So you’ve finished your holiday shopping, or you haven’t started your holiday shopping or you have no intention of doing any holiday shopping. Whatever. Why not take a break from the hoopla and give yourself a gift by seeing a film or two, especially a film that should be in contention for an Oscar or two. This way you can be in the know well before the Academy Awards nominations are announced Jan. 10. You might even care about the Academy Awards show on Feb. 24. OK, let’s not push it.
With a few exceptions, the following films have received the loudest Oscar buzz, yet more importantly from an audience standpoint, most of these movies are actually worth seeing. They’re not only enlightening, to varying degrees, they’re ... are you sitting down? ... entertaining. For convenience sake and space considerations, we’ll list the films in alphabetical order and limit the number to 12.
“ARGO” Here’s a surefire crowd-pleaser everywhere except Tehran. Ben Affleck directs and stars in this implausibly true story about the rescue of U.S. embassy workers trapped in Iran during the hostage crisis. The plan? Create a fake movie and have the workers play filmmakers. If this film bores you, order a casket because you’re dead.
“FRANKENWEENIE” Cartoon fare hasn’t fared too well this year. Fortunately we have this film from the delightfully twisted mind of Tim Burton. Employing stop-motion animation, the movie tells the tale of a boy who brings his dead dog back to life a la Dr. Frankenstein. There are repercussions, however. Fans of horror films will relish all the tributes Burton pays to fear factor actors of yesteryear. Other Oscar contenders include “ParaNorman,” “Wreck-It Ralph,” “Brave, “ “Pirates! Band of Misfits” and “Rise of the Guardians.”
“LIFE OF PI” Normally I would recommend having a prostate biopsy before I’d recommend seeing a 3-D movie, but this film is an exception. Watch this on the big screen with this technology and marvel at how director Ang Lee and cinematographer Claudio Miranda have transformed nature into a vibrant force worthy of a SAG card. The movie relates the harrowing story of a boy stranded on a lifeboat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with a Bengal tiger. Suffice it to say that kitty craves for something more substantial on its menu than Tender Vittles.
“LINCOLN” Bet the mortgage on this film getting Oscar nods for Best Picture, Best Director (Steven Spielberg), Best Actor (Daniel Day-Lewis), Best Supporting Actress (Sally Field) and Best Screenplay (Tony Kushner). Tommy Lee Jones will likely enter the Best Supporting Actor race, too. Day-Lewis is almost a lock to pick up his second Oscar for his portrayal of the 16th president as he tries his darnedest to outlaw slavery. This proves to be about as easy as finding a needle in all of Monet’s haystacks.
“LES MISERABLES” Expect many highbrow critics to say this film made them feel miserables. Also, expect them to eat corbeau when the film receives multiple Oscar nominations and becomes a box-office hit. Or maybe it won’t. High expectations for this Broadway smash may prove difficult to meet. I’m sensing a sensation, however. Oscar nods could go to director Tom Hooper and stars Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway. Just don’t overlook newcomer Samantha Barks as Eponine.
“MOONRISE KINGDOM” Most of my fellow critics worship at the altar of director Wes Anderson. Call me a non-believer. He has almost made “quirky” a dirty word as anyone who has suffered through “The Aquatic Life of Steve Zissou” would attest. So imagine my surprise at not only liking an Anderson film but chanting its praises. The film focuses on two young people with more idiosyncrasies than pimples as they run off together, prompting a search party by elders with issues of their own. While the film is a long shot to win any major awards - yup, there’s still an abundance of quirk here - it can be savored for its acting and writing.
“THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER” For all you socially misfit teens out there, there’s hope. Hope may not always look like Emma Watson, but friends can be found even if friendship comes with growing pains. This coming-of-age story focuses on Charlie (Logan Lerman), a high school freshman and wallflower whose perks get provided by two seniors played by Watson and Ezra Miller. You won’t find too many teen films that appeal to adults, but this one does, probably because most of us have our leaned our backs against a wall at some time and wondered if we’d ever meet a partner for the dance.
