Watching: The Oscar 2013 Best Picture Nominees

I love going to the movies. I love that I have a wife that loves to go to the movies with me. Movies have a way of transporting you to a very real world in a flat in Paris or to the magical realism of a small island near Houma, Louisiana. This year, we finally achieved our goal of seeing all the films nominated for Best Picture for the Oscar. That does not mean theses are the best films released last year. If we were doing that we would include Skyfall and The Dark Night Rises, which I feel canceled each other out for the tenth spot.

Well here is how I rank the films at this moment, since I keep changing my mind everyday except for number 9 and 1.

9. Les Miserables: Even though it is my least favorite film, it’s not a bad film. It’s just a nice attempt. The actors are all great, even thin-voiced Russell Crowe. They work really heard to make you feel something about them. They often choose the emotional note over what the note technically is and that is the right decision. Hugh Jackman does a magnificent job as Jean ValJean, a man who can’t escape one mistake from his past. His memories haunt him and conflict him. Anne Hathaway, who is barely on screen, gives such a powerhouse performance in such a little time that she probably earned the film a Best Picture nomination herself. The cinematography is gorgeous. It’s the direction that is the problem. The director is too fond of close-ups and specifically rule of third close-ups. While that works magically during “I Dreamed a Dream,” it fails almost everywhere else. This is especially true of Mr. Crowe’s scenes. Close-ups help focus on the weakness of his singing voice (this is in comparison to the other actors…he is not a horrible singer). Les Miserables is an epic of a story meant for the big screen, yet Mr. Hooper directs it as if it’s a miniseries for HBO.

8. Amour: I love this film but I wouldn’t recommend it. This film is so real it can be torture to watch. It’s simply about a woman who suffers a set of disabling strokes and her husband who becomes her care taker. Eventually, he has to make a decision about the future…one that breaks his and your heart. It almost exclusively takes place in their apartment which becomes her prison. Emmanuelle Riva has been getting all the accolades and awards for her performance, yet the film isn’t about her. It’s about the husband played with amazing quiet desperation by Jean-Louis Trintigant. While her performance is more noticeable with the transformation of her body, he has to internalize all of his emotions. You can feel his desperation, his hopelessness, his frustration, but he only shows us his love. The best moment of the film has Trintigant sitting in the parlor watching his wife, a former music teacher, playing the piano. He then turns and turns off the CD player. Heartbreaking.

7. Beasts of the Southern Wild: I loved this film. Of all the films, this is the one I am randomly reminded about the most. This may be due to the fact it takes place very close to the area where I grew up. I know people like the characters in the film. They see the world as this idyllic place of beauty not to be spoiled with industry and destruction. They are dirt poor, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t happy. The world they live in provides. The world they live in also destroys with hurricanes being its chief weapon. After one hurricane is the focus of this story and specifically on the 5 year old Hushpuppy and her dying father Wink. The story can many things since it’s an allegory, but for me it’s a coming of age tale told way too early. Hushpuppy has to find her place in the world and to be more exact which particular world. The industrialized world over the levee or the idyllic world of the Bathtub, the island they live on. Quvenzhane Wallis is mesmerizing as Hushpuppy, but again the wrong person was nominated. Wallis best work in the movie is when she is reacting to Dwight Henry’s Wink. Lost it all the love for the young actress, is that this is the first role for the New Orleans baker as well. Yet, it is he who brings the movie its weight. It’s his character that I want to introduce to people who don’t live here who ask us why we don’t leave after every major hurricane.

6. Zero Dark Thirty: Three of the films nominated for best picture have the hard job of making us feel suspense for an event that we already know the ending to. Until this year, to me the standard bearer for this was Apollo 13. Zero Dark Thirty achieves that level. Now, this isn’t straight history. We won’t know what exactly happened until many years from now. But we do know that we got UBL after many years of failure. This film all hangs on Jessica Chastain’s performance. Any wrong notes and the film fall apart. She pretty much is the film. She pulls it off. It’s a hard role because we don’t know anything about her character’s life at all except what she does for a living. Yet, Ms. Chastain finds a way to create a full character. The film, unlike Apollo 13, leaves an unsettling feeling at the end. We are supposed to cheer. Our Navy Seals did the right thing in that they only killed the bad men. We got the bad guy. We did the right thing. Yet, there were children in the house. Children who saw what happened. Children who are innocent, but will remember what happened.

