#Oscars Countdown – Haven’t Seen The Films? Here’s A “Best Picture” Rundown From The Best To The Worst!

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Nine movies are nominated for Best Picture!  It’s quite a line up.  If you haven’t seen some of the films, here’s a quick rundown that will help you enjoy watching the Oscars more on Sunday.  But, *spoiler alert*, there are spoilers!

The Help

The Help is my favorite of the movies nominated this year.  For me, “Best Picture” means a classic film that I will want to watch again and again.  Laughing and crying.  My favorite movies are those that make you experience a range of emotions and cause you to think about something in a different way.  The Help filled all those criteria.  And filled them well.

The Help is the story of what life was like in the South in the sixties for African American maids.  Emma Stone plays “Skeeter”, a woman who is choosing a writing career over family and looking for a great story.  She interviews and eventually convinces, a community of women to open up and share their feelings and experiences.  They literally risk, not only their livelihood, but their lives.  We are given an intimate view of what it’s like to raise other people’s children, at the detriment of our own.  We see, through the eyes and hearts of Aibileen and Minny what it feels like to be told that you are not allowed to use the same bathroom as the children that you love and care for.  One of the most touching scenes is between Aibileen and the child, ignored by her mother, she cares for and is raising.  “You is kind.  You is smart.  You is important.”  Aibileen tells and has the child repeat this important message.  And we are obviously struck by the irony that the world is telling Aibileen the exact opposite about herself.  Yet Aibileen is strong enough, yes… kind enough, smart enough and important enough… to share a different message with this young child than what she is told again and again.

We are also given a rare insight into the relationships between the women in the community of the maids.  Aibileen and Minny are more than friends.  They share more than most of us will ever experience in our lives.  Kudos to Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer.  Their performances were outstanding.  Viola Davis, played the role of Aibileen, is nominated for Actress in a Leading Role and I’m pulling for her to win.  Meryl Streep was outstanding as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady but she didn’t grab my heart like Viola Davis did.  Whether it’s because of the acting or the story, Viola Davis is the shining star of this year’s nominated actresses.  The side stories are very strong in this movie.  The story between Skeeter and her mother?  Wow, powerful.  The story of the white woman, Celia Foote,  isolated from the others was also insightful and moving.

As an aside, only nine African American actresses have nominated in the Best Actress category, and Viola Davis, should she win, will only be the second African American to win in this category.  Halle Berry was the first, and only, in 2001 when she won for her performance in Monster’s Ball.

The Artist

*Deep Breath*  I’m predicting that The Artist is going to win Best Picture tomorrow night.  BUT, I have to tell you…. I didn’t like it.  Well, not exactly.  It was “okay”.  That’s it…. “okay”.

There’s a reason that “talking pictures” resulted in the end of silent films.  At one point in The Artist, someone says, “the audience wants talking films and the audience decides”.  Yes!  I wish the makers of The Artist would have listened to their own advice.  The audience (and me!!) wants talking films.  I enjoyed the whole silent-movie-thing for about ten minutes and then I was just frustrated.  Yes, it’s funny that the actors silently talk and talk and talk and then the word screen only shows three words.  Yes, it’s funny that the actors over-communicate their feelings in silent film.  Yes, it’s fun to have the background music.  For about ten minutes.  But the movie was 1 hr 40 min.  Which means for 1 hr and 30 min, I was wishing they would fade out and come back as a talking picture.  The black and white was okay, I like color better, but okay, I get it.  The silent though?  I got it, but didn’t like it.

The story is of a successful top-of-his-world Hollywood actor in silent films.  He gives a hand-up to a young woman and saves her from being fired.  His advice catapults her into major stardom as talking films burst onto the scene and Hollywood is saying “out with the old and in with the new.”  Are you yawning yet?  Predictable.  Predictable.  Predicatable.  The movie was a predictable as that third “predictable”.

There were many, many double meanings.  Many hidden messages and commentaries on the film industry and society in general.  Film students will love this movie and can posture for hours on the “meaning”.  But for entertainment value?  I’m sorry to say, in my opinion, it fell short.  The only thing that kept it interesting for me was watching leading actor, Jean Dujardin and leading lady, Bérénice Bejo.  They were not only handsome/beautiful – they were interesting.  Their emotions richly played out on their faces.  I could have watched the two of them for hours and hours.  And from Dujardin’s one line in the movie, I think I could listen for hours, as well.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have the chance to do that in The Artist.  I can’t wait to see him in more movies!

