Top 15 Films of the Year, No. 3 – Zero Dark Thirty

Zero Dark

Zero Dark Thirty is a film directed by Kathryn Bigelow, with a screenplay written by Mark Boal.  The film tells the story of Maya, a CIA operative who, for over a decade, is dedicated to a single mission—to find Osama bin Laden.  She spends every waking moment interrogating detainees and doing intense research in order to track down the world’s most wanted man.  After years of devoted work, some clues to the whereabouts of bin Laden emerge, and even though most high-ranking officials in the US government do not fully trust her about his location, Maya remains steadfast in her belief that she has finally found the infamous terrorist.

This is the second collaboration between Bigelow and Boal, the first being their Best Picture-winning film The Hurt Locker (2008).  After seeing their latest partnership at work, it is clearly evident that these two have an uncanny knack for creating spellbinding war-related movies.  Even though there are stark similarities between the two films, Zero Dark Thirty is based around true events of the manhunt for Osama bin Laden.  The movie was met with controversy due to its take on torturing detainees, but I quite enjoyed the veracity of these scenes, and without those, I feel the movie would have been significantly lacking a punch.  I truly believe this was one of the year’s most amazing films, and it will definitely be a top contender for the highest Oscar honors; with that said, it still does not quite meet the standards that The Hurt Locker originally set.

The story behind the creation of this film is fascinating.  Bigelow and Boal had originally written a screenplay about the notorious Battle of Tora Bora, and they had planned to tell the story of the long, but unsuccessful hunt for Osama bin Laden.  They were actually about to begin filming when news of bin Laden’s death broke.  Immediately, they stopped working on their original film and began to work on a brand new original screenplay about the killing of bin Laden.

Just like The Hurt Locker focused most of the movie on one particular character and his life during the war, Zero Dark Thirty concentrates on the emotional and professional growth of a single character, Maya (Jessica Chastain).  Even though there are some key supporting characters, like Dan (Jason Clarke), Patrick (Joel Edgerton), and George (Mark Strong), Maya’s character is the central figure the film uses to develop the plot.

Chastain is an actress who is rapidly gaining immense popularity due to some impressive performances in The Tree of Life (2011), The Help (2011), and Lawless (2012), and in this movie, she shows everyone why she is an Oscar-nominated actress.  She begins the movie as a shy, reluctant character, but quickly she becomes a fiery force to be reckoned with.  I was blown away by her portrayal of Maya, and this striking depiction may just earn her an Academy Award for Best Actress.  Zero Dark Thirty is rated R for strong violence, including brutal disturbing images, and language.

Zero Dark Thirty trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YxC_JNz5Vbg

Academy Award nominations for Zero Dark Thirty:

Best Picture (Mark Boal, Kathryn Bigelow, and Megan Ellison, Producers)

Actress in a Leading Role (Jessica Chastain)

Film Editing (Dylan Tichenor and William Goldenberg)

Sound Editing (Paul N.J. Ottosson)

Best Original Screenplay (Mark Boal)

Previous movies on the countdown of the Top 15 Films of the Year:

4. Skyfall

5. Django Unchained

6. Life of Pi

7. Amour

8. Les Misérables

9. Beasts of the Southern Wild

10. Looper

11. The Perks of Being a Wallflower

12. The Dark Knight Rises

13. Flight

14. The Master

15. Argo

Top 15 Films of the Year, No. 4 – Skyfall

Skyfall

Skyfall is a film directed by Sam Mendes, with a screenplay written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and John Logan.  This is the 23rd James Bond film and the third in the Daniel Craig era, preceded by Casino Royale (2006) and Quantum of Solace (2008).  In the newest addition to the 007 series, Bond begins the film with an intense fighting scene as he is chasing a mercenary.  He ends up falling over a bridge and is presumed dead by all of MI6; however, when MI6 comes under attack by a major terrorist, Bond must reemerge from his hiding and help Britain’s intelligence agency hunt this rebel down.  As more details of the terrorist and his plot are revealed, dark secrets about M are uncovered, and 007’s loyalty to his superior is greatly tested.

