Nine films battle for Best Picture glory

Jason Fraley, WTOP Film Critic

WASHINGTON – Who will be the big winners this Sunday at the Academy Awards?

WTOP Anchor Bruce Alan gave it an educated guess:

  • Best Picture: “The Artist”
  • Best Actor: George Clooney (“The Descendants”)
  • Best Actress: Viola Davis (“The Help”)
  • Best Supporting Actor: Jonah Hill (“Moneyball”)
  • Best Supporting Actress: Octavia Spencer (“The Help”)

WTOP Anchor Mike Moss drew his picks out of a lucky basket:

  • Best Picture: “The Artist”
  • Best Actor: Gary Oldman (“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”)
  • Best Actress: Michelle Williams (“My Week with Marilyn”)
  • Best Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer (“Beginners”)
  • Best Supporting Actress: Janet McTeer (“Albert Nobbs”)

WTOP listeners think it will go like this:

  • Best Picture: TBD (take the poll to your right)
  • Best Actor: Jean Dujardin (“The Artist”)
  • Best Actress: Viola Davis (“The Help”)
  • Best Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer (“Beginners”)
  • Best Supporting Actress: Octavia Spencer (“The Help”)

Here are my picks:

  • Best Picture: “The Artist”
  • Best Actor: Jean Dujardin (“The Artist”)
  • Best Actress: Viola Davis (“The Help”)
  • Best Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer (“Beginners”)
  • Best Supporting Actress: Octavia Spencer (“The Help”)

In case you missed them, here are my breakdowns of Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress and Best Supporting Actor. Now it’s time to explore the nine films up for Best Picture, ranked in order of who I think deserves to win:

“The Artist”

Is a Best Picture really the “best” if it’s not competing against every film? International films are too often relegated to the “Best Foreign Language” category. Thankfully, the French silent film “The Artist” has bypassed those silly rules this year by having no language at all — only English title cards — and finding distribution with Hollywood’s Weinstein kingmakers.

If it wins, it will be the first silent film to win Best Picture since the awards began in 1927-28, the same year “The Jazz Singer” introduced the world to talking pictures. While the film is no doubt riding the novelty of its silent gimmick, it would not win if it weren’t a great movie in all other aspects. I found it charming, touching and directed with a rare degree of historical commentary and symbolism.

Nominated for 10 Oscars: Best Picture, Director, Actor, Supporting Actress, Original Screenplay, Cinematography, Editing, Art Direction, Costume Design and Original Score.

Full Review: Return to form: ‘The Artist’ exposes the ‘art’ of filmmaking

Listen: ‘The Artist’

“The Descendants”

Also don’t be surprised if “The Descendants” takes it. The film features a rare blend of comedy and tragedy, hitting the full range of our emotions. It also features a career performance by George Clooney, grieving the loss of his comatose wife, fighting feelings of revenge and reconnecting with his two young daughters. It’s most likely to win in the Adapted Screenplay category, where writer/director Alexander Payne won a few years ago for “Sideways” (2004). Still, this is the kind of movie the Academy loves to love, so a Best Picture win is not out of the question.

Nominated for five Oscars: Best Picture, Director, Actor, Adapted Screenplay and Editing.

Full Review: ‘The Descendants’ strikes balance between laughs and tears

Listen: ‘The Descendants’

“The Tree of Life”

Terrence Malick’s ethereal meditation on faith and the history of the universe has already won cinema’s top art prize, the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. The Academy, however, doesn’t usually go for something this artsy, preferring storylines and main characters over theme and experimentation. Years from now, we may look back and say Oscar overlooked a masterpiece, but right now, “The Artist” and “The Descendants” appear more in keeping with past winners. And really, what better compliment for a filmmaker constantly reaching beyond Oscar’s grasp.

Nominated for three Oscars: Best Picture, Director and Cinematography.

Full Review: ‘Tree of Life’ walks thin line between profound, pretentious

Listen: ‘The Tree of Life’

“Midnight in Paris”

Woody Allen has made a career of fanciful situations and complex relationships, and “Midnight in Paris” is no different. The film’s best chance lies in the Original Screenplay category, where Allen has been nominated 15 times before, winning twice (“Annie Hall” and “Hannah and Her Sisters”).