Berenice Bejo was also incredible, playing the role of Peppy Miller, a young ingenue who is given her big break by Dujardin.  Then when talking films are invented, Dujardin is tossed aside as an “old actor” and Peppy Miller becomes the-next-big-thing.  The chemistry between the two was setting the film on fire.  Oh yeah, and the dog was cute.  I’m convinced I want a Jack Russell.  I’m not convinced The Artist is Best Picture.  But I’m not a film aficionado, I’m just a plain old fan.

So, I think The Artist is going to take home the Best Picture Oscar, Jean Dujardin is going to take home the Best Actor Oscar.  But if I had a vote, I’d go with The Help and Demian Bichir for Best Actor.  But more about Best Actor when we look at….

The Descendants

Okay, you are married to George Clooney. He’s a lawyer, multi-millionaire. You live in a beautiful home with your beautiful family in… are you ready? … Hawaii. Your husband is a descendant of King Kamehameha so you are practically Hawaiian royalty. Now to be fair, your husband is a bit frugal – he believes in living on his earnings rather than the millions he inherited. He won’t let you buy a speed boat. You meet a real estate agent. Wait, a married-man-with-child, real estate agent. Need more?  He looks like Shaggy from Scoopy Doo?  You fall in love? Seriously?  You are going to ask George for a divorce?  Seriously, George Clooney versus Shaggy?

As unbelievable as that is, The Descendants was still a good movie! That isn’t easy, but the actors and director pulled it off. The scenery of George Clooney, oops, did I say that out loud?, I mean Hawaii, yeah, Hawaii was easy on the eyes too!

Pundits say that the Best Actor race is coming down to George Clooney and Jean Dujardin (known as the George Clooney of France!).  My vote would go to the underdog in the race, Demian Bichir.  He starred in a movie that didn’t make it to the Best Picture list, called A Better Life.  I honestly thought maybe they had made a mistake when they read the nominations and instead of Tree of Life, it was supposed to be A Better Life.  I loved that movie and it should have been on the list *stomping my foot*.

Okay, back to George Clooney‘s performance.  He was amazing as he portrayed the many layers of a feelings that a spouse experience when they discover they’ve been cheated on.  Clooney expertly takes us through shock, disbelief, humiliation, curiousty, anger, pain and finally acceptance.  The supporting cast also deserves mention – his daughters (Shailene Woodley, Amara Miler) and a daughter’s boyfriend (Nick Krause) are more than just a backdrop to show Clooney’s reactions.  They takes us along on their own rough road.  I’m sure we’ll be seeing their names on nomination lists in the coming years.


The film, Hugo, from Paramount Pictures and GK Films Production (Paramount) received the most nominations this year.  It is nominated in these categories:  Art Direction; Cinematography; Costume Design; Directing; Film Editing; Original Score; Best Picture; Sound Editing; Sound Mixing; Visual Effects; and Adapted Screenplay.

The story tells us of 12 year old, Hugo, who’s father dies suddenly leaving him orphaned.  His alcoholic uncle shows him how to run the clockworks in the great train station of Gare Montparnasse.  When the uncle disappears, Hugo continues to operate the clocks and hiding in the inner labyrinth of the station.  Hugo desperately tries to finish his father’s project – restoring an old automaton that is writing something on paper.  Hugo thinks it will be a final message from his father.  One day the young boy is caught by a toy store owner whose goddaughter befriends Hugo.  The two embark on an adventure to find out the connection between their families and uncover more secrets than just the message of the automaton.

There are some common themes running through the nominated movies this year – I’m seeing a Billy Crystal montage coming!  In both Hugo and Extremely Loud, boys who lose their beloved fathers are searching for a message.  Hugo and Midnight in Paris are both set in the City of Light, but the look of the two is very different.  The Paris of Hugo is the impressionistic view and Woody Allen’s Paris is realistic.  It’s Monet versus Courbet.

How many Oscars will Hugo take home?  Difficult to say, it almost seems to be a “jack of all trades/master of few”.

War Horse

War Horse was truly an epic movie.  It expertly tells the tale of a noble horse and it’s journey from rural England to the “no man’s zone” of war.  The relationship between man and animals is unique and director, and Spielberg communicated it with his usual craftsmanship.

