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Sunday, February 26, 2012

What's Your Take?: Ranking the Best Picture Nominees

For the third year in a row, I'm happy to have some special guests to run down their thoughts on the Best Picture nominees.  Three of us (me, my wife Emily and mother-in-law Barb) saw all 9 movies and ranked them, and the other two (my siblings Jason and Sarah) missed only 1 and 2.  While a couple of bloggers missed a movie or two, I think this still gives us a good sense of how the year shook up.  As in past years, I'm impressed with the critical eyes of all my family members. They are welcome anytime!

 First of all, here's the average score for each movie:

1. The Artist                                            1.6
2. The Tree of Life                                  2.8
3. Moneyball                                           4
4 (tie).  Hugo                                          4.2
  Midnight in Paris                                   4.2
6. The Help                                             5
7. The Descendants                                 6.4
8. War Horse                                          7.75
9 Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close    9

Our consensus number one obviously matches up with the Academy..   While The Artist was not everyone's number 1, it ranked no lower than 3 for all of us.  All of us who saw Extremely Loud also ranked it last, showing that it's place in the Best Picture race is pretty ridiculous.

We also each gave our preferences (who we think should win) in each of the other main categories.

Best Actor

Jean Dujardin-Barb, Emily, Jason, Ben
Brad Pitt- Sarah

Best Actress

Viola Davis-Emily, Jason, Sarah, Ben
Meryl Streep-Barb

Best Supporting Actor

Christopher Plummer- Barb, Emily, Ben, Jason
Kenneth Branagh- Sarah

Best Supporting Actress

Berenice Bejo-Barb, Emily, Sarah
Octavia Spencer- Jason
Jessica Chastain- Ben

Best Director

Michel Hazanavicius- Barb, Emily, Jason
Terrence Malick- Sarah, Ben

Best Original Screenplay

Bridesmaids- Sarah
A Separation- Ben
Midnight in Paris- Emily, Jason
The Artist- Barb

Best Adapted Screenplay

Hugo- Emily, Sarah, Barb
Moneyball- Ben, Jason

Without further ado, here are the individual lists!


First let me say that I am honored to be a guest blogger for the third consecutive year. I had a more difficult time with my rankings this year. Number 1 was clearly number 1, but two through six were pretty interchangeable. Here goes:

1. The Artist.
My favorite movie by far. A nostalgic look back at the era of silent movies and the transition to 'talkies'. A great story as we see the career of silent movie idol, George Valentin, painfully slip away, replaced by 'talkies' and the fresh new star, Peppy Miller. It is also a story about friendship, respect and tradition. Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo played their roles beautifully. I loved that the movie was filmed in black and white and relied minimally on dialogue bubbles. Uggie the dog and the tap dance scene at the end cemented this as my # one pick.

2. Moneyball.
What's not to love, it's a story about baseball. Sort of. It's actually a look at the business of baseball and a shift from the highly subjective look at what makes a winner to statistical analysis. Fascinating! Brad Pitt is at his best as the notorious Billy Beane. Additionally, their is wonderful chemistry between Pitt and Jonah Hill. I also really enjoyed all the old baseball footage.

3. The Tree of Life.
One of my favorite movies of the year. Having said that, I'm glad I knew a lot about the movie before seeing it or I would have been hopelessly lost. As it was, I was able to just sit back, enjoy the beauty of the movie and simply let the story unfold. Outstanding performances by Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain and Sean Penn.

4. Hugo.
I liked this movie for many of the same reasons I liked The Artist. It's a movie about movies. Visually beautiful... the train station, the clock and, of course, Paris. I was fascinated with Hugo's automaton and loved how this connected to the rest of the story. I also really liked the ending when they showcased the work of Georges Melies. So great. My big regret was not seeing it in 3D.

5. Midnight in Paris.
First of all, I pretty much like anything Woody Allen does... professionally, not personally. Midnight in Paris is quintessential Allen. I love Paris and I loved this story. What could be more exciting than being transported back to 1920's Paris? I thoroughly enjoyed wandering through the bars and salons of Paris with Gil, hobnobbing with the likes of Gertrude Stein, Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Salvador Dali. Great supporting cast.

