The nominees are:

  • Amour
  • Argo
  • Beasts of the Southern Wild
  • Django Unchained
  • Les Miserables
  • Life of Pi
  • Lincoln
  • Silver Linings Playbook
  • Zero Dark Thirty

A few days ago I was discussing the Oscars with some co-workers and we started talking about the Best Picture category.  As I ran through the nominees, we talked about which movies they’d seen (not many), what Amour was about (my description did not exactly inspire them to go out and see it), and whether or not the Academy had nominated Argo (my co-worker was, of course, thinking about Affleck’s snub for director).  The conversation served as a good reminder that it is important to keep the Oscar race in perspective, I think.  But also the weird duality between personal and public preference.  The fact that someone may have only seen one nominee and be passionately rooting for it isn’t wrong (well, OK, it kind of is).  And whether or not the Academy ends up on my favorite is completely irrelevant to how much I enjoyed it.

I’ve written about all of these movies at length the past few weeks, and I don’t really love repeating myself, so I’ll try to briefly recap my thoughts on the films as I step through them in order of my personal preference.

Beasts of the Southern Wild is shaping up to be my least favorite movie of the year.  It didn’t make any sense and wasn’t fun to watch.  In fact, it was unbearable to watch.  I’ve been working on understanding how and why people do like the film, especially in terms of differentiating it from both other arthouse fare as well as films with a more traditional narrative structure.  Still not there yet.

Les Miserables is shaping up to be my second least favorite movie of the year.  It was a very weird experience watching it in a packed theater.  A combination of that trainwreck feeling where I couldn’t look away from the atrocity and befuddlement at how people seemed so engrossed.  I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a director singlehandedly torpedo a movie the way that Hooper did here.  Kind of impressive, actually.  And I guess on some level I can appreciate that he was willing to take such a risk.  But that’s the thing about risks. Sometimes they don’t pay off.

Amour is a tough watch.  I’m sure it feels honest or true or however else people who like the movie would describe it.  I left the theater unconvinced that it was a story worth two hours of my time.  The comparison may not be entirely fair, but I think the opening montage  in Up is a tremendously more powerful and engaging way of exploring similar themes.

I wanted to love Silver Linings Playbook.  And I think there may be a great movie in there somewhere.  One where David O. Russell stays far far away.  The film is an inconsistent mishmash of ideas, themes, and characters hiding behind a Hollywood-friendly concept of mental illness.  Incredibly winning performances by Lawrence and Cooper save the film, and the film does improve significantly in the second half when Russell is more focused on the dance competition.

I liked Life of Pi way more than I was expecting.  But that might be because way more of the movie was more than just a guy in a boat with a tiger.  Because really, those scenes (along with the framing device) were the weak parts of the film.  When Lee and Magee got to explore bigger environs, they seemed to explode with creativity, and who knows, maybe it is because they felt so constrained by the smaller scenes.

There were four Best Picture movies I really enjoyed this year.  Which was a pleasant surprise.  Django Unchained was clever, funny, and bloody.  So everything I’d expect a Tarantino film to be.  As I’ve mentioned, I still think he needs an editor or a running time constraint or something.  Especially if it limits the homages and in-jokes and creates a more streamlined movie.

Lincoln is a solid movie.  Bestowed with a broad title, it features a rather focused story and rather sprawling cast of characters.  It boasts strong acting performances and a generally interesting, well-paced plot.  Spielberg and Kushner almost pull the film off flawlessly, but ultimately there are just too many characters and subplots to do so.

I’ll take the last 30-45 minutes of Zero Dark Thirty against 30-45 minutes from just about any other film this year.  Or any other year, really.  The raid is absolutely fantastic.  Some of the most thrilling, edge of my seat scenes I’ve ever seen.  Perhaps necessarily, though,  the first part of the movie doesn’t really hold a candle to the last part.

I’m not tagging along with the presumptive front-runner,you can go back and check my top fives, I’ve been touting Argo since I saw it.  It is extremely taut, which makes the laughs all the bigger.  It may not be the perfect thriller, but it is the closest to perfection we’ve seen in some time.  The climactic sequence is the only one from this year that can compare to Zero Dark Thirty’s raid.  But everything leading up to the daring escape was just a little bit more engrossing.  The bureaucracy was more captivating.  Everything surrounding building the fake film was fascinating.  And once Affleck shows up in Iran, everything gets incredibly tense.  I wouldn’t say I have Argo as a blowout over the three movies I have beneath it, but it is my clear favorite in this year’s crop of nominees.