It seems like every year we know the nominees for best picture before they even come out, at least we know the roughly 15 films that have a chance at grabbing those 10 or fewer spots. On occasion the Academy will throw the audience a curve ball, like District 9 in 2009 (incidentally my favorite film of that year), but the usual suspects are always pretty easy to spot. Certain types of films are largely ignored by the Academy, and history is littered with classics like, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey that have failed to get a best picture nomination because of their genre. Don’t expect this year to be any different.
2012 was a hallmark year for superhero films, with The Avengers smashing box office records and winning critical acclaim and Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy coming to a triumphant close. There was one more superhero film though which really won me over, Chronicle. It didn’t have bombs threatening to blow up cites, it was a much smaller character focused story about how power corrupts. The Academy has never been kind to superhero films, so neither Avengers or Dark Knight Rises has an outside shot, but Chronicle sadly can’t compete with the big boys.
When I first saw the trailer for The Grey I thought it looked incredibly stupid, but I’d enjoyed Joe Callahan’s last couple of dumb action films so I gave it a shot. I had no idea that this was in no way a “dumb action film,” but tragic story about a man’s struggle with wanting to kill himself, then coming face to face with death, and instead choosing to fight on. Every character’s personal journey is moving, and the movie is much more serious than I would have thought possible. However, it is still an action film, even if it isn’t a dumb one, and it came out in February, two huge red flags for the Academy.
The Hunger Games
The Hunger Games is in the classic tradition of the dystopian future science fiction film, referencing; government control, the differences between social classes and of course reality T.V. Other than the shaky cam there isn’t much to complain about, both fans of the books and those new to the film thoroughly enjoyed it, along with critics. The cast is stellar, led by rising star Jennifer Lawrence who will likely be up for her second acting Oscar nomination in three years. If any film on this list were to be the surprise nomination it would be this, but in a year where even The Hobbit is a longshot things don’t look good.
Animated films are somehow even more under represented than even science fiction at the Oscars. A grand total of three have been nominated, all of which were Disney, none of which were stop motion. Just about everything about Paranorman was amazing. Visually one of the most beautiful movies I’ve seen in years, not because of its perfection, but because of its imperfections; it somehow manages to look real and fantastic at the same time. It’s more than just ascetics though, the characters are relatable, tragic, and this kid’s movie deals with deeper and more complex issues than most of the films all year.
Before you start going off on how awful reboots are don’t forget that Batman Begins was the reboot that started the craze. Dredd is unfathomably better than 1995 version with Sylvester Stallone. Karl Urban manages to gives a reserved and amazing performance as Dredd and never even takes off his visor. The movie is just one of those simple, yet great action movies, reminiscent of Die Hard. It also has one of the coolest uses of slow-mo since The Matrix. The one thing more difficult to get nominated than a science fiction movie though is a science fiction reboot.
Yes, the movie about male strippers. In the hands of most directors this would have been a mess, or at best a silly comedy like The Full Monty. With Steven Soderbergh directing, it became a dark morality tale. Soderbergh’s films always feel much more real than most films, the dialogue is natural, and the characters act like actual people. The performances of both Channing Tatumm and Matthew McConaughey are extraordinary. Magic Mike, just isn’t Oscar Bait however, and frankly it wasn’t big or small enough to pop up on their radar.
Like Magic Mike, and last year’s Contagion, Haywire was a movie that could have been absolutely terrible if weren’t for the realism that Steven Soderbergh brought to it. The movie’s premise is nothing original, and the star is an athlete who’s never been in a movie before. Once again, however, Soderbergh’s realistic dialogue, along with a stellar supporting cast including; Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas and Ewan McGregor, make it an amazing film. The film’s unique visuals, somewhat reminiscent of Soderbergh’s Ocean’s trilogy, are another strong feature in the film. No matter how well done the movie is still an action movie from January, and is not getting any votes from the Academy.
A cool concept for a sci-fi movie only takes you so far; just look at In Time. Doing something with that unique concept isn’t easy, and after being pretty underwhelmed by Brothers Bloom, I was worried that Rian Johnson wouldn’t deliver. After seeing the movie I realized I couldn’t be more wrong. Time travel movies are always tough and paradox filled, and this movie directly addresses that in a great diner scene, telling everyone worried about it to just sit back and enjoy the show. Once again we have to realize that sci-fi movies are rarely Best Picture nominees, even time travel classics like Back to the Future and The Terminator were unrecognised upon release.
21 Jump Street
Unquestionably one of the funniest and smartest movies of the year. It managed to stay close to its roots, bringing in the actors from the original show, while also making fun of itself. 21 Jump Street is a brilliant satire of comedy, teen movies, buddy cops, and reboots. The film is hilarious on multiple levels, but in the end, the Academy still loves to turn its nose up at comedy. Even the Golden Globes didn’t include it in the Best Picture Comedy/Musical category, instead going with the likes of Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.
The Cabin in the Woods
Like 21 Jump Street this movie points out the conventional tropes of its genre, in this case horror, and makes fun of them, however, Cabin in the Woods takes things to the next level. The horror genre has always been keen to satirize itself, but this film is essentially a deconstruction of the entire genre. The characters controlling the madness and ruining the lives of the poor teens serve as stand in’s for the audience, and the ending is pretty damn memorable. No real horror film has ever won best picture (Silence of the Lambs was more of a thriller.) The only horror movies featuring any kind of supernatural creatures to be nominated for best picture are The Exorcist and The Sixth Sense.