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The Oscars: A guide to movies you probably haven’t seen

The Oscars is exciting for all its glitz and glam, but it can also be frustrating because movies we haven’t heard of, and thus likely haven’t seen, are nominated. And if you live in a small market, the movies don’t play in theaters until awards season is halfway over, if at all. Here’s one average JoAnn’s take on what are supposedly the year’s best movies…

The 2013 Oscars


This movie is exactly what we would expect to see on a list of Oscar nominees — it sucks us in with such a pervasive feeling of authenticity that we forget that we are in a movie theater and that Daniel Day-Lewis is an actor and not, in fact, President Lincoln. It’s an incredible story and history lesson and well worth your time, even though we know that the hero dies in the end. Just be warned — this movie is dialogue heavy and not terribly action packed, so you may want to reserve it for a quiet afternoon in your living room. Lincoln is nominated for a staggering 12 Oscars. Day-Lewis has already won a Golden Globe and a SAG for his performance.

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With a plot so bizarre, it could only be based on a true story, Argo — directed by Ben Affleck — is a preposterous but Oscar-worthy caper. The story takes place in Iran in 1979. After American hostages have been taken, the CIA hatches an elaborate scheme to free the captives by pretending to film a movie in Iran. The buzz about this movie is that Ben Affleck has won several awards for best director (including a Golden Globe and a Critics’ Choice Award) but did not receive a Best Director nomination from the Academy. Will Argo win for best movie, taking the sting out of this snub? We’ll just have to watch and see.

Silver Linings Playbook

By far my favorite film in the Oscar playbook, Silver Linings Playbook showcases a flawless performance from Bradley Cooper and a deeply dark and disturbing performance by Jennifer Lawrence. When Pat (Cooper), who has been diagnosed with being bipolar, gets sprung from a court-mandated mental institution, he sets out to get his estranged wife back. Pat meets Tiffany (Lawrence), who manages to make Pat look grounded by comparison. Even though Oscar-nominated movies don’t always speak to us, we can appreciate them for the actors’ performances, the wardrobe or the memorable storyline. SLP delivers on all fronts, making it a movie we’d want to see — more than once — regardless of award recognition. It’s nominated for Oscars for Best Actor, Best Actress, Director and Best Picture. If you see just one movie from this list, make it this one.

Django Unchained

This will be a short description because I didn’t see this movie. I’m not a fan of Quentin Tarantino’s (although I grudgingly liked Inglorious Basterds), and I’m just not entertained by gratuitous violence for the sake of gratuitous violence. Sorry, I realize that is a wildly unpopular opinion. And I must be in the minority, as Tarantino won a Golden Globe for Best Original Screenplay and Django Unchained is nominated for five Oscars, including for Best Picture. Here’s wishing all you Tarantino fans the best on Oscar night!

Les Misérables

Remember how I said I live in a small market? OK, don’t judge me but I had never seen Les Mis, either on stage or in the theater. I know, I know. Many of my friends had, and they were giddy with anticipation to see this film. I saw it for one reason — Hugh Jackman. While it’s not my favorite of the Oscar-nominated films, I have cheered when Les Mis has taken something home during awards season. It swept the British Academy Awards, Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway both won Golden Globes for their performances and Anne Hathaway landed a SAG. While Les Mis is not a movie I need to see more than once, I have a profound appreciation for the performances, the costumes, the artistry and Eddie Redmayne. ME-ow.

Life of Pi

When I figured out this movie wasn’t about pastries, I lost interest. I’m kidding of course. Life of Pi follows the fantasy story of a boy from India, Pi, who gets set adrift in a 26-foot boat with a few zoo animals, including a tiger. I do want to see this movie, just not right now. Once I do rent it on DVD in the comfort of my own home, I am certain I will kick myself for not seeing it sooner. (Remember in the intro when I mentioned that I’m an average JoAnn, not a movie critic? I thought this was a good time to point that out.) Life of Pi is nominated for several Oscars, including for Visual Effects and Best Picture.

Zero Dark Thirty

This movie, which has been described as “the story of history’s greatest manhunt for the world’s most dangerous man,” follows a CIA officer (Jessica Chastain) in her quest to capture Osama bin Laden — and the torture methods used to do so. If the reviews on IMDb are any indication, many viewers found Zero Dark Thirty to be one-dimensional, the characters lacking backstory and the film not worthy of the hype. This movie has generated its share of controversy; there’s concern that filmmakers were given access to classified information. Controversy and criticism aside, it struck a chord with someone because it’s been nominated for five Academy Awards.


Then, from seemingly nowhere, comes a film very few have heard of. As I have stated, I am not a professional movie critic, and I try my best to be objective… but here is where I say, Give me a frickin’ break. In the trailer for Amour, a daughter is telling her aging parent or parents (we can’t really tell), “I remembered as a child listening to you two making love. I felt you loved each other and we’d always be together.” Whaaaa? If I had heard my parents making love, I would have thrown up everywhere and lit myself on fire! This movie is actually playing in my town, but I don’t have a lot of disposable time. Plus, I’m just having a heck of a time mustering up the motivation to go sit in front of a French movie with subtitles about old people. I realize how uncultured and narrow-minded that may sound, but I’m equally certain I’m not the only moviegoer who feels that way. I’m saving this one for the nursing home.

Beasts of the Southern Wild

The second dark horse in the list of Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Beasts of the Southern Wild, crept up on us and had us saying, “Huh?” This fantasy drama about a 6-year-old who must find her way after her father dies is a low-budget, indie Sundance Film Festival favorite. Now it’s become an Oscar contender with four nominations, including one for 9-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis (for Best Actress), making her the youngest nominee in this category in Oscar history.

More on the Oscars

How the Oscars is trying to improve its cool factor
Real people sound off on Oscar-nominated movies
Joaquin Phoenix’s PETA ad banned from the Oscars?

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