Michael Clayton (7 nominations)
A straightforward legal thriller told in disorienting but stimulating fashion, Michael Clayton is the default Best Picture choice for those uncomfortable with the darkness of the leading candidates.

George Clooney leads a stellar cast in the story of a legal-firm “fixer” led to see the error of his ways. His firm stands to lose big after attorney Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson) embraces the plaintiffs in a lawsuit against a chemical company represented by Edens’ and Clayton’s firm. Though labeled as worthy of being institutionalized, Edens slowly leads Clayton to see the truth.

Christians are familiar with C.S. Lewis’ challenge about the teachings of Jesus: The things he taught were so radical, Lewis said, that one must believe Jesus is either a liar, a lunatic, or Lord. Michael Clayton is not a Christian parable, and Arthur Edens is not a Christ figure, but in showing us a man who is forced to choose right or wrong while being led into the truth by someone regarded as crazy, it testifies to the power of the individual to make a difficult decision, even at great cost, simply because it’s the right thing to do. Though coarse in its language, Michael Clayton is a film of redemption and hope.

Ratatouille (5 nominations)
The remarkably consistent Pixar Animation Studios deserves its five Oscar nominations for this wonderful tale of Remy, a rat who loves food, and the young man he turns into a first-rate chef. Embracing the motto of a famous deceased chef, Remy believes “anyone can cook,” and so he does, preparing a variety of delicacies. This despite the protestations of family and friends who are willing to settle for whatever trash they can find.

Ratatouille is an inspirational film for kids and adults—and for critics, who, in the character of Anton Ego, the notorious food critic whose reviews can close down restaurants and ruin great chefs, are ultimately shown to have full hearts.

We critics can be a complaining lot, but when movies are as good as Ratatouille, who needs to be glum?

Juno (4 nominations)
The highest grossing of the Best Picture nominees, Juno is the story of a pregnant teenager who decides to give up her baby for adoption. She finds support for her decision from her father and stepmother but is unprepared for the decisions she must make about the adoptive parents she’s chosen for her child.

Ellen Page is a sensation as Juno, but her sarcastic character is at once too knowing and much too grating. The film’s heart comes from its supporting players:  Jennifer Garner as the adoptive mother; Jason Bateman as the tentative adoptive father; and J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney as Juno’s parents.

Juno is a comedy with few laugh-out-loud moments, but its tone is pleasantly humorous throughout, and the film is downright admirable in choosing life over death.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (4 nominations)
Mathieu Amalric, a memorable figure from Steven Speilberg’s Munich a few years ago, stars as French fashion editor Jean-Dominque Bauby, who suffers from “locked-in syndrome.” The condition leaves him paralyzed throughout his body, except for the ability to blink. He thinks clearly but has no way of sharing his thoughts, until, with the help of the women assisting in his attempts to overcome his condition, he devises a way to share his thoughts.