Beasts of the Southern Wild
Life of Pi
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty
For the fourth consecutive year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has allowed more than five nominees for Best Picture: there were 10 finalists in 2009, 10 in 2010 and nine last year. This time there are again nine, and from a list of contenders much stronger than usual. The nominees span a wide range of genres, tones and levels of popularity — from Beasts of the Southern Wild, an indie tone poem made for pennies, to Amour, a dour French-language essay on aging and dying, with plenty of crowd-pleasers in between. We got a musical (Les Misérables) in which people sing very loudly, right in your face. We got a Western (Django Unchained), or rather a Southern, with buckets of blood and a jukebox of anachronistic songs. We got a kids-of-all-ages adventure (Life of Pi) about a boy and a tiger stranded on a raft in the Pacific. And we got a romantic comedy (Silver Linings Playbook) about two deeply disturbed kids who just have to fall in love while dancing. Kind of David and Lisa as Fred and Ginger.
Though the year’s biggest hits (The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, The Hunger Games and Skyfall) were absent from the leaderboard and relegated to citations in the technical categories, the Best Picture short list includes four films — Argo, Django, Les Miz and Lincoln — that earned more than $100 million at the North American box office. Life of Pi is at $92 million. Silver Linings Playbook and Zero Dark Thirty, which have been playing in limited release and will go wide on Friday, could also be popular as well as critical hits. Only Beasts of the Southern Wild, a visionary film and a bold choice by the Academy, fits the art-house mold. More people tune in to the Oscar ceremony (on Feb. 24 this year) when they’ve seen the movies, and this time they’ll have a few hits to be cheering for.
Lincoln, Argo and Zero Dark Thirty, the three early-favorite docudramas about war and revolution, were nominated as expected, though the denial of Best Director nominations for the last two movies makes their Best Picture chances iffier; no film since Driving Miss Daisy in 1990 has won the top prize without also being nominated in the Best Director category. That may leave Steven Spielberg as the last Hollywood man standing. His movie, written by Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winner Tony Kushner, is a war-torn civics lesson set in 1865 that speaks urgently to 2013 Washington, where the arguments are just as ferocious but the achievements meager. Lincoln looks like the one to beat for the Academy’s Best Picture of 2012.
Snubs: To make room for Amour and Beasts, voters subtracted a couple of marginal favorites from the final nine: Moonrise Kingdom, Wes Anderson’s sweet song about the stirrings of rebellion and love among preadolescents, and Skyfall, thought to perhaps be the first James Bond film to earn a Best Picture nomination. Turns out it isn’t. To the Academy, 007 is just a double-digit cipher.