- Why It Should Win (What's good about it)
- Why It Shouldn't Win (What's not-so-good about it)
- The Bottom Line (What are its chances?)
Beasts of the Southern WildWhy It Should Win: Director Benh Zeitlin and co-writer Lucy Alibar (drawing from her play) weave together modern myth and metaphor in a visually-poetic reverie about the citizens of a mystical bayou. Nine-year old Quvenzhané Wallis debuts as Hushpuppy, giving a spirited performance and serving as the heart and soul for this celebration of the human spirit. Why It Shouldn't Win: Beasts of the Southern Wild, for me, feels like a short film stretched to fill a three-act structure. That weakens the philosophical musings (as presented in Hushpuppy's voice), making the whole thing repetitive and slightly pretentious at times. There's also this issue: does the film inadvertently promote racist stereotypes, with its romanticized portrayal of Southern wild folk? The Bottom Line: Love or hate it, Beasts isn't poised to beat out the competition for Best Picture or any of the categories it's nominated in. Whether or not that's for the wrong reason (ie. Academy members think it's too weird), is up for debate.
AmourWhy It Should Win: Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva are heart-wrenching as a husband and his wife, who is deteriorating from a stroke. Writer-director Michael Haneke's somber drama leads audiences to comprehend the horrors of that scenario in full, with an unflinching viewing experience that puts your willpower and morals to the test. Why It Shouldn't Win: Haneke's approach is so clinical and distant, it weakens viewers' emotional connection with the events depicted onscreen, making it difficult to feel much of anything. The filmmaker is too often guilty of "navel gazing" while searching for the beauty in the horrific - meaning, Haneke sometimes comes off as more nihilistic in approach than intended (or desired). The Bottom Line: It'll be a surprise if Amour doesn't snag the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. Beyond that, though, this isn't a heavyweight contender in other categories.
Life of PiWhy It Should Win: Yann Martel's acclaimed novel comes to life under Ang Lee's direction, resembling a beautifully-illustrated children's fable transformed into a well-crafted 3D motion picture. Irrfan Khan brings humanity to older Pi, while newcomer Suraj Sharma holds his own against the film's true star: the literal (and metaphorical) tiger on a boat, Richard Parker. Why It Shouldn't Win: The screenplay from David Magee struggles to realize Martel's original writing about spirituality, resulting in a film adaptation that frames the best parts of the story (flashbacks to Pi's experiences) with segments full of ponderous conversations and philosophical revelations that are less profound than intended. The Bottom Line: Life of Pi could follow the example of Martin Scorsese's Hugo, by picking up a handful of technical awards (but without landing any of the top prizes).
Django UnchainedWhy It Should Win: Quentin Taratino's film reexamines the spaghetti western and origins of Blaxploitation, through a tale about slavery and revenge in the Antebellum South. It transitions smoothly from dark comedy to brutal intensity, drawing from a script that includes memorable dialogue and characters (buoyed by great performances all around). Why It Shouldn't Win: Tarantino occasionally gets wrapped up in his own idiosyncrasies, which includes tangents and humorous asides that distract from storytelling (and weaken the thematic undertones). Django Unchained is less like his genre blends of the past; it's more a straightforward movie where the quirky touches stand out (but not always in a good way). The Bottom Line: Tarantino and Christoph Waltz are strong contenders to win for Original Script and Supporting Actor. Beyond that, though, Django might be going home empty-handed after the ceremony.
Silver Linings PlaybookWhy It Should Win: David O. Russell turns Matthew Quick's novel into a semi-farcical love story where the participants are literally crazy. The result is a great film that celebrates blue collar culture (like sports mania) and reclaims art as something meant to inspire, with assistance from the terrific performances by Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence (and just about everyone else too). Why It Shouldn't Win: The final stretch of Silver Linings Playbook is a bit too predictable, given the raw slice of (dysfunctional) life and dramedy that proceeds it. Russell just doesn't manage to pull off the climax with quite as much energy and confidence as necessary to make the whole thing work perfectly. (There's a "parle bet" joke in there somewhere.) The Bottom Line: Truth be told, Lawrence is the one person involved with this film who stands the best chance of taking home a major award. As far as it winning Best Picture... well, just have a look at THIS POSTER. It explains the situation pretty well.
