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The 2013 Best Picture Nominees: What Did We Think?

  • Shawn McEvoy Managing Editor, Crosswalk.com
  • 2014 1 Jan
  • COMMENTS
The 2013 Best Picture Nominees: What Did We Think?

The Academy of Motion Pictures has released their nominees for the Best Picture of 2013. Each of this year's nine nominees was reviewed by Crosswalk film critics (and, in several cases, our editors as well). Here's how we graded them: 

POSITIVE REVIEWS:

12 YEARS A SLAVE
Director, Steve McQueen; Rated R

"As intimate as most scenes are, their cumulative power is epic. What McQueen has accomplished is singular to its subject, and comparable to the depths Steven Spielberg plunged us into through the Nazi’s Jewish Holocaust in Schindler's List. It's not for the faint of heart, and its brutality in all forms – including sexual – cannot be morally defined merely by its visual depiction alone, or the simplification of its R-rating. 12 Years a Slave is an achievement as towering as it is necessary; it's not the first film about slavery we’ve seen, but it's quite possibly the most definitive." ~Jeffrey Huston, 12 Years a Slave the Definitive Slavery Film

See also: 12 Years a Slave Prompts Calls for Racial Reconciliation

PHILOMENA
Director, Stephen Frears; Rated PG-13

"They don't have a clue where this journey will take them, nor do we. Along the way, Martin and Philomena often find themselves discussing and debating God. The film doesn't answer the God questions it raises (which also broach one character's sexual orientation) but rather shows how two different people imperfectly reconcile those tensions... Just when it seems this will be yet another liberal prosecution of religion, it gives equal credence to and a sincere expression of Philomena's faith. This film is as much an indictment on the sins of the Church as it is the cynicism of the agnostic... making deliberate references to nuns who were as Christ-like and compassionate as others were cruel." ~Jeffrey Huston, Philomena a 'Good Cry' Movie about a Mom's Regret

See also: Philomena Video Movie Review

GRAVITY
Director, Alfonso Cuaron; Rated PG-13

"Demands superlatives for its visual presentation; it should be seen on a large screen, in 3D, to be fully appreciated... Gravity's most poignant moment comes when Stone, sure she's facing imminent death, says no one will mourn for her, and no one will pray for her soul. She doesn't know how to pray. Is there Anyone out there that can hear her? she wonders. Forced to confront her own mortality, Stone is shaken out of her lingering sorrow over her daughter's death to consider the idea that there might be Someone who cares about the dire situation in which she finds herself." ~Christian Hamaker, Simple Story, Visual Mastery Mark Mesmerizing Gravity

See also: Gravity Video Movie Review; Gravity and the Meaning of Salvation

CAPTAIN PHILLIPS
Director, Paul Greengrass; Rated PG-13

"Hanks carries the weight of all this with a control that is both intellectual and primal, but one that also succumbs to a brittle state of humanity. It's the type of engaging dramatic arc we've come to expect and appreciate from the two-time Oscar winner, enabling him to carry the heft of a heavy film... Greengrass understands the counter-intuitive truth that authenticity is much more provocative than commentary. This allows his films to remain morally-centered while avoiding judgments or pat answers. In Captain Phillips, he deftly avoids taking geo-political positions. Greengrass simply presents the realities, and then harnesses the powers of cinema (rather than cheap demagoguery) to make us wrestle with them." ~Jeffrey Huston, Hanks & Greengrass Bring Captain Phillips' True Story to Life

See also: Captain Phillips Video Movie Review

NEBRASKA
Director, Alexander Payne; Rated R

"Payne has been accused of looking down on his characters in films such as About Schmidt. That charge doesn't stick for the main characters in Nebraska, which is, if anything, compassionate in its depiction of an irascible, even unsympathetic protagonist and his long-suffering, salty-tongued wife... Although faith themes are not explicit in Nebraska, David’s efforts on behalf of his father can be seen as an effort to fulfill the fifth commandment. The story also shows how greed can fester in the heart. While Woody and Kate are blunt in their criticism of each other, their marriage has survived temptations that would sink other unions. Nebraska is a mostly warm, sometimes caustic look at the loss of cognitive and physical abilities as we age. But it also shows the importance of personal dignity in the face of personal challenges, and the crucial role of family in preserving health and some form of happiness." ~Christian Hamaker, Black and White Nebraska Manages Colorful Warmth

LUKEWARM REVIEWS:

AMERICAN HUSTLE
Director, David O. Russell; Rated R

"As great of a time as the cast is clearly having, there's still something about American Hustle that leaves the viewer emotionally cold. While easy to admire because of its technical precision and standout performances, this is a film that isn't easy to fall in love with because everyone involved is, well, deplorable. A feel-good story with a message, it's not. If anything, Russell may have pulled off the biggest con of all by tricking the populace into loving a movie that's so pleasing in all the superficial ways but completely devoid of any actual substance." ~Christa Banister, American Hustle: Stylish, Well-Acted... and Surprisingly Empty

DALLAS BUYERS CLUB
Director, Jean-Marc Vallee; Rated R

"This film is explicit, and intentionally repellent... Dallas Buyers Club is the most arresting and revealing AIDS drama in the twenty years since Philadelphia, and is arguably better – never succumbing to maudlin Oscar-bait moments despite countless opportunities to do so. It's entirely unvarnished, and will often offend conservative sensibilities, but its perspective is also a challenge to conservatives and liberals alike who may believe in being a champion for the lepers on the fringe but too rarely are." ~Jeffrey Huston, Dallas Buyers Club Will Win Acclaim but Lose Viewers

NEGATIVE REVIEWS:

HER
Director, Spike Jonze; Rated R

"A thoughtful, engaging look at one man's inability to connect with real women the way he does with an entity that seems to understand him in ways an actual person cannot. But the film includes explicit content that merits caution. Her is at times warm, but it's also blunt in depicting a relationship that, even though it involves only one human being, starts off as erotically charged... More importantly, Her doesn't stir our spirit. Like so many other films that are wrongly heralded as unlocking the key to human connectedness and fulfillment, Jonze's film does not address the most glaring deficiency in Theodore's life—a lack of spirituality." ~Christian Hamaker, There's Something About Her, but There's Also Something Missing

THE WOLF OF WALL STREET
Director, Martin Scorsese; Rated R

"In true Martin Scorsese fashion, The Wolf of Wall Street is yet another demented tale about Man at his most dark and depraved... [It's] also in desperate need of a good editor. Trouble is, if someone had actually bothered trimming the proverbial fat, there wouldn’t be much of a movie left. Taking self-indulgence to an entirely new level (and no, that’s not a compliment), what remains is a soulless, revolting and wildly unfocused celebration of excess where nobody wins by watching. But more than anything, what's missing from The Wolf of Wall Street is a conscience, a crack of light in this dismal affair. If you're going to justify showing such deplorable behavior, you'd better have a compelling reason for it. Unfortunately, Scorsese seems content just stumbling in the dark." ~Christa Banister, Man's Depravity Knows No Bounds in The Wolf of Wall Street

Publication date: January 16, 2014