In the third of Craig’s Bond movies, he and Mendes have created one of the greater films in this storied franchise’s history.  After Quantum of Solace, I began to think Craig would never make another 007 film as great as Casino Royale and would end up fading into history as another average Bond that could never measure up to the greatness of Sean Connery’s original portrayal.  That was until I saw Skyfall.  Daniel Craig clearly made a statement in this film that he is the best James Bond since Connery.  Mendes and Craig have included much more dramatic elements than previous Bond films, not to mention some dazzling special effects that make the terror and destruction in the movie feel real to the viewers.  I rank Skyfall as the second-best film in the franchise, ahead of Casino Royale (2006), From Russia with Love (1963), and Dr. No (1962), but I have put it behind Goldfinger (1964), which I still consider to be the top Bond movie of all time.

The cast that was assembled for Skyfall only adds to the sensation of the film.  Dame Judi Dench reprises her role as M, giving a stellar performance as a character she has played in each consecutive film since 1995, beginning with GoldenEye.  Another strong performance in the film is provided by Oscar-winning actor Javier Bardem.  He plays the film’s villain, Raoul Silva, and portrays the character in such a creepy, disturbing way that it makes Anton Chigurh from No Country for Old Men (2007) look like the nicest guy in the world.  The film features some other great supporting performances by Ralph Fiennes as Gareth Mallory, Ben Whishaw as Q, Naomie Harris as Eve Moneypenny, and Bérénice Marlohe as the newest Bond girl, Sévérine.

As this blog has proved, I am always excited for the Academy Awards, but this year, I have an extra layer of anticipation because the Academy plans to honor the 50-year anniversary of the first James Bond movie with a tribute to the legendary franchise, including Adele performing “Skyfall,” the newest film’s theme song, which is nominated for Best Original Song.  Skyfall is rated PG-13 for intense violent sequences throughout, some sexuality, language, and smoking.

Skyfall trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6kw1UVovByw

Academy Award nominations for Skyfall:

Cinematography (Roger Deakins)

Best Original Score (Thomas Newman)

Best Original Song (“Skyfall,” music and lyrics by Adele Adkins and Paul Epworth)

Sound Editing (Per Hallberg and Karen Baker Landers)

Sound Mixing (Scott Millan, Greg P. Russell, and Stuart Wilson)

Previous movies on the countdown of the Top 15 Films of the Year:

5. Django Unchained

6. Life of Pi

7. Amour

8. Les Misérables

9. Beasts of the Southern Wild

10. Looper

11. The Perks of Being a Wallflower

12. The Dark Knight Rises

13. Flight

14. The Master

15. Argo

Best Actor

Jackman

This year’s field of Best Actor nominees includes two newcomers to the ceremony and three other actors with a rich history at the show.  Hugh Jackman and Bradley Cooper have each been acting for quite a while, but with their performances this year, they have each properly earned their first Oscar nomination.  Joaquin Phoenix, Daniel-Day Lewis, and Denzel Washington are no strangers to the Academy Awards, having previously won a combined four Oscars on eleven nominations.  With the way this year’s group has rounded out, it is sure to be a dogfight to the end, and honestly, any of these actors would be worthy of the Academy’s highest acting honor.  The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Actor in a Leading Role:

WINNER: Hugh Jackman (Les Misérables)

In Les Misérables, Hugh Jackman plays Jean Valjean, an ex-con on the run from Javert, the determined and relentless French policeman.  Valjean eventually meets a factory worker and agrees to raise her daughter Cosette.  In Tom Hooper’s interpretation of the infamous musical, Jackman leads a group of talented singers and actors, and even though the others provide us with some emotionally charged portrayals, Jackman stands alone as the film’s most valuable performer.  Not only is his singing on point, the dramatic and affecting dynamism he brings to the screen is nothing short of spectacular.  With strong performances from all of this year’s nominees, Jackman demonstrates why he alone gave moviegoers the best acting performance.  Jackman has never previously been nominated for any Academy Awards.

