Total Recall

Total Recall: 2013 Best Picture Nominees

We take a closer look at this year's contenders.

by | January 17, 2013 | Comments

Oscars

Awards season is in full swing, and film fans everywhere are either debating their picks for who’s about to win or arguing over those who’ve already won. That goes double for us at RT, and to celebrate our annual embrace of Oscar fever, we’ve decided to dedicate this week’s list to the films getting ready to duke it out for this year’s Best Picture Academy Award. With room for real-life stories, a little romance, a few songs, some hard-hitting drama, and even some action and/or comedy, this year’s batch of nominees is certainly an eclectic bunch — so let’s take a look at them all, reminisce about how many we’ve seen, and then hit the comments section to weigh in on their odds of winning come February 24. It’s time for Total Recall!

Amour

93%

Michael Haneke’s films aren’t exactly known for their cheerfulness, and Amour is no exception — but don’t assume this unflinching look at a long-married couple’s final days bears the director’s typically misanthropic stamp. In fact, while it was on its way to earning the writer/director another round of awards show honors (including the Palme d’Or at Cannes) and critical hosannas, Amour also surprised a fair number of scribes with the warmth that glowed behind its patient, brutally honest depiction of love’s unwillingness to yield in the face of death. “Growing old is a war, and movies rarely go there,” observed Joe Neumaier of the New York Daily News. “Michael Haneke’s amazing, dignified Amour is the exception.”

Argo

96%

An ensemble suspense thriller about the Iran hostage crisis, starring and directed by a guy whose career had been all but left for dead 10 years ago? Argo seemed like one of 2012’s unlikeliest hits for any number of reasons — not the least of which was that title — but thanks to Ben Affleck’s steady direction, a sharp Chris Terrio script, and impeccable work from its splendidly cast stars, it ended up raking in critical praise while racking up more than $100 million at the box office. “It’s an embodiment of the kind of quality adult film that really shouldn’t be an endangered species,” observed the Village Voice’s Karina Longworth. “And a love letter from Affleck to the industry that made him, shunned him, and loves nothing more than to be loved.”

Beasts of the Southern Wild

86%

A year ago, saying the name “Benh Zeitlin” was liable to get you strange looks, or maybe a “Gesundheit” — but today, Zeitlin is the Oscar-nominated director of Beasts of the Southern Wild, his startlingly assured debut picture about the denizens of the Bathtub, a Louisiana bayou community threatened by a looming storm (as well as herds of prehistoric creatures resurrected by the melting polar icecaps). Blending elements of drama and fantasy as artfully as any 2012 release not involving hobbits, Beasts thrilled critics like Tom Long of the Detroit News, who wrote that “The atmosphere Zeitlin develops here is moist with promise and danger, and he moves back and forth between outright fable and pungent reality with an astounding sureness of vision for a first-time director.”

Django Unchained

88%

One of the toughest things about being a history buff — aside from remembering all those names and dates — is continually reading about all the rotten things that the human race has perpetrated upon undeserving victims. So three cheers for Quentin Tarantino, who’s been on something of a revisionist history kick over his last couple of films: First with the anti-Nazi revenge fantasy of Inglourious Basterds, and now with the scathing slavery indictment Django Unchained, which funnels centuries of rage and injustice into a rollicking, bloody buddy pic about a bounty hunter (Christoph Waltz) and the slave (Jamie Foxx) he enlists to help him track down a trio of truly bad guys. As divisive as ever, Tarantino repelled some critics with Django‘s enthusiastically gory set pieces, but for others, it was just part of the experience — like Joe Morgenstern of the Wall Street Journal, who called it “Wildly extravagant, ferociously violent, ludicrously lurid and outrageously entertaining, yet also, remarkably, very much about the pernicious lunacy of racism and, yes, slavery’s singular horrors.”

Les Misérables

69%

If you’re going to film a property that’s been adapted as many times as Les Miserables, you’d better bring something new to the table — and that’s exactly what director Tom Hooper did with his new version of the oft-told Victor Hugo tale, corralling an all-star cast (including Anne Hathaway, Hugh Jackman, and Russell Crowe) and asking them to sing live on the set instead of lip-synching while the cameras rolled. The result was a holiday hit at the box office when it bowed on Christmas Day 2012 — and an unsurprising target for critics who accused Hooper of going for broke with a two-and-a-half-hour piece of unapologetic Oscar bait. Whatever Hooper’s hopes for Les Mis, it looks like Oscar took the invitation — and so did critics like Colin Covert of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, who wrote, “The piercing sincerity of this stupendous, heart-wrenching epic would move even the most jaded cynic. See it and weep.”

Life of Pi

87%

Given how many people felt its Man Booker Prize-winning source material was unfilmable — and how long it languished in development on its way to the big screen — director Ang Lee would have deserved credit just for getting Life of Pi made at all. And for actually turning Yann Martel’s sweeping, deeply symbolic epic about a boy (Suraj Sharma) drifting at sea on a tiny liferaft with a Bengal tiger into one of 2012’s most visually luscious, emotionally resonant films? Well, it appears he deserved a Best Picture Oscar nomination — as well as heaps of acclaim from critics like Roger Ebert, who praised Pi as “a miraculous achievement of storytelling and a landmark of visual mastery.”

Lincoln

90%

He presided over the most tumultuous time in our nation’s history, accomplished great things while in office, and ended his administration — and his life — in violent tragedy. Needless to say, Abraham Lincoln’s life is the stuff that Oscar-winning films are made of — and with Steven Spielberg at the helm, directing a stellar cast that included Tommy Lee Jones, Hal Holbrook, Sally Field, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and an almost unrecognizable Daniel Day-Lewis as the man himself, Lincoln was a virtual shoo-in for a Best Picture nomination even before it arrived in theaters. Of course, it helped that the finished product was one of 2012’s best-reviewed films thanks to critics like Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune, who wrote, “It blends cinematic Americana with something grubbier and more interesting than Americana, and it does not look, act or behave like the usual perception of a Spielberg epic.”

Silver Linings Playbook

92%

The pain from 2009’s All About Steve is still so fresh that it sometimes seems like it was just yesterday that Bradley Cooper was starring in it, but he’s done a fair bit to redeem his occasionally dodgy script choices in the last few years — including turning in some of his best work opposite Jennifer Lawrence in 2012’s Silver Linings Playbook, a David O. Russell project that dances across the slippery divide between comedy and drama with uncommon grace while managing to impart some decidedly un-Hollywoodlike wisdom about life, love, and mental health along the way. “Silver Linings Playbook doesn’t settle for the routine or the cliché,” enthused Kirk Baird of the Toledo Blade. “It’s a funny drama about imperfect people looking for love. It also happens to be the best romantic comedy in years.”

Zero Dark Thirty

92%

When a movie can take a well-known true story and turn it into a pulse-pounding thriller even though everyone in the audience already knows how it’s going to end, that’s a pretty solid achievement — and so it is with Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty, which dramatizes the mission that finally ended the U.S. military’s decade-long manhunt for Osama bin Laden. Given its ripped-from-the-headlines screenplay, it’s probably only natural that it ended up being one of the year’s most hotly debated movies, but for the majority of critics, the controversy couldn’t put a dent in Bigelow’s gripping, brilliantly crafted drama. Calling it “A powerful, morally complicated work on an urgent subject,” the Atlantic’s Christopher Orr argued, “It is a film that deserves — that almost demands — to be seen and argued over.”

Take a look through the rest of the Oscar nominees, as well as the rest of our Total Recall archives.

Finally, here’s newsreel footage of the 1939 Oscar ceremony: