Oscar v2
Illustration by Maren Slobody.

Zero Dark Thirty — Jessica Chastain stars as the “motherfucker” who found Osama bin Laden in this cerebral political thriller about the decade-long search for one of the most famous terrorists of all time. Director Kathryn Bigelow’s second film with screenwriter Mark Boal — the team behind Oscar-winning picture “The Hurt Locker” — is an elaborate and nuanced portrait of CIA agent Maya’s (Chastain) relentless pursuit of bin Laden. While the film has raised many controversial questions about its portrayal of torture, “Zero Dark Thirty” remains centrally a story about the complicated relationship between a CIA agent and her strenuous occupation. After winning for “The Hurt Locker,” it wouldn’t be entirely surprising to see Bigelow and company take home the big award this year. by Jon Vorpe

Life of Pi — Director Ang Lee’s breathtaking visual fabric is just one of the many charms in “Life of Pi,” based on Yann Martel’s 2001 novel. The story deals with a shipwrecked boy adrift at sea who must learn to communicate with the only other surviving soul from the ship — a live Bengal tiger. Utilizing the full extents of 3-D technology, Lee immerses the audience in a gorgeous adventure best suited for the big screen. While its chances are slim at the Best Picture category, “Life of Pi” still remains a must-see cinematic experience that is sure to enthrall you with its beautiful visuals and heartbreaking story. by Jon Vorpe
Argo — Ben Affleck continues his winning    directorial streak with this thrilling film about the 1979 Iran hostage crisis, based on one CIA agent’s attempts to sneak six American diplomats out of Tehran. “Argo” features a stellar ensemble cast — including Affleck in the lead role — and engaging subject matter that will leave you at the edge of your seat. At once a believable period piece and a high stakes action-adventure espionage, “Argo” seems set to be one of the main contenders in this year’s Oscar race, especially after winning Best Picture at the Golden Globes. “Argo” is our pick that we believe will win. by Jon Vorpe
Les Misérables — Following the trials of Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) throughout the tumultuous years after the French Revolution, “Les Misérables” displays the overwhelming strains of revolution and rebellion on French society. Director Tom Hooper takes Victor Hugo’s beloved novel and encapsulates the espirit de corps of French revolutionaries during the June Rebellion and barricades in Paris. Featuring several gut-wrenching ballads, like Anne Hathaway’s “I Dreamed a Dream,” Hooper’s film presents the audience with the tragedy and triumph that accompanies Valjean’s 17-year journey into freedom. While it may elicit more teardrops from its audience than votes from the Academy, “Les Misérables” is the bell of the ball for this year’s Oscar season with its spectacular set design and favorable acting. by Rachel Singer
Lincoln — Daniel Day-Lewis gives another extraordinary 19th century performance with his portrayal of the sixteenth president of the United States. Director Steven Spielberg manages to assign entertainment value to the passage of legislation through Congress — apologies to C-SPAN — with this tale of Pres. Abraham Lincoln’s struggle for the addition of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The audience is given an intimate glimpse into the persona of honest Abe, with a look into his family life and the emotional strain that accompanied what may be considered the greatest victory of his presidency. Day-Lewis’ exceptional acting and Spielberg’s directorial talents place “Lincoln” high on the Oscar podium. by Rachel Singer
Django Unchained — Director Quentin Tarantino shows his audience what happens when the epic Western meets the American South. Freed slave Django (Jamie Foxx) teams up with bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) to find and rescue Django’s beloved Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) from the grips of the horribly charming plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). “Django Unchained” gives new meaning to what can be characterized as “Tarantinoesque” — a ridiculous over-usage of obscenity coupled with infamous and expected violence, as shown in the climactic plantation scene. Accompanied by an impressively multifaceted soundtrack, breathtaking cinematography and the occasional historical inaccuracy that would make “Lincoln” blush, the tale of Django is one bound for infamy — though probably only with Tarantino fans and not with the Academy. by Rachel Singer
Silver Linings Playbook — Because of its status as a delightfully genre-eschewing dramedy, “Silver Linings Playbook” is a minority at the Oscars — and, as is often the case with minorities, it had to be twice as good as its more serious counterparts just to get nominated. The romantic ending became a foregone conclusion as soon as the two leads first locked eyes, but getting there was the fun part. Jennifer Lawrence shined even brighter than Bradley Cooper’s baby blues in this fresh take on mental illness, family dynamics and amateur dancing. This film won’t take home the big prize, but that’s fitting for a winning flick about a bunch of lovable losers. by Blair Stenvick
Beasts of the Southern Wild — Much fuss has been made in the press about “Beasts of the Southern Wild” director Benh Zeitlin idolizing Steven Spielberg during his youth. Beasts’ grandiosity and devastating beauty are enough to warrant a nomination and the inexperienced cast breathes in some welcome authenticity. The truly impressive feat, however, is that the film seamlessly manages to hit with heavy ethical weight without compromising elegance. Considering “Lincoln” resembled a Civil War era “West Wing” episode sans the snappy dialogue, perhaps it’s Spielberg who should be honored to be nominated alongside Zeitlin. “Beasts of the Southern Wild” is our pick that we believe should win. by Blair Stenvick
Amour — Watching “Amour,” the only foreign-language film nominated for Best Picture this year, one might feel like an invisible long-term houseguest in the apartment of Georges and Anne, retired music teachers in their eighties. Because many of the scenes use long, stationary shots, we don’t always see the two main characters, but their voices carry from other rooms — the comfortable bedroom, the stylish study, the cramped kitchen. Director Michael Haneke documents Anne’s descent into the dark unknown of old age, with Georges limping in behind her, losing a bit of his wife at a time. The ending is a double dosage of sad and mysterious, but somehow the viewer isn’t left wanting anything. by Blair Stenvick
Our Bets
Key: bold = will win
         italics = should win
Best Actor in a Leading Role
Bradley Cooper, “Silver Linings Playbook”
Daniel Day-Lewis, “Lincoln”
Hugh Jackman, “Les Misérables”
Joaquin Phoenix, “The Master”
Denzel Washington, “Flight”
Best Actress in a Leading Role
Jessica Chastain, “Zero Dark Thirty”
Jennifer Lawrence, “Silver Linings Playbook”
Emmanuelle Riva, “Amour”
Quvenzhané Wallis, “Beasts of the Southern Wild”
Naomi Watts, “The Impossible”
Best Directing
Michael Haneke, “Amour” (tied with Zeitlin)
Benh Zeitlin, “Beasts of the Southern Wild” (tied with Haneke)
Ang Lee, “Life of Pi”
Steven Spielberg, “Lincoln”
David O. Russell, “Silver Linings Playbook”
Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Alan Arkin, “Argo”
Robert De Niro, “Silver Linings Playbook”
Philip Seymour Hoffman, “The Master”
Tommy Lee Jones, “Lincoln”
Christoph Waltz, “Django Unchained”
Best Actress in a Supporting Role
Amy Adams, “The Master”
Sally Field, “Lincoln”
Anne Hathaway, “Les Misérables”
Helen Hunt, “The Sessions”
Jacki Weaver, “Silver Linings Playbook”
Best Adapted Screenplay
Chris Terrio, “Argo”
Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlin, “Beasts of the Southern Wild”
David Magee, “Life of Pi”
Tony Kushner, “Lincoln”
David O. Russell, “Silver Linings Playbook”
Best Original Screenplay
Michael Haneke, “Amour”
Quentin Tarantino, “Django Unchained”
John Gatins, “Flight”
Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola, “Moonrise Kingdom”
Mark Boal, “Zero Dark Thirty”