6. The Descendants.
A somewhat sad, somewhat humorous, story of a family in turmoil. My kind of movie! George Clooney is, of course, excellent and is surrounded by a strong supporting cast, especially 20 year old Shailene Woodley who plays his somewhat delinquent 17 year old daughter. A believable story about a family thrown together by a tragedy forcing them all to re-evaluate their roles in the family, adjust their priorities, learn to forgive and adapt to a new way of life. Hawaii provides a stunning background for this movie, although the whole land baron storyline was my least favorite part.

7. The Help.
I liked this movie, although apparently not as much as everyone else. An entertaining movie with a superb cast of actresses who all gave strong performances.I have to agree, however, with many who have reviewed this movie, that it could have been more challenging. I kept waiting for that to happen and it never did.

8. War Horse.
 I actually liked this movie more than I thought I would. It certainly is a heartwarming story about the bond between a young man and his beloved horse. The tranquility and beauty of the English countryside in the beginning of the movie is in sharp contrast to what we witness once WWI breaks out. My biggest problem with this movie was that everyone spoke English... with either bad German or French accents. I know this was billed as a family movie, and the use of subtitles was probably unrealistic, but I found it very distracting and it kept me from getting totally involved in the story.

9. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.
 I think this getting a nod for Best Picture was a surprise to many of us. Although I liked the movie, I think there were many other stronger candidates. It's an interesting story, and I think the fact that young Oskar had Aspergers added some depth. It shows the additional struggles that someone with a disability might experience when dealing with a tragedy of such magnitude. I wish they would have cast less well known actors as Oskar's parents. It's hard to look at Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock and think anything other than 'there's Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock'.


I'm happy to be back guest blogging with Ben, my mom, and my siblings-in-law! It was a pretty fun year at the movies - in addition to most of the nine Best Picture nominees, I also especially enjoyed The Muppets, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Beginners, A Separation, Win Win, and Bridesmaids. Here are my thoughts on this year's Best Picture contenders:

1. The Artist
In the age of computer-generated effects, I commend the risk The Artist takes in really paring itself down and still reaching a modern audience. Maybe the glimpse of the fast-changing film world of the late 1920s/early 1930s strikes a particular chord in today’s sometimes exhaustingly fast-paced world – and in the end, gives us the sense that things will be okay. Fantastic performances by Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo, and of course, Uggie the Jack Russell Terrier.

2. The Tree of Life
Well that was different. I suppose if I was going to commend risk-taking, I should have picked Tree of Life as my number one of 2011. I know this was a divisive one, but I thought it was beautiful (definitely one for the big screen), profound, and so creatively directed by Terence Malick. A thought-provoking look at life, death, relationships, time, memory, beginnings, endings, faith, and love - just putting it all on the table for us to ruminate over. I liked it.

3. Midnight in Paris
So far, this movie has the distinction of being the only Best Picture nominee I've seen more than once, and I'd have no problem seeing it five more times! Having never been to Paris - and having not lived in the 1920's - I really enjoyed being transported there. Such a fun story and cast of characters and satisfying ending - I count this as a great success for Woody Allen.

4. Hugo
Striking visuals and design (even though the 3-D didn't do much for me), engaging story. And how cool was the automaton? This was a different kind of movie for Martin Scorcese, and I think he did excellent work. I thought the story was adventuresome and fun and unpredictable. It was a big year for celebrating film and France, wasn't it?

5. Moneyball
As not a big sports fan, I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that I did not get bored during this movie. Moneyball was sort of the anti-inspirational-sports story; maybe it's not about all about heart after all. I enjoyed both Jonah Hill and Brad Pitt (side note: loved the visor).

6. The Help
Our book club had read the book, about which I had somewhat mixed feelings. But who can argue with Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Emma Stone, and Jessica Chastain? Great performances by all of these women, and I do think that the book translated well to film. I just had this sense during some parts of the movie that it was trying too hard to have popular appeal. I will say, though, that my opinion improved after hearing Viola Davis interviewed - what a cool woman.

7. The Descendants
There weren't a lot of things I specifically disliked about this movie, but I wasn't blown away either. What I definitely liked was Hawaii - had it been set elsewhere, it would have been a completely different (probably less pretty) movie. I thought the main plot line about the family's mixed emotions in the wake of the mom's/wife's tragic accident was interesting, but the secondary plot line about the family's land seemed a little obvious and preachy. I did like George Clooney's performance.