The movie begins with the birth of “Joey” – a spirited and beautiful colt.  When it’s time for him to leave his mother and be sold (this horse loved his mom!), he is bought by a farmer who can ill afford to buy him.  The farmers son, Albert, quickly volunteers to train the horse and the incredible bond between the young man and this beautiful creature is forged.  After battling disasters of nature, the farmer must sell Joey to the English cavalry.  The movie follows the horse to France and the horrors of war.

Dictionary.com defines “epic” as a work that has for it’s subject matter heroic deeds.  Wikipedia describes an epic film as “Epic historical films often take a historical or imagined event, or a mythic, legendary, or heroic figure and add an extravagant, spectacular setting and lavish costumes, accompanied by a sweeping musical score, and an ensemble cast of bankable stars, making them among the most expensive of films to produce.”  Master Director, Steven Spielberg clearly wanted to create an epic film when directing, War Horse.  Many scenes reminded me of past such films:  ie war scenes similar to Saving Private Ryan (also directed by Spielberg); the ending scene similar to Gone With the Wind; the soldiers from opposite sides cooperating and seeing each other as people who could be friends in another time and place.

War Horse did make me experience a range of emotions and cause me to think about something in a different way.  But, and there’s a “but”, it wasn’t with the intensity and richness of The Help.  Speaking of intensity….. next up…

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

I dreaded seeing this movie.  I thought about skipping it.  Last year I skipped, 24 Hours, because I didn’t want to experience the intensity of that movie.  I expected Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close to be intense, manipulative and maudlin.  I didn’t want to cheapen or sensationalize the tragedy of Sept. 11th.  But something pulled me and I wanted to see the performance of Max von Sydow, nominated as Best Supporting Actor.

I was surprised and enchanted.  Do you know that feeling when a movie “pulls you in”?  When you lose track of time, lose track of place?  When you realize you’ve forgotten to breathe?  That was Extremely Loud.   I found myself laughing and crying out.  Feeling sadness and triumph.  I think many people maybe be hesitant to see this because of the Sept. 11th tie-in, but I encourage everyone to see it.  It’s an excellent film!

The story follows 9 year old Oskar who struggles to deal with the death of his father.  He is going through his father’s closet one day and accidentally finds an envelope with a key tucked inside a blue vase.  Oskar becomes convinced that it is part of a message that his father left for him.  The two would play elaborate searching games, following clues to an ultimate destination.  But what does the key fit?  There is a word, “Black”, written on the envelope and Oskar is determined to visit every person in the phone book (New York!) named Black to see if they know about the key.  When he starts on his journey, he is alone but eventually the old gentleman renting a room (Max von Sydow‘s role) from his grandmother joins Oskar.

Veteran Oscar winners, Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock play Oskar’s parents.  It doesn’t get much better than that for acting pedigrees.  And they are excellent in their roles.  The audience is given an insight into New York, its people, and the spirit of community that was felt in that year after the tragedy.

Midnight in Paris

I just returned from a trip to Paris – well, at least that’s how it feels after watching the Sony Pictures Classics movie, Midnight in Paris.  The movie opens with the traditional tourist scenes of Paris:  Notre Dame; Eiffel Tower; bridges over the Seine; Arc de Triomphe and continues to give us a beautiful tour of a beautiful city.

Oh yes, and there is a story!  Owen Wilson plays a romantic Hollywood writer who wants to try to write literature, instead of the movie scripts that earn him money, but not satisfaction.  He is visiting Paris with his fiance (played by Rachel McAdams) and her parents.  He falls in love with Paris and at the same time begins to question his love for his fiance.  One night, after deciding to walk to the hotel, he becomes lost on the Parisian streets.  As a clock strikes midnight, an old-styled car pulls up and the occupants encourage him to join them.  Where they take him is unbelievable, and what they give him is clarity about his life and love.  The cast boasts many other stars including:  Kathy Bates, Adrian Brody, Mimi Kennedy and Marion Coltillard.

 Midnight in Paris, a Pontchartrain Production (Sony Pictures Classics)  Art Direction; Directing; Best Picture; and Original Screenplay.  Directed by Woody Allen.