2. Joaquin Phoenix (The Master)

In The Master, Joaquin Phoenix plays Freddie Quell, a World War II veteran with an alcohol dependency who struggles to make it in the post-war society.  He eventually comes across Lancaster Dodd, the leader of a religious movement called “The Cause.”  He joins the faction, but his complicated presence among the members of The Cause begins to create issues for everyone, and he becomes dismantled by his own doing.  In Phoenix’s return to dramatic feature films, he prevails tremendously.  After his horribly peculiar fake retirement and subsequent pseudo-documentary I’m Still Here, Joaquin Phoenix gives a tantalizing performance, which reminds us that he is very much still one of the heavy hitters in the realm of acting.  I wish I could give him the Oscar for this performance, but Jackman’s portrayal was far too strong.  Phoenix was previously nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Gladiator (2000) and for Best Actor for his role in Walk the Line (2005).

3. Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln)

In Lincoln, Daniel Day-Lewis takes on the role of the 16th president of the United States.  I was never blown away whatsoever by Spielberg’s latest endeavor, but I did respect the amazing acting performances it includes, specifically Day-Lewis’ portrayal of the title character.  Even though he is one of my favorite actors and did a superb job in this film, I truly feel like all of the hype surrounding his performance was due to the makeup department making him look identical to Abraham Lincoln.  If he wins, they should share this award with him.  Also, being that video cameras or audio-recording devices were not around back then, we do not even know what Abraham Lincoln sounded like, so I find it amusing that critics praised his portrayal for his likeness to Lincoln’s voice.  Day-Lewis was previously nominated for four Academy Awards, winning for Best Actor for his roles in My Left Foot (1989) and There Will Be Blood (2007).

4. Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook)

In Silver Linings Playbook, Bradley Cooper plays Pat Solitano, a man suffering with a severe case of bipolar disease.  After leaving a mental health institution, he moves back in with his parents and becomes romantically involved with an eccentric woman with some serious mental issues of her own.  In the breakout performance of Cooper’s dramatic acting career, he succeeds in every way possible.  Most known for his roles in comedic films, Cooper provides an exhilarating portrayal of a man trying to survive mentally after a life-changing incident with his wife.  This was one of the top movies of the year, and the performance Cooper gives only adds to its triumph.  Cooper has never previously been nominated for any Academy Awards.

5. Denzel Washington (Flight)

In Flight, Denzel Washington plays Whip Whitaker, an alcoholic airline captain.  Whitaker becomes an overnight celebrity after miraculously landing his plane after it malfunctions in the air and comes to a crashing halt.  Little does anyone know, the day he flew that plane, he was drunk and high.  Washington has a way of taking on the role of complicated characters that you as a viewer want to hate but can’t help but love, such as Alonzo Harris in Training Day and Frank Lucas in American Gangster; in Flight, he has once again provided us with this complex.  Washington is most definitely one of the most incredible actors in the film industry today, and he adds to his illustrious career with this performance.  Washington was previously nominated for five Academy Awards, winning for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Glory (1989) and for Best Actor for his role in Training Day (2001).

Actors snubbed in this category: John Hawkes (The Sessions)

Top 15 Films of the Year, No. 5 – Django Unchained

Django

Django Unchained is a film written and directed by Quentin Tarantino.  The film is set in the South before the Civil War, and the story follows Django (Jamie Foxx), a slave who is bought by Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), a German-born bounty hunter.  Django teams up with Dr. Schultz to hunt down some of the most renowned, murderous men in the slave business.  Django’s main goal, though, is to search until he finds his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) who was sold into slavery many years before.  When Django and Schultz finally track her down, she is in the confinement of a sadistically ruthless slave owner named Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).  The two men must put on an act in order to gain the trust of Candie, but when Candie’s house slave (Samuel L. Jackson) becomes suspicious of their intentions, all hell breaks loose.

To say the very least, I absolutely, unequivocally loved this movie.  I have always been a fan of Tarantino’s work, and his creation of Django ranks right up there with some of his best of all time, including Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, and Inglourious Basterds (my favorite film of all time).  The film takes place during one of the most controversial periods of American history—the years of slavery before the Civil War.  If you have seen the way Tarantino recreated the history of the Nazis during World War II in Inglourious Basterds, then you are in for an equally hilarious depiction of the racist slave owners of the 1800s.