8. War Horse
I really didn't want to see this because of my sensitivities to violence and animal suffering, but Steven Spielberg went above and beyond in his efforts to sanitize this movie for a family audience. Fine by me. I liked how the narrative progressed through the different chapters of Joey's (the horse's) life and the stories of his various caretakers, but thought it got a little long and seemed a little contrived at times. I am holding out hope they will walk the horse down the red carpet.

9. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
This movie was an okay watch, but I had no qualms about putting it in my #9 slot. I hadn't read the book, but sort of imagine it would be better as a book. This movie would have been so much better if we spent less time with the main characters, and more time with the stories of the people Oskar met on his journeys (in the style, maybe, of Into the Wild - i.e., more Viola Davis). I cried, but then felt a little annoyed that I cried. Definitely one to wait for on Netflix.


First of all, I have to say that I had a very hard time ranking most of these movies against each other.  I genuinely enjoyed each of them and I could easily flip of few of these around.  I will say that this year’s field seems quite weak compared to years past, nothing instantly stood out to me as a Best Picture.

1.The Artist
The Artist was funny, dramatic, touching and what I think of when I go to the movies to escape.  The acting and directing were amazing and in this day and age of special effects, over the top violence and second rate acting, it was great to see something as original as this.

 2. The Help
This was far and away my biggest surprise of the year.  This genre is usually not my favorite, but this movie just blew me away.  The ensemble cast was incredible, especially Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer.  I also very much enjoyed Jessica Chastain, Emma Stone, Sissy Spacek and Bryce Dallas Howard, all were perfectly cast.  The moment of the year in the movies for me was the s*^& pie, who could ever forget that?

3. Midnight in Paris
 I’ve always been a Woody fan and he didn’t disappoint with Midnight in Paris.  The casting was dead on and I truly enjoyed Owen Wilson as the everyday man stuck with a terrible fiancée just trying to find himself in a new and amazing city.  As in any Woody Allen film, the location of Paris was a central character and definitely has inspired me to take a trip there.  I was also so intrigued by the various literary characters in the movie that I read a couple of Hemingway and Fitzgerald books after seeing this film.

4. The Descendants
The Descendants falls into my favorite category of films, stories about real people going through realistic circumstances and the realistic way they deal with them.  George Clooney was unbelievable in his role and really made the movie.  I’m a huge fan of Sideways and was delighted to see Alexander Payne keep the same style and feel for this film.

I was fortunate enough to see Hugo in 3D and really enjoyed it.  I really enjoyed the story of the boy who keeps the clocks working and his various struggles to cope with losing his father.  This was a great homage to early filmmaking; I thought the ending where they show all of George Melies work was so cool.  All of the cast was great, especially the Academy's favorite Sasha Baron CohenJ

6. Moneyball
I loved this movie about an incredible athlete who never quite found his stride on the field but revolutionized the game of baseball off it.  Brad Pitt was the perfect pick to play Billy Beane and Jonah Hill was great as his right hand man.  The writing was sharp and realistic (thank you Aaron Sorkin), the casting of the various players was great and the overall tone for the film perfectly fit with the story.

7.The Tree of Life
This was a very tough one for me and I have to caveat this by saying that I watched the first half while flying and was extremely tired.  I can’t say that I “enjoyed” this film so much as I appreciate it.  The montages of nature were just stunning, as good as watching any sort of Imax film like you’d see at a science museum.  The interactions between the father and his family were gripping to watch, but other than that I just didn’t connect with the characters.  The existential ending was interesting, but because I didn’t really care so much about the characters, it wasn’t very powerful for me.  I think if I went back and watched this film again, it’s highly possible it could move up the list.

Extremely Loud/War Horse-Unfortunately, I ran out of time and was unable to see either of these two films.  I was very surprised to see that Extremely Loud was nominated, being that it got very mixed reviews as compared to the other films up this year.  I’ll give it a shot when it comes out to rent, but I’m not expecting much.

I was also surprised by War Horse, I’ve heard it’s a pretty standard story and very predictable.  With that being said, it’s Spielberg so I’m sure the film is first rate.

Overall, it was a fun year at the movies with some truly original films getting a chance to shine, should be fun to see who wins.


1.The Tree of Life
I can get why this would be a movie you either love or hate due to the risky choices by Malick in how he told the story..but it really worked well for me.  Like some of the other movies nominated this year, there were a lot of very memorable, even haunting scenes, but what makes Tree of Life stand apart is that all the separate scenes, as varied as they were (dinosaurs?) worked together to tell a moving narrative and message about family memory, nostalgia, and redemption.  This is the movie that will really stick with me.

