Eight months ago, no one could have predicted that a charming silent film would be the frontrunner for Best Picture. Only one silent film, Wings, has ever claimed the top prize and that was way back in 1929. The Academy loves movies that celebrate the cinema, and the fact that The Artist is a clever, engaging film with almost no diegetic sound puts it over the edge.
What starts out as a lovely family movie slowly transforms into director Martin Scorsese’s ode to film and film preservation. Unlike The Artist, which celebrates the silent era of film by replicating the aesthetics, Hugo replicates the spirit of the era. It is also Scorsese’s first foray into 3-D and the result is simply magical. Hugo managed to capture the most nominations of any film this year, but it still is unlikely to beat The Artist. If any movie can do it though, it’s Hugo.
This is Alexander Payne’s first film since the critically lauded 2004 film Sideways. While The Descendants isn’t as universally loved, it still has a large amount of support. The fact that it stars George Clooney doesn’t hurt either. This intricately woven family drama has lost some steam, but it still has a shot.
One of the biggest surprises of the year, The Help became a box office sensation. It was the No. 1 movie for 25 days straight. Tackling a difficult part of American history, the film revolves around several black maids in the South and their relationship with a determined young journalist. Some accused the movie of misrepresenting an ugly section of America’s past, but few could deny the powerful performances from the cast.
Midnight in Paris
Woody Allen’s most successful film in years, Midnight in Paris delighted audiences with its clever concept and utterly charming characters. The film follows an American screenwriter in Paris named Gil as he attempts to overcome writer’s block. The film is probably too light and breezy to be crowned Best Picture, but it definitely reaffirms that Allen is still able to make great movies.
The Tree of Life
Perhaps the most polarizing movie of the year, The Tree of Life stunned audiences all over the world. Featuring some of the most jaw-dropping cinematography of the year, the movie is considered one of the most visually successful films of 2011. It is essentially plotless, following a family in 1950s Texas. Oh, and there are dinosaurs! Those who loved it say it is the best movie to come out in years, while those who hated it called it boring and pretentious.
War Horse is one of the more surprising nominees. While the film has accumulated moderate critical support, it had its fair share of detractors who thought the film was too obvious and heavy-handed (though staff writer Michael Schwartz gave it a five star review). Still, the movie has all the elements The Academy loves: Steven Spielberg, war, an unlikely hero and sentimentality.
Moneyball is a sports movie for people who hate sports movies. In fact Moneyball is aimed more at statisticians than sports fans. Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill (both nominated) give excellent performances as the duo that turned a failing baseball team into a rousing success. While the film has virtually no chance of winning, the adapted screenplay (written by Steven Zaillian and last year’s winner Aaron Sorkin) might.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Without a doubt the most shocking nominee, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close may be one of the most critically reviled films to ever run for Best Picture. Critics called the movie manipulative, exploitative, pandering and obvious. The film follows a young boy whose father dies in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11. With so much hatred toward this film, there is absolutely no way it will snatch the Oscar.
Michel Hazanavicius - The Artist
Martin Scorsese - Hugo
Terrence Malick - The Tree of Life
Woody Allen - Midnight in Paris
Alexander Payne - The Descendants
The easiest way to predict who will win Best Director is to look at the Directors Guild of America Awards. Since 1948, there have only been six times that the DGA winner hasn’t also won the Oscar. This year, Hazanavicius won the coveted award for his work on The Artist, and there is nothing to suggest that he won’t also win the Oscar. The only possible contender is Scorsese, who won the Golden Globe for Hugo.
Demián Bichir - A Better Life
George Clooney - The Descendants
Jean Dujardin - The Artist
Gary Oldman - Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Brad Pitt - Moneyball
A month ago, George Clooney was the clear front runner. His subdued performance in The Descendants won over critics and audiences. While Clooney still has the edge, Jean Dujardin has been steadily gaining momentum, recently winning the Screen Actors Guild award for Best Actor. If Dujardin can continue riding the wave of support for The Artist, he could sneak away with the Oscar. Brad Pitt still has plenty of fanfare for his incredible performance in Moneyball, but most of the attention toward that movie is for its screenplay. Demian Bichir has no chance of winning since no one really saw his movie A Better Life and Gary Oldman can simply enjoy finally calling himself an Oscar nominee.