Nominated for four Oscars: Best Picture, Director, Original Screenplay and Art Direction.

Full Review: Woody Allen searches his own nostalgic soul in ‘Paris’

Listen: ‘Midnight in Paris’

“Hugo”

Like “The Artist” and “Midnight in Paris,” “Hugo” completes the trifecta of nostalgic nominees championing movie history for a new generation. While Martin Scorsese set out to make a movie his kids could finally watch, the film is really for cinephiles who will appreciate all the references to pioneering silent films. The film is Scorsese’s first in 3D, and the master uses it as more than just a gimmick to present a profound commentary on the evolution of film technology.

If “The Departed” (2006) had not already won Best Picture, “Hugo” may have earned the make-up Oscar for Scorsese’s storied career. Instead, it could win him a second Best Director statue, but even that would be an insult to “Taxi Driver” (1976), “Raging Bull” (1980) and “GoodFellas.”

Nominated for 11 Oscars: Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Editing, Art Direction, Costume Design, Original Score, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing and Visual Effects.

Full Review: Scorsese conducts magical 3D experiment in ‘Hugo’

Listen: ‘Hugo’

“Moneyball”

While “Midnight in Paris” could win Best Original Screenplay, “Moneyball” stands its best chance to win Best Adapted Screenplay, as co-writer Aaron Sorkin did last year for “The Social Network” (2010). A “Moneyball” win for Best Picture would be a real shocker, as only three sports movies have ever done it: “Rocky” (1976), “Chariots of Fire” (1981) and “Million Dollar Baby” (2004).

Nominated for six Oscars: Best Picture, Actor, Supporting Actor, Adapted Screenplay, Editing and Sound Mixing.

Full Review: ‘Moneyball’ changes the baseball movie game

Listen: ‘Moneyball’

“The Help”

“The Help” will likely win for Best Actress (Viola Davis) and Best Supporting Actress (Octavia Spencer), but a win for Best Picture would be an upset. It’s hoping to take the “Crash” route, riding a racially diverse cast to win Best Ensemble at the SAG Awards and catapult to an Oscar for Best Picture. I don’t see that happening here. Despite superb performances from top to bottom, “The Help” lacks the historical importance of “To Kill a Mockingbird” (1962) or the daring style of “Do the Right Thing” (1989), which both didn’t win. Then again, the Academy has been a “Johnny Come Lately” before.

Nominated for four Oscars: Best Picture, Actress and Supporting Actress (x2)

Full Review: ‘The Help’ brings deep cast to the Deep South

Listen: ‘The Help’

“War Horse”

Steven Spielberg has only won Best Picture once, for “Schindler’s List” (1993), and if he didn’t win for “Jaws” (1975), “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981), “E.T.” (1982) or “Saving Private Ryan” (1998), “War Horse” doesn’t stand a chance. It’s a fine film, just not Best Picture material. If this were a traditional five-horse race, “War Horse” would be back in the stable.

Nominated for six Oscars: Best Picture, Cinematography, Art Direction, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing and Original Score.

Full Review: ‘War Horse’ a long shot in Oscar horse race

Listen: ‘War Horse’

“Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close”

If this exploitative 9/11 film wins Best Picture, it may go down as the biggest Oscar blooper in history. Max von Sydow is deservedly in contention for Best Supporting Actor, but the overall film fancies itself to be way more profound than it actually is. How it got nominated for Best Picture, I’ll never know.

Nominated for two Oscars: Best Picture and Supporting Actor.

Full Review: ‘Extremely’ promising and ‘incredibly’ disappointing

Listen: ‘Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close’

Check out our predictions for Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress and Best Supporting Actor. Listen all Sunday for a rundown of all the Best Picture nominees. Read more from WTOP Film Critic Jason Fraley by clicking “Fraley on Film” under the “Living” tab above, and check out his blog, The Film Spectrum.

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)


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