2. The Artist
Since my favorite movie of all time is Singin' in the Rain, the Artist was very enjoyable for me!  Light-hearted, funny, entertaining, and charming, one of the most fun times I had watching any of the nominees. Like several of the other nominees, the nostalgia theme runs throughout, but in a way that leaves the viewer feeling hopeful for the future of movies and progress in general.

3.  Hugo
I think "charming" could also describe Hugo.  While I wish I had seen it on the big screen to fully enjoy the cinematography, even watching it on a computer screen had me captivated.  A little bit of Harry Potter and a little bit of Oliver Twist, I found the story captivating and, the set design, costumes, and cinematography were gorgeous.

4. The Help
While the criticisms of how race is portrayed in this movie are valid, especially in the pretty shallow portrayl of "the racist" Hilly detracting from the viewer being able to really examine more nuanced forms racism both in the past and today, I still really enjoyed this movie.  I thought the performances by almost all oft he women in the movie were fantastic, in particular Viola Davis in her subtle, quiet strength in the midst of many of life's hardships.  When I saw this in the theater, there were women from many generations present, and that added to the experience for me reflecting at how things have, and haven't changed since the 1960s.

While I'm not a big fan of sports movies, I was pleasantly surprised by Moneyball.   I enjoyed seeing the different views of the art of the sport, comparing the "just knowing" talent in contrast to looking at the players purely statistically.

6.Midnight in Paris
I had a lot of fun watching this movie- I had a lot of laughs at Owen Wilson as basically Woody Allen, and enjoyed all the cameos by famous actors throughout it.  I definitly left the theater with a smile on my face and in a good mood, feeling once again "charmed" (charmed and nostalgia seem to be common themes this year...).  However, I was a bit surprised that it got nominated for best picture- it was good but not particularily innovative, and while I enjoyed the characters, there wasn't much to like about Rachel McAdams' character.

7. The Descendants
Normally this is one of my favorite type of movies- dysfunctional family adapting to some type of crisis and pulling together, with some ragtag family friends and characters on the side.  I enjoyed some things about this movie- I liked the underlying humor in the midst of a devastating loss, and I thought that Shailene Woodley's performace as the rebellious yet loving daughter was very convincing.  However, a lot of things about this movie seemed inauthentic- I didn't really like George Clooney's character in it, didn't really get any glimpses into his history with his wife, and for some reason so much focus on the setting of Hawaii didn't really add much and distracted from the plot.

8. War Horse
I had the most trouble staying engaged during this movie- there were some isolated scenes I enjoyed, such as when the 2 opposing soldiers came together to get Joey out of the barbed wire fence; and I also thought some of the battle scenes were creative.  However, I felt like the dialogue was kind of fakey- I couldn't tell sometimes what was intentionally cliched or silly, and the whole first half hour of "this horse is a waste of money..." and then being trained in front of the skeptical townfolks felt like something I had seen a million times.


I absolutely love Oscar season and seeing all the Best Picture nominees.  That said, I have to say that this is a pretty weak year, especially compared to last year.  My least favorite film of last yea's nominees, Inception, is one I like more than at least 4 of this year's nominees.  I still think all of these movies are worth seeing (except my number 9 choice), but as a whole the lineup lacks greatness  It was also quite a year for nostalgia. The Artist, Hugo, Midnight in Paris, and War Horse all seem to have their sights set firmly on the past.  It's also a really safe lineup of movies.  Apart from being confused by The Tree of Life, there's nothing in these movies that wouldn't be fine to watch with your 90-year-old grandmother or 12-year-old child.  This isn't a criticsm per se, but it certainly wasn't a year for filmmakers taking huge risks being rewarded by the Academy.  I've enjoyed Oscar season this year, but also hope there is a little more wow factor next year.

1. The Tree of Life
For me, no other 2011 movie came close to the ambition and scope of The Tree of Life.  Terrence Malick seems to make movies apart from commercial consideration, and I love him for that.  I know it’s a love-it-or-WTF? kind of movie, but I think just about every moment was brilliant.  I loved the cosmic imagery and spiritual themes, but I think the heart of the movie does lies in the narrative of a child (Hunter McCracken) growing up.  The movie showschildhood as a series of brief but searing memories, and isn’t that how it feels to look back on it? With wonderful turns by Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain (did any two actors have a better year?), this is my favorite movie of the year.