5. Django Unchained: This film, more than any other, bounces up and down my list. It’s the one that I’ll probably watch more often than any other. The film is funny and violent. What the film is not, is historically accurate. I’m not talking about its liberal use of the N-word because that was mostly accurate. The film is deliberately inaccurate. It shows you this right after the opening credits when it says the film takes place in 1858 – 2 years before the Civil War. Yet, the Civil War begins three years later. This isn’t a small mistake. This is a deliberate mistake. I feel this is Tarantino saying right from the start that this is his world and he can do anything he wants with it. And what he does, is create an origin story of a hero. A black hero who was a former slave. A Tristan who would do anything to get his Isolde. In other words, it’s a superhero story. The superhero just happens to be a former slave who becomes a bounty hunter who finds white men and uses his super power, remarkable aim, to kill them. He uses his superpower to get revenge on those that oppressed him. The film has no bad performances with Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Samuel L. Jackson, and Kerry Washington doing some of their finest work. Leonardo DiCaprio is even better going for broke through out the movie.

4. Life of Pi: This is the most beautiful film out of the nominees. It’s also the one I want to talk the least about except for what you might have seen in the trailers. The young man who plays Pi, also a first timer, does a magnificent job going through every emotion in the book on his journey through the see with a Bengal tiger. The film is simply beautiful. The tiger, named Richard Parker, is a marvel of CGI. I had to search the trivia section of the IMDB of this movie to find out when a real tiger was used compared to the computer one. Also, this is the first movie where 3D felt completely natural and added to the feel of the movie instead of coming off as a cheap gimmick. This is one movie I want to own to find out how good my televisions are.

3. Lincoln: I took an American Character in Film class in college in which we watched Birth of a Nation. In doing my research on that film, I found that Woodrow Wilson has said upon seeing it that it was history written with lightening. With all due respect to President Wilson, he was flat out wrong. This movie deserves that quote more. That doesn’t mean it gets every fact straight as recently pointed out by Maureen Dowd in the New York Times. As a history major, I don’t look for every fact to be correct. No one wants to watch what really happens. History is often one great exciting moment surrounding by thousands of boring ones. This movie is about the making of law, one of the two things no one should ever want to see made. (The other is sausage). Yet, Spielberg pulls it off. He makes a film as exciting as any action pick…well to people who like history anyway. The master class of acting that Daniel Day Lewis puts on aids him. Mr. Lewis disappears and you are left with watching Mr. Lincoln.

2. Argo: Before I start, I want to say how much I love Mr. Affleck’s other two movies: The Town and Gone, Baby, Gone. I felt The Town was snubbed the year it came out. And then this year, I feel that Mr. Affleck was snubbed. Another movie in which you may know the ending, Argo manages to keep you on the edge of your seat. He makes you understand that the Canadians took an amazing risk in taking the Americans in and that we should be grateful for their brave work. He makes you feel the claustrophobia that the six feel living in the ambassador’s house. Yet, he doesn’t just make a tense thriller which would have been the easier route. Everyone could have played it straight and it would be a great movie. Mr. Affleck sees the humor in the situation and allows it to come to the top in almost every scene. In this way the film transcends it’s genre and that is what makes it a great film.

1. Silver Linings Playbook: Silver Linings Playbook is a romantic comedy that also transcends the genre. Dramas usually win Best Picture because it is easier for them to transcend the genre into being something great. I mean almost all Lifetime movies are dramas but because they stick to the conventions of drama they aren’t great movies. Great movies become something more that what they are at heart. Silver Linings Playbook does that and more. It’s a tale of mental illness, it’s a tale of gambling, and it’s a tale of love. It’s expertly acted and directed. While it’s funny, the humor comes from dark places that most people don’t talk about at parties. In fact, the meet cute is one of the oddest and romantic meet cutes I’ve ever scene. This film spoke to me in ways great art is supposed to. That may say more about me than the movie, but this is a movie that I plan on watching often.

Now for my actual predictions even though I didn’t see plenty of these:

Best Motion Picture of the Year: Argo

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role: Daniel Day-Lewis

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role: Jessica Chastain

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role: Robert De Niro

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role: Anne Hathaway

Best Achievement in Directing: Steven Spielberg

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen: Amour

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published: Silver Linings Playbook

Best Animated Feature Film of the Year: Brave

Best Foreign Language Film of the Year: Amour

Best Achievement in Cinematography: Life of Pi

Best Achievement in Editing: Life of Pi

Best Achievement in Production Design: Les Miserables

Best Achievement in Costume Design: Lincoln

Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling: Les Miserables

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score: Life of Pi

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song: Skyfall

Best Achievement in Sound Mixing: Skyfall

Best Achievement in Sound Editing: Django Unchained

Best Achievement in Visual Effects: Life of Pi

Best Documentary, Feature: Searching for Sugar Man

Best Documentary, Short Subject: Monday’s at Racine

Best Short Film, Animated: The Simpsons: The Longest Daycare

Best Short Film, Live Action: Henry


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