Once again, there are nine nominees for Best Picture, but unlike last year’s very weak lineup, these nine films are solid and offer a myriad of social perspectives, controversy, tears, laughs, gorgeous visuals… and loads of blood, courtesy of Quentin Tarantino.

Let’s just say 2012 was a banner year at the movies and this Best Picture list could have easily included 10 nominees. Skyfall, anyone?

Here are the 2013 Oscar nominees:

Amour

amour

The Skinny: This touching Austrian film focuses on Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva), a loving retired couple in their 80s, whose bond is tested when Anne becomes ill.

Trivia Tidbit: According to star Trintignant, one of the main reasons why the pivotal pigeon scenes took so long to shoot is because writer/director Michael Haneke constantly tried to direct the birds.

The Consensus: The film has the Best Foreign Language Oscar in the bag, so why is it also on this list? To be fair, this is the only film I haven’t seen and while it seems to be a well-crafted character study, I think its kind of overkill to nominate it for Best Picture as well.
Beasts of the Southern Wild

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The Skinny: Six-year-old Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) learns to face the harsh realities of living dirt poor with her dying father (Dwight Henry) by using her incredible imagination and unquenchable thirst for life, especially after her Louisiana bayou environs is nearly washed away by a storm.

Trivia Tidbit: Both Wallis and Henry are Louisiana residents who had never acted before this film. Henry, in particular, owned and operated a bakery that was across the street from where the crew was working and casting. Director Benh Zeitlin invited Henry to read for a part, but the baker had to be convinced to do the role. Dwight agreed, as long as they rehearsed with him during his midnight baker’s hours.

The Consensus: Every year a true-blue indie film is nominated for Best Picture, like Winter’s Bone or Precious, and this year it’s all about the Beasts. The visually stunning drama has been enthralling critics and audiences alike since its debut at the Sundance Film Festival last year, and even though it has little chance to snag the big prize, the nomination gives it its due.
Django Unchained

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The Skinny: This fine effort from writer/director Quentin Tarantino focuses on a slave (Jamie Foxx), who is freed by a kindly bounty hunter (Christoph Waltz) and joins forces with him to track down and brutally slay some seriously evil Southern plantation owners.

Trivia Tidbit: After an accident on set, in which Waltz was thrown off his horse and broke his pelvis, Foxx gave his co-star a gift to make him feel better about riding a horse — a saddle with a seat belt.

The Consensus: Tarantino has now completely cornered the market on superb revenge fantasy flicks, and audiences just clamor for more. The Academy loves him, too, but I don’t think they’ll ever truly appreciate his genius, being that it’s all disguised in pop culture and exploding brains. The Academy will award him an honorary Oscar at some point.
Life of Pi

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The Skinny: Based on the brilliant novel by Yann Martel, Ang Lee’s beautiful film tells the story of Pi, who, as a young Indian man (Suraj Sharma), found himself floating adrift on a lifeboat with a full-sized Bengal tiger after their ship sunk in a storm.

Trivia Tidbit: At one point M. Night Shyamalan was attached to write and direct this project. I wonder…

The Consensus: Pi was definitely one of my favorites of the year. In Lee’s hands, it displays such incredible beauty, using some of the best 3D visual effects I’ve ever seen (on par with Avatar) and delivers the poignant novel with aplomb. Any other year, I would have pegged this as the winner, but it just has too much competition.
Lincoln

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The Skinny: Think Civil War, slaves, the 13th Amendment and that president who wore the tall hats and elegantly spoke the truth before getting shot in the head.

Trivia Tidbit: Director Steven Spielberg spent 12 years researching the film. He recreated Lincoln’s Executive Mansion office precisely, with the same wallpaper and books. Star Daniel Day-Lewis also carried Lincoln’s real pocket watch, which was kept in the Kentucky Historical Society in Frankfort. It is the watch he carried the day of his assassination.

The Consensus: Heading into the race with the most Oscar nominations, 12 in all, Lincoln seemed like a lock to win Best Picture. It has just about everything the Academy cherishes – beloved president, acclaimed director, esteemed actors, a period film, American history roots – but as another film has taken the spotlight (see below), it’s looking unlikely Lincoln can claim the gold.
Les Miserables

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The Skinny: Victor Hugo’s classic is probably one of the most depressing stories I can think of, and the fact this people have to sing about it only makes it more sad. The story follows Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), a 19th-century French man who breaks parole, tries for a new life, watches a prostitute (Anne Hathaway) die, promises to care for her daughter (Amanda Seyfried), all while running from the policeman (Russell Crowe) hunting him down. I guess the title says it all.

