Ranking The Best Picture Nominees For The Oscars

Oscars1 Ranking The Best Picture Nominees For The Oscars

One man. Nine movies. No Master. Here’s how one of our writers would rank the nine films in the running for this year’s Best Picture Oscar.

So one of the nice side benefits of perpetual unemployment, other than learning to translate which Craigslist job ads are for porn (read: ALL OF THEM), is that you’ve got plenty of time to catch up on movies. In a first, I’ve actually managed to see every Best Picture nominee that the year has had to offer, so I thought I’d drop my two cents on how they all measure up. Even with snubs to both The Master, and my own personal favorite movie of the year, this is a strong selection of films, and everything on this list is absolutely worth checking out. So enjoy, and remember: I’m not an authority on these matters, I’m the ONLYauthority on these matters!!!

*Side effects of chronic unemployment may also include mild megalomania to justify spending a whole evening writing about an awards show that, let’s face it, is mostly meaningless.

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9: Les Misérables

Les Miserables5 Ranking The Best Picture Nominees For The Oscars

Fantine reacts to the lack of Dark Knight Rises nominations

Apparently Anne Hathaway is one of the internet’s most polarizing actresses, a fact I’ve only recently become aware of (for the record: she’s awesome. Deal, haters). So, perhaps it’s fitting that her teary-eyed rendition of “I Dreamed A Dream” is Les Mis’ big litmus test. If you crumple into an inconsolable heap at the raw emotion onscreen, you’ll be weepy putty in the film’s clutches, and probably love every second of it.

If you’re like me though, you’ll spend the whole time wondering what the hell convinced director Tom Hooper to shoot his big showstopper like an off-angle Sinead O’Conner video. The next two hours will devolve into a relentless slog through scattershot storytelling, and baffling direction choices.

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8: Life of Pi

Life of Pi2 Ranking The Best Picture Nominees For The Oscars

“This movie totally makes me reevaluate my existential understan- awww look at da kitty.”

Ang Lee deserves serious praise for how true to the (seemingly unadaptable) source material he was when filming the story of a young boy lost at sea, with a fully-grown Bengal tiger as his first mate. You can’t blame him, though, if the text itself is an earnest, but muddled attempt at awe-inspiring spirituality.

Yet, where words fail, Lee’s camera doesn’t. The most visually stunning film of the year, and the first to make 3D exciting in ages, it plunks all the wonders of the ocean into an aquarium that’s far shallower than it looks. Pairing a freshman approach to big ideas with transcendent imagery, Life of Pi is Hollywood’s best accidental stoner classic since Tree of Life.

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7: Beasts of the Southern Wild

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“This movie totally makes me reevaluate my existential understan- awww, look at da kiddie.”

I’d be totally cool if every movie season featured a breakout piece of genre ethnography, one that also served as a coming out party for a majorly talented young actress. Winter’s Bone introduced Jennifer Lawrence as an unlikely gumshoe, probing the seedy side of an Ozarks community that’s somehow more depressing than the nuclear wasteland of The Hunger Games, and Beasts of the Southern Wild is its magical realist sister film… just one that’s a few states removed.

Six year-old Quvenzhané Wallis is astonishing as the linchpin to this apocalyptic bayou fairy tale, and without her, the whole thing would have gone pear-shaped. First-time director Behn Zeitland combines dreamy visuals and a fantastic score into one enchanting little package, even when his “mouth of babes” philosophizing grows dangerously close to heavy-handed.

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6: Silver Linings Playbook

Silver Linings Playbook2 Ranking The Best Picture Nominees For The Oscars

Yup, The Hangover Part III now has an Oscar nominee.

It sets its bar lower than just about anyone else on this list, but there’s something commendable about a film that knows it’s a crowd-pleaser, and executes on those expectations almost flawlessly. The telltale signs of awards-bait are there: you’ve got a first-rate cast being led by a respected director, and the Oscar-friendly mental health angle sure doesn’t hurt either.

Thankfully, Silver Linings Playbook doesn’t weigh itself down with pretensions of being anything more than a really, really good romantic comedy, and once you accept it for what it is, it’s effortlessly charming. Bradley Cooper has never been better, and Jennifer Lawrence adds a nasty energy to what could have been a fairly typical Manic Pixie Dream Girl part. And De Niro must have popped a laxative before shooting: this is the first shit he’s given in a decade.

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5: Argo

Argo1 Ranking The Best Picture Nominees For The Oscars

The amazing true story of a man who selflessly cast himself as the lead in one of the year’s biggest awards-magnets.

Like a lot of people, I recognize there’s something a little inspirational about Ben Affleck’s recent career trajectory, such that I was kind of happy he was the unexpected big winner at the Golden Globes (remember kids, you too can earn the respect of old white guys, no matter how pretty you are, or how many Daredevils you star in!).

As a director, Baffleck seems destined to be the next Eastwood; which is to say, his skill at attracting major talent, and solid material, will usually overshadow his work behind the camera. Argo’s cast is terrific, the pace is lively, and the script comes replete with cheeky, harmless digs at Hollywood that awards people seem to like. As with The Town, and Gone Baby Gone, though, it’s a film that feels every bit the product of its parts, and nothing more. It’s a workmanlike, meat ‘n potatoes piece of popcorn drama that’s overwhelmingly good, and only very occasionally great. It’s The Avengers for seniors.

