This past week/weekend, both Les Miserables and Zero Dark Thirty have finally be screened for critics and bloggers, and both have so far received enthusiastic responses.
First is Zero Dark Thirty because it has actual offical reviews, while Les Miserables is still embargoed (with Twitter the embargo system is kind of a joke now, but oh well). Apparently, Bigelow and Boal play it very straight on Zero Dark Thirty, they don't over-politicize it, they don't provide psychological backgrounds on their charaters. This is almost a documentary style film that tells the story itself, and that's it. Considering that the story itself is taut, riveting, and interesting enough to stand on its own, I applaud their decision, and am really excited to finally see this film.
According to Todd McCarthy at The Hollywood Reporter, Zero Dark Thirty, "matches form and content to pretty terrific ends. A long-arc account of the search for Osama bin Laden seen from the perspective of an almost insanely focused female CIA officer who never gives up the hunt until the prey ends up in a body bag, Kathryn Bigelow's and Mark Boal's heavily researched successor to Oscar winner The Hurt Locker will be tough for some viewers to take, not only for its early scenes of torture, including waterboarding, but due to its denial of conventional emotionalism and non-gung ho approach to cathartic revenge-taking. Films touching on 9/11, such as United 93, World Trade Center and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, have proved commercially toxic, and while this one has a “happy” ending, its rigorous, unsparing approach will inspire genuine enthusiasm among the serious, hardcore film crowd more than with the wider public." So basically McCarthy recognizes that this is a film for film buffs. Sasha Stone and Kris Tapley both agree that Zero Dark Thirty is one of the years best, but Kris has some reservations similar to those of McCarthy. He thinks that it may be too dark, too gritty, and too dense for some viewers, and maybe even some Oscar voters. My thought is that it will have to fight this year against some strong competition, and probably won't win Best Picture, but from what I can tell, it is still a Best Picture nominee for sure, and let's not forget that The Hurt Locker wasn't exactly an audience or Academy-friendly film either and it won the big prize.
The last thing that keeps popping up regarding Zero Dark Thirty is Jessica Chastain. As I said before, this is not a film that gives background to its characters. So the rave reviews for the depth and magnetism of Chastain's role show that she is, not only the clear star of the film, but is also destined for a Best Actress nomination. She may not be able to overcome the more emotional role of Jennifer Lawrence's Tiffany in Silver Linings Playbook, but at least she makes the race a lot more interesting than it has been all season long.
While there are some reservations about Zero Dark Thirty, I have yet to hear any about Tom Hooper's epic musical Les Miserables. Guaranteed, there have been no official reviews yet, but for those who are professional Oscar pundits, they have no doubt that Les Mis will be one of the best films of the year, and one of the biggest Oscar contenders. Not only is it a technical feat (which was expected), it apparently has so many great performances it is going to be hard to pick your favorite. Anne Hathaway apparently confirms her frontrunner status, and may have Helena Bonham Carter and Samantha Barks joining her in the top five. Hugh Jackman has also added his name to the crowded Best Actor race, and I think may bump out lighter roles by Bradley Cooper or Anthony Hopkins. The praise I was happiest to see was for Hooper. I agree he wasn't the Best Director of 2010 (a nice second but no where near Fincher), but I still enjoyed The King's Speech tremendously and liked his creative choices. Despite my praise, most people battered him with hate just because he got more votes, and I am happy to see that many of the comments so far have also mentioned that he succeeds in his artistic vision and basically directs his ass off.
Luckily, I had already included these two films in most of my predictions so I don't have to go back and redo all of them, and even more I love the fact that this is turning into such a competitive year for great films as Les Miserables and Zero Dark Thirty add to Argo, Lincoln, Life of Pi, and Silver Linings Playbook as top contenders, hopefully making this season more exciting and suspenseful than the last couple of years.