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CHERYL FELICIA RHOADS
As a Screen Actors Guild member, I get DVD screener copies to vote on the SAG Awards, so I pretty much saw everything. In my opinion, this year’s Oscar nominees are generally better than in previous years. Still, while Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix can usually make a utility bill seem compelling, The Master was a self-indulgent utility bill. As I watched it on my computer, I kept putting it on pause to do “chores.” And, ultimately, I couldn’t get through this one, and so it gets my Worst Film vote. 

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Twenty years ago, I used to be on an NBC TV series with Ben Affleck, so I must admit that I have a soft spot in my heart for him. Even so, I really liked Argo and found it wonderfully suspenseful, even though I knew the real-life outcome. (And Alan Arkin’s “been there, done that” Hollywood producer, is hilarious!) But there was so much hype surrounding this film that when I finally saw it, I felt just a tiny bit let down, and I also found the Jimmy Carter voiceover at the end annoying. 

Jennifer Lawrence is extraordinary and deserves Best Actress for Silver Linings Playbook. But Daniel Day-Lewis’s portrayal of Lincoln will prove that he’s truly “the master” with his third Oscar in the Best Actor category. Without Affleck in this particular directors’ competition, Steven Spielberg may get the Oscar, too. 

Best Picture is Lincoln. It bothered me that the contrarians in Abe’s own party are labeled as “conservative” Republicans, even though that term wasn’t in use back then. Apparently screenwriter Tony Kushner just couldn’t help himself. Still, this film is great and makes us inspired anew by our 16th president, now that “he belongs to the ages.” 

 Cheryl Felicia Rhoads is an actress and writer, and she heads the Cheryl Felicia Rhoads Northern Virginia Acting School.

MARK RODGERS AND MICHAEL LEASER
Best Picture nominee Les Misérables beautifully illustrates the consequential differences between “the way of grace” and “the way of the law.” Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) was shown grace and transformed by it. Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe) enforced the law, could not tolerate any relaxing of it, and ends up being undone by his own rigidity. Grace prevails.

This stands in sharp contrast with another Best Picture nominee, Django Unchained, whose “hero” wreaks vengeance on the men who enslaved and abused him and his wife. Django chooses “the way of nature” rather than “the way of grace,” as the narrator put it in The Tree of Life (a 2011 Best Picture nominee).

The easy paths are “the way of the law” or “the way of nature.” Moralists and legalists follow the first, whereas hedonists and romanticists follow the second.

But the road is narrow on “the way of grace,” and few are willing to travel it. It is the hard road. And chances are, you will have to die to yourself on it. 

In the Middle East, the road is an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. In our nation’s capital, the road is intractable partisan divide. In our communities, the road is litigious. In our business, the road is Randian. In our families, the road is divorce.

In a strange way, “the way of the law” and “the way of nature” lead to the same destination: brokenness and hurt. But “the way of grace” leads to peace and reconciliation.

By the way, we are rooting for Les Misérables. What our country and the world needs right now is a good dose of grace.

— Mark Rodgers is the principal of the Clapham Group. Michael Leaser is an associate of the Clapham Group; he also edits FilmGrace and reviews films for World magazine. 

BEN SHAPIRO
2012 was, overall, a mediocre year for movies. The Academy Awards Best Picture nominees are the usual spate of foreign films nobody has seen, small “meaningful” pictures that lean heavily to the left, and soporific blockbusters. There are no clear winners this year, but there are pictures that have been ruled off-limits by the leftist press, including Zero Dark Thirty, for the despicable crime of showing that waterboarding works. 

Here’s the rundown:

Amour: Treading the same ground as Million Dollar BabyAmour depicts a senior couple enduring the horrors of mental deterioration. Predictably, the talk turns to euthanasia. Which, naturally, is a good thing.

Life of Pi: A nonsensical mess about a boy who may or may not have spent his summer in a boat with a tiger. Beautiful special effects, unbeautiful scriptwriting.

Lincoln: A long, by-the-numbers depiction of the passage of the 13thAmendment. It’s beautifully done, but the timing was an obvious homage to President Obama, who hasn’t been shy about invoking Lincoln since the picture’s release. And the film’s writer, hack leftist Tony Kushner, hasn’t been shy about comparing Obama and Lincoln, either.

Argo: Probably the frontrunner, Argo doesn’t belong in the pantheon of great movies. But it’s a very good film that shows the horrors of post-Shah Iran in detail, even if Ben Affleck probably meant to help out one of his heroes, Jimmy Carter.

Silver Linings Playbook: A dark horse for Best Picture, this not-quite-as-charming-as-it-thinks-it-is dramedy takes on the issue of mental illness — and says it can be cured by dance, Eagles fanship, and a hot post-trauma nymphomaniac in the form of Jennifer Lawrence.

Django Unchained: Entertaining, but derivative of Quentin Tarantino’s other work. And like all Tarantino movies, it’s a mash-up of brilliant and interminable.

Les Misérables: For my money, this was the best picture of the year. I’m not a fan of the musical itself — I hated it on Broadway, especially since the score is synthesized and the reprises make no sense — but the film was beautifully directed, the story remains meaningful, and the message of religious redemption is a wonderful one.

Beasts of the Southern Wild: A film with a Big Metaphor and a nonsensical plot. This is so befuddled, it should have been directed by Terrence Malick.

Zero Dark Thirty: Workmanlike, overlong, and out of contention thanks to its scenes about waterboarding.

There were solid movies this year, but they won’t be nominated because they don’t follow the prevailing highbrow Hollywood narrative. And thus the Oscars become more and more irrelevant.

 Ben Shapiro is editor-at-large of Breitbart News and author of Bullies: How the Left’s Culture of Fear and Intimidation Silences America.



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