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Sunday, February 24, 2013

Liveblogging the Oscars!

Once again, I'll be liveblogging the Oscars, keeping track of my predictions and giving running commentary.  Newest posts up top!

The Show


Actress, Actor, Picture: As expected Jennifer Lawrence, Daniel Day-Lewis, and Argo.  21/24.

The biggest surprise was having our first lady announce!  As much as I wish Lincoln would have won, I should remember Argo was in my top 5 of the year, and is a perfectly worthy winner.

That's Oscar night y'all!  Thanks for joining me!


Adapted Screenplay: Argo. 17/19.  A good screenplay, but it beat a true masterpiece-Lincoln.  Looks like Argo is winning Best Pic.

Original Screenplay: Django Unchained. 18/20 for me.  Good one Django. Can't believe they played the Gone With the Wind score to play him off.

Director: Ang Lee for Life of Pi!  Missed that one. 18/21.  While I don't think he was better than Spielberg, Haneke, and Russell, good for him.  LIfe of Pi was a really directorial triumph and I love Lee.  I'm glad he can now be a 2-time winner.


Original Score: Life of Pi.  Predicted that, so 15/17.  A really memorable score.

Original Song: Skyfall of course.  16/18.  No competition here.


Production Design: Lincoln!  I didn't pick it but am so glad for any awards Lincoln gets tonight.  14/16 now.

In Memoriam. The part where we say, "Oh yeah! He/she died this year!"  Barbra looks real flowy in that dress.  The red carpet rumor is she went on a 20-day fast to appear tonight.


Film Editing: Argo. 14/15.  The best picture frontrunner got its first one.  What else? Screenplay?

Adele.... she nails it.

This show is moving... a tad slowly.  Any guesses on ending time?  I'll go with 11:57.


Sound Mixing: Les Miserables. 11/12.  Not doing too shabby on these predictions tonight!

Sound Editing: A TIE!!! Zero Dark Thirty and..... Skyfall.  I picked Skyfall so 12/13.

Supporting Actress: Christopher Plummer announces.  What a class act.  Anne Hathaway of course.  Well deserved (although I preferred Amy Adams), but pity about that hideous dress.  Next time wear a bra. 13/14.


Live Action Short: Curfew. 7/8!  Didn't see it, but I picked it!

Documentary Short: Inocente.  8/9.  Didn't see these either, but made the pick. It's about a homeless teen artist.  I wish they had time to let her talk...

Documentary: Searching for Sugar Man. 9/10. Really a heartwarming documentary-check it out if you haven't seen it!

Foreign Film: Amour. 10/11. Yup.  Now if it can just win some more!

Musical Tribute.  Yup, they're good performances.  But do we need to pay tribute to an enjoyable but  questionable winner (Chicago), a movie not even nominated for Best Picture (Dreamgirls), and Les Mis.  Not necessary.


Animated Short: Paperman.  I predicted this, so 1/2.  This was a lovely film, although Adam and Dog was even better.

Animated Film: Brave.  2/3 now.  This was not a great movie, but don't bet against Pixar.

Beasts of the Southern Wild wasn't my favorite movie, but damn that monologue makes my throat clench.

Cinematography: Life of Pi. 3/4.  No arguing with this vote, although one of these days Roger Deakins will win one.

Visual Effects: Life of Pi. 4/5.  Another easy get for Life of Pi.

Costume Design: Anna Karenina. 5/6.  No arguing with this pick... at all. A true integral part of the movie and story.

Makeup and Hairstyling: Les Miserables.  6/7.  They did do a really nice job making everyone's hair and teeth look mostly disgusting.


Starting out real rough with Seth.  But gotta love that Channing and Charlize dance.

OK, after a little thought the jury is out on Seth.  Some funny parts, and some real off-color groaners.

Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz for Django Unchained!!  A bit of a surprise.  I think this means Django wins Screenplay.  0/1 on my predix this year, although I much prefer surprise to predictability.

Red Carpet

Anne Hathaway-the top of your dress is a tad, um, suggestive.  And not in a good way.

Kristin Chenoweth- Have you mentioned yet that you are 4'11 and petite??!!

I have an irrational hatred of Jennifer Aniston.  I think she is SO BORING and don't understand why she is a successful actress.

Quote from my apartment.  Me: How can I ever get to go to the Oscars? Tasara: Someone's going to have to get a chronic illness and make a wish.

FWIW, I think the "Oscar mystery" they are guessing is R2D2.

Bradley Cooper's mom.  WHOA.  That's a lot of pink fringe on your shawl.

Jessica Chastain best overall look so far, no doubt.  I'm also digging Naomi Watts in her Judy Jetson getup.

Quevenzhane- She is too cute with that puppy purse.  But interviewer, stop asking her about if she thinks she is going to win. It's just toying with her!

Also-Is Kristen Chenoweth a midget??  She certainly is next to Jennifer Lawrence.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Family That Blogs Together: Ranking the Best Picture Nominees

On Oscar Eve morning, here is my favorite blog post of the year.  It’s when I get to invite thoughtful fellow movie-lovers to give their take on the Best Picture nominees.  This year, I’m glad to welcome back my wife Emily, mother-in-law Barb, brother Jason, sister Sarah, and my sister’s boyfriend Tyler.

