Oscars 2013: A Student’s Guide to the Best Picture Nominees

Django: Unchained

poster1 What You Know: Jamie Foxx and Leo DiCap star in Tarantino’s maybe-racist bloody Western, of some sort. It’s on a lot of billboards, looks pretty badass.
What You’ve Heard: It’s pretty badass. Lots of blood.
What You Need to Know: Yeah, it’s pretty badass. Blood and badassery in the way that only Tarantino can, and for over two and a half hours. The soundtrack is full of surprises, and totally awesome. Every song punched you in the face, with Rick Ross, John Legend, and other artists making appearances at perfect moments. Bomb soundtrack aside, Django is not for the faint of heart. Violence has always been a trademark of Tarantino, and Django is no exception. I’m not usually a squirmy person; I can handle blood and gore, modern desensitization and all that… but damn, Django, you violent. Man vs man, dog vs man, man vs woman, guns and knives and teeth and nails, Tarantino holds nothing back. Samuel L. Jackson doesn’t either – he may look like an ancient desert turtle, but his vocal chords are still kicking. If you’ve heard about “that awesome German guy,” that would be Christoph Waltz, one of the absolute best performances in the movie. Leonardo DiCaprio is a strange breath of calm in the film, as the sadistic plantation owner of “Candyland.”

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If you’re still not sold, watch the movie knowing that eventually, randomly, when you least expect it…

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Watch the trailer here:

And a little taste of the soundtrack, two of my favourite tracks:

Zero Dark Thirty

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What You Know: Bin Laden on the big screen?
What You’ve Heard: It’s ….long.
What You Need to Know: It’s one of those movies you go into like “THIS IS GONNA BE AWESOME and informative!” Then you get there, the movie starts, and yeah, it’s kind of awesome, you get a look behind the scenes of all the Bin Laden efforts, the U.S. military, it’s all pretty cool. But it’s not two hours and 45 minutes cool. It drags. It lags. It lasted too long. I actually expected more, but it was still a good movie. Definitely worth seeing to make your own call. Jessica Chastain is awesome though, I feel like that’s pretty indisputable, whether the movie flowed as a whole or not. However, Kathryn Bigelow (the film’s director) upset the Oscars in 2009 with The Hurt Locker‘s win, beating Avatar, and it seems possible again. Girl power!

Lincoln

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What You Know: The poster is grey. Kind of looks like Saw if you’re not paying attention.
What You’ve Heard: Nothing too exciting.
What You Need to Know: Now, as someone who knows little but the basics about American history, I went into Lincoln knowing very little backstory. It’s interesting to see, especially because Lincoln isn’t a President that got to experience a legitimate media frenzy, so the public isn’t as familiar with Lincoln as a character, a husband, a father. I definitely had to make myself watch this one: 147 minutes of a lethargic-looking film about a President isn’t usually my first choice. However, it’s very different than I expected. Daniel Day-Lewis’ portrayal of Abraham Lincoln is smooth, subtle, and uniform, but cleverly investing. In the film, Lincoln’s goal is to abolish slavery, and he must find the votes from Congress to pass the amendment. But it’s a balancing act: if the law is passed before the civil war is over, the returning Southern states will not pass the law. But obviously, peace would save lives, so he wants the war to end. So Daniel Day-Lewis spends the majority of the movie having snappy, sassy conversations with other old, similarly-bearded politicians in dismal offices, telling them clever stories and tales to convince them to vote to pass the amendment. It’s definitely justified in its award nominations – directing and film structure, amazing. It’s a damn well made film (thanks, Spielberg), but it’s definitely a bit of a snooze. A well-crafted, soon-to-be-Oscar-winning-snooze. A classy nap. A long, classy nap.

Silver Linings Playbook

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What You Know: Bradley Cooper, Hunger Games girl, lots of nominations.
What You’ve Heard: Pretty positive reviews, funny, worth it.
What You Need to Know is all right here. It’s a great book turned into a pretty great movie, with an amazing cast and writers and everything is just great. Granted, romantic dramedys don’t usually fare well as contender’s for Best Picture, but there’s just something about Silver Linings. Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper both hold nominations for Best Actor/Actress as well, in addition to Russell’s directorial nomination and Robert De Niro and Jackie Weaver’s supporting actor/actress noms, so my hopes are high, and I just can’t wait for all that beautiful to be sitting together at one table.

