“Argo,” “Lincoln” or one of the others? Which is 2012’s Best Picture? That’s the big question for Academy Award voters. Which would get your vote? Here’s my choice and a few words about eight of the nine Best Picture nominees (alphabetically listed by titles). The nominated film I’ve not yet seen is “Amour.” I’m also casting my votes for Best Director, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actress and Actor, Adapted and Original Screenplay, Visual Effects and Animated Feature Film.
“Argo” — nominated for Best Picture and six other awards — has lots of film-going pleasures: smart script and direction, good performances (especially Alan Arkin, who’s nominated for Best Supporting Actor, and John Goodman), excellent story-telling editing and, most important to Hollywood people, a movie about movie-making even if, as Arkin’s character says, it’s a “fake movie.” “Argo” tells the (mostly) true story of U.S. hostages rescued from revolutionary Iran in 1979. Ben Affleck, who plays a central character, also directs.
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Like “Life of Pi,” “Beasts of the Southern Wild” (which I’ve seen only on DVD) could be nominated for Most Beautiful Picture, were there such an award. Both are treats just to watch. One of its stars, young Quvenzhane Wallis, is nominated for best actress. Director Benh Zeitlin is also nominated. “Beasts” is strikingly beautiful, with astonishing, dream-like images (except they’re in color) that instantly call attention to themselves, a strange coming-of-age story, and compelling performances.
I saw “Django Unchained” twice. Set in pre-Civil War south, it’s ecstatic filmmaking — beyond reason but not quite out of control. Director/writer Quentin Tarantino makes movies about the pleasures of moviemaking and movie watching. Everything is over the top — story, characters, images, music. Here, it’s a quest story in which freed slave Django (Jamie Foxx) and German bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) set out to free Django’s wife, Broomhilda von Schaft (Kerry Washington), from brutal Calvin Candle (Leonardo DiCaprio). “R” for strong, graphic violence, a vicious fight, language and nudity. My vote for Best Supporting Actor goes to Christoph Waltz. Tarantino’s script is also nominated.
The smash hit musical play comes to the movies with skillful singing actors, excellent production values and plenty of emotion. Hugh Jackman as central character Valjean is a Best Actor nominee; Anne Hathaway as doomed Fantine, a Best Supporting Actress nominee. She gets my vote for her risk-it-all performance of “I Dreamed a Dream,” the song that made Susan Boyle a sudden star. Victor Hugo’s classic novel has never looked better on the screen, although it’s been filmed at least six times, from 1935 with Frederick March and Charles Laughton to 1997 with Liam Neeson and Geoffrey Rush. Here Russell Crowe plays and sings Javert.
Life of Pi
“Life of Pi” is my favorite movie of the year and first runner-up for my Best Picture vote. Based on Yann Martel’s prize-winning novel — which I have begun to read — and — like “Beasts of the Southern Wild” — gorgeous to look at, director Ang Lee’s film is splendid and deserves to be seen more than once. Lee is nominated for Best Director. Like “Django Unchained,” it’s a quest film, but more spiritual than action. Piscine Molitor Patel, the central character (who renames himself “Pi”), tells his own story, so fantastic, rare and wondrous, it will — as Francis Adirubasamy, an old man, says — “make you believe in God.” See it (again) as soon as possible. “Life of Pi” gets my vote for Best Visual Effects. They are stunning. A wonderful movie.
“Lincoln” gets four of my Academy Award votes. It’s Best Picture of 2012. As Lincoln, Daniel Day-Lewis is Best Actor. Tony Kushner’s script is Best Adapted Screenplay. Spielberg is Best Director. Narrowly focused on the latter days of Lincoln’s presidency, the film documents the politics of getting the 13th Amendment to the Constitution through the House of Representatives. Not a pretty story, it has relevance to contemporary politics. Convincing reluctant Democrats and Republicans that the Amendment to abolish slavery must be passed before the end of the Civil War was not easy. Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln and Tommy Lee Jones as abolitionist representative Thaddeus Stevens are excellent, both runners-up for my Best Supporting Actress/Actor votes, but I’ve already cast those votes for Hathaway and Waltz.
Silver Linings Playbook
“Silver Linings Playbook” is the best romantic comedy/family drama I’ve seen in a long time, at least since “Crazy, Stupid Love,” and “Silver Linings” is better. Its stars, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, are nominated for Best Actor/Actress. David O. Russell, its director, is nominated for Best Director. A dozen remarkably fine actors perform in other roles. Among them, Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver are nominated for Best Supporting Actor/Actress. If there were an Academy Award for ensemble performances, “Silver Linings” would get my vote. It’s funny, touching, bawdy, tender and will make you feel good without being smarmy. I loved it.
Zero Dark Thirty
How the CIA found and assassinated Osama bin Laden is the story in “Zero Dark Thirty.” Jessica Chastain plays its central character. She’s called “Maya” (not the name of the real woman on whom Chastain’s role is based). She works for the CIA, is no-nonsense, and dedicated to, if not obsessed with, tracking bin Laden to his hideout. Chastain gets my vote for Best Actress, for this film and her astonishing work in others — last year’s “The Help” and “The Tree of Life,” for example. Kathryn Bigelow (like Ben Affleck) should have been nominated for Best Director for their work in two of the year’s best films. Mark Boal is nominated for his “Zero Dark Thirty” screenplay. However, my vote for Best Original Screenplay goes to Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola for “Moonrise Kingdom,” a quirky, delightful and charming film that never came to our cineplex but is on DVD. I recommend it.
My vote for Best Animated Feature goes to Tim Burton’s “Frankenweenie,” stop-motion, black and white homage to Hollywood’s classic horror films — “Frankenstein,” “The Bride of Frankenstein,” “The Birds,” “Jurassic Park,” “The Gremlins,” among others. It’s the story of a boy and his dog, grief, reanimation of the dead, family ties, coming-of-age, ruthless science-fair competition, and everything else. I loved it. You will, too.