Each participant saw all the movies, ranked them, and also made their picks for the main Oscar categories.  After all is said and done, here’s how our picks shook out.

Movie (Average Rating)                                                                         
1. Lincoln (2.3)                                                                       
2. Argo (2.7)                                                                         
3. Amour (3)                                                                       
4. Django Unchained (4)                                                    
    Silver Linings Playbook (4)                                     
6. Zero Dark Thirty (5.5)                                                       
7. Beasts of the Southern Wild (6.9)                                     
8. Life of Pi (7.3)                                                                   
9. Les Miserables (8.5)                                                         

As the presumed contest is between Lincoln and Argo (with Argo the likely winner), it makes sense that Lincoln and Argo are vying for our top spot as well.  Les Miserables ranked 8 or 9 on all of our lists, and Lincoln, Argo, and Silver Linings Playbook placed top 5 on all of our lists.

As for the acting categories, here’s where our votes would go:

Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln: Barb, Emily, Jason, Sarah, Tyler
Joaquin Phoenix, The Master: Ben

Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook: Barb, Jason
Emmanuelle Riva, Amour: Ben, Emily, Sarah, Tyler

Supporting Actor
Robert de Niro, Silver Linings Playbook: Tyler
Phillip Seymour Hoffman, The Master: Ben
Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln: Barb, Emily
Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained: Jason, Sarah

Supporting Actress
Amy Adams, The Master: Ben
Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables: Barb, Emily, Jason, Sarah, Tyler

Michael Haneke, Amour: Ben, Jason, Sarah, Tyler
Steven Spielberg, Lincoln: Barb, Emily

Original Screenplay
Amour: Ben
Django Unchained: Barb, Jason, Sarah, Tyler
Moonrise Kingdom: Emily

Adapted Screenplay
Argo: Barb
Lincoln: Ben, Tyler
Silver Linings Playbook: Emily, Jason, Sarah

As per the real race, Supporting Actor is the race that is all over the map. Otherwise, we have some pretty clear consensus around Day-Lewis and Hathaway (with yours truly being the only dissenter), a clear win for Riva, and a split between Haneke and Spielberg.

And now, on to the write-ups!  Thanks everyone for your thoughtful reflections.


First let me say how honored I am to be spending my fourth consecutive Oscar weekend in Washington D.C. with my two favorite movie critics. I love tradition.

1. Argo. An intriguing movie based (however loosely) on real events. Action-packed, suspenseful, humorous and highly entertaining. What's not to love? Great performances, and comic relief, from both Alan Arkin and John Goodman. Ben Affleck got screwed.

2. Lincoln. Daniel Day-Lewis is amazing, and a shoo-in for Best Actor. I'm so glad they decided to focus on a particular part of Lincoln's presidency, the passage of the 13th Amendment, rather than trying to do too much. It allowed us to have an in-depth view of a very important part of our nation's history. Plus, I liked all the bickering. Strong supporting cast, particularly Tommy Lee Jones. I had more of a problem with Sally Field's role. I just can never see her as anyone but Sally Field.

3. Silver Linings Playbook. A bunch of misfits, just limping along doing the best they can and trying to stay positive. And can't we all relate? My kind of movie, for sure. Great performances and supporting cast. Didn't you just love Robert De Niro? Also, this movie was a bit lighter than our other eight nominees.

4. Amour. A heartbreaking story of love, loss and commitment. Although painfully difficult to watch, I thought it was a very realistic look at end of life issues. We see Anne go from a strong, intelligent, self-sufficient woman to someone totally dependent on others. Georges struggles with wanting to care for, and hang on to Anne, while witnessing her pain, loss of dignity and self, and clear desire not to go back to the hospital. The ending gives us all food for thought. Outstanding performances by Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva. One of the best movies I'll never see again.

5. Zero Dark Thirty. If you can get through the gruesome torture scenes without leaving the theater, this is a very good movie. A totally absorbing, fast-paced drama based (however loosely) on the operation that found and killed Osama bin Laden. Jessica Chastain is outstanding as the intense, single-minded CIA agent, Maya, who spends her entire career in search of bin Laden. I also liked that this movie did not tiptoe around the human cost of war: the destruction and death of innocent people, including many children. At times, very tough to watch.

6. Django Unchained. Typical Tarantino... his opinions smack you right in the face. I actually liked this movie much more than I thought I would. Superb cast, interesting story of anger and revenge, and humor tossed in when you least expect it. I did think it was a bit too long, and a lot too bloody, but that's Tarantino.

7. Life of Pi. I'm glad I had not read the book, and knew little about the story before seeing this film. It made the ending much more interesting, and really pulled things together for me. The heart of this story takes place when Pi and the magnificent Bengal tiger are at sea. One of the most visually beautiful movies I have ever seen, made even more spectacular in 3D.

8. Beasts of the Southern Wild. Life in the 'Bathtub'... something most of us could never imagine. A story with many contradictions: self-reliance and dependency; strength and vulnerability; childlike optimism and stark reality; the magical presence of the prehistoric aurochs and facing your fears. Stunning performance by newcomer
Quvenzhane Wallis.

9. Les Miserables. Although I enjoyed Les Mis, I'm just not sure it was meant to be a movie. There were some strong performances, and Anne Hathaway should certainly walk away with an Oscar.

