Entertainment reporter Erin McCracken and FlipSide editor Pat Abdalla love movies. Between the two of them, they've seen all the titles up for Best Picture at this year's Academy Awards. Read what they had to say about the nine nominated films.
Erin's take on "Amour": I expected this French film to be sad and slow. But it dragged at an almost unbearable pace. I suspect techniques the filmmakers employed, i.e. opening and closing doors, elevated this film in the eyes of critics. But most of those devices were likely lost on the average moviegoer, especially in such an aesthetically sparse and emotionally dense storyline. Not one of us can avoid the challenges of aging. But the worst-case scenario presented in this film makes nursing homes - even in France - seem like spas. Kudos to Emmanuelle Riva for her heartbreaking performance. But for me, this film was more puzzling than moving.
Pat's take on "Argo": This is probably the odds-on-favorite for best picture. Ben Affleck takes an interesting story and uses old school movie techniques - great storytelling, perfect casting, enthralling performances - to give you a movie that is engrossing. Affleck doesn't rely on any fancy tricks of editing, dialogue or special effects to make you feel suspense. He just lets the story unfold.
Erin's take on "Beasts of the Southern Wild": If anyone else saw "The Tree of Life" - last year's expansive Best Picture nominee that heaped on metaphors to hint at universal themes - you'll understand why I would compare that film to this one. At roughly
90 minutes, this is the shortest Best Picture nominee. But it uses its time wisely to pack a punch. More experience than movie, "Beasts" transports viewers to a world that's familiar but unknown. With a clever mix of childhood wonderment and lush cinematography, it addresses a hot political topic sans soapbox. It is my vote for Best Picture. In child actress Quvenzhané Wallis, a star is born.
Pat's take on "Django Unchained": I used to think Quentin Tarantino was a bit overrated. His movies were fun and interesting, had amazing dialogue, and over-the-top violence, but they were not much more than that. Then came "Inglourious Basterds," which was amazing. His storytelling talents have really grown, as has his ability to pull the viewer into the movie. I didn't think he'd top it, but "Django" does. By far. It's a great yarn, well told, with fantastic performances.
Pat's take on "Les Misérables": Look, I enjoyed "Les Miz." I thought it was a great movie, and Anne Hathaway was fantastic and deserving of any award she gets. It deserved a nomination for Best Picture, but not the award. It should not win at the expense of the other movies on this list.
Pat's take on "Life of Pi": I'll start by saying "Pi" is one of my all-time favorite books, and that I was skeptical it could be turned into a worthwhile movie. I couldn't have been more wrong. Ang Lee's version blew me away. No movie has ever pulled me into a different world so successfully or enjoyably. The visuals were stunning, but unlike a James Cameron film, this was more than visuals. This movie made me examine how I look at the world. And every moment of it was fun and wonderful. I hope it wins Best Picture.
Pat's take on "Lincoln": An all-star cast, managed by Steven Spielberg and anchored around Daniel Day-Lewis and Tommy Lee Jones, delivers a compelling vision of how President Abraham Lincoln won the Civil War and ended slavery in America. We don't normally like to see how the sausage is made in Washington, but Spielberg's version - thanks to knowing how right Lincoln was - makes us think government can be noble.
Erin's take on "Silver Linings Playbook": Contrary to popular belief, not everyone from Philadelphia is a die-hard Eagles fan. But the fact that this movie is set in the Philly 'burbs likely struck a chord with folks in the region like me who grew up going to the King of Prussia Mall. The first half of the family drama is so emotionally raw that it makes up for the film's lackluster, almost-too-prefect ending, à la "Dirty Dancing" or, more recently, "Slumdog Millionaire." I enjoyed the movie immensely, but it could have used a tighter edit. I'll hear the argument that Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper deserve acting awards, but the only performance I'm sold on is Robert De Niro's supporting role.
Erin's take on "Zero Dark Thirty": Nothing I read about waterboarding - an enhanced interrogation technique used by the CIA - prepared me for seeing it depicted on the big screen. The genius of this movie is that its agenda - if it has one - isn't apparent. Viewers are allowed visceral reactions and the ability to form their own opinions. The presentation of Osama bin Laden's pursuit and capture render pride indiscernible from shame and right indiscernible from wrong. But the movie's straightforward approach can also be construed as a flaw. Jessica Chastain's performance is at once brilliant and one-note. Regardless, I'm hoping director Kathryn Bigelow takes on drone wars next.
Erin's take: "Hyde Park on Hudson" and "Bernie" should have landed among the Oscar nominees. "Moonrise Kingdom" deserved more than one writing nomination. And if Hollywood was going to over-award an epic novel adaptation this year, it should have been Joe Wright's fresh and imaginative take on "Anna Karenina" (already nominated for production design, original score, cinematography and costume design) instead of Tom Hooper's good-but-not-groundbreaking take on "Les Misérables" (nominated in twice as many categories).
Pat's take: One of the biggest problems for me was Ben Affleck not getting nominated for Best Director. But you've already heard enough people rant about that. The movie that I feel has gotten nowhere near the credit it should have is "End of Watch." It basically renovated the buddy cop genre as strongly as "Batman Begins" redid the comic book movie. The story was great, but Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña were fantastic. Peña's been fantastic for years now, turning in strong performances in "World Trade Center" and "The Shield."
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