UPDATED: The Contenders for Best Picture

Yahoo Movies

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Photo: Focus Features/Warner Bros/Sony

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.

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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.

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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 Oscar stuff?


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Photo: Touchstone Pictures

Lincoln: 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 slaves.)

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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.

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Photo: Warner Bros

Argo: 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.

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Photo: Sony Picture Classics

Amour: 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.

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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 insanely ambitious.

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Photo: Focus Features

Anna Karenina: "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.

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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 performance.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Photo: Summit Pictures

The Impossible: 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?

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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.

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