Say good-bye to “On the Road,” namaste to “Best Exotic
Marigold Hotel,” and it’s now raining on the once-promising “Cloud Atlas.”
We’ve shaved our best picture contenders from twenty-five to a svelte fifteen.
But everyone at Yahoo! Movies agrees: it’s been a very good year for movies.
Photo: Sony Pictures
Zero Dark Thirty:The Oscar-winning
team from “The Hurt Locker” -- producer-director Kathryn Bigelow and
writer-producer Mark Boal – return for a behind-the-headlines action drama
about the hunt for Osama Bin Laden and the elite Navy Seal Team 6 that
eliminated the Al-Qaeda leader in 2011. Last year’s it girl Jessica Chastain
(“The Help”) stars, along with Chris Pratt and Joel Edgerton – and the movie
already took the prestigious New York Film Critics Circle Best Picture, along
with accolades from the National Board of Review.
Photo: Universal Pictures
Les Miserables: "The
King's Speech" director Tom Hooper has a song in his heart as he adapts
the epic romantic musical, "Les Miserables." Hugh Jackman croons as
Victor Hugo's ex-con Jean Valjean. Anne Hathaway sings the doomed
Fantine. A Golden Globe winner for sure, but does it have the right
Photo: Touchstone Pictures
Call it the high-priced spread: Oscar-winner Steven Spielberg directs
Oscar-winner Daniel Day-Lewis in a script by Oscar-nominated Tony
Kushner about our most beloved president. (P.S.: He fights to free the
Photo: The Weinstein Company
Silver Linings Playbook:
Director David O. Russell ("The Fighter") delivers his most unabashedly
crowd-pleasing, though still quirky, dramedy. Bradley Cooper stars as a
bipolar teacher struggling toward normal following his wife's
infidelity and his long stint in a mental institution. Then he meets a
grieving widow (Jennifer Lawrence), and his life gradually turns around.
You'll laugh, you'll cry, and even though I'm convinced that Lawrence
deserves a best actress nomination for "The Hunger Games," she's bound
to get one for her modern-day ditzy dame with "Dancing With the Stars"
in her eyes.
Photo: Warner Bros
Ben Affleck's third picture as a director is a humor-laced, fact-based
drama about the daring rescue of six American foreign-service workers
stranded in the house of the Canadian ambassador during the Iran hostage
crisis in 1979-80. Affleck plays a CIA extraction expert who pretends
to be scouting locations for a cheesy Hollywood sci-fi film called
"Argo" as a cover to remove the Americans posing as a film crew. For
those who loved Affleck's "The Town" and "Gone, Baby, Gone," this third
outing proves he has the right stuff. And "Argo" has one more added
plus: This is a movie where Hollywood schlock filmmakers save actual
human lives. 'Nuff said.
Photo: Sony Picture Classics
The toughest non-disaster film you'll ever see. Michael Haneke's
French-language relentless portrait of a long-married Parisian couple
coping with the wife's stroke and its debilitating aftermath features
major performances by Emmanuelle Riva and Jean Louis Trintignant. The film won the
Palme D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and took best picture when the Los
Angeles Film Critics Association voted their awards.
Photo: The Weinstein Company
The Master: Paul
Thomas Anderson ("There Will Be Blood") returns with a top-shelf drama
about a magnetic cult leader (Philip Seymour Hoffman), his steely wife
(Amy Adams), and the whack-job WWII veteran who becomes his protégé
(Joaquin Phoenix). The ambitious period movie made a big splash at the
early autumn film festivals, winning three awards at the Venice Film
Festival including a shared best actor for Phoenix and Hoffman. But,
despite those shiveringly good performances, there's a nagging confusion
about what it's really about deep down. Although there was controversy
that "The Master" bared the roots of Scientology, it fails to connect
the dots in any meaningful way. Still, it's visually stunning and
Photo: Focus Features
"Atonement" director Joe Wright and Keira Knightly reunite, adding
playwright Tom Stoppard into the mix, in a vivid, fresh look at the
story of a good Russian wife and mother (Knightly) who falls head over
heels for Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and suffers the social
consequences of cuckolding her austere aristocratic husband (Jude Law).
