Movie awards season is upon us. The prestige films are coming fast and furious, while awards groups across the country are handing out prizes. With the Golden Globes nominations announced Dec. 13, now's the time to catch up on this year's contenders.
The New York Film Critics Circle kicked off the season of giving on Monday Dec. 3, naming "Zero Dark Thirty," Jessica Chastain's new film about the hunt for Bin Laden, the best picture of 2012, an opinion the National Board of Review seconded two days later, so it's clearly got a leg up on the competition, but there's still plenty of serious contenders.
Les Miserables (In theaters Dec. 25) – This is the kind of movie that makes the awards voters swoon: a star-studded, epic, historical musical from an Oscar-winning director. Hugh Jackman lost and gained 30 pounds, Anne Hathaway belted out a heart-wrenching version of "I Dreamed a Dream" while having her hair hacked off (for real!) and Tom Hooper delivers intensely intimate moments as well as sweeping vistas. "Suddenly," the new song written just for the film by Claude-Michel Schonberg, Alain Boublil and Herbert Kretzmer, the men responsible for the original musical, is sure to hear its name called in the coming weeks, if only on principle.
Lincoln (In theaters) – Steven Spielberg directs Daniel Day Lewis in a film about Abraham Lincoln's efforts to abolish slavery? Throw in great supporting turns from Sally Field and Tommy Lee Jones, and a score by John Williams… it almost doesn’t seem fair, does it?
The Master – Paul Thomas Anderson's new movie wasn't the searing indictment of Scientology that many expected, and didn't bring in big audiences, but PTA drew brilliant performances from Joaquin Phoenix, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams, and his script was a provocative look at the post-WWII American man. Any score by Johnny Greenwood of Radiohead is always a threat to be disqualified by one academy or another.
Beasts of the Southern Wild(Now on home video) – The Little Movie That Could, "Beasts" has already won the Grand Jury Prize and Cinematography Award at Sundance. Quvenzhané Wallis has a very real chance of becoming the youngest Best Actress nominee in Oscar history, for her turn as Hushpuppy, a young girl in Louisiana whose home is facing destruction at the same time her father's health is faltering. This one will get plenty of nominations despite SAG disqualifying it for using amateur actors.
Silver Linings Playbook (In theaters) – After starting his career with a dark comedy about mother-son incest, David O. Russell has become a master of the feel-good dramedy. His latest finds Bradley Cooper as a man determined to win back his wife after a stint in an institution, and enlists Jennifer Lawrence to help him, with Robert De Niro pitching in with a strong turn as Cooper's Eagles-obsessed father. All three will get nods, as will Russell for his work behind the camera and with the script.
Zero Dark Thirty (NY/LA on Dec. 21) – Jessica Chastain is amazing as a Bin Laden-obsessed CIA agent, leading an ensemble cast of mostly men in the first film from Kathryn Bigelow since she won Best Director for "The Hurt Locker." Bigelow returns to the deserts of the Middle East and beyond as she recounts the hunt for Osama bin Laden, working with a script from journalist-turned-screenwriter Mark Boal, who is arguably the MVP of the film.
Argo – The true(-ish) story of a hero who smuggled a group of Americans out of Tehran during the Iran Hostage Crisis, Argo sees Ben Affleck's stock as a director of great genre films continue to rise. A great story that features two outstanding supporting performances from Alan Arkin and John Goodman, either of who could snag a nomination.
Django Unchained (In theaters Dec. 25) – Quentin Tarantino's "Inglorious Basterds" won dozens of awards and was nominated for dozens more, and "Django" promises to be just as popular with awards bodies, with strong bids for Directing, Screenwriting, three Acting categories, Cinematography and more.
Moonrise Kingdom (Now on home video) – Wes Anderson is always a threat to score a writing nomination, and his films always feature top-flight acting (Bruce Willis, Ed Norton, Frances McDormand and Bill Murray all shine in supporting roles), great music and distinctive art direction.
Life of Pi (In theaters) – Ang Lee has already been twice nominated for the Best Director Oscar, winning for "Brokeback Mountain", and this tale of a young man adrift on a boat for nine months with only a tiger for company could have him back in the mix. Lee's uses a candy-coated palette of colors, incredibly immersive 3D and some remarkable CGI to create a fairy tale universe.
The Hobbit(In theaters Dec. 14) – The three "Lord of the Rings" movies averaged 10 Oscar nominations apiece, if "The Hobbit" gets only half that it will be among the most honored films of the year. There's a wild card in play, however, as the film is the first to be shot at 48 frames-per-second, a new format that many moviegoers find disorienting--will awards bodies embrace the technology? Maybe this will be the year that the Academy finally recognizes the work of Andy Serkis—doubt it, though.
Magic Mike (Now on home video) – Steven Soderbergh's comedy based on the exploits of a young Channing Tatum stands as the greatest film ever made about the demimonde of male strippers. Who would've guessed this would end up cracking top 10 lists and finding itself in the awards mix for acting (Matthew McConaughey) and screenwriting (Reid Carolin), among others?
The Dark Knight Rises (Now on home video) – The climax to Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy is popcorn cinema at its most artistically and intellectually ambitious, and will garner bushels of technical awards. The only thing standing in the way of Anne Hathaway sweeping the Best Supporting Actress awards for her turn as Catwoman is her turn as Fantine in "Les Mis."
The Sessions – Another Oscar button-pusher: the story of a disabled man (John Hawkes) seeking spiritual guidance from a priest (William H. Macy) about the morality of hiring a woman (Helen Hunt) to help him lose his virginity—and it's based on a true story. All three actors will get nods, as will writer Ben Lewin.
Amour – German writer-director Michael Haneke's film about the love between an aging couple already won top prize at Cannes, is a sure thing for Best Foreign film and has already been nominated for Best Actor, Actress, Cinematographer, Director, Writer and Film by the European Film Awards, and can expect further recognition from any awards for which it is eligible.