The Oscars 2013 Best Picture Breakdown

Assistant copy editor Ben Cosman contributed to this article

The Frontrunners

Argo: Following what some believe to be a snub of Ben Affleck for a Best Director nomination, Argo’s Oscar stock has soared in recent weeks as the film has picked up top prizes at the Producers Guild of America, the Screen Actors Guild of America and the Golden Globes awards. If there’s a single frontrunner headed into Oscar night, it is Affleck’s telling of the CIA mission to rescue United States diplomats during the Iran hostage crisis.

Lincoln: An Oscar juggernaut from the onset, Steven Spielberg’s biopic of the 16th president – played perfectly by Daniel Day-Lewis – is a leading contender for the top prize. Featuring an all-star cast and a crisp, intelligent script by Tony Kushner, Lincoln sets itself apart from the other films this year with a leading 12 nominations.

Silver Linings Playbook: After winning the Audience Award at the Toronto Film Festival, it became clear that Silver Linings Playbook would be a crowd favorite. While it opened quietly at the box office back in November, strong word-of-mouth has given it longevity. Though it doesn't have the momentum of Argo, the fact that its four principal actors are nominated across all the acting categories – the first film since 1981’s Reds to do so – suggests it shouldn’t be counted out.

The Possible Contenders

Life of Pi: Directed by Ang Lee and based on Yann Martel’s novel of the same name, Life of Pi was once thought to be “unfilmable.” Lee’s adaptation silences any skeptics and does the spectacular novel justice. The film is beautiful and technologically masterful, the first 3D picture truly worthy of an Oscar nomination – 11, to be exact, second only this year to Lincoln.

Zero Dark Thirty: Kathryn Bigelow’s critically acclaimed film had a lot of buzz before its release. All the controversy over the depiction of torture – and whether or not the movie validated it – caused high levels of intrigue amongst the public. Unfortunately, the controversy ultimately overtook the actual film and the buzz has since waned. The movie still has plenty of admirers, but its chances of winning Best Picture have drastically slimmed.

Les Misérables: Director Tom Hooper’s last film, The King’s Speech, swept the Oscars only two years ago. So, expectations were high for his follow-up, Les Misérables. With an all-star cast that sang live on set, it appeared it would be a sure-fire hit. While the film has grossed a hefty 146 million at the box office, it divided critics. Despite its polarizing reaction, those who enjoyed it are passionate about their enthusiasm. That could be enough to put it over the top.

Lucky to Be Nominated

Django Unchained: Quentin Tarantino’s highest grossing film, Django Unchained, scored five Oscar nominations including Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor. While Christoph Waltz has a solid chance at a win, the film’s Best Picture aspirations don’t go much further than a nomination. Its best shot is Best Original Screenplay, for which Tarantino already brought home a Golden Globe.

Beasts of the Southern Wild: When Beasts of the Southern Wild first premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, it instantly became the talk of the town. It won the Grand Jury Prize and got a lucrative distribution deal with Fox Searchlight. Its surprise nomination in Best Director for Benh Zeitlin, on top of 9-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis’ historic Best Actress nomination, suggests large support amongst the academy.

Amour: The only non-English speaking film nominated for Best Picture, Michael Haneke’s story of love at the end of life is a near lock for Best Foreign Film, but its Best Picture hopes are slight. Amour took home the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival and certainly hits hard for a small group of voters, but likely won’t have the wide appeal necessary for a win.