How To Fake Being An Expert On The 9 Movies That Matter At This Year’s Oscars

Oscar 1 How To Fake Being An Expert On The 9 Movies That Matter At This Years Oscars

It’s that time of year again, when movies that got released months ago undertake a marketing blitz, media prognosticators come out of the woodwork, and the mound of sloughing flesh once known as Billy Crystal checks its shadow, to see whether or not it needs to rent a tux. Yes, it’s the final countdown to the 85th annual Academy Awards, AKA the Oscars. It’s Hollywood’s biggest night. Our eyes will be locked on the stars, and theirs will be gazing at the industry’s collective navel. The winners walk home with golden doorstops; the losers take comfort in knowing that the same demographic doing the voting is also responsible for letting a spin-off, of a spin-off, of a spin-off of JAG become an actual thing.

Yes, for as long as movies have been trying to convince us that true love conquers all, guns make a cocking noise whenever they’re raised, and Meryl Streep can’t lie about passing gas without deserving an award, the hardest sell Hollywood’s ever had to make is that an inbred awards show is the ultimate determinant of cinematic quality. Like any art form, film is subjective, and movies resonate differently from person to person. It’s a disservice to the great, varied movie year that was 2012 to say that just one film, performer, or director was unequivocally better than all others.

Yet, we can’t help but try to codify our culture with winners and losers, applying metrics to just about any experiential thing that comes to mind (see: every top 10 list ever). So, perhaps the idea of awards is what really matters in the first place, as they generate conversation about the selections, even if (or rather, especially if) they all turn out to be wrong. A middling drama about race in America can be easily forgotten, but a middling drama about race in America that also happens to win the Best Picture Oscar can provide enough internet hate-fuel to solve the energy crises five times over. At the end of the day, the ridiculousness of the whole affair is maybe a better justification for the Oscars than anything else, a loathing/loving celebration of entertainment as art, and business.

Even if they haven’t seen any of the films in contention, or don’t care about the awards to begin with, millions of people will watch the Oscars regardless. As a venue to ogle the famous, rip on Hollywood pageantry, or anticipate some new cultural Schadenfreude moment, there aren’t many better than the Academy Awards. But what if you don’t care about any of those things, yet end up watching the ceremony anyway? Maybe the cute new hire at accounting is throwing an Oscar party, and you want to impress them with your knowledge of every Best Picture nominee. Maybe you’re in deep with cinephile card sharks, and the only way you keep your legs is by outguessing their winners ballot. Or maybe you just want to be the pretentious film buff of the family for once, astounding all with your knowledge of mostly useless trivia (“actually, it’s pronounced Michael Haaan-eke”).

Well, you’re in luck, as we think an awards show celebrating Hollywood bullshit is more than deserving of a cheat sheet on how to fake your way through an entire evening of it. I’ll be your spirit guide through each of the nine films nominated for best picture, giving you enough information to convincingly get through a conversation about their odds in major categories, and how to handle a crowd that either loves, or hates the film. And don’t forget to check my picks for the winners at the end, because you never know when having a pick for Best Sound Mixing might come in handy.

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Amour2 How To Fake Being An Expert On The 9 Movies That Matter At This Years Oscars 

-By the Numbers:

  • 5: Nominations
  • 93, 94: Rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and Metacritic
  • 4, 13: Millions of dollars earned at the domestic, and foreign box office
  • 167: The combined age of the two leads

-Major Contender for: Best Actress (Emmanuelle Riva), Best Foreign Language Film, Best Director (Michael Haneke).

-Success on the Awards Circuit: Palme d’Or winner at the Cannes Film Festival, winner of 16 Best Foreign Language Film awards (including the Golden Globe), British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) winner for Best Actress

-Synopsis: After one of them suffers a debilitating stroke, an elderly married couple living in Paris sees their relationship tested like never before. French national treasures Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva star as the couple, in an intimate, heartbreaking film. Trintignant plays Georges, a former piano teacher who must tirelessly dote on his newly immobile wife, Anne (Riva), a fellow musician. Michael Haneke (responsible for disturbing critical favorites like Caché, and The White Ribbon) writes, and directs what is his least openly transgressive film yet. But Amour is far more unsettling than its title lets on, and unlike most Hollywood fare about the elderly, the ending is anything but a happy one.

-Oscar-appropriate Themes: Love, death, and the romanticizing of both via the French language.

-Juiciest Piece of Oscar Bait: White old people confronting death is plenty relatable for the Oscar voting committee.

-Buzz Going into the Oscars: 4/10. One of the little darlings of the evening, it’s got the critical support, but not the flash to be a big winner. Of its nominations, winning Best Foreign Language Film is a safe bet, seeing as it’s also nominated for Best Picture. Emmanuelle Riva skews far closer to the traditional Best Actress criteria than her competition, but Hollywood would probably prefer to crown a popular young upstart, after the “huh?” win for Meryl Streep last year. Haneke is going up against some previous Oscar-winners with more clout for Best Director, but he’s the go-to “surprise” winner, which the voters like to have one or two have each ceremony.