Should Wins:
Best Director: Steven Spielberg, Lincoln
Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
Best Actress: Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Best Supporting Actor: Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
Best Supporting Actress: Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay): Argo
Best Writing (Original Screenplay): Django Unchained


What a topsy-turvy Oscar year!  We’ve seen frontrunners come and go and come back, major snubs, and all kinds of debate swirl around this year’s movies.  Holding up last year’s lineup to this year’s clearly shows a greater overall depth of vision.  It’s a pretty great group as well because audiences actually went out and saw many of these movies and they touched a nerve in our overall culture.  It’s great when movies can be critically acclaimed, make money, and actually make a difference.  While I enjoyed watching everything this year (even the often misguided Les Miserables), I actually found the rankings pretty clear.  I played around with my 1 and 2 and 4 and 5, but otherwise feel confident in my lineup.

1. Lincoln. Sometimes you watch a film that feels like an instant classic-and Lincoln is just such a movie.  The combination of screenwriter Tony Kushner, director Steven Spielberg, and actor Daniel Day-Lewis is pure alchemy.  Everything that could go wrong in a historical biopic by Spielberg goes absolutely right.  This is an erudite, gripping, thoughtful, and often humorous movie that never pounds you over the head with its import or sentimentality.  Truly profound and important.

2. Amour. A very close second and another destined-to-be classic.  I cried through (no lie) at least half of this movie, and I’m still haunted by it weeks later.  French actors Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant are beyond amazing in their turn as an older woman who begins a rapid health decline and her husband who must take care of her.  Director Michael Haneke takes a clear-eyed view of this couple and what the love of the title truly means at the end of a person’s life.  A very sad and beautiful film about something we must all go through.

3. Argo. For me Argo was the most straight-up entertaining movie of this year’s nominees, which is why I think it’s on the path for the win.  There certainly wasn’t another movie where I was as glued to my seat.  The prominently “snubbed” director Ben Affleck (I do think he deserved a nomination, but if the snub came at the tradeoff of a nom for Michael Haneke, I’m not complaining)  combines a political thriller and a “hooray for Hollywood” celebration into one hell of an entertaining movie.  It’s really fun to watch how some Hollywood hucksters work with the U.S. and Canadian government to solve a major diplomatic crisis.  Maybe we all can get along? Another reason this will win is because Hollywood loves to celebrate themselves, and here they actually save lives!

4. Silver Linings Playbook. Silver Linings Playbook plays like a classic Hollywood screwball comedy updated for our current times.  Damaged central characters, an expansive supporting cast, and a healthy dose of feel-good emotions make this just the kind of movie we needed to see right now.  Jennifer Lawrence is as good as you’ve heard as the dark and damaged Tiffany, and Bradley Cooper surprised me greatly at his moving and sensitive performance as bipolar man stuck between reliving his past and choosing a path forward.  Not a perfect movie, but charming and vibrant.

5  Django Unchained. While my overall feelings towards Quentin Tarantino run more towards mild appreciation than love, this was my favorite surprise of this year’s nominees.  In this movie, Tarantinto finally uses his trademark violence for a real purpose- to play out an entertaining revenge fantasy based on the visceral anger at the institution and history of slavery. Was there a more powerful image this year than the blood sprayed over the cotton fields? I think not.  Tarantino forces us to confront the horror of slavery, and to cheer when the wronged get their bloody revenge.  I haven’t even mentioned the amazing performances yet.  My personal favorite was Samuel L. Jackson’s scary and funny performance  as a collaborationist slave.  

6. Life of Pi. The meticulous care Ang Lee and his crew put into this movie is simply astonishing.   What takes up the bulk of the movie, an tale involving a young man and a tiger named Richard Parker, is one of the best adventures ever put on film.  Unfortunately, Life of Pi is bookended with clunky scenes that belong in a far lesser movie, but that wasn’t enough to take away the charm and emotion I remember from Life of Pi.  Besides Amour, this is probably the most tears I shed at any nominee.

7. Zero Dark Thirty. If Django was my biggest pleasant surprise of the year, Zero Dark Thirty was a bit of a letdown.  Not that it wasn’t engaging and good, it’s just that my expectations were incredibly high.  I loved Kathryn Bigelow’s Oscar-winner The Hurt Locker, and I was hoping for a similar level of psychological depth.  What we get instead is a clinical and procedural movie following the long path to finding Osama bin Laden.  The last section is undeniably gripping, but I wanted a lot more psychological depth in what came before, especially when an actress as strong as Jessica Chastain is playing the lead.

8. Beasts of the Southern Wild. This is a movie I wanted to love, but I was left rather mixed on it on both of my viewings.  First the good.  Director Benh Zeitlan creates an original world called “The Bathtub” that is portrayed with absolute care, and the Louisiana-style score is moving . Young Quevanzhane Wallis is magnetic as Hushpuppy and Dwight Henry is excellent as her troubled father.  I liked parts of this movie a lot, but I find its racial/economic politics a little troubling, as it flirted with the “noble savage” archetype.  While I don’t think this ultimately belongs in the Best Picture lineup, I’m still glad it’s here because it’s the kind of movie that the industry should promote.

