Red carpet rolls out

Director Steven Spielberg arrives on the red carpet for the UK Premiere of “War Horse” in January of this year. The movie is nominated for Best Picture, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Original Score, Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing. The Associated Press

Director Steven Spielberg arrives on the red carpet for the UK Premiere of “War Horse” in January of this year. The movie is nominated for Best Picture, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Original Score, Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing. The Associated Press

Tonight is the night that all of those in the film industry’s A-list gather at the corner of Hollywood and Highland at the Kodak Theater, dressed in their finery, to walk the red carpet and pat each other on the back for jobs well done over the past 12 months.

Some criticize the self-congratulatory nature of the Academy Awards. It’s a fair argument to make. But at its core, the Oscars are not about an individual actor, director, makeup artist or cinematographer. It is the melting together of all of those things, a celebration of the true art that film is ... or can be.

Eighteen hours, 50 minutes.

That’s the amount of time that it takes a person to watch every minute of all nine of the 2012 Academy Awards Best Picture nominees. This year’s nominees run the gamut from light-hearted fun to tragic and devastating, and everywhere in between.

Two themes dominated this year: the birth of filmmaking and a child’s journey from grief to acceptance after the loss of a parent.

Both “The Artist” and “Hugo” take on the dawn of the filmmaking age, but in two very different ways.

“The Artist” is a (mostly) silent black-and-white film by Michel Hazanavicius. This film is clearly designed to transport the audience back to a different time, two generations past.

The overall conflict within the plot is one man’s inability to accept change, no matter the cost. George Valentin, played by Best Actor nominee Jean Dujardin, is the star of silent pictures who sets up the plot in the very first scene. A titlecard reads “I won’t talk! I won’t say a word.”


WHAT: The 84th annual Academy Awards

WHY: Honors for achievements in film

WHO: Hosted by Billy Crystal

WHEN: 8 p.m. tonight

WHERE: Kodak Theater, Hollywood. Televised by ABC network.

That is what he lives for, silent movies. It is his life. He doesn’t feel need for change, because life is perfect the way it is. But as it inevitably does, change comes. The psychological trauma that comes from becoming obsolete is personified by Valentin. It makes his life unbearable and he nearly gets sucked into a dark abyss.

A mysterious stranger, played by Best Supporting Actress nominee Berenice Bejo, watches George from the sidelines, despite her own meteoric rise in the new-fangled talking pictures. The two worlds collide, providing both delightful and intense moments.

Martin Scorsese took an entirely new path from his previous works with the movie “Hugo.”

Highly stylized with CGI and near constant camera movement, the film is an adventure that one little boy named Hugo Cabret takes to discover the secrets left behind after his father is killed in a fire. Those secrets eventually lead to the discovery of his true passion: film.

More importantly, Hugo discovers that what he truly had been missing was a family. Yet even in death, his father was ultimately able to give his son that as well.

The issue of a child dealing with the loss of a parent is actually featured in three of this year’s nominated films. Along with “Hugo,” “The Descendants” and “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” take the idea of a sudden and unexpected tragedy and follow it through to acceptance and moving forward.

“The Descendants” is a quiet film, but the effect of the emotional fireworks is extremely powerful.

The story of a father and his two daughters dealing with their comatose wife and mother is a lesson in restraint by director Alexander Payne and the cast. It is a simple film, enhanced by the spectacular Hawaiian setting and could have been overlooked come award season, but has, instead, been showered with praise by the critics and audiences alike.

George Clooney, a Best Actor nominee, is being hailed for his slightly goofy portrayal of a distant father who suddenly is forced to become the true caregiver to his children. It’s clearly a role that makes the character uncomfortable. But Shailene Woodley, who plays the 16-year-old daughter, steals most of the scenes she is in as a heartbroken teenager keeping a secret from her father.

The 9/11-themed “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” is a difficult film to watch and inevitably takes the audience back to “the worst day,” as the boy, Oskar, calls it in the film.

Oskar, played by Thomas Horn in his very first film role, depended on his father for just about everything. In an effort to build his possibly autistic son’s social skills, the father, played by two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks, creates mystery tasks for his son to complete.

But on Sept. 11, 2001, the father took a meeting at the World Trade Center on the 106th floor of Tower 1. After the terrible events, the son is desperate for answers and believes he has found them in a final expedition created by his father. The boy’s journey across a city still healing becomes the main plot and introduces the audience and the boy to a whole new world.