-Trivia Tidbit: At 85, Emmanuelle Riva is the oldest nominee for the Best Actress Oscar (and will turn 86 the day of the ceremony).

-Talking Points if Your Crowd Loves it: This seems unlikely, as uncompromisingly small foreign language films starring actors over 50 rarely get much attention from anyone, save the hugest of cinema nerds. But it’s the less talked about movies at the Oscars that are usually far more important to cinema than the eventual winner. 10 years from now, film scholars will still be talking about Tree of Life, and have probably forgotten about The Artist. The same will likely apply to Amour, and whatever inevitably beats it for the top prizes.

-Talking Points if Your Crowd Hates it: Again, it seems unlikely you’ll encounter a congregation of Amour-viewers, let alone haters. Just in case, take the movie to task for the same things people appreciate it for: its size. Amour is a two-hour jaw session that, despite the implications of the title, continues to show Haneke’s complete contempt for the emotional wellbeing of his audience. It’s a suffocatingly small film, one that gets by on the caliber of the talent involved, the subject matter, and the presumed culture capital bump of being made in another language.

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Argo2 How To Fake Being An Expert On The 9 Movies That Matter At This Years Oscars

-By the Numbers:

  • 7: Nominations
  • 96, 86: Rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and Metacritic (respectively)
  • 127, 77: Millions of dollars earned at the domestic, and foreign box office (respectively)
  • 1: Rank on Roger Ebert’s Best of 2012 list

-Major Contender for: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Alan Arkin), Best Adapted Screenplay, sound and editing awards

-Success on the Awards Circuit: Winner of six Best Picture awards, including a Golden Globe (Drama), and BAFTA.

-Synopsis: Ben Affleck directs and stars in a dramatic retelling of the Canadian Caper, the biggest success story to come out of the 1980 Iranian hostage crisis. Six American diplomats trapped in revolutionary Iran were succesfully exfiltrated by a CIA working group, which entered the country by pretending to be a film crew scouting locations for their Star Wars rip-off, “Argo.” Affleck plays Tony Mendez, the leader of the rescue team who comes up with the ruse, with Alan Arkin and John Goodman co-starring as the Hollywood big shots responsible for making a fake movie seem like the real deal.

-Oscar-appropriate Themes: Hollywood movies about Hollywood, American history that hasn’t gotten the big screen treatment.

-Juiciest Piece of Oscar Bait: It’s a “based on a story” film that manages to lionize Hollywood and American intelligence agencies at the same time.

-Buzz Going into the Oscars: 10/10. A major crowd-pleaser, the film opened to universal critical praise back in October, but didn’t find much awards success when running up against more prestigious competition. The lack of a director nomination for Affleck seemed to cinch Argo’s destiny as a forgotten good, but not quite great film. Then, a funny thing happened on the road to the Oscars. Argo started winning everything. Since the Oscar nominations, the groundswell of good press from other awards shows has completely rewritten the mood going in. The forgotten also-ran has turned into a presumptive winner, as being unanimously liked often bodes better for your chances at the Oscars than having virtuoso ambition, which tends to piss a few people off. It’s going into the show with an edge in many categories, so what matters is whether the Academy wants to spread the love around, or really force the narrative that Argo was the movie of 2012.

-Trivia Tidbit: Were it to win Best Picture, it would be the fourth time a film has done so without getting nominated for Best Director (Wings in ’27, Grand Hotel in ’32, and Driving Mrs. Daisy in ’89 did the same).

-Talking Points if Your Crowd Loves it: Argo is the one movie everybody can agree on, which is the main reason its odds of being the evening’s big winner are so high. It’s a history lesson that manages to be funny, thrilling, and just incredibly entertaining the whole way through. Even with two fine films under his belt (Gone Baby Gone, The Town), it’s now officially okay to celebrate Affleck’s complete career 180. His lack of a director nomination is the most egregious snub of the whole show, and calling him the next Eastwood is a safe statement. “Argo fuck yourself,” has become the movie’s unofficial slogan, so be sure to drop it liberally with each statue win.

-Talking Points if Your Crowd Hates it: For something based on an amazing true story, Argo sure feels the need to rewrite history. Canada’s involvement in the operation is downplayed to basically a footnote, the film’s climactic airport chase is a complete fabrication, and Affleck taking over the starring role is both a nasty case of Hollywood vanity, and whitewashing. Its satirical elements are as toothless as an employee roast of the boss during your office Christmas party; Argo has the appearance of a backhanded compliment, but it’s eating out of Hollywood’s hand the whole way, making it arguably the biggest Oscar bait movie of the night. It’s disposable popcorn fluff, just for an audience that has the power to say said fluff is better than some truly outstanding films made in 2012. If Affleck’s smarmy visage rolls up to the podium, tell him to Argo fuck himself.

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Beasts of the Southern Wild

Beasts of the Southern Wild How To Fake Being An Expert On The 9 Movies That Matter At This Years Oscars

-By the Numbers:

  • 4: Nominations
  • 86, 86: Rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and Metacritic
  • 12: Millions of dollars earned at the domestic box office (no foreign release)
  • 401: Days between the film’s premiere at Sundance, and the Oscars ceremony

-Major Contender for: Nothing. At best, a dark horse for Best Director, and Adapted Screenplay.