Amour

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What You Know: …I got nothing.
What You’ve Heard: … nope.
What You Need to Know: A French film about death and old age (you’re still reading? Thanks!), it’s impressive that a film nominated for Best Foreign Language film made it to the big leagues for Best Picture. Also, the film’s lead actress snagged a Best Actress nom, making her the oldest ever in the category (at a solid 85 years). With the youngest nominee ever at 9 years old, the battle of the ages will be interesting.

Life of Pi

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What You Know: It was a book, right? And there’s a tiger, and a foreign kid on a boat.
What You’ve Heard: It’s been compared to Avatar, so that’s something.
What You Need to Know: Two words: earth porn. For an adaptation of a book deemed “unfilmable,” it was pretty fucking awesome. Avatar is long and intense and exotic and and cool, but man, Life of Pi is beautiful. Like, sitting-in-the-theatre-jaw-dropped-wide-eyes for a little over two hours (which I just had to Google, because when I saw it in theatres, I didn’t notice or care about how long it was). All the reviews and hype about the film has cited it as this epic, groundbreaking, exhilarating, incredible, unexpected masterpiece, and honestly, it is. The 3D is used entirely to enhance your experience with the film, not throw cheap gags in your face just to make you flinch.

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The characters in the film (mostly animal) are entertaining as hell, as they all develop personality and grow along with Pi. It’s a serious movie you don’t have to feel inappropriate laughing at; it’s funny, too! With clever little lines and hilarious moments (the evolution of Pi’s name, for one), you don’t get bored, and the captivating scenery and unbelievable cinematography never let you down. All in all, it’s an amazing film that entertains the eyes while lifting your spirits. I can’t help comparing it to a blend of Avatar’s exotic beauty, the spirit of Finding Nemo (just keep swimming!), and the animalistic sense of serenity reminiscent of Water For Elephants. But comparing Life of Pi to anything doesn’t do it justice. It’s really like nothing I’ve seen before, and it’s something you should definitely catch in theatres before it’s gone – I’m definitely not one to recommend 3D, but I’m doing it now. The preview doesn’t even do it justice, but enjoy:

Les Misérables

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What You Know: Musical! Singing. Wolverine singing. And… Anne Hathaway’s haircut
What You’ve Heard: Apparently it’s a big deal. Epic and such.
What You Need to Know: I saw Les Mis in one of the Cineplex VIP Cinemas that you’re allowed to drink in. Sure, my drink was a little pricey, but I used my Scene points to buy the ticket, and having a delicious egg nog cradled in my lap made sobbing through “I Dreamed a Dream” a little more emotionally bearable. I knew Hugh Jackman could sing, we’ve all seen him start the singing trend at the Oscars a few years back, and I personally think the video of Jackman calling out an audience member for cell phone use during his Broadway show is one of the funniest things ever (if you haven’t seen it, find it below under the preview). Jackman was solid, Anne Hathway impressed, but I just don’t know what to do with Russell Crowe. I don’t even think he was bad, I just don’t know what to do with it. Again, the movie was a little longer than it needed to be, but considering how long the play is, the film had to be pretty long to not piss off 28 years of theatre fans. It’s a sung-through musical, so the whole movie is sung, without a word spoken. Considering I didn’t realize this until AFTER I left the theatre, I don’t think it’s that big of a change from a regular musical, but if you’re not a fan of musicals, Les Mis might be a bit of a stretch (especially getting used to Wolverine as Jean Valjean). However, Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham-Carter’s onscreen rendition of “Master of the House” is exhaustingly entertaining, and Eddie Redmayne is a delicious little surprise, and definitely grows on you.

Also check out some hilarious Les Mis memes here.