The relationship between the mother, played by Oscar winner Sandra Bullock, and son is heartbreaking, raw and real. When he tells his mother that he wishes it was her that had been stuck in the tower, you can see the pain on Bullock’s face and it intensifies when she acknowledges that he really did mean it.

One of the standout characters in this film is the supporting role of Abby Black, played by Viola Davis. This has been a benchmark year for Davis, who is nominated for Best Actress for her role in another one of the Best Picture nominees, “The Help.”

“The Help” is the movie adaptation of the best-selling book by Kathryn Sockett. It is the story of a recent college graduate who gets a job working at a Mississippi newspaper during the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Her interactions with the girls she grew up with and also with the help, the black women who served as housekeepers and maids and fill-in mommies, give her the persepective she needs to both write a great story and reveal the injustice and blatant racism that permeated society.

While the subject matter is serious, the film is not without entertainment value, and the actors are what made the movie special. Davis, Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain are all nominated for their roles in the film.

Chastain is another actor with an individual nomination as well as parts in two movies nominated as Best Picture. Her role in the movie “Tree of Life” is far more abstract than her role as a slightly ditzy housewife in “The Help.”

“The Tree of Life” is an art film, in the strictest of definitions. While beautifully shot, parts of the film come across as clips stolen from the Discovery Channel or Animal Planet. Fifteen minutes of complete silence backed by these nature images, which symbolize the inception of the universe through the 1950s, do little to advance the plot.

The clips from the 1950s, featuring a family in Texas, are interspersed with scenes from the present, starring Sean Penn as the grown son. The film may have a religious undertone, as there is a pivotal scene that takes place on a beach that clearly symbolizes heaven, but it is difficult to know exactly what the meaning really is. The flashbacks and flash-forwards are random at best, making it very difficult for the viewer to fully grasp what is going on.

The film is clearly geared toward a specific audience. The average moviegoer probably wouldn’t make it past the first 15 minutes, due to the minimal plot.

Pitt also starred in a much easier film to enjoy. “Moneyball” is a movie based on the real life story of 2002 Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Beane. Beane’s unconventional approach to putting together a winning baseball team, and being successful at it, was the focus of a 2003 book by Michael Lewis called “Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game,” which was adapted into the film by its director, Bennett Miller.

This film is an outspoken commentary on ethics in professional sports and the inequality gap between the teams that win and the teams that lose.

Pitt earned a nomination for his portrayal of Beane. He is delightful as a man caught between saving his career and maintaining a realtionship with his daughter. Jonah Hill, best know for his roles in teen comedies, earned a Supporting Actor nomination for his turn as Peter Brand, Beane’s assistant who comes up with a mathematical equation that is used to pick players for the team. It is a classic case of reality being stranger than fiction and of the underdog earning some success.

The final two nominees for Best Picture, “War Horse” and “Midnight in Paris,” are notable for their directors, Steven Speilberg and Woody Allen, respectively. Both titans in the industry, Speilberg and Allen each took risks this year with his film.

Speilberg’s “War Horse” is a visually stunning film about the relationship between a boy and his horse.

The setting, the brutal battlefields in Europe during World War I, is in stark contrast to the bond that Joey and the boy had forged during their time together. “War Horse” doesn’t gloss over the atrocities of war, instead putting them front and center, particularly during a segment about two young soldiers who use the horse to make a run from their lives in the German army.

What makes this movie unique is that the story is told not from the point of view of the characters, but from the perspective of the horse during most of the movie. This is effective because Joey really is the star of the film. The rest of the cast was filled with actors who are not household names, which was no doubt a conscious decision by Speilberg.

In contrast, “Midnight in Paris” is filled to the brim with well-known actors, including Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Kathy Bates, Marion Cotillard, Adrien Brody and even the first lady of France, Carla Bruni Sarkozy.

This isn’t a typical romantic comedy. What starts as a generic story about a man dealing with his fiance and future in-laws, takes a 180-degree turn when a druken walk through the streets of Paris (at midnight, of course) turns into a surreal visit with the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Cole Porter, Ernest Hemingway and Pablo Picasso, among others. Any fan of literature or art can appreciate this aspect of the film.