MUELLER: An idiot’s guide to the Best Picture nominees

Mueller_WEBThe Oscars will be here in two and a half weeks, and that means movie fans will do at least one of two things.

One possibility is that they will attempt to watch all of the Best Picture nominees in the hope of being the most smugly knowledgeable person in their group of friends. There has to be at least one person in your group of cinephiles who will say “I enjoyed Jennifer Lawrence’s performance, but Emmanuelle Riva in ‘Amour’ was spellbinding” – a correct, albeit pretentious-sounding sentence.

The second possibility is that people will choose their winning picks in the hope of winning money from their friends – or likely just superiority. Normally, Oscar bets are won and lost in the technical categories (many a year I’ve profaned the Best Sound Mixing winner), but 2013’s featured awards are surprisingly still up in the air, including the big prize.

In the hope of helping those less cinematically literate than I (God, I don’t think I could sound more snooty there), here is a quick guide to the Best Picture nominees.

“Amour”

Why it will win: The fact that Austrian director Michael Haneke got nominated for Best Director over the high-profile likes of Affleck and Bigelow tells you that the Academy has strong feelings toward the emotionally devastating foreign film about an elderly couple slowly falling apart due to the cold forces of time.

Why it won’t win: “Amour” is almost too devastating. There’s no way to walk out of the theater after watching Haneke’s film and not feel like someone just hit your soul with a cinder block. More importantly, it’s a foreign film. “Amour” will almost certainly win Best Foreign Film, and most voters will think that is enough.

“Argo”

Why it will win: Ben Affleck’s Iranian hostage crisis true story is terrific Hollywood entertainment mixed with equally great historical drama. It swept Best Picture at most of the big pre-Oscar award shows, and Affleck has played off his Best Director snub about as well as one could, perhaps winning more support in the process.

Why it won’t win: Not having a Best Director nomination historically hurts. A movie winning Best Picture without the director at least getting nominated just doesn’t happen. Also, Affleck starred in “Daredevil,” and the Academy holds grudges. And “Gigli.” And “Reindeer Games.”

“Beasts of the Southern Wild”

Why it will win: Much like “Amour,” the fact that director Benh Zeitlin got a nomination says a lot about how the Academy feels about his rustic, Katrina-tinged coming-of-age tale. It’s a unique picture, unlike any of its fellow nominees – much less anything else that came out this year.

Why it won’t win: People like “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” but you don’t hear of many people loving it. Also, it came out a long time ago. Last summer may not seem like eons ago, but the Academy is easily distracted by the latest Oscar bait.

“Django Unchained”

Why it will win: Quentin Tarantino’s crazy take on the Western was just as awesome as we could have hoped. And then some. There are certainly worse picks for the Academy, and it would make up for “Pulp Fiction’s” loss to “Forrest Gump” in 1995.

Why it won’t win: It’s too violent, it’s too controversial, and if “Pulp Fiction” wasn’t good enough for the Academy to hand Tarantino Best Picture, I highly doubt “Django Unchained” – despite how fun it is – will convince them.

“Les Miserables”

Why it will win: “Les Miserables” is a musical of big, strong emotions, and director Tom Hooper’s big screen adaptation is no different. Some people didn’t like it (include me in that category), but those who like it really like it, and it’s the kind of emotional, massive film the Oscars usually love.

Why it won’t win: For everyone who loves “Les Mis,” there’s at least one other who hates it. A very polarizing movie can earn enough votes to get a nomination, but when placed in a limited category of more universally liked movies, it cannot earn enough votes to win the big prize. Let’s call it “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” syndrome.

“Life of Pi”

Why it will win: Ang Lee’s adaptation of Yann Martel’s novel is visually stunning. That point is simply irrefutable. Not only that, it provided 3-D a few more gasping breaths of beautiful life before a storm of terrible 3-D movies stomped that air right back out again. But man, for a moment it was “Avatar” all over again.

Why it won’t win: So it looks nice? Give it a bunch of technical awards, which is probably the Academy’s plan. It’ll win the most awards at the end of the night, but only the ones awarded during the time when Oscar-watchers will be too busy eating and talking to notice.

“Lincoln”

Why it will win: It seemed obvious a little less than a month ago that Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” was the frontrunner for Best Picture. It had the most nominations (12), it had the performance of the year (Daniel Day-Lewis), it had Hollywood’s most beloved director (Speilberg), and it was just the kind of Oscar bait the Academy eats like potato chips.

Why it won’t win: Why hasn’t it won anything yet? Besides Day-Lewis – who is a lock for Best Actor (Don’t overthink it; he’s going to win.) – and Tommy Lee Jones for Best Supporting Actor, “Lincoln” hasn’t won anything. Is it possible the Lincoln biopic was too dry even for the Academy? Or has its momentum already faded? I’m still saying it’s the favorite because it’s exactly the kind of movie the Oscars love … but it’s getting hard to vote against “Argo.”

“Silver Linings Playbook”

Why it will win: Harvey Weinstein turned a black-and-white silent film that no one saw starring a bunch of French actors no one will ever hear of again – “The Artist” – into Best Picture. What makes you think he can’t do the same with “Silver Linings Playbook,” a feel-good dramedy starring two of the hottest actors currently working? How can you tell Weinstein’s gears are working? Jacki Weaver, who has 10 completely unmemorable minutes of screen time in the entire film, got a nomination.

Why it won’t win: I don’t have any trends or logic to back this up, just my own personal feelings. “Silver Linings Playbook” simply isn’t that great. It’s a nice, pleasant movie that makes people feel warm and cuddly inside, despite the fact that the last 30 minutes belong in a dumber, less interesting movie. It makes it a movie about a guy who dances away his mental illness with the help of his quirky love interest. Not that that can’t be enjoyable or fun – it’s just not Best Picture.

“Zero Dark Thirty”

Why it will win: Of all political films nominated for Best Picture, “Zero Dark Thirty” is the most challenging, thrilling, interesting … um, pretty much any positive adjective you can think of. Most critics agree, and it landed near the top of many critics’ awards.

Why it won’t win: Critics don’t vote for the Oscars, and the other award groups have been less kind to Bigelow’s 9/11 procedural, which is admittedly hard to love by design. Also, some people think it supports torture. Wrong people, but wrong people are allowed to vote for the Oscars, too. How else could you explain “The King’s Speech?”

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