9. Les Miserables. Perhaps the most divisive movie on the list-as I’ve heard both raves from superfans and nasty dismissals from critics.  I fall somewhere in between.  Some of the cast is great, particularly Anne Hathaway and Eddie Redmayne.  I also do enjoy the stage show and score and some of the songs are done really well.  Nevertheless..... what works on stage sometimes seems a bit ridiculous on screen, as actors go through enormous emotional and time changes over the space of a few minutes.  And,  although those close-up shots undeniably worked well for Anne Hathaway’s big number, they got pretty annoying when used for the whole movie.  I haven’t even gotten to Russell Crowe yet.  To put it bluntly, this movie certainly doesn’t belong in any best of the year list, especially when movies as distinctive as The Master and Moonrise Kingdom were left off.  

Should Win:
Best Director: Michael Haneke, Amour
Best Actor: Joaquin Phoneix, The Master
Best Actress: Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
Best Supporting Actor: Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
Best Supporting Actress: Amy Adams, The Master
Best Original Screenplay: Amour
Best Adapted Screenplay: Lincoln


It’s been a great year for movies and for Ben’s Talking Pictures, which made its long-awaited debut in the Twittersphere! (Are you following @BensTalkingPics?) The rankings for me this year were a bit of a challenge; it’s a diverse collection of nominees, and not one in the bunch I didn’t enjoy.

1. Amour. For me, Amour was by far the most affecting movie of the year, perhaps because I generally find life transitions heart-wrenching. Was it slow? Mundane? Agonizing? Yes. Yes. Yes. But Michael Haneke’s quiet meditation on love, life, and end-of-life is so important and rare in our fast-paced, youth-obsessed, death-averse culture. Beautifully written, directed, and acted - I am pulling for Emmanuelle Riva in the Best Actress category.

2. Argo. A riveting story well told and well orchestrated by the notoriously snubbed Ben Affleck. Yes, from what I’ve read, the writers should’ve given more credit to the Canadians; and no, it didn’t need to become an action movie during the final scenes. But I was consistently entertained and on the edge of my seat. As a period piece of sorts, I was hoping for a Best Costume Design nomination – gotta love those 1979 looks!

3. Lincoln. You have to hand it to Steven Spielberg for making a well-received movie about a character so pre-conceived in American consciousness. Of course, much credit is also due to Daniel Day-Lewis for bringing President Lincoln so masterfully to life. I appreciated how the film humanized the history books, and focused intently on a slice of Lincoln’s life and work - with very little fanfare over his often overshadowing death. I was also a big fan of Tommy Lee Jones’ performance here.

4. Silver Linings Playbook. Probably the most fun watch of the Best Picture nominees. I especially loved the character of Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) and his sincere, if sometimes thwarted, efforts to be his best self each day. The world would be a better place if we all tried so hard. A few parts seemed a little derivative, for example, the dance contest scene reminded me a bit of the Little Miss Sunshine pageant scene. That said, it’s probably the movie I’d most enjoy watching again.

5. Life of Pi.  If you thought it sounded relaxing to float on a raft with a kittycat, think again. Another story well told and so visually stunning (the phosphorescent jellyfish!), even despite my inability to appreciate 3D effects. I was drawn to the themes of Pi’s deep faith and sense of respect and responsibility toward nature (e.g., the hungry Richard Parker). Extra points for the sloth cameo and the meerkat island.

6. Beasts of the Southern Wild. A creative and interesting allegory on climate change and the marginalized communities most adversely affected. I loved the artistry of this movie. And what a phenom Hollywood has discovered in Quvenzhané Wallis; it was fun to see her nominated. Even though the film was a little off-putting in its romanticization of poverty, its many impressive elements have me looking forward to more from the young director Benh Zeitlin.

7. Zero Dark Thirty. I wasn’t sure if I was going to see this because of the torture, which was, indeed, torturous to watch. But I had such respect for Kathryn Bigelow after The Hurt Locker that I decided to take the plunge. It was refreshing to see a female protagonist in a military movie, and Jessica Chastain is so consistently good. The final section of the movie (i.e., the bin Laden part) was particularly well done. It didn’t quite live up to the achievements of The Hurt Locker, but I’m glad I saw it.

8. Les Miserables. Even though it’s in my last slot, I did enjoy seeing this classic story on film and, let’s be honest, struggled to resist singing along. Anne Hathaway was as fantastic as everyone says in her short time on screen, and I liked Hugh Jackman’s performance as well. On the downside, I thought it was a little long and didn’t really take a lot of artistic risk (I know, I know, live singing…). I think I would have liked a little more outside-the-box kind of interpretation.

Haven’t seen:
Django Unchained. Thanks to Ben for letting me contribute on the blog even though I didn’t see this one. If you’re like me and get upset by violent movies, it’s probably best to steer clear of Quentin Tarantino. But I heard people liked it.

Should wins:
Best Director: Ben Affleck (okay… Steven Spielberg, Lincoln)
Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
Actress: Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
Supporting Actor: Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
Supporting Actress: Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
Adapted Screenplay: Silver Linings Playbook
Original Screenplay: Moonrise Kingdom


2012 was an excellent year at the movies and I'm glad to be able to participate once again in the annual family blog.  A great barometer for my love for a film is whether I'd spend the time seeing it again.  Two of the movies on this list I've already seen twice and I plan to take a second watch of a few more.
I definitely enjoyed every film that is up for best picture this year.  It's such a diverse group of films that cover such a wide range of topics, and I think that's a good thing.