It's period, tragic, star-encrusted, and based on a major work of
literature: total Oscar-bait. Knightly is also overdue for an award — I
thought she deserved one for "A Dangerous Method," and here she
couldn't be more different as a loving mother and lonely wife who tries
but can't resist her bottled-up carnal passion.
Photo: Fox Searchlight
Beasts of the Southern Wild:
The break-out Sundance hit from newcomer Benh Zeitlin is a tale of a
six-year-old girl named Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) and her father
Wink (Dwight Henry) struggling to survive on the bayou during a storm of
mythic proportions. The indie Oscar-bait movie has its staunch
supporters and cynical detractors, but no one doubts Wallis's
Photo: Focus Features
Moonrise Kingdom: Wes
"Rushmore" Anderson returns triumphant with a slight story:
Twelve-year-old outcasts Sam and Suzy run away from home and camp,
respectively, on one of those adventures straight out of the children's
novels Suzy pointedly schleps along. Their disappearance has a Rube
Goldberg effect, as the eccentric inhabitants of their small New England
island freak out searching for the adolescents in what promises to be
"Lord of the Flies" fashion and becomes an episode of vintage tween
Nick. The whole enterprise is elevated by the playful production design,
art direction, and a cavalcade of stars, including Bill Murray, Bruce
Willis, and Frances McDormand. "Moonrise Kingdom" suffers from
suffocating nostalgia for a time of innocence that never was, but it is
Anderson's most popular film to date and a box office hit.
Photo: 20th Century Fox
Life of Pi:
Oscar-winner Ang Lee ("Brokeback Mountain") directs a daring 3D
adaptation of Yann Martel's magical bestseller. It's the story of an
Indian boy named Pi Patel (newcomer Suraj Sharma) shipwrecked on the
Pacific Ocean en route to Canada with a tiger, an orangutan, a hyena,
and a zebra. Irrfan Khan ("Slumdog Millionaire") plays the mature Pi.
The Weinstein Company
Django Unchained: Quentin
Tarantino returns following his hyperbolic historical WWII action
movie, "Inglourious Basterds," to mess about with Civil War America.
Freed slave Django (Jamie Foxx) and bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz
(Oscar-winner Christoph Waltz) confront white supremacists of various
sadistic stripes (including Leonardo DiCaprio) to rescue Django's
enslaved wife Broomhilda von Shaft (Kerry Washington). There will be
blood — and blistering dialog.
Photo: Warner Bros
The Dark Knight Rises:
Christopher Nolan delivers another sharply realized Batman saga with
Christian Bale wearing the black inside and out as he protects Gotham
from beefy bad guy Bane (Tom Hardy). This is the kind of big-budget,
high-grossing movie that tends to get dissed by the Academy, despite the
opportunity to give props to 10 movies, including those that were the
most popular and represent excellence in studio filmmaking.
Photo: Summit Pictures
The antithesis of what you want on a family vacation: Couple Maria
(Naomi Watts) and Henry (Ewan McGregor) head to Thailand for the
Christmas holidays with the kids — in 2004. Relaxing at poolside morphs
into confronting the giant tsunami and coping with a family splintered
by natural disaster. Would it have been possible for them to go to
Disneyworld like the rest of us?
Photo: Sony Pictures Classics
Rust and Bone:
Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard stars as a restless whale wrangler at
French Marineland. I'm not making this up. One day, the act goes awry,
the Orca chomps her legs, and she faces a sobering future. When she
meets a handsome boxer who doesn't flinch at her disability, her life
gradually improves. It's not France's entry for best picture, but it
plays well with audiences, and Cotillard, familiar with American
audiences after "The Dark Knight Rises," nails the role.