Just in time for the Oscar ceremony on Sunday, February 24, I managed to watch all nine films up for the Best Picture prize. One can’t exactly say what was genuinely the most worthy film for Best Picture without having seen all of the films up for the gold, after all. Now having seen all of them, I can now proudly attest to how I would rank this year’s crop of nine up for the Academy Award for Best Picture (going from “least” Best Picture worthy to most):
Director Tom Hooper’s Les Miserables boasts two Oscar-nominated performances out of Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway. Although I wasn’t a big fan of some of Hooper’s shot choices during certain scenes and I feel he may have took the term “musical” a little too literally (I can barely recount a moment in which someone doesn’t sing), Les Mis still is a worthy effort and Jackman and Hathaway are of course exceptional here. Considering the subject matter, I guess you could say I was a bit disappointed that it didn’t draw me in emotionally as much I was expecting it to, but nonetheless Les Mis is a good film. Not great, but still good all the same.
8. Beasts of the Southern Wild
So a much different kind of “Ben” was called out as a Best Director nominee than the one I was expecting to be named on the morning the Oscar nominations were announced. Instead of a certain Ben Affleck, the nominee was one Benh (with an “h”) Zeitlin for the very small indie Beasts of the Southern Wild. Even more of a surprise was young Quvenzhané Wallis earning a nomination for Best Actress. Upon seeing the film, I can see why Zeitlin and Wallis got nominated, as Beasts is a uniquely told film about a young girl’s plight in “the Bathtub,” a southern Delta community, and how she comes to learn the ways of courage and love at an extremely young, fragile age.
7. Zero Dark Thirty
Speaking of surprise omissions, it was highly expected that Kathryn Bigelow would earn her second nomination for Best Director from the Academy, this time for her get-Osama bin Laden-thriller Zero Dark Thirty. Surprisingly, she didn’t earn a nomination, which is a shame because Bigelow very much deserved a nod for her masterful direction in Zero. Star-on-the-rise Jessica Chastain earned a Best Actress nomination for her work here as Maya, an immensely determined CIA operative out to get the most-wanted terrorist in the world. Like The Hurt Locker a few years back, Bigelow produced a gripping drama in Zero and it was definitely one of the best of the year.
Enough can’t be said about the wonder that is Daniel Day Lewis’ performance in Lincoln. He just is Abraham Lincoln here. His performance is flat-out awe-inspiring and he’s a virtual shoo-in for his third Best Actor Oscar (for which he’d be the only actor in history to achieve such a feat). And with the legendary Steven Spielberg (a frontrunner for Best Director) at the helm, Lincoln was far from being a stuffy, Civil War-era historical drama. The entire supporting cast (including Supporting Actress nominee Sally Field) is also excellent here, especially Supporting Actor nominee Tommy Lee Jones as abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens.
The Academy usually relegates foreign-language films to the Best Foreign Language Film category, but they made an exception this year by including Michael Haneke’s French drama Amour in the Best Picture category. It deserved to be included in the bigger category. The story of the film—a couple’s bond of love is tested when the wife’s health begins to dramatically deteriorate—is heartbreaking for sure, as are the remarkable performances of Jean-Louis Trintignant and Best Actress nominee Emmanuelle Riva. Riva’s performance is absolutely extraordinary and incredibly worthy of the Oscar. Riva’s 86th birthday, it turns out, falls on the exact date of this year’s Oscar ceremony. The Academy may very well give her a very golden gift for her birthday. Amour is a truly unforgettable film that will grasp at every human emotion you can possible feel about what it means to love and the absolute fragility of the passage of time.
4. Silver Linings Playbook
Best Actor Academy Award nominee Bradley Cooper—I didn’t think it was possible, but Cooper achieved this title with his performance in David O. Russell’s dramedy Silver Linings Playbook. As a man who completes a stint in a mental institution, Cooper is fantastic and shows a good amount of range here. The absolute revelation, however, is the talented Jennifer Lawrence. Earning a Best Actress nomination, Lawrence is awesome here as a widow with problems of her own. Lawrence goes above and beyond what the role calls for, which goes to show her immense talent, and considering her age it makes her all the more amazing to behold on the screen. Supporting Actor nominee Robert De Niro co-stars as Cooper’s football-loving dad. Linings is a fantastic film.
3. Django Unchained
There’s no stopping the mad genius that is Quentin Tarantino. With his latest, Django Unchained, Tarantino does it again with this highly entertaining “western” about a freed slave (played by Jamie Foxx) who joins forces with a German bounty hunter (Supporting Actor nominee Christoph Waltz) to set out to rescue his wife from a brutal plantation owner. Although Leonardo DiCaprio makes a worthy villain here (and it was nice to see him play against type), it is indeed Waltz who very nearly steals the show from star Foxx (although it could be easily argued that Waltz is a co-lead with Foxx). Another worthy supporting player was Samuel L. Jackson as a diabolical slave. Tarantino simply does no wrong and Django is just another excellent film for him to add to his immensely unique resume. Here’s hoping Tarantino nabs the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, because he’s very deserving of it.
2. Life of Pi
Ang Lee is one of the most diverse directors out there today. From Sense to Sensibility to Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon to Brokeback Mountain, Lee’s resume shows incredible range. With Life of Pi, Lee achieves what many were saying no one could ever achieve: direct a (presumably) un-filmable film. Starring Suraj Sharma as a young man who survives a disaster at sea and undertakes an epic, coming-of-age journey of adventure and discovery, Life of Pi is an absolutely breathtaking (visually and emotionally) movie experience. If Spielberg doesn’t nab the Best Director prize, I’d expect Lee to be the one to take it for his latest drama. Pi is one of the finest films of the year, and clearly couldn’t have been made possible if it wasn’t for the masterful vision of Ang Lee.
When Ben Affleck was robbed a Best Director nomination for his third directorial effort—the based-on-a-true-story thriller Argo—many rallied around his film and the injustice of his snub. I saw Argo for a second time at the theater and I too join in on how very wrong the Academy was about Affleck. Affleck steered his CIA drama to absolute perfection and told an incredibly engrossing story about a CIA agent (played by Affleck) who risks it all to come up with a way to extract six fugitive American diplomats out of revolutionary Iran in 1980. The operation: come up with a fake movie as a cover. I was so drawn in by the story and the urgency of it all. You feel for these people, you feel for Affleck’s Tony Mendez and his unyielding determination to get them home. The suspense of it all as everything played out was nearly too much for me (in a good way). Thrilling, absorbing and so masterfully done from beginning to end, Affleck’s Argo is indeed the Best Picture of 2012. Hands down.