1.  Zero Dark Thirty. Admittedly, excellent war (war on terrorism included) films are my go to genre, so I may be biased towards my favorite movie of the year.  I felt the directing, acting and pacing of this film were all incredibly well done. Jessica Chastain was fantastic as Mia and with the exception of Kyle Chandler, the rest of the casting seemed spot on to me.  The actual raid on UBL’s compound is my favorite thirty minutes on film this year and it’s a shocker that Bigelow wasn’t nominated for directing. I actually got a chance to see ZDT twice (once by myself and once with my wife) and I liked it even more the second time.  I picked up on some of the nuances with the intelligence gathering details and interactions between the characters.

2.  Django Unchained. I think you could call me a Tarantino fan boy, there isn’t a movie he has done that I haven’t enjoyed and Django was no exception. I can’t imagine any actor working today who wouldn’t want to be in a Quentin film.  His mastery of striking violent visuals, stereotypical characters whom always surprise you with something out of the ordinary and of course the amazing dialog.  Foxx, Washington, DiCaprio, Jackson and Waltz (who is nominated) all could have been nominated in their respective categories and that tells you something about the quality of the script and the direction.

3.  Argo. What a fun, humorous, perfectly paced, suspenseful and well-acted film Argo is.  It’s one of those rare movies where it is tough to find a single person who didn’t enjoy and love it.  The cast is perfect as Arkin, Cranston, Goodman and Affleck all do a great job with their respective parts.  I also enjoyed the acting of the cast playing the hostages, even though most of them were complete unknowns to me. The historical attention to detail regarding the clothing, the vehicles and even the extreme clever use of post processing to make the film look like it was filmed in 1979 just added to film’s grandeur. I do find it interesting that there has been so much negative press around ZDT and Lincoln because of a lack of historically accuracy, yet people don’t seem to care that Argo took very creative liberties with the story from Tony Mendez’s book (a la the plane on the runway with police chasing it scene).

4.  Lincoln. Spielberg plus Day-Lewis…enough said.  I loved Lincoln and got a chance to see it twice.  I’m not sure there is anything more than I can say about Day-Lewis’s performance that people don’t already know. The script was extremely well paced, especially given the material by itself could have been very dry at times.  I loved the scenes in the House of Reps and think we should bring back direct insults and hyperbole to our government (imagine the ratings boost for CSPAN, I would definitely tune in to watch Pelosi tell Bachmann off!) The whole cast was excellently cast and I particularly enjoyed (as a lot did) Tommy Lee Jones.

5.  Silver Linings Playbook. My second favorite genre after war films is films about real people in everyday situations so obviously SLP is right up my alley.  When I first saw the preview for SLP, I immediately thought that this was going to be a standard rom-com (my absolute least favorite type of movie).  Once the reviews started rolling in, I knew this was a film I would really enjoy. An acting nomination in each category not only says a lot about the skills of the actors, but a lot about the ability of the director to get the most out of his talent.  Cooper, Lawrence, De Niro (hasn’t been nominated since 91 and hasn’t won since 80, wow!) and Weaver all nailed their characters.

6.  Beasts of the Southern Wild. Beasts is the critical darling of the year and very deservedly so.  I love it when a small film with first time actors (Winter’s Bone) makes such an impact on the film community. Here is another example of how great directing can elevate both the actors and the film itself from something that could have been ordinary into something fantastic.  Wallis was great as Hushpuppy and I also really enjoyed Dwight Henry as her father Wink. A big part of this film is the setting and Benh Zeitlin really does a nice job making you feel what it’s like to be in the middle of a flood.

7.  Amour. Taking a topic like the one addressed in Amour has been done many times, but never quite so powerfully as done in this film.  A powerful film takes very strong actors and both Riva and Trintignant are amazing in their respective roles as the wife with health problems and the husband who has to play the caretaker.  I’m very surprised Trintignant wasn’t nominated for his role as I felt he was every bit as good as Riva. Haneke did a great job at the directing helm, as 95% of the movie takes place in the couple’s Parisian apartment.  There isn’t a shot or scene that is wasted and at points I almost felt like I was watching a documentary.

8.  Life of Pi. I never read the book so I went into this movie not knowing exactly what to expect.  I felt like the beginning and most of the end were a bit of throwaway material, but the middle of the film is just spectacular.  Richard Parker (a CGI tiger) is one of my favorite characters from the movies this year, the special effects work was incredible. Ang Lee is one of the best directors out there and he didn’t disappoint with Life of Pi.  The shipwreck scene was extremely intense and realistic, Lee was definitely teaching a master class in that moment. Overall, I really enjoyed this film but because of a lack of actors (not the film’s fault, just part of the story) I couldn’t rate it as highly as others on this list.