Trivia Tidbit: Recording the actors’ singing live as they’re acting may not be a first for this film, but the scope was amazing. The actors wore earpieces, which fed the sound of a live piano being played off-stage, to keep their singing in key. The piano followed the pacing of the actor, not the other way around — a first for a filmed musical. Orchestral music was added post-production.

The Consensus: Again, another year may have given Les Mis the edge since musicals are usually huge with the Academy. Not this time.
Silver Linings Playbook

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The Skinny: Former teacher Pat (Bradley Cooper) moves back in with his parents (Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver) after discovering he has some mental issues. He’s okay with it. He now looks at life as finding little silver linings, like reconciling with his estranged wife (even though he almost beat her lover to death) and helping his dad’s beloved Philadelphia Eagles win. What he doesn’t expect is to fall for the quirky Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a mysterious girl with problems of her own.

Trivia Tidbit: The film was originally to be directed by Sydney Pollack, with Anthony Minghella producing. But following the deaths of both men, it took five years and 25 rewrites before David O. Russell could direct it himself.

The Consensus: I just loved this movie for all its dysfunctional characters and brilliant dialogue. A small part of me thinks that if there is any kind of giant surprise at the Oscars, it would be that this gem picks up the prize. I know. It’s just my own little wishful silver linings.
Zero Dark Thirty

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The Skinny: Think 9/11, torture, the inner workings of the CIA, and finding that damn bastard terrorist, Osama bin Laden. Oh, and Navy SEALs.

Trivia Tidbit: The climactic sequence devoted to the raid on Osama’s compound runs about 25 minutes, only a few minutes less than the real-life SEALs assault.

The Consensus: Zero Dark Thirty is a compelling piece of filmmaking, which makes you feel like you are right there, in the thick of the CIA machinations, getting frustrated when Jessica Chastain’s operative can’t make her superiors realize she’s right and then going into the bin Laden compound with the boys. But all the controversy over the torture and stuff seems to have hurt its chances at the Academy.

And finally, my pick for Best Picture…
Argo

argo

The Skinny: Director Ben Affleck delivers a thrilling dramatization of the 1980 joint CIA-Canadian secret operation to extract six fugitive American diplomatic personnel out of revolutionary Iran. Their plan? Concoct a fake movie production and make the fugitives part of the film crew on location.

Trivia Tidbit: The British embassy also helped the Americans by sheltering them for a few days, but it was agreed by everyone that the Canadian embassy was the most secure and suitable so they moved. Affleck acknowledged that he intentionally deviated from the real events in order to quicken the pace and build up the tension.

The Consensus: You know how it turns out, but man, it keeps you on the edge of your seat! Argo is just one of those all-around entertaining films that pleases the crowds, keeps critics happy and pokes fun at the industry everyone likes to poke fun at. Plus, it’s winning just about every other award there is.  The Academy, too, should be showering it with gold come Oscars night.

 

Road to the Oscars Series

January 14: Best Visual Effects – Ian Murphy

January 16: Best Sound Editing – Ian Murphy

January 18: Best Sound Mixing – Michael Benedict

January 21: Best Cinematography – Scott Youngbauer

January 23: Best Costume Design – Ian Murphy

January 25: Best Makeup and Hairstyling – Rebecca Susmarski

January 28: Best Film Editing – Dan Schindel

January 30: Best Production Design – Scott Youngbauer

February 1: Best Animated Feature – Carlos Aguilar

February 4: Best Documentary Feature – Dan Schindel

February 7: Best Documentary Short Subject – Dan Schindel

February 8: Best Live Action Short – Carlos Aguilar

February 9: Best Animated Short – Kit Bowen

February 10: Best Foreign Language Film – Carlos Aguilar

February 11: Best Original Score – Adam Spunberg

February 12: Best Original Song – Adam Spunberg

February 13: Best Original Screenplay – Dan Schindel

February 14: Best Adapted Screenplay – Jeremy Martin

February 16: Best Supporting Actor – Angela Stern

February 17: Best Supporting Actress – Hiko Mitsuzuka

February 18: Best Actress – Andrew Payne

February 19: Best Actor – Kit Bowen

February 20: Best Director – Andrew Payne

February 21: Best Picture – Kit Bowen

February 24: 85th Annual Academy Awards