-Success on the Awards Circuit: A powerhouse among “Best Breakthrough” awards for acting and directing, including the Caméra d’Or at Cannes.

-Synopsis: Five year-old Hushpuppy contends with the aftermath of a catastrophic Louisiana storm, and the failing health of her fierce father. The film combines ethnographic exploration of a bayou community with a magical realist take on climate change, creating imagery and prose that’s both natural, and otherworldly. The film marks the debut for first time director Behn Zeitland, and newcomer Quvenzhané (kwa-van-je-nay) Wallis as Hushpuppy.

-Oscar-appropriate Themes: Family, coming of age, climate change

-Juiciest Piece of Oscar Bait: Features an absolutely phenomenal lead performance from a Wallis, who was five years old when shooting the film.

-Buzz Going into the Oscars: 1/10. The film made a gigantic splash at Sundance, but that was more than a year ago. Like Amour, Beasts is always in the conversation when discussing the best of the year, but is rarely championed by the big awards circles. It’s the Argo of the art house, without the 4th quarter rally of support, a film critics love to nominate, but not actually reward.

-Trivia Tidbit: A counterpoint to Riva, Quvenzhané Wallis is the youngest ever nominee for the Best Actress award. 9 at the time of the nomination, she was 4 years younger than previous nominee Kiesha Castle-Hughes (Whale Rider), and less than half the age of Jennifer Lawrence at the time of her first nomination (Winter’s Bone).

-Talking Points if Your Crowd Loves it: The visionary work from first-time director Behn Zeitland gives the film a poetry and lyricism you won’t find in any of the other nominees, which is exactly why it won’t win. That’s okay though; after all, a charming little movie like this getting accepted by the Hollywood monolith seems a bit antithetical to what makes Beasts special. Wallis is a revelation, so here’s hoping she and Zeitland have big careers ahead of them.

-Talking Points if Your Crowd Hates it: There’s not really a movie here, just a medley of pretty sights, and sounds. As for Wallis: performances by child actors tend to be pretty divisive. It won’t be that hard to pitch people on her being hugely overrated, getting attention for her age, not her actual acting ability.

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Django Unchained

Django Unchained6 How To Fake Being An Expert On The 9 Movies That Matter At This Years Oscars

-By the Numbers:

  • 5: Nominations
  • 89, 81: Rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and Metacritic
  • 157, 208: Millions of dollars earned at the domestic, and foreign box office
  • 110: Number of uses of the N-word in the script

-Major Contender for: Best Original Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor (Christoph Waltz)

-Success on the Awards Circuit: Five wins for Best Screenplay, and seven for Best Supporting Actor, including a Golden Globe for each.

-Synopsis: The latest from film geek turned god Quentin Tarantino, Django stars Jamie Foxx as a southern slave set free, and on the road to revenge, by a charismatic bounty hunter (Waltz). The staple Tarantino ingredients of comic violence, circuitous dialogue, and B-movie references are all present, making this the Spaghetti Western stop in his world tour of genres. Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson co-star as a particularly vile plantation owner, and a cunning house slave, respectively. In typical Tarantino fashion, appreciation for the craft, some scorn for the subject matter, and an awesome soundtrack followed in the film’s wake.

-Oscar-appropriate Themes: Commentary on the American identity, through slavery in this case.

-Juiciest Piece of Oscar Bait: Having Christoph Waltz play a language-obsessed card, which happens to be Tarantino’s writing specialty.

-Buzz Going into the Oscars: 4/10. A number of factors are conspiring against the film, the biggest being Tarantino’s unrestrained portrayal of slavery in the American South. The time period and subject matter might make the frequent use of Tarantino’s favorite bad word more justified than usual, but does it add anything to the film? Is he making a commentary about race, or exploiting it? All these questions are great for generating discussion about serious issues, but discussion rarely results in Oscar gold. Race is a cagey subject with the Academy, which generally prefers it not be explored any further than shouting “RACISM IS BAD” for two hours. Tarantino’s writing has gotten appreciation from more adventurous critical circles, and he’s going up against scripts for films that are either very small, or equally loaded with controversy (let’s forget about the nod for Flight; everyone else has). Waltz has the best shot at winning for the film, though he’s giving a familiar performance in a hotly contested category.

-Trivia Tidbit: The film features seven actors previously nominated for Best Supporting Actor: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel L. Jackson, Jonah Hill, Russ Tamblyn, and Bruce Dern. Of them, only Waltz won his nomination, after first teaming with Tarantino in 2009’s Inglourious Basterds.

-Talking Points if Your Crowd Loves it: Talking about the film’s portrayal of race means walking into a minefield, so stick to the usual Tarantino topics by praising the stylish violence, rich dialogue, and bevy of great performances. As this is a Tarantino movie, all knowledge of his previous films is relevant to the discussion, so don’t be afraid to talk at length about whichever one of his movies you’ve actually seen. Memorize the tenor of Luis Bacalov’s singing of the name “Django” in the song of the same name, and deploy where appropriate.