9.  Les Miserables. I’ve seen Les Mis on Broadway a few years ago and remembered really liking parts of it but not appreciating other sections.  Interestingly enough, that’s exactly how I felt about the film version. In terms of acting, Jackman, Hathaway, Redmayne and some of the lesser-known revolutionaries were excellent.  Obviously Hathaway’s performance is Oscar worthy and I don’t see there being any surprises in her category Sunday evening. Much has been said about Crowe’s singing chops and I agree that he isn’t the best singer.  It’s a shame they couldn’t have found an actor with Crowe’s on screen presence who also could have picked up the singing parts effectively. The main scene with Cohen and Carter felt like it belonged straight out of Sweeney Todd and regardless of whether it fit well in the film, I’m a little tired of seeing both of them in the same types of roles. The low point of this film was the directing.  I did not like the constant handicam shots as well as the gratuitous close-ups of the actors as they sing (and have snot coming out of their nostrils;) Overall, Les Miserables was a decent movie, but I don’t believe it should have been up for an Oscar.

Who Should Win:
Best Director:  Michael Haneke, Amour
Best Actor:  Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
Best Actress:  Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Best Supporting Actor:  Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained
Best Supporting Actress:  Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
Best Original Screenplay:  Django Unchained
Best Adapted Screenplay:  Silver Linings Playbook


What a year for movies!  In my opinion, the nominees this year were a much stronger bunch than 2011’s crop.  Compared to last year’s nostalgia theme, the themes were overall darker (mental illness, political revolution, torture, slavery, end of life decisions,)  Unlike about 75% of last year’s nominees, I don’t think at any point while watching these I thought “Hmm, how charming, wish I could have been around for that event/time period.” However, although the themes were overall dark, the emotional impact was totally different, from the quiet, deep sadness of Amour to the thrill ride of Django.

1. Amour. I saw this movie right before writing this list, and I wish I had more time to process and reflect on it, as I’m sure it will haunt me for quite some time. It was extremely moving and even compared to Django’s bloodbath and Zero Dark Thirty’s torture scenes, was the hardest to watch, perhaps because unlike slavery or war, growing old and/or watching the decline of a partner is something almost inevitable.   At times I even felt like I was seeing something I wasn’t supposed to by witnessing this completely believable and unflinching portrayal of a lifelong love coming to an end.

2. Argo. When I think about what movie was probably the most tightly and skillfully made, I had to go with Argo.   I think Ben Affleck was absolutely snubbed for best director nomination- the directing was nearly impeccable.   Perfectly paced, a great mix of humor and tension, good acting, and attention to detail.  I can’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t appreciate this movie.

3.Lincoln. The trailers for Lincoln made me worried it would be a dry historical drama, but it was anything but. Daniel Day Lewis (also my pick for best actor of the year) nailed it with his depiction of a president of arguably the most challenging period in American history.  I liked the focus on one aspect and period of his presidency instead of doing a sweeping biopic with a drawn out theater scene.  The supporting cast was also fantastic, especially Tommy Lee Jones.  My only real complaint was that Sally Field was a little over the top as Mary Todd.

4. Silver Linings Playbook. So being a mental health social worker, plus a fan of quirky dramas about families and how they function, I was looking forward to seeing this movie probably more than any others.  And it did not disappoint!  Just like “The Fighter,” the characters were authentic, imperfect, and hilarious.  I loved the message too that our ideas about who is “crazy” (i.e. people getting mental health treatment) and who is “normal” is pretty blurry.

5. Django Unchained. If I was ranking the movies based on how much fun I had watching it, Argo and Django would be in a tight race for number one.   Bloody, perfect use of soundtrack, funny, over-the top, controversial, pushing the envelope- everything you can expect from Tarantino and more.  As I’ve lived in the south now for over a year, and saw the movie with a primarily African American audience, that really added to the experience for me, as Tarantino played with the idealization of the antebellum south and plantation life.   I read an interview Tarantino where he said “If I’ve done my job right, modulating this movie and doing it the right way, then the audience will burst into applause. They’ll clap with Broomhilda. They’ll laugh when Django and his horse do the little dance. That means I’ve done it the right way.”  And he  did- even though the end got extremely gruesome, I still found myself rooting for Django at the end.  And I LOVED Christoph Waltz in this movie.

6. Beasts of the Southern Wild. The most unusual and creative movie of the bunch.  The acting was incredible, especially  6 year old Quvenzhan√© Wallis and Dwight Henry as her father.  It took some risks, and at times I felt uncomfortable with the portrayal of the poor people as savages.  However, it was a beautiful narrative and is a movie I’d like to watch again to take in all the acting and set design.

7. Zero Dark Thirty. This movie was very compelling, but I felt empty at the end.  I felt like I had just watched a really interesting political thriller, but that’s it.  I wasn’t sure what/if any message Kathryn Bigelow wanted to get across- or maybe that was the point- the audience was supposed to feel like Maya at the end- a little emotionally numb and possibly let down after all the anticipation of catching bin Laden. I understood the depictions of torture and I think they were necessary in telling the story of what all went into post 911, but I struggled with the film’s arguably untrue depiction of their success in leading to Osama bin Laden’s death.

8. Les Miserables. The Good: The women!  I loved Anne Hathaway’s performance, as well as Samantha Bark as Eponine.  I also thought Hugh Jackman did an incredible job, and I enjoyed some of the musical numbers a lot (especially On my Own, I Dreamed a Dream, and Do you Hear the People Sing?).  I got the good chills that any good, famous, epic musical should give.
The Bad: Russell Crowe.  His performance was really stiff, and his singing, while not as bad as I initially expected, was distracting for me.  I also thought the close ups were overdone- it worked really well in some parts, like during the show stealing “I dreamed a dream” but was overused- I wanted more big epic sweeping shots.