His film has been met with both critical acclaim and controversy, but then again it seems most of Tarantino’s movies are met with this same mix of emotion from critics and the general public.  He has been chastised by many, including the annoyingly outspoken Spike Lee, about his usage of the “N” word during the film, but in order to accurately depict this period of history, Tarantino would have been doing everyone a disservice by avoiding the word and sugarcoating the times.  His script is violently gruesome, but honest, and like most of his films, it is downright hilarious—the scene with the white-hooded horsemen will forever go down as one of the funniest I have ever seen in a movie.

The tour de force that is Tarantino’s screenplay for Django Unchained is assisted by an ensemble of actors and actresses creating unique and illustrious portrayals of their dynamic characters on the screen.  Jamie Foxx gives one of the best performances of his career, ranking behind only his roles in Collateral and Ray, in my opinion.  Surprisingly, Foxx was not nominated for any of the major awards despite his excellent performance.  Christoph Waltz once again collaborates with Tarantino, and like in his role as Col. Hans Landa in Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, Waltz brings his incomparable and articulate diction to the role, coupled with his fascinatingly comical wit.  His performance makes him a strong frontrunner for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for which he is nominated.

Some other strong examples of exceptional acting are illustrated by Samuel L. Jackson as Stephen the house slave, Kerry Washington as Broomhilda, Don Johnson as Big Daddy, and Leonardo DiCaprio as Calvin Candie.  I was quite upset when both Jackson and DiCaprio were snubbed for Oscars because after seeing nearly every nominated film this year, their performances stood out way above the rest.  DiCaprio has turned in a very triumphant career thus far, but he has yet to receive an Academy Award, and before nominations were announced, I was sure this would be his year.  Django Unchained is rated R for strong graphic violence throughout, a vicious fight, language, and some nudity.

Django Unchained trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eUdM9vrCbow

Academy Award nominations for Django Unchained:

Best Picture (Stacey Sher, Reginald Hudlin, and Pilar Savone, Producers)

Actor in a Supporting Role (Christoph Waltz)

Cinematography (Robert Richardson)

Sound Editing (Wylie Stateman)

Best Original Screenplay (Quentin Tarantino)

Previous movies on the countdown of the Top 15 Films of the Year:

6. Life of Pi

7. Amour

8. Les Misérables

9. Beasts of the Southern Wild

10. Looper

11. The Perks of Being a Wallflower

12. The Dark Knight Rises

13. Flight

14. The Master

15. Argo

Best Actress

Lawrence

One of the most talked about categories at this year’s Oscars, and one of my personal favorites, is the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role.  This year features one of the most unique fields the category has ever known.  Not only does Emmanuelle Riva (Amour) become the oldest Best Actress nominee of all time (85 years, 321 days), but Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild) also becomes the youngest Best Actress nominee of all time (9 years, 135 days).  An even more impressive fact about Wallis’ nomination—she was actually only six years old when the movie was made!  The rest of this year’s group features actresses that have previously been nominated for Academy Awards.  The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Actress in a Leading Role:

WINNER: Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook)

In Silver Linings Playbook, Jennifer Lawrence plays Tiffany Maxwell, an eccentric widow with emotional issues due to her husband’s death.  In every way possible, Lawrence gives a performance that everyone will remember for a long time.  She plays a character that is oddly twisted and severely bizarre, but the emotion and dexterity she brings to this portrayal is something I watched in absolute awe.  In a year with some startlingly remarkable female performances, Lawrence stands out and deserves this great honor.  Lawrence was previously nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her breakout role in Winter’s Bone (2010).

2. Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty)

In Zero Dark Thirty, Jessica Chastain plays Maya, a CIA agent that devotes a decade to hunting down the world’s most dangerous man—Osama bin Laden.  Even though this film has been met with great criticism over the content, one thing that has not received anything but sheer admiration is the performance Chastain gives as the determined agent.  I went back and forth about who I thought truly gave the better performance this year, but even though Chastain would probably win this Oscar in any other year, I concluded that it was not as dominate as Lawrence’s performance.  Chastain was previously nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in The Help (2011).