-Talking Points if Your Crowd Hates it: Attack the movie on structural grounds by playing up the absence of Tarantino’s go-to (and only recently departed) editor, Sally Menke. As has become a characteristic of the director, the film is overlong, excessive, and prone to rambling, but without Menke, those traits aren’t charming, they’re exhausting. And for a film called Django Unchained, Foxx’s character seems like he’s barely in it, surrounded on all sides by livelier, more eccentric performances.

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Les Misérables

Les Miserables6 How To Fake Being An Expert On The 9 Movies That Matter At This Years Oscars

-By the Numbers:

  • 8: Nominations
  • 70, 63: Rating on Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic
  • 145, 233: Millions of dollars earned at the domestic, and foreign box office
  • 71: Percent of Supporting Actress nominations Anne Hathaway has won

-Major Contender for: Best Supporting Actress (Anne Hathaway), numerous technical awards

-Success on the Awards Circuit: Golden Globe for Best Picture (Musical or Comedy), BAFTA for Best Makeup and Hair, Best Sound, and Best Production Design. More than 25 Best Supporting Actress awards for Hathaway, including a Golden Globe, BAFTA, and Screen Actors Guild Award.

-Synopsis: An adaptation of the long-running 80’s musical, that itself was based on the 1862 Victor Hugo novel of the same name, Les Misérables stars Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean, a paroled convict who is hounded through post-revolutionary France by his former guard, Javert (Russell Crowe). Cosette, daughter of the deceased prostitute Fantine (Hathaway), is adopted by Valjean, who spends the decade-long buildup to the Paris Uprising of ’32 making a respectable citizen of himself, despite Javert’s attempts to send him back to prison. Almost everybody dies by the end, but Cosette finds true love, and everybody’s singing all the time, so it’s a romantic kind of bloodbath.

-Oscar-appropriate Themes: Musical based on history, love, and unapologetic sincerity

-Juiciest Piece of Oscar Bait: Hathaway plays a single mother shunned by society into becoming a hooker with a heart of gold, who sings the show’s big number, and dies tragically. She also shaved her head, which means she’s bringing a gun to the Best Supporting Actress knife fight.

-Buzz Going into the Oscars: 4/10. Death, taxes, and an Anne Hathaway win are the only things certain in life, and that’s about it. Costume musicals have a good track record with aesthetic awards like Best Costume, and Best Makeup and Hair, winning by virtue of having the most of each. Les Mis has plenty of stylish period flourishes (well, maybe not so many involving hair, in Hathaway’s case), but Anna Karenina has even more, and half The Hobbit‘s budget can be seen in the makeup. For the majors, Les Mis has got the slimmest of chances at a Best Picture upset, and the praise heaped on Jackman would make him the front-runner, were it not for Daniel Day-Lewis. Jackman’s the alternate should the voters try to delay an inevitable Day-Lewis hat-trick.

-Trivia Tidbit: The film live recorded all the music, meaning you actually hear the actors singing the songs. The score was orchestrated in post-production to work around the rhythms and performances of the actors.

-Talking Points if Your Crowd Loves it: A likely scenario, as Les Mis is catnip to most viewers, regardless of whether they’re into the original material, or musicals in general. Focus on the fundamentals: Hathaway, and the soundtrack are divine, but don’t forget to mention the sets and costumes. This is a hugely emotion-based movie, so don’t be surprised if people start bandying around the number of times they cried watching it like it’s a competition. For the record, appropriate times to say you were “moved” include Fantine singing “I Dreamed a Dream,” Valjean singing “Suddenly,” the death of Éponine, the death of Gavroche, or the death of Valjean. Throw a dart at the cast list, and somebody cried when that actor’s character sang and/or died.

-Talking Points if Your Crowd Hates it: Another unlikely scenario, so let someone else fire the first shot at the film. Once you know you’re in safe company, start unloading from the arsenal of scathing bon mots many in the critical community have been supplying for weeks. Hathaway’s performance is the film’s sacred cow, but she’s out of the movie by the forty-minute mark, leaving you a good two hours of material to trash. Tom Hooper’s been catching a lot of flak for his static, close-up camerawork, so the film’s direction will be a soft target for attack, as will Russell Crowe’s singing voice (though please resist the urge to parlay his last name into a pun about his vocal talent).

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Life of Pi

Life of Pi7 How To Fake Being An Expert On The 9 Movies That Matter At This Years Oscars

-By the Numbers:

  • 11: Oscar nominations
  • 88, 79: Rating on Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic
  • 110, 465: Millions of dollars earned at the domestic, and foreign box office
  • 23: Shots in the film that used a real tiger

-Major Contender for: Best Director (Ang Lee), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, numerous technical awards.

-Success on the Awards Circuit: Won Best Visual Effects, and Best Cinematography at the BAFTAs, with scattered wins for Best Picture, and Best Director in smaller awards circles.

