December 8, 2012

December is Oscar time. Filmmakers need to get their movies under the wire so they’ll be in contention for this year’s awards. Consequently this month is a weird mix of crowd-pleasing mediocrity and painfully long masterpieces that mix horribly with a need for fluff. But what is a movie lover to do? Gotta see them!

Having only viewed two of these films (Lincoln and Silver Linings Playbook), I’m as in the dark (as it were) as you all are about how truly great these movies are, and how they measure up to each other as far as acting and scripting are concerned. All I know is what I hear, and I’m hearing a lot. All the critics associations are putting together their lists of bests, and they all influence how the Oscars go.

So far, these are the movies with the most or most interesting buzz. For example, who would have thought the National Board of Review would vote Leo above David Strathairn (one of my very favorite actors) or Tommy Lee Jones in Lincoln, both of whom floored me?

Now is your chance to see for yourself. Here are five movies that are being released this holiday season that are decidedly not Christmasy, but will prepare you better for awards season, and at the same time give you an excuse to avoid conversation with your family, should you so desire…

Zero Dark Thirty
Kathryn Bigelow is once again in the running for best director this year, along with Steven Spielberg. This movie is being released on Dec. 19. I haven’t seen it. (Next year I’ll be part of the Washington Area Critics Association and get all the screeners, praise goddess!) Starring Joel Edgerton (Aussie actor in Animal Kingdom, The Thing) and gorgeous actress of the moment Jessica Chastain (who the National Board of Review gave Best Actress), the story follows how Osama bin Laden was tracked down and eliminated. Not exactly Christmas viewing, but what Oscar film is? Both the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Board of Review named it the Best Film of 2012.

The only competition for Best Actor this year is coming from Hugh Jackman in Les Miserables, and he is a far running black horse to Daniel Day-Lewis’s portrayal of Lincoln. His portrayal is not only mesmerizing, the words he speaks, courtesy of another Oscar front runner for Best Screenplay, Tony Kushner, are worthy of repeat viewing. It is a long movie, but a great break from the shopping and craze of visiting family. Over two and a half hours of blessed relative-free darkness.

Les Miserables
You’d think based on some of the buzz, this version of the blockbuster musical starring Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway is the best thing since (stolen) sliced bread. I will remain impartial until my review. Director Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) is definitely being mentioned for Best Director, and both Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway are praised for their performances. The National Board of Review offered it an award for best ensemble cast.

Silver Linings Playbook
Predictably, David O. Russell’s quirky flick about a mentally unstable group of folks getting their lives together is being touted for Best Screenplay, and both Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence are being chatted up for Best Actor/Actress. (Hard to imagine anyone beating Day-Lewis). Looper is also in the running for Best Original Screenplay for Rian Johnson. Both movies are not quite as promoted as the big releases, but still worth seeking out.

Django Unchained
Leonardo DiCaprio’s role as plantation owner Calvin Candie is elevating what might have just been Tarantino’s take on the Spaghetti Western. Over the top as always, this film is being released on Christmas Day, making it the holiday-inappropriate thumb-nose of releases that day. (Les Miserables and the family comedy Parental Guidance are the other two releases that day). Depending on how your holiday goes, it might be just what the doctor (psychiatrist?) ordered. Also starring Jamie Foxx (as Django), Christoph Waltz and Samuel L. Jackson, it’s the pre-Civil War story of a slave working to rescue his wife Broomhilda (Scandal’s Kerry Washington) from “Candyland,” Candie’s notorious plantation. I don’t think Santa would ever visit that plantation…

Please do see a few of these movies, then weigh in here. I’d love to hear what you all think as you compare these actors, scripts and movies as a whole. You can always DVR those holiday movies! You can be the first on your block able to speak to what is worthless and worthy this Oscar season. Cinema Siren wants to know what you think! Meanwhile, be safe, and good luck with your holiday shopping!