Everything you need to know about the Best Picture nominees*

(*But were afraid to ask)

Matt Sayles/AP

Brian D. Johnson doesn’t get to vote on the Academy Awards, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t done his homework on the year’s top movies. Our resident film critic chimed in the day Oscar nominations were released; covered the festival circuit, including Cannes for a 17th year, and TIFF; made a sound prediction back in December that Michelle Williams would go head to head with the Oscar queen, Merryl Streep, for Best Actress; and illuminated lesser known gems, like the Canadian contender for Best Foreign Language Film, Monsieur Lazhar. Brian also wrote about those other award shows—the Golden Globesthe Genies and the Toronto Film Critics Association‘s top picks of the year. But perhaps most importantly, he wrote about (nearly all) the films that are up for the Best Picture award (click on the film’s title to read the complete review):

The Artist

Written and directed by French filmmaker Michel Hazanavicius, the comedy is smart and buoyant, but the simmering romance has disarming power. As with any Hollywood romcom, the most difficult trick is to generate emotional substance amid the comic contrivance.
The Artist does that with exhilarating magic, and you have to feel that the silence of the chemistry between the actors something to do with it.

The Descendants

Balancing offbeat humour and honest sentiment, Payne rides a perfect wave to an unpredictable beachhead. The Descendants is an unassuming film that never strains at high art, but does what we want movies to do: we laugh, we cry, and come out of the dark feeling the characters are still with us, loving and arguing.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

Okay, so Brian didn’t get around to reviewing this one, but that’s only because it came out among the glut of Christmas week releases. But we asked him what he thought and, for the record, he found it tedious.

The Help

Frankly, I felt manipulated in much the same way I do after watching a particularly poignant episode of Grey’s Anatomy. The writer pulled my heartstrings, put the bad people in their place, and gave me a hero to look up to. The Help may have its heart in the right place, but ultimately it skims the surface. A movie about the Jim Crow laws and those who suffered under them just shouldn’t be this cute.


I was braced for the worst. The notion of Martin Scorsese making a 3D spectacle of family entertainment sounded like a bad joke, as if Mr. Mean Streets had finally thrown in the towel. The messy trailer did not help. But when I saw Hugo, something happened that reminds me why, after all these years, I’m still thrilled by movies. I was surprised. Really surprised.

Midnight in Paris

Aside from the abrasive chemistry between Wilson and McAdams, the movie’s pleasure lies in its greatest hits parade of coy cameo impersonations, from Alison Pill’s Zelda Fitzgerald to Adrien Brody’s Salvador Dali. Around every burnished corner of this closeted period film is a fresh surprise. Welcome to Woody Tussaud’s House of Wax.


The novelty of Jonah Hill’s nerdy character in Moneyball is the secret to the movie’s odd couple chemistry. You wonder: what is this guy doing sharing power in the clubhouse with Brad Pitt?

The Tree of Life

The ending is layered with so many wedding-caked amens that I thought we’d never reach the heavenly afterlife of the closing credits. But if the road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom, Terence Malick is trafficking in some serious enlightenment. His unfashionable lack of irony and cynicism is astounding, along with his apparent faith that it’s actually possible to achieve a cinematic state of grace—to glimpse the eye of God on camera. Whether or not you’re a believer, it’s a staggering vision.

War Horse

Spurred by the triumph of the Broadway show, Warhorse is the kind of rousing spectacle that should galvanize family audiences. Its tale of a farm boy whose horse is sold to the British cavalry has no stars, but that just leaves more room for Joey, its equine hero, to win hearts. As a period epic rippling with a muscular narrative, rhapsodic landscapes and unbridled sentiment, it plays like a dictionary definition of a Best Picture winner.