-Synopsis: A close adaptation of Yann Martel’s 2001 novel of the same name, the short of Life of Pi is that it’s the story of a 14 year-old Indian boy, Pi Patel, who is standed at sea following a shipwreck. Having just lost his whole family, the only companion he has to console him is a fully-grown Bengal tiger, nicknamed Richard Parker. The long of it is that Martel uses a survival tale as the jumping off point for a grad thesis on storytelling and religion, with the ocean action framed within an older Pi recounting his experience to Martell, selling it too him as “a story that will make you believe in God.”

-Oscar-appropriate Themes: Multi-denominational spirituality, overcoming extreme adversity

-Juiciest Piece of Oscar Bait: It’s an existential think piece from an acclaimed director, who manages to make the visuals as ambitious as the ideas (see: Tree of Life)

-Buzz Going into the Oscars: 5/10. Though a close second in terms of total nominations, and directed by frequent Oscar invitee Ang Lee (this is his fourth film nominated for Best Picture), Pi’s subject matter might prove too philosophical to really gain voter traction. It is, however, gorgeous, meaning its odds of walking away with some of the aesthetic awards are pretty good. Only using real tigers for a few scenes, the CG version of Richard Parker still gives one of the most convincing supporting performances of the year, which will likely translate into a Best Visual Effects win.

-Trivia Tidbit: The book received a film option back in 2002, with many directors attached to the adaptation before Lee. Among them were Amélie director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Children of Men director Alfonso Cuarón, and M. Night Shyamalan.

-Talking Points if Your Crowd Loves it: For a film so heavily concerned with the existence of god, Life of Pi’s reception has been surprisingly warm, from both critics and audiences. It doesn’t choose sides, and plays up a feel good, love-in message of religion as a by-product of universal spirituality. Leverage the upbeat vibe into any contemplative discussion you feel like; a transcendent movie should transcend discussion of it as just a movie, so you’ve basically got a license to go deep on any out there thought that comes to mind. Or, just talk about the kitty, and how, despite how dangerous it might be, you’d really like to have a pet tiger one day. This is also one of the rare cases where you can make a case for 3D being necessary to “get” a movie, because the poetry of the visuals is a lot harder to argue against than that of the prose. Watch the trailer to find a few money shots worth referencing.

-Talking Points if Your Crowd Hates it: The beauty of a film this diffuse is that you can criticize it for pretty much the same things other people will adore it for. What is the movie really about? Forget the vagaries and cerebral spit-balling about God, life, and all that jazz: does Life of Pi say anything important, or does it just hope you’ll take one of its dozen contending ideas, and run with it? You’re dealing with the equivalent of a first-year philosophy student fresh off their first bong rip, throwing out unanswerable questions in rapid succession to imply wisdom, but really only trying to mask a complete cluelessness. For a more structured approach, you could argue the visuals look like a cheap Dali rip-off, but focus more on the incredible achievement that is Ang Lee finding a way to make a film so listless and boring when it co-stars a goddamn tiger.

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Lincoln2 How To Fake Being An Expert On The 9 Movies That Matter At This Years Oscars

-By the Numbers:

  • 12: Oscar nominations
  • 89, 86: Rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and Metacritic
  • 176, 58: Millions of dollars earned at the domestic, and foreign box office
  • 83: Percent of Best Actor nominations Daniel Day-Lewis has won

-Major Contender for: Best Picture, Best Director (Stephen Spielberg), Best Actor (Daniel Day-Lewis), Best Supporting Actor (Tommy Lee Jones), Best Original Screenplay (Tony Kushner)

-Success on the Awards Circuit: More than forty awards given to Daniel Day-Lewis for his portrayal of the title role, including a Golden Globe, BAFTA, and SAG award. A few wins in smaller circles for Spielberg and Jones (including a SAG award for the latter).

-Synopsis: Considering it’s based on the biography Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, and the fact that it’s called Lincoln, it shouldn’t surprise you that the movie is a biopic about America’s 16th president. What might though, is that instead of a glorified recreation of Lincoln’s life from womb to tomb, the film focuses mainly on the political process, and amount of backdoor skullduggery needed to pass the Thirteenth Amendment. Lincoln himself is often pushed to the background by the astoundingly deep supporting cast, including Sally Fields, Tommy Lee Jones, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, David Strathairn, John Hawkes, and just about every TV character actor ever. The man himself is played with typical capability by Daniel Day-Lewis; that’s an understated way of saying that it’s another unbelievable performance to shore up his case as the world’s greatest living actor.

-Oscar-appropriate Themes: Biopic of a great man, and a great moment in American history

-Juiciest Piece of Oscar Bait: Stephen Spielberg, Daniel Day-Lewis, one of America’s greatest presidents.

-Buzz Going into the Oscars: 8/10. When the nominations came out, most prognosticators wondered why the Academy didn’t save us some time, and just give everything to Lincoln the same day. I was one of them. Zero Dark Thirty got all the early awards attention, but the growing controversy that dogged it was very much to Lincoln’s benefit. Strategically absent nominations in key categories for the competition only further made the show Lincoln’s race to lose. But just as the winds were hastily blowing all the gold trophies towards Spielberg, they changed course, and started racing towards Iran, where waited Ben Affleck’s own, trendier historical drama. Now it seems like Day-Lewis is the only sure thing the movie has going for it. Argo and Lincoln are the big dogs of the night, with Affleck’s loveable St. Bernard looking just a bit more like “Best in Show.” It depends on the narrative the Academy winds up writing with the night. If the voters are feeling especially traditional, Lincoln is the safest choice. Despite the scant few wins for Spielberg as director elsewhere, his competition is too idiosyncratic to keep The Beard out of the running.