“THE QUEEN OF VERSAILLES” How do you like your schadenfreude served? You can enjoy of a heaping helping of it watching this documentary about David and Jackie Siegel who intend to build a home as ostentatious as the French palace of the film’s title. Then the economy collapses and the Siegels’ dream home turns into a real estate nightmare. The film serves as a cautionary tale for conspicuous consumption as the billionaire couple goes on a spending spree on steroids. It’s hard to work up much sympathy for David, who brags about getting George W. Bush elected, and Jackie, who is clearly his trophy wife. But director Lauren Greenfield doesn’t paint the picture completely black. Jackie displays some admirable qualities as she copes with the nasty realities of economic calamity. What do you mean my rental car doesn’t come with a chauffeur?
“A ROYAL AFFAIR” While the French-language film “Amour” is receiving most of the Oscar buzz in the foreign film category, I’m more partial to this historical drama from Denmark. It’s the 18th century and the Age of Enlightenment is starting to shine, though some would prefer to remain in the Dark Ages. Dr. Johann Stuensee (Mads Mikkelsen) is not one of them. He becomes the personal physician to the Danish king, Christian VII (Mikkel Boe Folsgaard), and uses his influence to try to “enlighten” the country. These ideas don’t sit very well with the court and the church, however. Complicating matters is that Christian is insane. Complicating matters even further is that Stuensee has fallen in love with Christian’s wife, Queen Caroline (Alicia Vikander). Can they keep affair secret or will their enemies give them the royal flush? I’ll never tell.
“THE SESSIONS” If Day-Lewis doesn’t nab the Oscar, John Hawkes should. In this film based on a true story, Hawkes plays a man who has spent most of his life in an iron lung after contracting polio. Before shuffling off this mortal coil, he wants to lose his virginity. Easier said than done when your body has betrayed you. Well, not completely. A sex surrogate played by Helen Hunt is hired to start up his engine, so to speak, and the film follows the two on this trip to carnal nation. Go ahead and snicker but you won’t see a more poignant film this year. Hunt is likely to garner an Academy Award nod, too. Her performance also scores chutzpah points as there aren’t too many 49-year-old, Oscar-winning actresses who would agree to play a role in which she spends most of her time wearing her birthday suit. As for Hawkes, anyone who seen his roles in “Winter’s Bone” and “Martha Macy May Marlene” will marvel at his versatility.
“SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK” A feel-good date movie as an Oscar contender? Shocking. Almost as shocking as the discovery that Bradley Cooper can act. Here, the “Hangover” star plays Pat, a teacher who has just returned from a mental institution after his marriage and career have fallen apart. Though his wife cheated on him, he believes he can get her back. Then he meets the widow Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence). Think these two tortured souls will end up together before the end credits roll? While the film follows the rom-com formula, the fun comes from the characters and the situations they find themselves in. It also doesn’t hurt to have a writer-director like David O. Russell (“The Fighter”) as the orchestra leader and Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver in the orchestra. The film also confirms that Lawrence is a star to be reckoned with. For a guilty pleasure, Tiffany’s football analysis ranks right up there with Marisa Tomei’s automotive parts testimony in “My Cousin Vinny.”
“ZERO DARK THIRTY” Last and definitely not least is this film about the hunt for Osama bin Laden. “Zero” is death-and-taxes guaranteed to receive Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Director (Kathryn Bigelow) and Best Actress (Jessica Chastain) with Chastain a favorite to take home the statuette for her performance as a CIA agent deeply involved in the operation. “Zero” could be that rare film that both critics and audiences rave about. Even people who don’t care much for movies may want see the mastermind of the deadly Sept. 11 attacks meet his maker. One can also predict that the film’s popularity will not sit well with Islamic extremists. Flip a coin come Oscar time: heads it’s “Lincoln, tails it’s “Zero” and if the coin lands on its side, it’s “Les Miz.”
FYI, not all these films are in theaters right now, but they soon will be or will be available on DVD or on-demand if they aren’t already. Also, take note that it’s only Dec. 9 and a sleeper hit may emerge between now and the end of the year. That’s called covering your derriere with a large blanket.
Contact Bob at 508-626-4409 or at email@example.com.