3. Emmanuelle Riva (Amour)

In Amour, Emmanuelle Riva plays Anna, a retired music teacher that suffers a stroke.  After her incident, she is never quite the same, and the enduring, loving relationship with her husband is tested in every way.  As the oldest nominee of all time for Best Actress, Riva takes on one of the most complex roles of the year.  The role is not just multifarious for the emotional requirements of the performance but also for the physical characteristics that it mandates.  I was more than impressed with her portrayal, and as a fan of film, I am lucky to have seen Riva’s astounding performance this year.  Riva has not previously been nominated for any Academy Awards.

4. Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild)

In Beasts of the Southern Wild, Quvenzhané Wallis plays Hushpuppy, a 6-year-old girl living with her father Wink in an area known as “The Bathtub” below the levee in southern Louisiana.  A deadly storm is on its way to the region, and Hushpuppy and her father must fight to survive.  Wallis gives one of the brightest performances of any actor or actress this year, and it is amazing to think someone so young could provide us with a gem like this.  Some absolutely stellar performances will more than likely beat out Wallis for this Oscar, but if her future portrayals are anything like this one, she is sure to be back at the Academy Awards many times in the future.  Wallis has not been previously nominated for any Academy Awards.

5. Naomi Watts (The Impossible)

In The Impossible, Naomi Watts plays Maria Bennett, a woman on vacation in Thailand with her family when a devastating tsunami comes ashore and demolishes everything in its sight.  The film is based on the true experiences of the Belón family during the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.  While Watts does give an emotional performance, and arguably one of the better portrayals of her career, I was more than surprised when she received a nomination.  She did a good job, but it was nothing spectacular by any means.  There were a handful of non-nominated performances this year that justifiably should have received a nomination in her place.  Watts was previously nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in 21 Grams (2003).

Top 15 Films of the Year, No. 6 – Life of Pi

Life of Pi

Life of Pi is a film directed by Ang Lee, with a screenplay by David Magee.  The film follows Piscine Molitor “Pi” Patel, a teenage boy whose family owns a zoo in India.  After Pi’s father decides to move the family and the animals to relocate in Canada, their ship becomes caught in a bad storm.  Pi’s family dies, and he ends up stranded on a lifeboat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with one of the Patel family’s Bengal tigers named Richard Parker.  Over the next 227 days, Pi and Richard Parker must continually fight for survival.  The movie is a magical tale of spirituality and extraordinary resilience.

A seasoned veteran in the filmmaking business, Ang Lee has created a visually appealing adventure film in Life of Pi, and it only adds to his already acclaimed directorial efforts.  Over the course of his career, Lee has shown great range as a director.  The diverse group of projects he has taken on, including Sense and Sensibility, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and Brokeback Mountain, has demonstrated this range in a manner that has already earned him eight Academy Award wins.

To be honest, when I first watched the trailer for this film, it looked like the type of movie that I most definitely wanted to skip—it just looked too fantastical and too much like an over-the-top kid’s movie.  But when it was nominated for a vast number of Oscars, I finally decided to view the film.  I was instantly surprised at how much I really liked this movie.  Not only was it visually appealing with all of the high-tech special effects, it was also a well-made film with an amusingly humorous, but dramatic script.  Quickly, it became one of my favorite movies of the year.

I cannot help but appreciate the intricate detail Ang Lee uses when directing his movies, and Life of Pi will most definitely go down as one of his best of all time.  Ten nominations was previously Lee’s personal best for an Academy Awards ceremony (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, 2000), but this year, Life of Pi is up for a remarkable eleven Oscars.  Life of Pi is rated PG for emotional thematic content throughout, and some scary action sequences and peril.

Life of Pi trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mZEZ35Fhvuc

Academy Award nominations for Life of Pi:

Best Picture (Gil Netter, Ang Lee, and David Womark, Producers)

Cinematography (Claudio Miranda)

Directing (Ang Lee)

Film Editing (Tim Squyres)

Best Original Score (Mychael Danna)

Best Original Song (“Pi’s Lullaby,” music by Mychael Danna and lyrics by Bombay Jayashri)

Production Design (David Gropman and Anna Pinnock)

Sound Editing (Eugene Gearty and Philip Stockton)

Sound Mixing (Ron Bartlett, D.M. Hemphill, and Drew Kunin)

Visual Effects (Bill Westenhofer, Guillaume Rocheron, Erik-Jan De Boer, and Donald R. Elliott)