-Trivia Tidbit: Only six times has the Director’s Guild of America winner not also taken home the Oscar, and Affleck’s DGA win marks only the third time the trophy holder didn’t earn an Oscar nomination for Best Director. The other two snubs were given to Ron Howard for Apollo 13 in ’95, and Spielberg himself in ’85 for The Colour Purple.

-Talking Points if Your Crowd Loves it: Have the name “Daniel Day-Lewis” written on one hand, and a list of superlatives on the other. Mix and match from each palm, and you’re basically set. You can shift that praise around to just about everyone in the cast, as this is an actor’s movie first and foremost. As a big budget historical piece, the sets and costumes are worth noting, though they likely won’t attract as much attention as some of the gaudier competition. And don’t forget to mention that, despite being a history lesson about Very Serious Issues, Lincoln is actually really entertaining, as Tony Kushner’s script is among the funniest period dramas in recent memory. Brush up on your Tommy Lee Jones impression, and try to memorize a few of his southern-fried putdowns for use as needed.

-Talking Points if Your Crowd Hates it: There’s playing to your audience, and then there’s pandering. It’s like Spielberg set out to make the most Oscar-friendly movie conceivable, and wouldn’t you know it, a movie that labors to satisfy a bunch of old white dudes sure features plenty of them in it. Sally Field is the only real female presence, and she’s presented as just another burden for Lincoln to bear, a loony, shrieking harpy, clawing at the insides of the one guy with the power and will to end slavery. And the ending is a complete buzzkill. It’s not enough that Spielberg makes Lincoln out to be the American Moses; he has to forcefully shoehorn in the Great Emancipator’s assassination, just in case he didn’t seem quite Messianic enough.

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Silver Linings Playbook

Silver Linings Playbook15 How To Fake Being An Expert On The 9 Movies That Matter At This Years Oscars

-By the Numbers:

  • 8: nominations
  • 92, 81: Ratings on Rotten Tomatoes, and Metacritic
  • 100, 52: Millions of dollars earned at the domestic, and foreign box office.
  • 2008: Year of Philadelphia Eagles season stats used in the film

-Major Contender for: Best Actress (Jennifer Lawrence), Best Supporting Actor (Robert De Niro), Best Adapted Screenplay (David O. Russell).

-Success on the Awards Circuit: Scattered wins in most Oscar nominated categories, including a Best Actress Golden Globe for Lawrence, and a Best Adapted Screenplay BAFTA.

-Synopsis: Bradley Cooper makes the full transition into his Serious Actor phase playing Pat, a mental patient recently released into the care of his retired parents. Struggling to stay positive and even-keeled, Pat’s plan to reunite with his estranged wife is constantly doubted by his football-obsessed bookie father (De Niro). Pat’s pursuit of his story’s “silver lining” is further complicated by the appearance of Tiffany (Lawrence), a volatile widower who takes an interest in him. The two strike up a deal where Pat uses Tiffany to get around his wife’s restraining order, and Tiffany uses Pat as a partner for an upcoming dance competition in Philly. With a family’s financial future, Pat’s chances of reconciliation, and Tiffany’s hopes of getting with Pat all on the line at the big competition, will these two crazy kids (with a 16 year age gap between actors) find success, love, and fulfillment with just one dance? I’m guessing I don’t have to tell you.

-Oscar-appropriate Themes: Mental illness, the power of love.

-Juiciest Piece of Oscar Bait: Features Robert De Niro, the actor, not Robert De Niro, the check casher.

-Buzz Going into the Oscars: 5/10. Winning the People’s Choice Award after premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival bodes well for the future prospects of any crowd-pleaser. Sure enough, Silver Linings Playbook won over critics and audiences, despite the tricky subject matter, and the fact that it’s basically just a (really good) romantic comedy. The film is so broadly likeable, that it has no single element working as a hook. O. Russell’s direction works wonders with what could be static material. The script is solid, the cast is great, and De Niro has a shot at banking enough career cred to delay production on Showtime 2 a few years. Lawrence is a narrow favorite over Jessica Chastain and Emmanuelle Riva, which is surprising, given how wary of new talent the voters can be. Again, it depends on the evening’s narrative: do the voters want to stick to tradition, or keep the lights on in Hollywood by making sure the next Hunger Games stars an Oscar-winner.

-Trivia Tidbit: This is the 14th time a film has scored nominations in all four acting categories, and the first Big Five contender (nominated for Best Picture, Actor, Actress, Director, and Screenplay) since 2004’s Million Dollar Baby.

