As Oscar night is nearly upon us, I figured it's about time to compile my own list of best picture nominees. This is my personal take on the 10 best movies of the year. It was easy to pick 7 or 8 of them, but the last 2 or 3 were more difficult. In each pick I tried to select something that was both a cinematic achievement in some way, as well as a movie I thoroughly enjoyed to one degree or another. I will also include several honorable mention choices that I believe are on the fringe of a top 10 spot. Can't say which one of these is my favorite; though I could narrow it down to 2 or 3. As far as the Oscars go, awards should be pretty spread out this year. We won't see any movie garner more than 3-4. The only possible exception here would be if Lincoln pulled an upset or two. Some of my predictions are included below.
Argo tells the story of the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979. Director/actor Ben Affleck leads a rescue team, posing as a film crew, into hostile territory to extract American embassy members in a gripping thriller worthy of Oscar buzz. While I don't think it's as good as all the awards it has received seem to indicate, it is the front-runner for Oscar night's biggest prize. Affleck has certainly achieved something in his direction here, and the movie itself has much to offer.
The Dark Knight Rises
Nolan's final chapter of the Batman franchise was one of the most anticipated films of the year. With big shoes to fill following 2008's The Dark Knight, Rises gave audiences a complete, fulfilling conclusion to the saga of Bruce Wayne. That is my opinion, anyways. Nolan continues to be one of my favorite directors, and I am excited to see what comes next from him. Rises was somehow overlooked for every Oscar category.
Any movie with Tarantino listed as the director is worth some attention. With his unique style, Tarantino crafts a look at slavery in this outrageous spaghetti western. Featuring a loaded cast including Jamie Fox, Cristoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Samuel L. Jackson, Django unleashes a wild ride of redemption and revenge. While there are some cool action sequences, the dialogue itself is top-notch, and may very well win the best original screenplay Oscar.
One of my most anticipated movies of the year, Les Miserables is a film adaptation of the widely-praised musical and novel. Helmed by Tom Hooper, Les Mis takes an ambitious leap by letting each actor sing live rather than lip-syncing their lines. The result is a sprawling, emotional journey of redemption that moved me like no other film this year. Anne Hathaway will easily walk away with an Oscar for her role, and it's a shame that the movie won't win much more than that.
Life of Pi
2012's technical marvel comes in the life of a young boy shipwrecked and stranded on a lifeboat with a bengal tiger named Richard Parker. Sound like a crazy plot? It is. While not my favorite narrative of the bunch, I picked Life of Pi for its achievements in visual stimulation. This is an adaptation of a book that was once deemed un-filmable. Ang Lee does a superb job with the movie, which is well reflected in its 11 Oscar nominations. I'm predicting 3 wins for it - cinematography, visual direction, and score.
Anytime Steven Spielberg, probably the greatest director of our time, tackles history, audiences are in for a treat. Anchored by a subtle yet masterful performance from sure-fire Oscar winner Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln examines the final months of Abe's life - the end of the Civil War and the fight to abolish slavery in the US. The most nominated film of 2012 is certainly among my favorites.
Possibly the most obscure of my top ten list, The Master is the first film from director Paul Thomas Anderson since 2007's There Will Be Blood. The Master follows Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), a navy man just back from serving in World War II, who is directionless, awkward and broken. His path crosses with that of a cult leader named Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who enlists him as a follower. The movie has brilliant acting, really good dialogue, and explores many avenues of social philosophy. Unfortuntely, it will not win any Oscars.
Silver Linings Playbook
Director David O. Russell helms this romantic comedy-drama about a bipolar man and a depressed widow who find solace in each other amidst the turmoil of figuring out their own craziness. An all-star cast including Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, and Robert De Niro gives us a wonderful film about real tragedy and finding the silver lining in it all. Nominated for a slew of Oscars, Silver Linings may nab the prize for Lawrence, but that will be all.
After the disappointment of 2008's Quantum of Solace, the Bond franchise needed a boost. Director Sam Mendes gives 007 just the pick-me-up he needs in the sleek and stunning Skyfall. With Daniel Craig and Judy Dench as sharp as ever, Skyfall adds Javier Bardem to its cast in the role of the villain - a nominee for most under-rated performance of the year in my book. Bond is back in full force, all the way down to the new song by Adele, which will win her yet another award after she performs it on the Oscar stage.
Zero Dark Thirty
Kathryn Bigelow, Oscar winning director of The Hurt Locker, reunites with writer Mark Boal to bring public enemy number one to justice. Jessica Chastain stars as Maya, the CIA operative who's entire career has been tracking down Osama Bin Laden. A movie that is controversial for both its depiction of torture methods as well as its overall manhunt story line, Zero Dark is an intense, disciplined thriller that keeps audiences glued to the screen, even though we all know how the story ends. Bigelow delivers this story in a way that shows the costs of victory, never seeking to revel in that glory. Unfortunately, Zero Dark won't receive much Oscar recognition beyond a possible technical nod for sound.
- The Avengers - the culmination of years of Marvel comic build-up, Joss Whedon gives us a really good super hero flick.
- The Hunger Games - Jennifer Lawrence gives a great performance, and we see how teen novels can actually make a solid movie.
- Flight - Denzel's best performance in years and a welcome return to live-action by director Robert Zemeckis.
- Bernie - Jack Black's best performance and a fascinating look at small town crime.
- Beasts of the Southern Wild - the indie film of the year, recognized with several Oscar nominations.
- Moonrise Kingdom - You have to like Wes Anderson's style, and I like it enough to mention this coming-of-age comedy.
What did I miss? Agree or disagree with these picks? What were your favorites?