Les MisérablesWhy It Should Win: Director Tom Hooper blends musical fantasy and cinematic realism together, crafting a motion picture event that does justice by the socially-conscious themes of Victor Hugo's novel-turned-Broadway show. Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway flex their acting muscles something fierce, while their live-recorded singing becomes a language of its own. Why It Shouldn't Win: Hooper's choice of shots and Danny Cohen's cinematography for Les Misérables have provoked much debate, as the effectiveness tends to vary from scene to scene. Character-wise, there are weak links in the chain - most noticeably Russell Crowe, who can both act and sing, but doesn't prove to be an inspired match for Jackman's protagonist. The Bottom Line: Hathaway could walk away with the gold, while some of the technical artists (costume design, makeup) may end up recognized. However, Hooper being snubbed as director is a sign that his movie won't land the top prize.
Zero Dark ThirtyWhy It Should Win: Jessica Chastain anchors the story of America's manhunt for Osama bin Laden with a mannered and nuanced performance, buoyed by confident direction from Kathryn Bigelow. The film examines bureaucracy and morals post-9/11, before transitioning into an impeccably-constructed final set piece (involving the raid of you-know-who's compound). Why It Shouldn't Win: Chastain, as Maya, isn't so much a character as the embodiment of America's obsession with bin Laden after 9/11 (in ways good and bad). Mark Boal's script presents a cut-and-dry picture of events, but sometimes fails to walk that line between being non-partisan and apolitical. That means it's unable to coherently address all the issues it raises about torture, extradition, etc. The Bottom Line: Bigelow and Boal won big for The Hurt Locker, but there's a good chance Zero Dark Thirty will only be recognized for something like editing and/or sound mixing.
LincolnWhy It Should Win: Steven Spielberg's ultimate piece of "Oscar bait" is an eloquent work of political theater, where Daniel Day-Lewis vanishes into the role of the 16th U.S. president (while surrounded by great performances on all sides). It's a beautifully-shot dramatization of Civil War-era political views, giving it relevance and resonance with our modern times. Why It Shouldn't Win: Despite its title, this memoir doesn't closely examine the truth about Honest Abe and, instead, idolizes his good qualities and flaws alike. The political banter and maneuvering occasionally parallels the present-day a bit too well for its own good. Meanwhile, there are story threads that wind on for too long with no real end, while the actual conclusion is overly drawn-out. The Bottom Line: Spielberg has three Oscars already, but will the Academy recognize him for Lincoln anyway? Lewis, by comparison, is on-course to pick up a third golden statuette of his own for Best Actor.
Why It Should Win: The Iranian Crisis tale from director Ben Affleck (who also stars) is an entertaining drama-thriller that maintains a high level of intensity throughout. Additional story material examines Hollywood culture and how showbiz folk manipulate the media, inviting thoughtful comparisons to how the CIA and U.S. government use their own power and influence. Why It Shouldn't Win: Chris Terrio's script miscalculates by taking the approach of "Hollywood to the rescue," glorifying that aspect of the story - but also failing to bring much depth or conviction to the political content (or even the important non-American characters). Similarly, Affleck is at the center of the action, but doesn't exactly give himself a captivating role to play with. The Bottom Line: Surprisingly, although Affleck was passed over for a Best Director nod, Argo has a strong chance of walking home with the big prize. Which Best Picture Nominee Will Win: Lincoln may be the ultimate "Oscar bait," but Argo has pushed ahead thanks to its popularity with the Academy - which always appreciates a good movie that's about Hollywood in some regard (see: last year's winner The Artist, for case in point). Which Best Picture Nominee SHOULD Win: Personally, I would like to see Silver Linings Playbook take the big prize. Yes, in part because it's my personal favorite out of the nine picks (and I would argue it's the best film of the lot overall), but also because it defies the stereotype of what Hollywood usually considers a "proper" choice. - Which of the Best Picture nominees do YOU think will win? Which one do you feel SHOULD win? Let us know in the comments section.