2. Moneyball
A smart, contained, closely observed, and even thrilling biography about baseball and statistics.  This movie is a small treasure where every piece comes together.  It’s about changing paradigms, second chances, choices, and redemption.  It moves the viewer deeply while never crossing the line into audience manipulation.  The smart script, crisp direction, and great lead performance by Brad Pitt all make for a great movie.

3. The Artist
A movie where the only appropriate response is a big old grin.  Taking references aplenty from Hollywood history, this movie is a kiss to classic Hollywood.  Every element is tightly constructed to look and feel like a classic film.  The movie wouldn’t have worked, however, without leads who knew how to play it, and both Jean DuJardin and Berenice Bejo go above and beyond to pull the viewer in.  While I don’t think this movie is especially profound, it’s immensely entertaining and the likely winner.

4. Midnight in Paris
A charming movie sure to appeal to me as an English major who loves Woody Allen and is soon visiting Paris.  Owen Wilson is the best surrogate Woody in a long while, and the cast of literary characters is consistently delightful.  So delightful, in fact, that I couldn’t help but feel a little loss of energy as we watch the present-day scenes.  As much as I really liked this movie, I also don’t get the “Woody is back” storyline.  Didn’t anyone see Match Point or Vicky Christina Barcelona, two equally enjoyable Woody movies from the 2000s?

5. Hugo
Like The Artist, Hugo is a tribute to the beginnings of film.  This one is done by the great Scorsese, who wanted to make a movie his 12-year-old daughter could see (what, she doesn’t like Taxi Driver?).  Hugo is a feast for the eyes, one of the few times I’ve found 3-D technology really worthwhile and enhancing to a movie.  The Paris train station and Hugo’s home in it are wonders to behold.  The movie also becomes incredibly poignant as it morphs into a look back at very beginnings of cinema.  Although I liked it a lot, my overall feeling about Hugo is more admiration than love.  It’s so beautifully put together that, at times, I felt it needed a little more room to just breathe.

6. The Help
The Help has made its fair share of waves this year, with quite the debate over its portrayal of race and history.  While I certainly found elements of the story’s construction problematic, I also can’t deny that The Help is really entertaining to watch and earns some honest tears along the way.  There is not a lot of subtlety in the script or in the style, but the stellar actresses really elevate this movie.  Jessica Chastain is wonderful (and so different from her Tree of Life character) as Celia and Viola Davis is nothing short of astonishing as Abileen, the movie’s moral center.

7. War Horse
Schindler’s List this ain’t, but it was also much better than I anticipated.  Spielberg directs this movie as if it could have been made in 1940, and for the most part that was fine with me.  I was glad to go along with horse Joey on his ride through WW1 history, and I was impressed with the artistry of the scenes of trench warfare.  While entertaining, I think the movie would have been a lot better if the scenes of war had been a bit more harrowing and hard-hitting.

8. The Descendants
I really wanted to like this movie a whole lot more than I did.  Alexander Payne is one of my favorite directors, and this had all the markings of a movie I would love.  While it’s not a bad movie, much of it felt false.  The flying around to various islands, the chasing down of the ex-lover, the land inheritance subplot…. whatever it was, it didn’t really work for me.  The actors all did their best and found some really nice moments, but in the end I just wasn’t completely pulled into the story.

9. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close:  Best Picture? Really?  I tried to give this movie a chance, and for a while I gave it the benefit of the doubt.  Then my doubts began to pile up.  The child traipsing all around New York? As catharsis from 9/11? What worked well in Jonathan Safron Foer’s novel loses much of its charm on screen.  I have no problem embracing sentiment (see The Help and War Horse), but in this movie I felt overtly manipulated and, finally, just annoyed and ready for it to end.

That's all folks!  Thanks for joining us on the look through the year.  
I hope you join us next year for the blog!


  1. good stuff its cool to compare everyone's list like that. im surprised they all, for the most part, liked tree of life so much. i personally thought it was a great movie but everyone else i talked to did not care for it.

  2. Glad you loved it as well. I think you definitely have to be ready for it and open-minded. It's most certainly love it or hate it though.