*Beasts of the Southern Wild
Due to the Academy’s bizarre weighted voting system, there can be anywhere from five to nine nominees for the Best Picture Oscar (we think), so a plethora of films will be nominated. Les Misérables tugs at the heartstrings, Amour offers one of the more realistic depictions of on-screen love in recent memory, Silver Linings Playbook is a refreshingly coarse take on the screwball comedy, and Zero Dark Thirty provides a visceral, expertly crafted account of the decade-long hunt for Osama bin Laden. But it’s Benh Zeitlin’s little film—and protagonist—that could, Beasts of the Southern Wild, that deserves the Best Picture Oscar.
This stunning debut tells the tale of Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis), a ponderous 6-year-old girl who lives with her tough-love father, Wink (Dwight Henry), in “the Bathtub”—a Katrina-ravaged community in the southernmost reaches of the Louisiana bayou. A terrible storm melts the polar ice caps, unleashing a group of prehistoric creatures called Aurochs. Amid the chaos and her father’s diminishing health, Hushpuppy goes off in search of her long-lost mother. The film, made on a budget of less than $2 million—raised via a string of nonprofits—and shot on grainy, beautiful 16mm, was the most original and engrossing cinematic vision presented this year. “In a million years, when kids go to school, they gonna know: once there was a Hushpuppy, and she lived with her daddy in the Bathtub,” says Hushpuppy. Indeed.
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty
The Dark Knight Rises
*Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty
While Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild was the most original film of the year, and Michael Haneke and Paul Thomas Anderson showed why they’re considered two of the most technically masterful craftsmen around in Amour and The Master, respectively, no filmmaker exhibited as thrilling a combination of craft, complexity, and vitality as Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty. That she could methodically capture the behind-the-scenes action that went down during the decade-long manhunt for Osama bin Laden, as well as splicing in kinetic action sequences, in less than three hours—and present it in such cohesive fashion—is a staggering achievement. Bureaucracy and tradecraft have never been this engaging. Bigelow deserves to be the first woman to take home not one, but two Best Director Oscars. The times they are a-changin’ ... and it’s about goddam time.
Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Paul Thomas Anderson, The Master
Michael Haneke, Amour
David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
*Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
Daniel Day-Lewis is positively stately as Lincoln, and there’s no denying his dedication to the role, going so far as texting costar Sally Field as Lincoln months prior to shooting. Denzel Washington is brilliantly unhinged as a booze- and drug-fueled airline pilot in Flight, John Hawkes made a polio-afflicted man with precious little body movement incredibly engaging and hilarious, and Denis Lavant assumed up to 10 identities in the bizarrely captivating Holy Motors, but nobody gave as mesmerizing a performance as Joaquin Phoenix in The Master. Despite being a pretty poor politician, Phoenix fully embodied Freddie Quell, a sex- and booze-obsessed World War II Navy veteran who falls under the wing of a captivating mystic (Philip Seymour Hoffman) preaching a New Age philosophy. No character this year is more volatile and unpredictable; you never know what the hunched-over, smirking Quell will do next. To prepare for the role, Phoenix studied captive animals and improvised his prison freak-out scene—accidentally destroying a toilet in the process.
Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
Denzel Washington, Flight
John Hawkes, The Sessions
Denis Lavant, Holy Motors
*Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
There’s really nothing bad anyone can say about Jennifer Lawrence, which, in today’s tabloid celebrity culture, is some kind of miracle. She’s as refreshingly candid an interview subject you’re likely to come across and, at 22, has already earned her indie stripes—a Best Actress Oscar nod for 2010’s Winter’s Bone—and anchored a critically acclaimed blockbuster franchise in The Hunger Games. Lawrence is redefining what it means to be a Hollywood megastar and, in Silver Linings Playbook, goes one step further by delivering her best performance to date as Tiffany Maxwell—a grieving 20-something widow who falls for the mentally unstable Pat Solitano, played by Bradley Cooper. In one scene late in the film, she goes mano a mano with screen legend Robert De Niro, rattling off a series of sports scores to prove she’s no bad-luck charm. After effectively blowing him off the screen, she pops a Budweiser and takes a swig before gazing at the defeated one last time. Lawrence makes acting look so damn easy; that’s how gifted she is.
Marion Cotillard, Rust and Bone
Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
Quvenzhané Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Naomi Watts, The Impossible
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
*Leonardo DiCaprio, Django Unchained
The best-supporting-actor categories are the ones where the Academy always—without fail—seems to dole out career Oscars to veteran screen actors. Remember when Martin Landau’s Bela Lugosi (Ed Wood) beat out Samuel L. Jackson’s iconic Jules Winnfield (Pulp Fiction)? That was a crying shame. Furthermore, the Academy always—without fail—neglects the attention-grabbing comedic performances of the year. And wasn’t it Robert De Niro who said comedy is tougher than drama? Anyway, this year’s crop included a hilariously over-the-top performance by Matthew McConaughey as aging stripper Dallas in Magic Mike; Christopher Walken at his deadpan best, in his juiciest role in years, in Seven Psychopaths; and Ezra Miller’s breakout turn as a capricious, closeted gay teen in The Perks of Being a Wallflower. But this year’s pick is a This Boy’s Life showdown between De Niro’s compassionate, loving father in Silver Linings Playbook—in his best performance in ages—and Leonardo DiCaprio’s gleefully psychotic turn as dandy Francophile and brutal slave owner Calvin Candie in Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained. The edge here, in my opinion, goes to DiCaprio, whose turn as Candie revitalizes Django about an hour into the film and who commands the screen every second he’s on it. His demented phrenology monologue to Django all but seals it.
Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook
Matthew McConaughey, Magic Mike
Christopher Walken, Seven Psychopaths
Ezra Miller, The Perks of Being a Wallflower
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
*Anne Hathaway, Les Misérables
Again, the Academy will probably neglect the most memorable supporting turns this year—Charlize Theron’s delicious turn as the evil witch in Snow White and the Huntsman; Rebel Wilson’s shirt-busting, scene-stealing performance as the sassy Fat Amy in the a capella comedy Pitch Perfect; Rosemarie DeWitt’s entirely improvised role as a lesbian unknowingly caught in a bizarre love triangle in Your Sister’s Sister; and Doona Bae’s impressive Hollywood debut as a Korean replicant of sorts—along with a few other characters—in the time-traveling saga Cloud Atlas. But Anne Hathaway’s performance as Fantine, the forlorn prostitute in the mega-musical Les Misérables, is undeniably brilliant. If you don’t get choked up during her phlegmy, borderline-hysterical rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream,” well, you may not have a soul.
Charlize Theron, Snow White and the Huntsman
Rebel Wilson, Pitch Perfect
Doona Bae, Cloud Atlas
Rosemarie DeWitt, Your Sister’s Sister