9. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close – Truly one of the worst Best Picture nominees ever, Stephen Daldry’s cold and irritating post-9/11 dirge is boring, manipulative and features the most annoying child character for quite some time. To get on this year’s list, 5% of Academy voters had to put the film as their first choice. How they could do that for this tripe and not for films such as Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy or We Need to Talk About Kevin is just beyond the comprehension of the sane and rational.
8. The Tree of Life – Tremendous visual beauty and excellent individual pieces of craftsmanship come together to make a frightfully dull, pretentious and self-involved film. Many really like it, and their affection for it is more understandable than those who like Extremely Loud, but others have something a little short of loathing for it. I am in the latter camp. For all its grandiosity and effective performances, this is a baffling piece of work that is more flash than true substance.
7. The Help – A very well-acted, solid piece of filmmaking that is passingly entertaining. However, it never reaches any great heights, fails to surprise its audience at any turn, and was brilliantly satirised with a mock poster which entitled the film “White People Solve Racism”, with the tagline “You’re welcome, black people”. It is perfectly alright as a film, but it is distressingly average for a Best Picture nominee.
6. War Horse – An intensely mixed bag. It has some breathtaking sequences (the horse flying through no-man’s land for one), and an excellent cast, but it also goes far too far at points. Whilst it has its agonisingly mawkish streak, its depiction of the First World War is lacking in genuine feeling. Nevertheless, it does have moments which, hackneyed though they may be, do move you and others which thrill you.
5. Moneyball – The backroom baseball movie has a rich pedigree. It is directed by the man who made Capote, and co-written by last year’s Oscar winner for Adapted Screenplay, Aaron Sorkin. This should be good and it is. With excellent performances from Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill, this depicts, with wit and brilliant narration, the story of the Oakland A’s and their attempt to beat the odds of an unfair game. Much like its central characters, it doesn’t quite have the energy for the whole race, but it’s a great ride nevertheless.
4. Hugo – Martin Scorsese’s very personal love-letter to the days of early cinema and Georges Méliès has garnered the most Oscar nominations of any film this year, and it is easy to see why. It looks gorgeous, is very charming and has produced the best use of 3D so far. On the downside, it is somewhat overlong, but its cinephile nature puts it on very safe ground with the Academy. Something very different from Scorsese than his usual work, but it is a thoroughly pleasing piece.
3. Midnight in Paris – Woody Allen has made a really lovely film here. Yes, it’s niche and cerebral and maybe a little pretentious, but it is also charming, hilarious and rather wonderful. Owen Wilson is a very engaging presence at the centre of the film, and he has a fine supporting cast around him. The central conceit, which (spoiler alert) involves unexplained time travel back to Paris in the twenties, allows Allen to write about what amuses him, as he did with his best work. The result is a very funny and engaging ninety minutes which I would recommend to anyone.
2. The Artist – Everyone loves it and rightly so. It’s a wonderful piece of work, which is joyful, funny and tinged with a really bitter streak which makes for a powerful combination. It should not be forgotten quite how bold an enterprise this was. To make a silent, black-and-white film showed the sort of courage that would have sent Jim Hacker running for the hills. The breadth of its success has somewhat blinded many people to this fact. Dujardin’s performance seems destined to collect an Oscar, but I, unlike everybody else it seems, find Michel Hazanavicius’ love-letter to the silent era to be excellent but not quite as good as…
1. The Descendants – Alexander Payne’s subtle, witty and moving family drama set in Hawaii is a marvellous piece of work. George Clooney is terrific as Matt King, a man who has suddenly woken up to realise that he has let his life slide by and his family disintegrate. It is the story of a man finding renewed value in his life having subjected himself to the narrowest of outlooks. Payne’s work as director and co-writer make this a witty and enjoyable affair, as well as moving and affecting long after the projector has finished its work.