Like my colleagues Jared and John, I too have listed my best picture nominees in reverse order of the degree to how much I liked them. Sadly, this year was so underwhelming that the distance between 7 and 2 is quite small. I have a clear favorite in the bunch, and if you’ve been reading it will come as no shock to you what it i. There was just one awful stinker, one underrated prestige film, and seven other middling, above-average movies. I hate it when Adam is right, but he is by-and-large correct — this group is not the best reflection of film in 2011.

9. Tree of Life — There’s no use in wasting too many words on this, but the first 45 minutes were agonizing. I don’t know how Jared and Adam managed to stick through it on DVD. I’m not sure I could have resisted the urge to shut off the movie and lie about watching the whole thing. The second 45 minutes I found legitimately interesting, but then the final 30 minutes dovetailed into more incomprehension. Just a terrible film that reinforces the worst of cineaste snobbery.

8. War Horse — I went into this with low expectations, so was pleased when I ended up not hating it. Spielberg never quite gets me past the, “Yeah, but its still a fucking horse” problem. No matter how good the camera work was, and it was quite good, War Horse never rose above that issue. The threads between all the vignettes were well integrated — I just wish I had cared more about some of the human characters. We need more World War I movies – this was a decent start.

7. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close – Another film that benefitted from the soft bigotry of low expectations, ELIC actually had some well-earned emotional moments. As Tim Grierson wrote  over on Deadspin, the precociousness of Oskar was annoying, but it was supposed to be annoying. The contrivances of the plot weren’t as bothersome for me as they were for John — it’s not more contrived than War Horse. Overall, I found ELIC forgettable, which is a lot better than what others have written about it. Max von Sydow was fine, but not really integral to the central themes or plot. I’d hope the book does a better job with him.

6. Moneyball — I haven’t read Jared’s write-up of Moneyball, but I’ll give my blanket endorsement of it. I don’t understand the fascination and love of it — the truthiness of the script aside, which reminded me of the movie Joe Morgan thinks Billy Beane would write. The movie was just too superficial for me to care about any of the characters — even now I can’t recall any scene that I haven’t been seeing in previews or For Your Consideration ads.

5. The Help — This is the third and highest-ranking of my “oh that wasn’t so bad” movies. The “white people solved racism” angle is overplayed by a Hollywood press frustrated by their inability to force the industry to become more diverse (not that it should be their job in the first place). If anything, I feel the “5 strong roles for women” angle is underplayed. Bryce Dallas Howard should be getting more recognition for really chewing the scenery as the villain, and Viola Davis is deservedly getting her due. The worst part of the screenplay was the poorly thought out “boyfriend” played by Chris Lowell ( I think? I can’t even tell from IMDB — the role was that bad). Without that meandering plotline, I might have this higher.

4. Midnight in Paris — There was a lot to love about Midnight in Paris — the supporting cast, especially Michael Sheen, Allison Pill and Corey Stoll; the breezy script; the fun score; a fresh take on Woody Allen’s neurotic protagonist. But the absurdity of Rachel McAdams as the harpy fiancee and her equally horrible parents was just too much. Having her cheat on Owen Wilson with Michael Sheen was unnecessary. It was already abundantly clear that Wilson and McAdams were incompatible (so how did they ever get engaged in the first place? Who knows!), so why make her even more dislikable by having her be a two-timer as well? That’s just an example of why this movie that could have been great was instead just okay.

3. The Descendants —  MOAR LAND DEALZ PLEASE!

2. The Artist — As an inverse to ELIC, the Artist suffers from too high expectations. I found it charming, enjoyable, surprisingly dark but overall a very solid film. Folks who are saying this is such a typical Oscar winner are forgetting that it has so much going against it: it’s silent, black and white AND foreign! When’s the last time a Best Picture winner was ANY of those things? Jean Dujardin, no doubt helped along by Uggie, is a treat and I’m looking forward to seeing him in more. Berenice Bejo is also darling. I can’t claim this “moved” me or resonated emotionally, but from beginning to end its construction was near perfect.

1. Hugo — Ah yes, the film I loved that no one else (among the Grouches) did. I feel like I need to explain myself on this one, but I need to give it a 2nd viewing, which I’ll do within the next week and write a proper post on it. IN the meantime, I’ll add that prior to 50/50Hugo was the film that hit me in the gut and heart. The latter half, as acted by Ben Kingsley and Helen McCrory (Mrs. Damien Lewis!), was just heartbreaking. It got dusty in the theaters as George Melies remembered his love for film and his missing art. It reminded me a little bit of another Brian Wolly special, The Rookie, in which an older and washed up author forgets about the life he left behind. Chloe Moretz was also brilliant, a total 180 from her performance in Kick-Ass.

More to come on Hugo, but enjoy the show tonight!