed, George is asked by his daughter, “What happens next?” He replies, “Things will go on as they have done up until now. They’ll go from bad to worse. Things will go on, and then one day it will all be over.” How’s that for reality? What’s that? I’m sorry I couldn’t hear you over the sound of your heart breaking. That’s one of those rare lines that doesn’t say anything but really says everything. No happy Hollywood ending coming to the rescue here. Have you ever been so heartbroken that you can’t even cry? That’s “Amour.”

Why it won’t win: Again, it’s possible this could be an upset to win but it’s not very likely. Only nine times in Academy history has a foreign film received a nomination and only three have ever won. I predict it will stay three.

“DJANGO UNCHAINED”

Writer/director Quentin Tarantino does it again. When it comes to imagination and originality, look no further than the mind of Tarantino.

Jamie Foxx plays a slave looking for his wife. He is freed by Dr. King Shultz, brilliantly played by Christoph Waltz.

Brilliantly. Give Waltz two Oscars for this role.

Seeing how he was able to extremely change his character from “Inglorious Bastards” to this is nothing short of impressive. A lot of actors will use the same voice and movements in every role. So yes, Waltz was spectacular, but I digress.

Tarantino pays a nice homage to older films by opening up the movie with bold credits on the screen while an original song plays singing the praises of Django. You’re not going to see that in “Lincoln.” He is able to balance serious moments with his appropriately cheesy style of filmmaking. Intense close ups from a far distance end with sound effects; it’s silly but effective.

Jamie Foxx is actually the least entertaining role in the film. He gets outshined by Leonardo DiCarprio (who was snubbed a nomination) and Samuel L. Jackson, who even with his small part is more memorable than Foxx. The best thing about this movie is its rewatchability. Even with its length there is enough action and wonderful lines to keep the pace moving.

Why it won’t win: Sadly, this won’t even be considered to win. Tarantino has a habit of constantly making great pictures and then being ignored. “Pulp Fiction,” “Inglorious Bastards,” and now this. He will walk away with the best screenplay, at least.

Movie poster. Image from IMDb.
Movie poster. Image from IMDb.

“LINCOLN”

Earning the most nominations and making the most money at the box office over the other eight nominees clearly makes “Lincoln” the best movie, right? Well, not exactly.

“Lincoln” is a film that was adored by critics all across the spectrum. Daniel Day-Lewis was revered as one of the best actors of all time, Steven Spielberg continues to show the world why his name is synonymous with directing genius, and the movie killed at the box office making $152 million. All this is fine and dandy, but it doesn’t quite add up to Best Picture material.

“Lincoln” very accurately tells the story of our 16th president from the Civil War up to his assassination. I should have mentioned a spoiler alert for the readers who don’t know history.

The movie absolutely excels in many aspects. Daniel Day-Lewis’ portrayal is historically accurate. He uses a soft-spoken higher toned voice as opposed to the deep booming voice people associate with Lincoln. Without a doubt he will win the Oscar. He was so into his character that even when they weren’t shooting, people had to refer to him as Lincoln. Mr. Commitment.

Spielberg will walk away with the Oscar for best director. No surprises there. Tommy Lee Jones is incredibly strong in this movie, playing Thaddeus Stevens, who fought slavery harder than anyone else in Congress. Jones also received a nomination.

It’s hard to say anything bad about this film. The actors were impeccable, the direction was clear and powerful, so I suppose the only real complaint I have, and that I’ve heard from others, is that it can be painfully slow. It’s a long film that seems to have more scenes whispering then noisy. But it does deserve an award for having the best line read in a film, which comes after Jones is done insulting another Congressman.

Why it won’t win: I’m going out on a limb here to say “Lincoln” will not win, even with all of its recognition. It will win many other awards, just not the big one. At the Golden Globes this year, the film “Argo” beat “Lincoln” out for best director and best drama. Although that’s voted on differently, it’s common for the same people to win for the Academy. Maybe next year, Spielberg.

“Les Misérables”

Here come the tears. A wonderful film directed by the snubbed Tom Hooper, this movie rendition of the musical that is based on the Victor Hugo novel has a cavalcade of stars that all find a way to shine in their own light. The biggest star of the film was Anne Hathaway. Her performance was incredibly powerful as shown by her rendition of the musical’s major hit “I Dreamed a Dream.” [With a little help from Hooper’s direction, by focusing the camera incredibly still in contrast to the chaos that preceded it helped bring out the emotion of Hathaway’s performance.] She will walk away with an Academy Award and my only complaint is I wish she were in the movie more – but that’s the script for you.