9. Life of Pi. I enjoyed some things about this movie.  It was very beautiful, and his relationship with his tiger was memorable.   I really enjoyed the twist ending and what it says about the power of storytelling and memory. But it went on a little long for me, and I cringed at how awkward the narration pieces were at the beginning and end.

Who Should Win
Best Director: Michael Haneke, Amour
Best Actress: Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
Best Actor: Daniel Day Lewis, Lincoln
Best Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz- Django Unchained
Best Supporting Actress: Anne Hathaway- Les Miserables
Best Adapted screenplay: Lincoln
Best Original Screenplay: Django Unchained


When I look at all the films together, I tend to look for certain themes that are prevalent. It could just be random chance that they fit together, or just trying too hard to look for cohesion, or it could be at least partially that these themes permeate our culture and shift our attention just enough so that people value (and make) the films that reflect this (maybe Moonrise Kingdom would have been nominated in last year’s nostalgia-fest). If some underlying currents really do play a role in the reception of these films, then of course it would not be surprising that in a big election year, many of the films would be overtly political and relevant, even though none take place in contemporary settings (even many of the practices in ZD30, we have been assured, are
now a thing of the past). They are particularly relevant because many of the topics are
themselves still controversial (the use of torture, repercussions of installing/propping-up
U.S.-friendly dictators, the handling of Katrina, Occupy 19th Century Champs-Elysees, etc.), but they all are timeless in that they are examinations of the role of the individual to affect massive political institutions.

1. Lincoln. When I first saw the trailer for Lincoln, I was expecting a rather stiff and uninteresting movie that would be required viewing in all middle and high school U.S. history classes for the next two decades. I’m glad I was wrong. Lincoln has a great screenplay full of both poetry and procedural scheming, has great pacing (the family parts dragged but were tolerable), has a wonderful cast, and was directed in a very classical Spielberg-Ian sense (which I have some reservations about but still fitting). What I loved the most, however, was the immediacy and the modernity of the politics. “History” is simple, has unambiguous good and evil sides, teleologically evolves towards
justice, and this evolution takes place as the result of a few noble heroes. Of course Lincoln works within these conventions of “History”, but it is also refreshingly realistic. Major advances in civil rights sometimes require backroom deals and bribery, are always hotly contested, and are not always pursued with the purest of intentions. The bitter messiness we see today will one day become bland textbook filler. After viewing this film, I realized that the main theme, the progressive-pragmatist dilemma (exemplified most directly in Thaddeus Stevens, but of course also Lincoln himself) would not look much different than the themes of a movie about Obama. Lincoln is my favorite this year because it is an entertaining and thought-provoking film that takes great steps to unravel our disconnect between “History” and now.

2. Django Unchained. Django is an inversion of Lincoln in many ways. There are the obvious differences, like the use of violence, the creative licenses taken with history, and the complete lack of Rick Ross to underscore the vote-counting action, but it is the approach of the two heroes, while both fighting the institution of slavery, that is as divergent as possible. Django’s power comes from his superhero level gunslinging abilities, but he completely lacks all institutional power. When artificially given some institutional power (being a free-man in charge of other slaves), he is actually left even more powerless. I could write way more than anyone would ever want to read about Django himself, but I won’t. Of course Jackson’s “Uncle Tom” character also begs for a lot of analysis, or for that matter, the role of every character in relation to slavery, from those that have a complex mixture of racist spite and business sense (Mr. Candy claims he would have, after all, been willing to sell his troublemaking slave Hilde outright), to those who don’t enforce the brutality firsthand but benefit from the stolen wealth slavery creates, to those that go out of their way to support the institution even though it could be (as it was for many White farmers) financially bad for them. Of course one could just watch for the Tarantino-ness: the entertaining dialogue (like the hilarious KKK-bashing homage to Blazing Saddles), the tense interrogations (which were not as good as the Waltz scenes in Inglourious but still good), the crazy soundtrack choices, and the over-the-top violent action expected in a Tarantino film. Even though this movie retells one of the oldest and most tired narratives (might makes right and right makes might), a mainstream movie that creates a space for an audience to cheer on a Black man murdering lots of people as comeuppance for supporting a huge American institution is still quite radical (even if only a White filmmaker is allowed to do it). This movie was not only full of Tarantino’s great style, it allowed for, or possibly demanded, a lot of thought.

3. Amour. This movie was filled with pain, desperation, anxiety, fear, guilt, and yet it was also filled with warmth. I saw on the poster that the director also did Cache, and while Amour often looked similar, the old couple did not have the alienation, suspicion, and secrecy between them as the husband and wife in Cache. Instead, they are the result of a long loving relationship, where they seem to know each other almost too well, making Anne’s transition from the woman he knew so well into a helpless desperate shell all the more tragic. In some ways the film was darker than I expected it to be, but it was also much more positive and warm. There are many stories about falling in love, many stories that just end with “happily ever after”, some stories about falling out of love, but stories about how love changes or remains the same over time is an underserved area, and Amour is a wonderful film about what love means when we and the person we love are at our most vulnerable.

