The envelope please ...

Jessica Chastain portrays Celia Foote, left, and Octavia Spencer portrays Minny Jackson in a scene from “The Help.” Both Chastain and Spencer were nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for their roles in the film. The Associated Press

Jessica Chastain portrays Celia Foote, left, and Octavia Spencer portrays Minny Jackson in a scene from “The Help.” Both Chastain and Spencer were nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for their roles in the film. The Associated Press

Over the past few months, I’ve spent spent nearly 19 hours watching all nine of the Academy Award Best Picture nominees — spending a good deal of time at movie theaters in Albany and Tallahassee, as well as my neighborhood Redbox. Here are my reviews of the movies in descending order, along with predictions on who will win tonight:

“The Tree of Life”

This movie is two and a half hours long, which is far too long for a movie filled with convoluted and confusing flashbacks and flash-forwards with little or no plot or dialogue. It is basically an exercise in pretension. It was almost as if the director was attempting to make a film that would polarize audiences and make those who loved the film feel superior to those who didn’t — because they just didn’t get it — and make those who hated it roll their eyes at those who deem themselves enlightened to the greatness of the film. Consider me one of the latter.


A clever, creative look at the birth of cinema. It is a visually stunning movie and the CGI effects are unparalleled. I loved the use of color and how it added to the magical feeling of the movie. However, the plot was a little jumpy and somewhat difficult to follow in places. The overly exaggerated performances were clearly what Scorsese wanted from his actors, but it came off as a little too much in places. And the constantly moving camera could be rough on someone who has a weak stomach.

“Midnight in Paris"

This was a nice film, and fun, especially for people who enjoy 20th-century literature like I do. You don’t often get to see Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Picasso discussing the true value of art with a writer from the 21st century. Owen Wilson was a delight, and you certainly can’t say it lacks star power. I do question its place in the best picture category, but it’s an easy movie to watch. It’s far more mainstream than many Woody Allen films.

“War Horse”

This is a stunningly beautiful Steven Spielberg film. The horse had the stand-out performance. The actors were very good, but the horse is so central to the plot it would be easy to forget they were really even there. Some parts were difficult to watch, but the payoff in the end made it worth the watch. A good movie for families with older children. Younger kids may find it too intense.

“The Help”

I enjoyed this heartwarming film featuring wonderful performances from all the featured women. Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain were appropriately awarded with nominations for their outstanding roles. Yet I couldn’t help but feel that the movie adaptation fell short of the book, written by Kathryn Sockett. Not a personal favorite but still worthy of its nomination.

“Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close"

This is a heartbreaking look at a boy’s struggle to heal after the tragic events of 9/11 took his father from him. It was very difficult to watch in some parts, simply because we all remember where we were and what we were doing that day. You can’t help but be taken back. Bullock and Hanks are amazing as always, and Thomas Horn, who plays Oskar, is heartbreaking in his very first movie role.

“The Artist"

This movie was great fun. Sitting and watching it in a lonely theater felt a little like going back in time. It offered something people of my generation and my parents’ generation never had the opportunity to experience the first time around. The movie really makes the viewer think, but at the same time manages to keep the focus on the entertainment ... on the value of filmmaking. What more could be expected in a movie about movies?


I was not expecting to like this one at all ... it’s about sports and math and stars Brad Pitt, three things that I ignore as much as humanly possible. However, I loved it. Pitt is wonderful in this movie as a father caught between work and his family. The plot is simple — an underdog tale — but it really goes to show what great writing and casting can do to elevate a film from its most basic form.

“The Descendants”

This is an amazing movie. It is small, sedate, heartbreakingly quiet … until it’s not. George Clooney is at his absolute best. The actors who played his children were equally great. The film is so raw and real, the viewer can’t help but get drawn in by the emotion seeping out of every scene. Not a movie for kids because of the language, but a brilliant movie regardless.



Which film should win?

“The Descendants”: This was my favorite film of the year and featured a stellar cast, beautiful scenery and a fantastic script. But it is possibly a little too quiet to get the attention it deserves.

Which film will win?

“The Artist”: It has the Hollywood crowd absolutely charmed. It has a gimmick and the focus is on filmmaking. The Academy members will see this as a win for everyone in the industry, including themselves. Hollywood is nothing if not self-congratulatory.


The names of those who probably will win awards tonight are in bold. The names of those who should win have an asterisk (*).


Glenn Close, “Albert Nobbs”

Rooney Mara, “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”

*Viola Davis, “The Help”

Meryl Streep, “The Iron Lady”

Michelle Williams, “My Week With Marilyn”


Demian Bichir, “A Better Life”

*George Clooney, “The Descendants”

Jean Dujardin, “The Artist”

Gary Oldman, “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”

Brad Pitt, “Moneyball”


*Berenice Bejo, “The Artist”

Jessica Chastain, “The Help”

Melissa McCarthy, “Bridesmaids”

Janet McTeer, “Albert Nobbs”

Octavia Spencer, “The Help”


*Kenneth Branagh, “My Week With Marilyn”

Jonah Hill, “Moneyball”

Nick Nolte, “Warrior”

Christopher Plummer, “Beginners”

Max von Sydow, “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close”


Michel Hazanivicius, “The Artist”

*Alexander Payne, “The Descendants”

Martin Scorsese, “Hugo”

Woody Allen, “Midnight in Paris”

Terrence Malick, “The Tree of Life”

Email Deputy News Editor Casey Dixon at casey.dixon@albanyherald.com.