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4: Amour

Amour Ranking The Best Picture Nominees For The Oscars

Must…not…expose…emotions….to Michael Haneke

Apparently the only intimate human dramas of note are being made overseas, as evidenced by last year’s best film, A Separation, and now, Amour. Granted, both films are an emotional shiatsu (Thrill, at the home-wrecking divorce proceedings of Iran! Chill, as you confront the inevitability of your own death, and feel bad for not calling your grandparents more!), so I guess their absence from local theatres isn’t too shocking.

Austrian provocateur Michael Haneke tests every ounce of the compassion implied by the film’s title, examining a winter-aged couple’s daily struggles with intimate detail. Haneke hasn’t gone soft on us though, he’s just found a new way to torment his audience, by first making you fall in love with the puppy that is the central relationship, and then drowning said puppy over the rest of the film. It’s a masterfully staged production, held together by two spectacular leads that will break your heart amidst all the suffocating silences.

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3: Lincoln

Lincoln1 Ranking The Best Picture Nominees For The Oscars

“Fine, I’ll make a movie about the guy who RIDES the war horse. ARE YOU HAPPY NOW?!?!” -Steven Spielberg

As if out of spite for 2011 America not embracing his love of French boy-journalists and war horses, Steven Spielberg stacks the deck mightily in his latest film, directing Daniel Day-Lewis as one of America’s greatest presidents. Lincoln was the ‘92 Dream Team of 2012 movies the second it was announced, but that meant expectations were set to an appropriately high standard.

Yet the film is surprising, in that it’s actually surprising; what could have been a stuffy, hagiographic biopic is actually a dense, thought-provoking look at the politics that earned The Great Emancipator his title. While that might sound like even more of a snooze, Spielberg makes the passing of the 13th amendment exciting, funny, and genuinely gripping, a 19th century heist movie, that makes Abraham Lincoln every bit as smooth and clever as Daniel Ocean. That’s right, people: Spielberg found a way to make a sexy Lincoln movie.

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2: Django Unchained

Django Unchained Ranking The Best Picture Nominees For The Oscars

They say this cat Django is a bad mother- shut your mouth!

This is easily Tarantino’s most misshapen, divisive film, in a decade full of misshapen, divisive Tarantino films. So why should I think it’s also his best? I’ve enjoyed most of his catalogue thoroughly, but Django is the least Tarantino-y Tarantino movie yet, and it’s all the better for it. Sure, the genre subversions, orgiastic violence, and B-movie references are all still evident, but for once, they don’t feel like they exist solely to massage the egos of film nerds.

This is Tarantino making good on the transition he started with Inglorious Basterds, going from fanboy turned industry badboy, to storyteller with something to say. The more the conversation of a new Tarantino movie shifts away from the man himself, the better; maybe then it won’t so easy to mention his name six times in 136 words.

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1: Zero Dark Thirty

Zero Dark Thirty Ranking The Best Picture Nominees For The Oscars

America. F*ck Yeah?

If you can see past the controversy that has seemingly swallowed it whole, Kathryn Bigelow’s latest film is a near flawlessly executed historical-thriller, a razor wire of a revenge story strung out over the ten year pursuit of Osama Bin Laden. But it’s those inlayed barbs –the thorny choices of subject matter, and their depiction- that set it apart. Is it a bitter expose of what we sacrificed in the name of justice, or a torture apologia? Is it Bigelow’s job to choose, or ours? There are even arguments to be made that the film’s ambiguity is, itself, a way of picking sides, which sounds completely crazy at first glance, but actually warrants serious consideration.

Beyond marking a shared moment of reflection, and being start-to-finish fantastic in its own right, Zero Dark Thirty is the deserving winner because it’s got people talking, about what we expect from our filmmakers, and our governments.

Which film do you think is going to win best picture? How would you rank the nominees? Let us know in the comments below.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/Aproposofthewetsnow Stephen Doria

    Wow. Although I respect your opinion & I found entertainment in reading your article, I personally feel that your ranking order would have to push itself to be further from my perspective.

    • Sam

      Haha, thanks for reading and commenting. I’d be curious to read your preference in ranking. I think you could list these in just about any order, and make a convincing argument for doing so.

  • Billy

    Wow indeed. Good idea for an article, but I didn’t even bother moving on after the comments on Les Mis.

    Mine would be something like this:

    9. Beasts of the Southern Wild
    8. Amour
    7. Life of Pi
    6. Zero Dark Thirty
    5. Argo
    4. Silver Linings Playbook
    3. Django Unchained
    2. Lincoln
    1. Les Miserables

  • Tex

    Although I loved Les Miz and I firmly believe Anne Hathaway will win an Oscar for her role, I would put Lincoln on top. Now that it’s basically known that Zero Dark Thirty isn’t really all that near to the truth of what happened the night we got Osama (thanks to the Navy Seal’s book), I have a hard time seeing that one coming out on top.