-Talking Points if Your Crowd Loves it: The movie plays full coverage across the four audience quadrants, with a little something for men and women, both young and old. It’s got fathers and sons bonding over football, will-they-won’t-they romance heating up on the dance floor, two of Hollywood’s biggest under-40 talents, and a knockout performance from one of acting’s all-time greats (all deference to Jacki Weaver, but she’s barely in the movie). Chris Tucker does some charmingly low-key (by his standards) supporting work, and knowledge of the eclectic soundtrack will score you some points among fans across multiple genres. Throw on a Desean Jackson jersey, and refer to the snacks as “crabbies and homemades,” if you really want to get into the spirit of things.

-Talking Points if Your Crowd Hates it: The entire romantic comedy genre is often treated like a punchline, but one of this clout will require deconstruction more substantial than scoffing at it because “it’s a chick flick.” Luckily, the film’s heavier material gives you a higher caliber of ammunition to work with. Most romantic comedy characters are certifiably insane, but Silver Linings Playbook actually diagnoses its two leads, which just makes the film all the more shallow for sweeping those problems away with the grand panacea known as True Love. Meanwhile, De Niro’s character is a compulsive gambler with an addiction that nearly leaves his family destitute. It’s okay though, because he wins big on what he promises will be his last bet. The film offers easy, doe-eyed solutions to serious problems, and no matter how well done, a cliché third act is still a cliché third act.

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Zero Dark Thirty

Zero Dark Thirty1 How To Fake Being An Expert On The 9 Movies That Matter At This Years Oscars 

-By the Numbers:

  • 5: Oscar nominations
  • 94, 95: Rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and Metacritic
  • 88, 13: Millions of dollars earned at the domestic, and foreign box office
  • 0: Director nominations

-Major Contender for: Best Actress (Jessica Chastain), Best Original Screenplay (Mark Boal)

-Success on the Awards Circuit: Golden Globe for Best Actress. Numerous wins for Best Picture, Director, and Screenplay among city-based, late-2012 awards groups, including the Chicago Film Critics Association, Boston Society of Film Critics, and New York Film Critics Circle.

-Synopsis: Condensing a ten-year manhunt into two and a half hours, Zero Dark Thirty tracks the efforts of CIA operatives on a mission to capture or kill Osama Bin Laden. Kathryn Bigelow directs the film as a spare, matter-of-fact investigation, using lead character Maya (Jessica Chastain) as a stand-in for the real analyst largely credited with finding Bin Landen in Abbotabad. The final thirty minutes recreate the assault on Bin Laden’s compound in near real-time, and the film ends abruptly after Bin Laden’s death, leaving the viewer to figure out what to make of it all.

-Oscar-appropriate Themes: Hurray for America, shame on America.

-Juiciest Piece of Oscar Bait: A reteaming of the writer, (Mark Boal) director (Kathryn Bigelow) combo that won Best Picture, and Best Director for The Hurt Locker four years ago.

-Buzz Going into the Oscars: 4/10. During its limited release at the end of last year, Zero Dark Thirty looked to be The Godfather Part II to The Hurt Locker’s Godfather, sweeping awards shows at a pace you wouldn’t expect from a bone-chilling thriller that also sets out to spark discussion. Seems it did the latter too well though; widespread debate over whether the film was pro-torture poisoned the gold-spewing well. Academy voters like movies that get people talking about the movie, not the real world issues the movie was made to generate discussion of in the first place. Bigelow and Boal were already hurting their chances by following up their last success with something that, at face value, seems so similar, but the sheer amount of misinformation, and confusion over what the film actually supports means it’s dead in the water for most major accolades. Boal’s script mirrors Tarantino’s as an exceptional, but tainted work with a fighting chance at winning. The only other big title Zero Dark Thirty has a shot at is Best Actress for Chastain, who has fit more standout performances into her short time in the spotlight than most others can in a lifetime. Bigelow would be a front-runner for Best Director…except they forgot to nominate her, an omission that still manages to standout amid the crowded fraternity of Oscar snubs.

-Trivia Tidbit: The film’s title is a military code for 12:30AM, with “Zero Dark” equating to midnight. It roughly demarcates the local time in Abbottabad when the raid on Bin Laden’s compound was initiated.

-Talking Points if Your Crowd Loves it: First things first -avoid the T word. It’s a subject that understandably makes people uncomfortable, and debating one of the most important moral dilemmas of human history seems a little out of place when you’ve got the Family Guy guy flop-sweating and flailing in the background for three hours. A film this loaded is hard to talk about at all without pissing somebody off, so stick to the safe topics. Chastain’s performance is magnetic, Bigelow’s direction is airtight, and the climactic night-vision assisted finale would be enough to bag a statue most years, let alone a nomination.

-Talking Points if Your Crowd Hates it: Same rules apply as above: don’t jump into political theatre if you have no idea what you are talking about. Instead, claim the film is just getting attention for being the first major release to document Bin Laden’s death, and that the names attached are what’s being recognized, not the movie itself. It’s slow, repetitive, and Chastain’s performance can’t make up for the complete absence of actual character to her character.

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Seth MacFarlane1 How To Fake Being An Expert On The 9 Movies That Matter At This Years Oscars

And now, here are my picks for who’s going to win at the 85th Academy Awards. For the record, I went 19 for 24 two years ago, and 14 for 24 last year, so at least you know you just read 6500 words from a guy who knows at least a little bit about how these things shakeout. Enjoy the show, and remember: the only losers of the evening are those who actually take the Oscars seriously in the first place. I love the show to death, but if it can’t even pick a consistent number of Best Picture nominees to have each year, why should I listen to which of them they think is the best?

