Friday, February 17, 2012

Taking a look at this year's Best Picture nominees

The 84th annual Academy Awards, air next Sunday, Feb. 26, at 7 p.m. on ABC, so let’s take a rundown of the nominees.

Two years ago the Academy upped the limit of films nominated in the best picture category from five to 10 to allow for a better mix of art films with more popular films. This year they changed the rule so that the final list can be between five to 10. The Academy made this change to assure that the final list didn’t have unworthy films padding out the list to 10. This year the complicated process in which votes are counted only deemed nine films worthy.

The new process seems strange because surely in any given year there are at least 10 great films. Film critics across the nation come up with such lists every year and none of which have needless space fillers.

Surely, there was a 10th film that could’ve filled out the list. At the very least the final “Harry Potter” film should have been there if only as the culmination of one of the most consistently solid film series in film history.

Of the films there were nominated, “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” is definitely the odd duck. The film is neither particularly popular with audiences or critics. On the review-gathering website Rotten Tomatoes, only 45 percent of critics gave it a positive review. So, how did it make the cut?

Studios save the films they feel can get Oscar nominations until the end of the year. Academy voters are notorious for having short memories. This is why most of the films nominated are from the last few months of the year.

“Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” is a patented Oscar bait movie. It has big stars and even bigger emotions. The Academy loves a good, or even a bad, weepie. The film is about a child dealing with the death of his father in the 9/11 attacks and an adventure centered around what is perceived as a final clue from the father.

This is essentially the same plot as Martin Scorese’s “Hugo” albeit that film is set in France in the 1930s. Both films are nominated for best picture, but Scorese’s film, which is full of wonder, magic, humor and heart, only points out of the deficits of “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.”

Terrence Malick’s “Tree of Life” is the sort of dense drama that the Academy is known for honoring, but, it is also the weirdest film on the list. It is a film made as art rather than entertainment and it is beautiful to behold, often moving and thought provoking, and one of the more impenetrable films in recent years.

Steven Spielberg’s “War Horse” is the kind of melodramatic epic that the Academy loves. The film follows a horse as it trades hands and sides during World War I. It is a well crafted anti-war film that is very good at hitting emotional buttons.

Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris” is a whimsical, intelligent fantasy about a writer (Owen Wilson) who magically gets transported to Paris in the 1920s every midnight. The film becomes an exploration of how nostalgia has a way of blinding us to the good things right in front of us. It is not only of Allen’s best and funniest films in recent years, but of his whole career.

“The Artist,” the odds on favorite to win best picture, is a black and white (largely) silent film set during the 1920s and 1930s. A silent film made today is a tough sell and some have complained that it is a good emulation of the silent film era, but that you’re better off just watching classic silent films. Even so it is charming and sweet film powered by the immensely likable Jean Dujardin.

“The Help” is a crowd favorite exploring the civil artist movement through the maids that worked in Southern homes. It is an imperfect film, but it hits all its emotional bases with big laughs and big tears. It is an excellent showcase for some great actresses and it is likely to pick up some acting awards.

“Moneyball” stars Brad Pitt as the general manager of the Oakland A’s who, with the guidance of a young economist (Jonah Hill), buys a team based on statistics rather than traditional scouting techniques. On the surface, it is a movie about baseball, but, even if you know little about the game, it is still an engrossing, well acted drama with elements of light comedy.

“The Descendants” stars George Clooney as a father of two daughters simultaneously dealing with the imminent death of his wife and the knowledge that she was cheating on him. Co-writer/director Alexander Payne finds surprising moments of humor and emotional truth and in a film that feels honest and genuine.

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