Amanda Seyfried and Eddie Redmayne play a young couple in love. Their chemistry is wonderful and gives some hope to this bleak setting in 19th century France. Sacha Baron Cohen played the comic relief alongside Helena Bonham Carter who essentially reprised her role from Sweeney Todd. Both do a great job to bring some much-needed laughs to the film.

Russell Crowe plays the antagonist Javert. Crowe is not known as a singer, but he gets by fairly and is an entertaining villain. That brings us to the lead – Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean. At first, Jackman’s voice is a little shaky and weak, but it makes sense because his character is roughed up near the beginning, just being released from prison. But the voice doesn’t let up. It’s not necessarily bad, just a little disappointing. We’ve heard Jackman sing before and he can belt it out. I’m not sure if he was making a character choice and stuck with it, or perhaps the fact that the songs were sung live and not prerecorded had some sort of affect on him. Either way, any scene without Jackman was my favorite.

Why it won’t win: Musicals have a hard time succeeding at the Oscars. Nine films have won it, but eight of those nine were prior to the 1970’s. “Chicago” won in 2002, so I think the Academy is still recovering from a musical winner. Also, Tom Hooper’s “The King’s Speech” won in 2010, reducing his chances.

“LIFE OF PI”

Welcome to a nice, original film. Sure, it’s based on a book, but still. Directed by Academy Award winner Ang Lee, “Life of Pi” is a mix between “Big Fish” and “Cast Away”. It has the whimsy charm and appealing color mixed with survival elements.

The story is told in separate parts, which keeps the flow of the film moving along nicely. The movie revolves around Pi telling his story that will “make you believe in God” to a writer. There are a lot of religious symbols and allusions, but the film does a great job of not causing any conflict between the religious symbolism and the story because that isn’t the point. Pi goes on an incredible journey by getting stuck on a boat with a Bengal tiger after a shipwreck. It asks for a sense of disbelief. The point of the film isn’t to even believe the story, but to understand the story. There are many beautiful visuals to keep the viewer entertained, plus the viewer will actually be rooting for Pi to be able to survive and come out on top the entire time.

Why it won’t win: It did have 11 nominations, just one behind “Lincoln,” and although it is a nearly flawless movie it comes in second just behind…

Movie poster. Image from IMDb.
Movie poster. Image from IMDb.

“ARGO”

Ben Affleck needs to direct more films. He’s now three for three on amazing movies and “Argo” is simply the best. It tells the real story of the Canadian Caper that occurred during the Iran hostage crisis in the 1980s. “Argo” focuses on the six diplomats that avoided being hostages and the insane plan that was used to get them out of the country. The plan was to pass off the six diplomats as part of a movie shoot. The CIA then created a fake movie to have evidence and sent in Tony Mendez (played by Affleck) to make sure it all went smoothly.

Not interested?

The top four actors are Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin and John Goodman. What do you have to say about that, Leo?

In some ways, “Zero Dark Thirty” and “Argo” had a similar subject – Middle Easterners protesting against Americans in their country while having some serious bouts of violence. Both films were based on true events and even though I knew the ending of “Argo,” it was still more compelling and tense than “Zero Dark Thirty.” This is because we care about the characters in “Argo.” It also has some great humor provided by Arkin and Goodman. Arkin was nominated for best supporting actor by the way and rightfully so. He had one of the best lines all year. But it has the “f” word in it, so go look it up yourself.

Affleck also made a great choice by showing some of the actual footage from the crisis and blending it in with his own filmmaking. It was a small choice but makes the movie even more enjoyable to see how accurate his shots were to the actual footage.

“Argo” is a perfectly balanced film. Humor, drama, action, great acting, amazing direction (even if Affleck was snubbed a directing nomination) and the people loved it. So…

Why it will win: It’s the best movie all around. There are no dull moments and keeps the pace going. Now only three times in Academy history has a movie won best picture without the director getting nominated, and I can say with confidence, it’s about to be the fourth. The moviegoers loved the movie. Since the Academy Awards are also about ratings, don’t be surprised if that affects their decision to pick a popular movie. Those Golden Globe wins for “Argo” really put it into perspective that a great movie involves every aspect and not just riding on one individual effort. “Argo” does that and will be the winner of the 85th Academy Award for Best Picture.

Be sure to watch the Academy Awards on February 24th, and be sure to check back for all of my “I told you so’s.