(First choice for winner bolded, second choice italicized)

Best Picture

  • Argo
  • Amour
  • Beasts of the Southern Wild
  • Django Unchained
  • Les Misérables
  • Life of Pi
  • Lincoln
  • Silver Linings Playbook
  • Zero Dark Thirty

Best Actor

  • Daniel Day Lewis (Lincoln)
  • Denzel Washington (Flight)
  • Hugh Jackman (Les Misérables)
  • Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook)
  • Joaquin Phoenix (The Master)

Best Actress

  • Naomi Watts (The Impossible)
  • Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty)
  • Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook)
  • Emmanuelle Riva (Amour)
  • Quvenzhane Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild)

Best Supporting Actress

  • Sally Fields (Lincoln)
  • Anne Hathaway (Les Misérables)
  • Jackie Weaver (Silver Linings Playbook)
  • Helen Hunt (The Sessions)
  • Amy Adams (The Master)

Best Supporting Actor

  • Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained)
  • Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master)
  • Robert De Niro (Silver Linings Playbook)
  • Alan Arkin (Argo)
  • Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln)

Best Director

  • David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook)
  • Ang Lee (Life of Pi)
  • Steven Spielberg (Lincoln)
  • Michael Haneke (Amour)
  • Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild)

Best Foreign Language Film

  • Amour (Austria)
  • No (Chile)
  • War Witch (Canada)
  • A Royal Affair (Denmark)
  • Kon Tiki (Norway)

Best Original Screenplay

  • John Gatins (Flight)
  • Mark Boal (Zero Dark Thirty)
  • Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained)
  • Michael Haneke (Amour)
  • Wes Anderson & Roman Coppola (Moonrise Kingdom)

Best Adapted Screenplay

  • Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitland (Beasts of the Southern Wild)
  • Chris Terrio (Argo)
  • Tony Kushner (Lincoln)
  • David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook)
  • David Magee (Life of Pi)

Best Animated Feature

  • Frankenweenie
  • The Pirates!: Band of Misfits
  • Wreck-It Ralph
  • ParaNorman
  • Brave 

Best Original Song

  • “Before My Time” from Chasing Ice Music and Lyrics by J. Ralph
  • “Pi’s Lullaby” from Life of Pi Music by Mychael Danna; Lyrics by Bombay Jayashri
  • “Suddenly” from Les Misérables Music by Claude-Michel Schönberg; Lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer and Alain Boublil
  • “Everybody Needs A Best Friend” from Ted Music by Walter Murphy; Lyrics by Seth MacFarlane
  • “Skyfall” from Skyfall Music and Lyric by Adele Adkins and Paul Epworth

Best Original Score

  • Dario Marianelli (Anna Karenina)
  • Alexandre Desplat (Argo)
  • Mychael Danna (Life of Pi)
  • John Williams (Lincoln)
  • Thomas Newman (Skyfall)

Best Cinematography

  • Seamus McGarvey (Anna Karenina)
  • Robert Richardson (Django Unchained)
  • Claudio Miranda (Life of Pi)
  • Janusz Kaminski (Lincoln)
  • Roger Deakins (Skyfall)

Best Documentary (Feature)

  • 5 Broken Cameras
  • The Gatekeepers
  • How to Survive a Plague
  • The Invisible War
  • Searching for Sugar Man

Best Documentary (Short)

  • Inocente
  • Kings Point
  • Mondays at Racine
  • Open Heart
  • Redemption

Best Short Film (Live Action)

  • Asad
  • Buzkashi Boys
  • Curfew
  • Death of a Shadow (Dood van een Schaduw)
  • Henry

Best Short Film (Animated)

  • Adam and Dog
  • Fresh Guacamole
  • Head Over Heels
  • Maggie Simpson in “The Longest Daycare”
  • Paperman

Best Editing

  • William Goldenberg (Argo)
  • Tim Squyres (Life of Pi)
  • Michael Kahn (Lincoln)
  • Jay Cassidy and Crispin Struthers (Silver Linings Playbook)
  • Dylan Tichenor and William Goldenberg (Zero Dark Thirty) 

Best Visual Effects

  • The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
  • Life of Pi
  • Marvel’s The Avengers
  • Prometheus
  • Snow White and the Huntsman

Best Production Design

  • Anna Karenina
  • The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
  • Les Misérables
  • Life of Pi
  • Lincoln

Best Costume Design

  • Anna Karenina
  • Les Misérables
  • Lincoln
  • Mirror Mirror
  • Snow White and the Huntsman

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

  • Les Misérables
  • The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
  • Hitchcock 

Best Sound Editing

  • Argo
  • Django Unchained
  • Life of Pi
  • Skyfall
  • Zero Dark Thirty 

Best Sound Mixing

  • Argo
  • Les Misérables
  • Life of Pi
  • Lincoln
  • Skyfall
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