4. Silver Linings Playbook. As with Amour, this film does not really fit the theme I’m focusing on in the others, but it really is a great accomplishment. I didn’t know until after watching it that Silver Linings was directed by the same guy that did The Fighter, but it makes perfect sense. Here Russell stays in the clearly delineated
boundaries of a standard rom-com, but never rests on any cliches, instead creating a world for believable characters to live out the experiences of a rom-com in a way that feels completely refreshing, exciting, and almost plausible. The acting is superb all around, the dialogue is funny but never silly (and the dance contest/Eagles game double-bet is the perfect amount of silly), and the characters all have this great balance where they feel exhausting yet you don’t want your time with them to end.

5. Argo. In the first 5 minutes of the film, Argo reminds us of America’s role in toppling a democratically-elected leader and the propping up of a U.S. oil-interest-friendly puppet leading to the Iranian revolution. While simply relaying these historical facts is considered by some to be radical liberal propaganda (have they asked Chuck Hagel what he thinks of this film yet?), the film is not heavily political. It actually fits more with many of the films from last year, which attempted to show the power of The Movies. Argo was a very well-made Hollywood period thriller. It was funny, tense, well written, had a great cast, and is definitely the best heist film (ironic since Affleck’s last movie, about bank robbers, was certainly not a heist film) I’ve seen in a long time. I felt this movie only goes deeper than a standard thriller because Affleck wants us to view both the U.S. foreign affairs apparatus and the bright-eyed Islamic radicals in relation to the fantastical escape and hopefulness offered by Star Wars and its ilk.

6. Zero Dark Thirty. After starting out with real 9/11 tapes I was actually surprised that the rest of the film was pretty emotionally reserved and didn’t really rely on any other cheap ploys. After the much talked about “torture is bad but not really that bad and hey at least everyone we tortured was actually a bad guy and we got some real info” scenes, the rest of the film played out like a well done procedural or X-Files story (where Chastain is Mulder of course), eschewing the Hollywood-ness of Argo and Lincoln and giving it a great gritty approach, even if the content is not as documentary as originally claimed. Bigelow has made a lot of (sometimes contradictory) comments on this film, but one consistent point is that the film cannot be propaganda because it is not didactic. It is up to the viewers to draw conclusions. While I disagree that this is true of the way torture is portrayed, I certainly agree in a general sense. The film itself felt very emotionally hollow to me, which works well since the film made me feel that all the work and deaths that happened in the search for Bin Laden lead to a very hollow victory. Hollowness and ambivalence are hard emotions to get excited about, so it makes it hard to judge this film, but I think it does a great job at forcing the audience to decide whether her crusade made a difference in bettering the world or not, and ending the movie with a backseat Graduate scene on the empty cargo plane was a great (if obvious) choice.

7. Beasts of the Southern Wild. Beasts of the Southern Wild was of course also very politically charged. The struggle of these extremely disenfranchised characters in modern America is of course relevant (and I kept thinking of Trouble The Water as I watched this). In a way this movie is a lot like Django, in that it is about those on the bottom rung of society, who have epic struggles that at best would result in an improvement for themselves and their loved ones, with no widespread change at all. This film is full of beautiful and gruesome imagery, and it does a great job at sweeping you up into the film, even though the catharsis it provides feels shallow. I definitely teared up multiple times in this movie, because for some reason terrible tragedies that only “grown ups” can really understand being narrated with innocence and naivety by children is my kryptonite. Beasts for me was a beautifully packaged experience, but it didn’t resonate with me after I left the theatre, and in fact filled me with many reservations upon reflection. To me the strangest feeling was that it was in constant flux between a Christian Children’s Fund commercial and a “look how exotic but wonderful the lives of these noble savages are” anti-interventionist film.

8. Les Miserables. I had seen a high school abridged version of the musical, but I never saw the original/travelling production, and certainly never had all the words of the soundtrack memorized. Movies of plays tend to have an odd feel, but I thought the direction, though far from perfect, kept the feel at a consistent point between a staged production and a “real world” production. The choice to do live recordings was a great one, as I think without it the close-up solo songs could not work. Normally slow solos are the lowlights in musicals for me, but I appreciated the way the camera just sat there close to the face and allowed the song to unfold, which made them stand out more
against the heavily choreographed stuff (like Borat in the inn). This movie’s nomination is not surprising, but it just doesn’t rise to the level of some of the more adventurous pieces this year. This film was made for fans of the musical, and seems to stand up against those lofty expectations as best it could, but I feel that with a slightly different treatment, it could stay true to the musical while allowing the highly relevant themes about class and power to resonate better.

9. Life of Pi. I didn’t really like this movie very much. It had very good visuals, although unfortunately I only saw it in 2D. Most of the nominees were long and felt short, but this movie felt much longer than it was. I hate scary movies where the people make really stupid decisions that I would not make (or that their characters wouldn’t make), and now I realize that this also applies to shipwreck movies. I did really like the scene in the hospital where he told the “alternative” story, and I can see why this would work so well as a book (I never read it). The film however, especially the awkward writer/interviewer, just did not.

Who Should Win
Actor: Daniel Day Lewis, Lincoln
Actress: Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
S. Actor: Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook
S. Actress: Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
Original Screenplay: Django Unchained
Adapted Screenplay: Lincoln
Director: Michael Haneke, Amour

And there you have it, folks.  Keep up on your Oscar contenders and join me next year!