Argo

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What You Know: Ben Affleck. Politics?
What You’ve Heard: Won some stuff, sounds pretty good.
What You Need to Know: It’s like watching everyone you ever thought was awesome… be awesome. And it’s based on actual (now-declassified) events. Ben Affleck teams up with Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and the foul-mouthed grandfather from Little Miss Sunshine (Alan Arkin) to come together and execute a plan to save six Americans who were taken from the U.S. Embassy in 1980 Iran. If seeing Walter White with hair and no moustache isn’t enough to invest you in the film, its sharp, sassy attitude will sell you. It’s Ben Affleck all the way, smart and biting without being torturously boring. With Victor Garber (Callahan from Legally Blonde) as the Canadian ambassador, and Tate Donovan as one of the escapees, every role is cast to perfection (maybe why it won the SAG Award for Best Ensemble?). The story is awesome, a political thriller with a hint of documentary: the escapees have to pose as a film crew and attempt to cross the border without getting caught. It’s an awesome story of countries and governments working together, and it’s especially awesome because Canada comes out on top (even if the film downplays our involvement/glorifies the Americans, there is a true story behind the Affleck movie, and it’s cool as hell). #winnawinnamaplesyrup

Beasts of the Southern Wild

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What You Know: Nothing.
What You’ve Heard: Nothing. Wait, is this where the little girl nominated comes from?
What You Need to Know: AHH. The little girl is so cute and so clever. The movie is a beautiful, cultural, entertaining, SUCCINCT piece of film. It doesn’t drag on longer than necessary, boasting a modest 91 minute runtime. I feel like every movie I’ve seen lately has lasted about 40 minutes longer than usual, and even the good ones take a lot out of you. BOTSW was just long enough, 91 minutes of pure heart. Both leads (the young girl, Hushpuppy, and her father, Wink) had no previous acting experience, and brought sincerity and realism to the roles. Quvenzhané Wallis, the young girl, impressed the casting agents with her lungs: burping on command, and an impressive scream. Dwight Henry, who plays her father in the film, was a modest bakery/cafe owner in New Orleans at the time of casting. The tight-knit crew had built a relationship with him over time, and finally got him to read for the part. He couldn’t resist, after realizing the realism he could bring to the role (Wink’s issues in the film stem from natural disaster, which Henry experienced firsthand in Hurricane Katrina), and was cast immediately. And damn. The whole film is fuelled by imagination and emotion, and narrated by young Hushpuppy, giving it a sense of innocence and naivety. She threatens her father with “eating birthday cake all over [his] grave,” and discusses “the universe getting busted.” Her story is an inspiration, and this is definitely a film you won’t soon forget. Also, the only nominee to come out before October! Released in October, this little girl’s big movie stuck.

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Don’t usually watch award shows? This year, the Oscars are hosted by Seth Macfarlane (creator and voice actor for Family Guy, Ted, etc), so you know that at the very least, you’ll be entertained by his opening monologue. Especially considering his past with hosting: “How do you prepare for a night like this? Personally, I smoked a lot of pot and don’t give a shit about this show. So I’m kind of a perfect host for this show, or for the Oscars” (quoted from his opening monologue at the Comedy Central Roast of Donald Trump). So, I’m excited. Plus, look how adorable he is:

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“Fun” fact: Macfarlane had a ticket to be on one of the planes that crashed in the 9/11 tragedy. Missed his plane by 10 minutes. Hangovers, not always a bad thing.

Other things to look forward to at this year’s show:

  • James Bond tribute, for the franchise’s 50th Anniversary
  • 85th anniversary of the Oscars themselves
  • Mila Kunis (always)
  • Whatever Angelina’s wearing (another leg meme in the works?)
  • Bradley Cooper (mmmmm..)
  • Will Best Actress go to the adorable 9-year-old, the powerful 85-year-old, 22-year-old J.Law, gritty Chastain, or Naomi Watts (for The Impossible)?
  • Anne Hathway (she’s a frontrunner to win for Supporting Actress, and her speeches are always entertaining. She’s just so cute, especially with her latest haircut.)
  • Red carpet preshows (just have it on in the background and absorb some fashion. Enjoy the beautiful people looking even more beautiful than usual. Or, more entertainingly, the beautiful people looking ridiculous). #OSCARs2013
  • Seth Macfarlane is set to close the show with Kristen Chenoweth and a musical number. Awesome.

The Oscars air at 8pm on ABC, Sunday February 24th. Red carpet and pre-shows air basically all day beforehand, flick on your TV and find it for yourself.

Follow Seth Macfarlane on Twitter here.
Follow the Academy for Oscar updates on Twitter here.
Follow me on Twitter here.

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