Best Adapted Screenplay (David Magee)

Previous movies on the countdown of the Top 15 Films of the Year:

7. Amour

8. Les Misérables

9. Beasts of the Southern Wild

10. Looper

11. The Perks of Being a Wallflower

12. The Dark Knight Rises

13. Flight

14. The Master

15. Argo

Top 15 Films of the Year, No. 7 – Amour

Amour

Amour is a French-language film directed and written by Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke.  The movie follows an elderly couple, Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anna (Emmanuelle Riva).  Both of them are retired music teachers that enjoy spending time together and listening to classical compositions.  One day, Anna suffers a stroke, and after that, nothing seems to be quite the same with her.  Their daughter, who lives abroad, comes to visit often and wants to help in any way she can, but Georges prefers to care for his wife by himself.  These two have endured a lifetime of love and compassion together, but after Anna’s incident, all factors of their relationship are drastically tested.

As I mentioned in a previous post, Michael Haneke is one of the great filmmakers of this era.  The world’s grandest film festival is the Cannes Film Festival in France, and the biggest award given out is the Palme d’Or, an award presented to the filmmaker of the best feature film at the festival.  Only seven filmmakers in the history of the competition have received this award twice, and Michael Haneke is one of those directors (The White Ribbon, 2009, and Amour, 2012).  This track record proves why Haneke is one of the greatest directors in the modern film industry.

Amour is up for many awards at this year’s Oscars, including Best Picture, becoming only the seventh foreign-language film to be nominated for this award.  A lot of people strongly dislike foreign films, but I think this characteristic makes you ignorant as a fan of film.  Some of the greatest movies ever made were not in the English language, such as The Seventh Seal (Swedish), Wings of Desire (German), Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Mandarin), Downfall (German), and Letters from Iwo Jima (Japanese).  Everyone can attain a greater level of understanding and respect for the world film industry by taking the time to watch foreign films.

In Amour, Haneke has created one of the most unique tales of true love that the film industry has ever seen, and his outstanding script and story are made to look even more dazzling due to two unbelievably powerful acting performances.  One of the most critically recognized performances is from Emmanuelle Riva as Anna.  Riva has been nominated for many awards, including Best Actress at the Oscars, and the attention her portrayal has received is very much deserved.  Her unprecedented level of skill and sentiment in this role makes her a true contender for the Oscar.

My favorite performance from the film, however, is that of Jean-Louis Trintignant as Georges, Anna’s husband.  It is easily one of the greatest portrayals from a male lead in recent memory, and the ways in which Trintignant defines love and compassion on the screen are nothing short of amazing.  Trintignant has already been nominated and won for Best Actor at numerous film awards ceremonies in Europe, but for some reason that I still cannot quite understand, he was snubbed at the Oscars.  I felt his performance was the strongest in the entire film, and that is saying a lot considering Riva clearly gave an Oscar-winning performance herself.

This film was by far one of my favorites of the year, and even though it probably won’t win for Best Picture, Haneke will most definitely be receiving his first Academy Award win for Best Foreign Language Film.  Amour is rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, including a disturbing act, and for brief language.

Amour trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Tuc3zjvJU8

Academy Award nominations for Amour:

Best Picture (Margaret Menegoz, Stefan Arndt, Veit Heiduschka, and Michael Katz, Producers)

Actress in a Leading Role (Emmanuelle Riva)

Directing (Michael Haneke)

Foreign Language Film (Michael Haneke)

Best Original Screenplay (Michael Haneke)

Previous movies on the countdown of the Top 15 Films of the Year:

8. Les Misérables

9. Beasts of the Southern Wild

10. Looper

11. The Perks of Being a Wallflower

12. The Dark Knight Rises

13. Flight

14. The Master

15. Argo

Best Original Score

Skyfall Score

The Oscar for Best Original Score is awarded to a musical composer for the best body of musical work in the form of underscoring for a particular film.  This is perennially one of my favorite Academy Award categories because in my opinion, music is essentially what makes or breaks a film.  A movie is just a bunch of images and words, but with the addition of a musical score, the film develops feeling and emotion in a way that better connects with the viewers.  This year’s nominees include four composers with deep roots at the Oscars and one well-known composer earning his first nomination (Mychael Danna).  Between the four previously nominated composers in this year’s group, they have received 61 nominations in the Best Original Score category, winning six of those.  The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Original Score:

WINNER: Thomas Newman (Skyfall)

2. Mychael Danna (Life of Pi)

3. Alexandre Desplat (Argo)

4. Dario Marianelli (Anna Karenina)

5. John Williams (Lincoln)

Best Original Screenplay

Tarantino

The Oscar for Best Original Screenplay is awarded to the writer(s) of a particular screenplay that is not based upon any prior published work.  This year’s group of nominees features some established, acclaimed writers and a couple Academy Award newcomers.  Between the nominated writers, they have been nominated for four writing Oscars and have won two.  Although there are some great scripts up for the award this year, one writer has already been sweeping the award shows for his screenplay, winning the BAFTA, Golden Globe, and Critics’ Choice Award—this year, it just so happens that I am in full agreement with the major award shows on this category.  The following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Original Screenplay:

WINNER: Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained)

Tarantino, also the director of the film, has created one of the greater scripts in modern cinema.  It has created a significant amount of controversy, but it has also been met with rave reviews from the critics—Quentin would not want it any other way.  Even though he did not win the Oscar in this category for Inglourious Basterds, which is by far my favorite movie of all time, he still has penned another masterpiece in Django.  Tarantino has a knack for creating some of the most remembered characters in the history of film, such as Mr. Blonde in Reservoir Dogs, Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction, and Col. Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds, and in Django, he does not disappoint, creating unbelievably dynamic characters like Dr. King Schultz and Calvin Candie.  I will never know how the inner workings of Tarantino’s mind operate, but I am most unquestionably thankful for the written work he has given us.  Tarantino was previously nominated for two writing Academy Awards, both in the Best Original Screenplay category, and he won for Pulp Fiction (1994).

2. Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola (Moonrise Kingdom)

Wes Anderson, also the director of the film, and Roman Coppola have collaborated for their second screenplay together—their first was The Darjeeling Limited, a film they also co-wrote with Jason Schwartzman.  The end result of their most recent work together is an incredibly hilarious, wildly entertaining script.  This screenplay has the best shot among the other nominees to upset the heavyweight Tarantino, and if things fall correctly for Anderson and Coppola, they just may find themselves raising the Oscar statute.  This story is one of a kind.  It tells the story of young love from a unique perspective that only Anderson, one of the most distinctive writer-directors of our time, could do.  It is a refreshingly different film, and it has quickly become one of my favorites of all time.  Anderson was previously nominated for the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for The Royal Tenenbaums (2001).  Coppola has not previously been nominated.

3. Mark Boal (Zero Dark Thirty)

After Anderson and Coppola, Mark Boal has the next best chance to knock off Tarantino at the top in this category.  This is only Boal’s second screenplay, but just like his previous one for The Hurt Locker, it is action packed and beaming with award-winning quality.  Boal tells the story of the decade-long manhunt for Osama bin Laden, the most dangerous man on earth.  The Kathryn Bigelow/Mark Boal collaboration may not be quite the masterpiece it was for The Hurt Locker, but it is most assuredly not far behind.  I was on the edge of my theater seat throughout the entire film, and a lot of this is due to the spellbinding script Boal has written.  Mark Boal was previously nominated and won for Best Original Screenplay for The Hurt Locker (2009).

4. Michael Haneke (Amour)

Michael Haneke, also the director of the film, has finally been nominated by the Academy for his superb writing abilities.  Haneke is one of the most unknown writer-directors to the general public in the United States, but I have been aware of his work for quite a few years now.  The biggest film festival in the entire world is the Cannes Film Festival, and the top award at this festival is the Palme d’Or, an award given to the top film of the festival.  Only seven filmmakers have won this award twice since 1939—Michael Haneke is one of those (The White Ribbon, 2009, and Amour, 2012).  Haneke’s French-language film is intriguing, matchless, and invigorating.  The words he penned for this film not only earned him an Oscar nomination, but it also resulted in lead actress Emmanuelle Riva being nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role.  Haneke has not previously been nominated for any Academy Awards in either of the two writing categories.