Brad Pitt plays the role of Billy Beane, the General Manager for the Oakland A’s.  His team has a very small budget compared to teams like the New York Yankees which means he can’t buy big name players.  In the “player shopping” wars, he automatically loses – he just doesn’t have enough money and his owner tells him to “be satisfied with what he has”.  But Billy wants to win.  For Billy Beane winning – and winning the last game – is all that matters.  It doesn’t matter that you “came close” or “gave it your all” or “did better than anyone expected”.  All that matters is winning the last game (the World Series Championship).

In a negotiation with another general manager, Billy notices a young unimpressive man, Peter Brand, (played by Jonah Hill) who garners the attention and respect of the other general manager.  He approaches Peter and finds out that he is a Yale Economics major who uses the theories of Bill James to statistically choose players.  This method is contrary to the entire baseball system of scouting players by experienced judges of talent.  But Billy Beane is living proof that the scouting system didn’t work.  He was a highly recruited player who didn’t materialize into the star that scouts told him he would become.

With their limited budget Beane and Brand form a team of old guys, broken guys, and freaks.  They don’t win, in fact they lose and lose and lose some more.  Beane who has always steadfastly refused to get to know the players starts giving them advice, encouraging them, and learning their strengths.  He becomes involved.  With a few roster changes, things start to change and the team starts winning. And winning.

Warning:  this isn’t your usual “underdog” sports movie.  It’s more complicated than that.  Brad Pitt excellently portrays the emotional struggle of the general manager, Billy Beane.  Beane’s definition of success, definition of winning, being a father, having “worth” is all at play.  Pitt makes the audience want him to win, want him to smile, want him to be happy for a change.  He’s such a melancholy character – he doesn’t even watch his own team play… or win.  In fact, he thinks he would jinx them if he did watch.

In the common thread of parent/child themes in the movies this year, Beane and his daughter go through a myriad of emotions during this time.  Pitt portrays the feelings of a parent growing farther and farther away from their child with great skill.  As our children grow up, they become more independent and because Pitt is divorced from his daughter’s mom and they don’t live together, he feels the separation all the more.

Moneyball, a Columbia Pictures Production (Sony Pictures Releasing), received nominations in these categories:  Brad Pitt – Actor in a Leading Role; Jonah Hill – Actor in a Supporting Role – this was one of the surprise nominations; Film Editing; Best Picture; Sound Mixing; and Adapted Screenplay.

Tree of Life

I read somewhere that opinions were polarized about this film.  Audiences either loved it or hated it.  I’m sorry to say, I’m in the hate camp.  The story was of a family in the fifties, from the memory of the oldest son, Jack (when grown up, played by Sean Penn).  Jack is searching for the meaning of life as he remembers his childhood and his relationship with his father (played by Brad Pitt).  There are pictorial asides – sort of PowerPoints – throughout the film that portray creation and natural beauty.  I just couldn’t like the clumsy philosophical journey or the dark memories of the character’s past in Tree of Life.

More Oscar Buzz 

In addition to the Best Actor and Actress race, there is a lot of buzz around Supporting Actress nominees.  One of my favorite TV actresses, Melissa McCarthy (Gilmore Girls and Mike and Molly), was nominated  for her comedic performance in Bridesmaids.  She played a character very different from her past roles and she did it very well.  Fans of Comedy were glad to see this genre get some well-deserved and long-awaited recognition.

Christopher Plummer is a heavy favorite in the Supporting Actor category for his role in Beginners.  Beginners, like The Artist, had an adorable dog in it!  But the movies are as different as black-and-white and color, gay and straight.  Sorry, couldn’t resist that.  Although I liked Plummer’s performance, I think this is more of a vote for his body of work, not the one film.

I wasn’t able to see My Week with Marilyn and I’m looking forward to it coming out on DVD.  From clips, Michelle Williams appears to have turned in an amazing performance as Marilyn Monroe.

There are only two nominees in the Best Original Song category (“Man or Muppet” from “The Muppets” and “Real in Rio” from “Rio”???  I read an extremely complicated article about the rules for this category and it’s a mess!  It’s been changed often and seems very complex.  Are there tax code people determining the qualifications?  They need to get the Las Vegas fellows in there.

The film, W.E., was written and directed by Madonna.  I haven’t seen it yet, but was surprised when the only nomination it received was for Costume Design.  It’s the story of  the affair between King Edward VIII and American divorcée Wallis Simpson and played to mixed reviews.

The 84th Annual Academy Awards are Sunday, 2/26, at 7 PM EST on ABC!  Enjoy!


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