I actually have not seen that many movies this past year. There was a time in early December that I thought instead of a Top 10 movies post I'd just write "The 10 Movies I Actually Saw" post. But then when they Oscar nominations were announced, it turned out the only movies I saw were most of the movies nominated! I really only had to make a point to go see Amour and then the set was complete! So now that I've actually seen all 9 best picture nominees this is how I'd rank them if I was voting from least favorite to favorite. Before I start let me say that I actually thought all of the nominated films were quite good. There wasn't one that I hated or thought was undeserving of at least being in the conversation, even if their overall odds of winning are not super strong. So even the lowest ranked movie here is not stinky, is what I'm trying to say. Okay, on with it!
9. ZERO DARK THIRTY - I gotta say, the torture scenes in the beginning really turned me off. It took me a long time to find my way into the movie. So if you don't like torture, this is not the movie for you. Jessica Chastain gives a very strong performance and I thought it was well-directed, although I do think it's weird that in a movie that's basically Chastain's character's story, it's odd that she is entirely absent for the climactic raid on Osama Bin Laden's compound. That sequence goes on for a long time and she's just waiting at the base off screen the whole time. Of all the Best Picture nominees, this would be the one I'd be least likely to recommend. But it's not bad!
8. SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK - I have the opposite reaction to SLP than I do to ZDT. This is probably the movie I find most universally appealing, and would most likely recommend to people to see. It's not really a revelation of film-making for me though. I was surprised it got a directing nod, because it seems pretty straightforward of a directing assignment to me. I think Bigelow, Hooper and Affleck had tougher tasks with ZDT, Les Mis and Argo respectively and were just as successful, but didn't get directing nominations. The ensemble here is very very strong (even if Jennifer Lawrence is noticeably too young opposite Bradley Cooper, but whatever.) I can't imagine many people not having a positive experience with this movie.
7. LINCOLN - A very well-crafted film that I ultimately didn't care too much about. There's really nothing wrong with it, except for a couple moments of "this simple conversation we are having is actually a very important moment in a very important movie" line readings. Daniel Day Lewis is great as Lincoln. Everyone in the cast is some kind of heavy hitter. It may very well win Best Picture this year, but the films I ranked higher affected me more deeply.
6. LES MISERABLES - Everyone seems to have very strong opinions about this one. Whether you love it or hate it, you have to admit it's BIG and IN YOUR FACE and is aiming to just shake the emotional response out of you no matter what. You've gotta give it props for that. After 25 years since the stage show premiered, I think they made the best movie version possible here. Is it perfect? No. But overall it captures the emotional essence of the stage musical which many other movie musical adaptions in the past few years have failed to do. Plus Anne Hathaway just KILLS it as Fantine. She cannot be denied!
5. AMOUR - Amour might be a spot or two little high on my list, because it's the one I saw most recently. I watched it with a bit of emotional detachment, which was odd given the subject matter. But I really liked how it was shot. I felt like this was a movie that really got the details of the characters' situation right. Very well acted. Well written. I felt it was very very solid without being manipulative. Emmanuelle Riva as an elderly woman slowly being overcome by illness has gotten all the award season praise, but I feel a large portion of the movie's success really rests on Jean-Louis Trintignant shoulders as the husband providing her care. Right now, this movie lands solidly in the middle of the pack for me.
4. DJANGO UNCHAINED - Oooh, I really dug Django. I thought it was Tarantino at the top of his game, so if you like his game, you'll love Django. Foxx, Waltz and DiCaprio are all excellent in their roles. Sam Jackson is positively on FIRE. The only thing that bumped it down a few pegs for me was that I thought the female characters were a little underwritten. Not a criticism I usually give to QT, who has created some amazing female film characters for the ages. But here, Brunhilde didn't really have a lot going on for me besides being a damsel in distress. The only other female character of any considerable screen time is Candie's possibly incestuous sister, who also was just kind of along for the ride. I wanted more from the women! I wanted to care more about Hilde as a character so I was more invested in her rescue. But beyond that there's really a lot to enjoy here.
3. LIFE OF PI - Ang Lee really deserves the Oscar for directing. I just thought this was an incredible film, with some jaw-dropping imagery. I have not read the book, so I can't speak to it in terms of adaptation, but this movie made me feel something, and I'm still thinking about images from it all the weeks later. The use of 3-D here actually made sense and added to the feeling of depth within the movie and didn't feel gimmicky. Suraj Sharma has to carry almost the entire film on his own in a Tom Hanksian Castaway type situation, and I really think this kid delivers. I was captivated the entire time. Really an exceptional movie.
TIE 1. ARGO. I loved Argo. I thought it was riveting. I don't know how you create so much tension in a movie where you KNOW the outcome going in, but they pulled it off. It reminded me of the feeling I get watching replays of the great tennis matches that they show sometimes on rain delay at The US Open or Wimby. You KNOW what the outcome is, but watching it happen it seems impossible that the winner is going to pull it off. The match still feels alive in the moment. Parts of Argo felt very alive in the moment in that way. You know they are rescued, but it feels like they won't be. Like they couldn't POSSIBLY be. Great acting, great pacing, great writing, great direction. It's pretty much a perfect movie, I think. Well done, Ben Affleck. Even if the Academy snubbed you for director, your movie is a top prize contender!
TIE. 1. BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD - I can't really choose between Argo and Beasts because they are so different, but I give the edge to Beasts because it was just so surprising to me. I had no idea what was going to happen. I felt the story of this little girl and her dad could go anywhere. At times the characters were heading in one direction and saw where they were and went "no, i don't like this." and just turned around and did something else. It was so refreshing to feel they were so free to act even as the boundaries of their circumstances kept closing in. There's nothing generic or predictable about Beasts. This movie has so much heart. And it's great storytelling. So for me it makes it to the top of the list.
We'll see what happens on Oscar Night, but I think it could be a tight race. Argo has support, Lincoln as a lot of nominations and support. Industry people really like Silver Linings Playbook. Beasts could be a dark horse. Can't wait to see who claims the gold!