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Reviewing the Best Picture Nominees

February 22, 2013

By John C.

Best Picture Posters 2013As the 85th Academy Awards are being handed out this weekend, here are our brief thoughts on all nine of the films in the running for Best Picture.  This has been a fascinating and exciting awards season to watch from beginning to end, including frontrunners in several of the top categories and other moments where there is genuine unpredictability.

There are just so many interesting things to watch for come Sunday, including a Best Supporting Actor category made up entirely of previous winners, and one of the tightest Best Actress races in recent memory that includes both the oldest and youngest nominees.  Because Ben Affleck didn’t receive a Best Director nomination for the Best Picture frontrunner Argo, the directing category will also be one of the most exciting of the night.

The fact that Silver Linings Playbook is the first film since Reds in 1981 to be nominated in all four of the acting categories is already a historically important one in its own right, and I can’t wait to see which awards the film actually picks up.  This doesn’t even scratch the surface of the exciting races for Best Animated Film or Best Cinematography, two other categories that could also prove to have unpredictable outcomes, or the numerous technical categories that are always hard to predict.  No matter what, Sunday is going to be a very exciting night.

This isn’t a look at who should take home Best Picture or any of the other categories, merely a rundown of the nine films in the running for the top category, and how likely they are to pick up awards.  For future reference throughout the weekend, links to our full reviews and my articles on these films are included in the titles.  Please see here for the complete list of nominees in all 24 categories.  Enjoy!

Amour:  With brutal honesty and powerful performances from Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, Amour captures the feeling of watching the last few days in the life of someone who is slowly succumbing into silence.  As director Michael Haneke forces us to confront all of the pain that can come at the end of a deeply formed love, we are left heartbroken by the uncomfortable realism of the story, but thankful to have had the experience of watching this powerful film.

The film is nominated for five Academy Awards.  Although Amour won’t actually win Best Picture, it is the frontrunner for Best Foreign Language Film, and Michael Haneke has a shot at taking home Best Original Screenplay or even Best Director.  Emmanuelle Riva could also triumph in the tight race for Best Actress, becoming the oldest recipient of the award.

Argo:  We all highly recommended Argo when we reviewed it back on October 12th, as the film went on to become a critical and commercial success, after premiering at TIFF in September.  Directed by Ben Affleck with a strong cast and an excellent screenplay, this is an impeccably crafted political thriller that provides plenty of entertainment and suspense, playing as a tribute to Hollywood with an incredible true story that could have easily been fiction.

The film is nominated for seven Academy Awards.  Although Ben Affleck shockingly missed out on a nomination for Best Director, Argo is the closest thing we have to a frontrunner for Best Picture and the film could easily pick up a few other awards along the way, including Best Adapted Screenplay.

Beasts of the Southern Wild:  Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) and her father (Dwight Henry) live together in The Bathtub, a forgotten corner of New Orleans.  The landscape becomes a character within itself, as the rising water becomes one of the many environmental allegories in the film.  At the heart of the beautifully made and deeply moving Beasts of the Southern Wild are incredible performances from newcomers Quvenzhané Wallis and Dwight Henry, and the film plays as an exciting debut for director Benh Zeitlin, who received a surprise nomination for his work.

The film is nominated for four Academy Awards.  Although Beasts of the Southern Wild faces tight competition in every category, it is an honour for the film to even be nominated.  But if Quvenzhané Wallis did take home Best Actress, then she would be the youngest recipient of the award.

Django Unchained:  Quentin Tarantino directs Django Unchained with both style and substance, showing us the brutality that took place in the years before the abolishment of slavery that is charted in Lincoln.  For those who can handle the graphic violence, this is an impeccably well crafted and often wildly entertaining film that is worth seeing for the excellent performances from Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz and Leonardo DiCaprio, as well as the multilayered screenplay by Quentin Tarantino that delves deep into the fascinating characters.

The film is nominated for five Academy Awards.  Although Quentin Tarantino will once again be counted among the runners up for Best Picture, Django Unchained could still get Christoph Waltz a second Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, and the film has a shot at Best Original Screenplay.

Les Misérables:  Director Tom Hooper followed up The King’s Speech with Les Misérables, his big screen adaptation of the popular Broadway production.  A good movie and a commercial success, we all liked the film when we reviewed it back in December.  This is a beautifully performed musical blockbuster that is carried by an excellent cast, including memorable work from Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway and Samantha Barks.

The film is nominated for eight Academy Awards.  Although Les Misérables has an uphill battle for Best Picture, the film has a good chance of winning in some of the technical categories, and Anne Hathaway will take home Best Supporting Actress for her performance of “I Dreamed a Dream.”

Life of Pi:  Although many claimed that Canadian author Yann Martel’s novel Life of Pi would be unfilmable, director Ang Lee proved them wrong with this visually beautiful adaptation.  The bond that forms between Pi (Suraj Sharma) and the tiger Richard Parker is brought to life in a spectacular way, as the film reaches a spiritually confounding conclusion that is sure to leave you talking.  The fact that I can’t stop thinking about it might just be the point of the story.  This is a visually stunning film that is absolutely worth seeing.

The film is nominated for eleven Academy Awards.  Although Life of Pi likely won’t win Best Picture, Ang Lee still has a shot at Best Director and the film will deservingly triumph for Best Visual Effects.  Mychael Danna also has a good chance of winning Best Original Score, and the film should do well in some of the technical categories.

Lincoln:  Led by strong direction from Steven Spielberg, Lincoln is a sharply written historical drama that is carried by an excellent cast which includes a mesmerizing performance from Daniel Day-Lewis in the title role, and also memorable supporting work from Tommy Lee Jones and Sally Field.  When we reviewed the film on November 9th, we all deeply admired this densely packed and universally relatable look at the eventful last few months in the life of the 16th President of the United States.

The film is nominated for twelve Academy Awards.  Although the odds are in favour of Argo winning Best Picture, Daniel Day-Lewis is a lock for Best Actor and Steven Spielberg could easily triumph in the Best Director category for Lincoln.  Tommy Lee Jones could win Best Supporting Actor, and the film also has a shot in some of the technical categories.

Silver Linings Playbook:  I have been championing Silver Linings Playbook since I first saw it at TIFF, and we were all big fans of the film when we reviewed it back in November.  It has since expanded to become a word of mouth hit with mainstream audiences, breaking down barriers and raising more awareness of mental health issues.  With brilliant performances from Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence as well as an excellent screenplay by director David O. Russell that perfectly balances both humour and heartache, this is an outstanding film.

The film is nominated for eight Academy Awards.  Although the odds of Silver Linings Playbook actually winning Best Picture aren’t as strong as they used to be, there is a good chance that Robert De Niro will take home Best Supporting Actor.  Jennifer Lawrence is also still very much in the running for Best Actress, and could easily win in the incredibly tight category.

Zero Dark Thirty:  Director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal last teamed up for The Hurt Locker in 2009, and the thought provoking Zero Dark Thirty is an excellent companion piece to that film.  Jessica Chastain is excellent in the leading role and she perfectly captures the steely determination of her character, as the film painstakingly recreates the decade long manhunt that culminated in 2011 with the successful capturing and killing of terrorist leader Osama bin Laden.  The final hour is visceral and thrilling, holding us in suspense as we wait for the crucial moment that we know is coming.

The film is nominated for five Academy Awards.  Although political controversy has lessened the chances of Zero Dark Thirty winning Best Picture, the film is a genuine contender for Best Original Screenplay and there is still a chance that Jessica Chastain will triumph in the tight race for Best Actress.

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