5. John Gatins (Flight)

Gatins is an established screenwriter, but to be completely honest, none of his scripts have been anything close to award worthy.  His screenwriting filmography includes Summer Catch, Hardball, Coach Carter, and Real Steel, but his big break finally came with the 2012 film Flight.  In this film, Gatins uses an incredibly entertaining story line to keep our attention, but it is the complexities he has created in regards to human morality that truly sets his script apart.  I am surprised that he received a nomination, but after seeing the film, it is definitely justified.  Gatins has not previously been nominated for any Academy Awards in either of the two writing categories.

Writers snubbed in this category: Paul Thomas Anderson (The Master)

Best Adapted Screenplay

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The Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay is awarded to the writer(s) of a particular screenplay adapted from another source, such as a book or play.  This year’s nominees are writers who, for the most part, have little history at the Academy Awards; in fact, between the nominees, they have only received two previous Oscar nominations in writing categories.  Some marvelous screenplays are nominated this year, but it is still pretty up in the air in regards to who will win—David O. Russell has won the BAFTA in this category and Tony Kushner has won the Critics’ Choice Award.  After seeing each of the nominated films, I have my produced my own assessment of the nominees; thus, the following is my Oscars ballot for this category, Best Adapted Screenplay:

WINNER: David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook)

David O. Russell, also the director of the film, adapted this screenplay from Silver Linings Playbook (2008), the debut novel of author Matthew Quick.  The film itself is among the best of the entire year, and much of the acclaim is directly due to Russell’s unblemished screenplay.  The screenplay is entertaining and captivating, and Russell’s words led to Academy Award nominations for each of his principal actors and actresses (Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, and Jacki Weaver).  David O. Russell faces stiff competition from a year of astounding adapted screenplays, but I believe his work stands alone among this group of heavy hitters.  Russell has not previously been nominated for any Academy Awards in either of the two writing categories.

2. David Magee (Life of Pi)

David Magee adapted this screenplay from Life of Pi (2001), a fantasy adventure novel by Yann Martel.  The original novel has received a great deal of critical acclaim, including the Man Booker Prize for Fiction, and Magee uses a spectacular screenplay to help director Ang Lee recreate this remarkable story.  Even though the film utilizes some extraordinary special effects, the movie would be nothing without the superb script from Magee.  David Magee was previously nominated for the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for Finding Neverland (2004).

3. Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild)

Lucy Alibar and director Benh Zeitlin adapted this screenplay from Juicy and Delicious, a one-act play originally written by Alibar herself.  The film has received a high level of critical praise, including a nomination for Best Picture, and that says a lot about the script considering the film features a group of amateur actors with little to no previous acting experience.  The biggest advantage for the writers is the fact that Alibar wrote the original play, giving her a much more in-depth perspective for the feature-film version.  Neither Alibar nor Zeitlin have been previously nominated for any Academy Awards in either of the two writing categories.

4. Chris Terrio (Argo)

Chris Terrio adapted this screenplay from a 2007 magazine article by Joshuah Bearman, detailing the true events of the covert mission “Canadian Caper” during the Iran Hostage Crisis.  Terrio is a little-known personality in the film industry—his only major involvement with a full-length feature film was as the director of the 2005 movie Heights.  In my opinion, Argo is not one of Ben Affleck’s strongest directorial efforts, but the film is carried throughout by a solid script.  The root of the drama and emotion in the film is Terrio’s writing, and his nomination is well deserved.  Terrio has not been previously nominated for any Academy Awards in either of the two writing categories.

5. Tony Kushner (Lincoln)

Tony Kushner adapted this screenplay from Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (2005), a biographical book by historian Doris Kearns Goodwin.  Even though the book covers Lincoln’s entire presidency, Kushner focused his script on the final four months of the president’s life, specifically his efforts to abolish slavery.  Kushner’s work is by far one of the most fluent and eloquent screenplays of the year, but in my opinion, it is rather bland and boring.  I feel that covering such a short, specific period of time in American history takes out all opportunities for creativity in a script, and it simply lacks a whole lot of action or entertainment.  Kushner was previously nominated for the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for Munich (2005).

Writers snubbed in this category: Stephen Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallflower)