Anyone can have a good idea for a movie.  But turning that good idea into something compelling and honest and well-built is incredibly difficult, especially in an industry where writers are subject to the whims of almost everyone in the film production food chain.  Everyone wants to feel like they played some part in making the script work, and it is a miracle that writers do not melt down and burn down executive office buildings more often.  This year, I thought there were plenty of nominees whose work really shone.

I thought "Ruby Sparks" was a movie that shouldn't have worked as well as it did, but the small human details kept that high concept grounded and made some tremendous points about how it never works to try to control or re-shape the people we love.  "The Cabin In The Woods" is a fiendishly clever piece that not only pays homage to many of the conventions of the genre, but it also turns them inside out and sets them in a context that offers up some big ideas about the merits of the genre as a whole.  "Looper" is so much more than the time travel high-concept that the film is built around, and I think it offers up some pretty haunting ideas about parenthood and responsibility.  "Moonrise Kingdom," "Django Unchained," "Seven Psychopaths"… all stand as examples where there is a self-referential playfulness that still leaves plenty of room for a genuine emotional experience.  For my winner, though, I have to pick the script that I think said the most, that digs deepest, and that gave me something to think about that felt new.  After all the awards already heaped on this film (I mean, I get that it's great, but wow, a clean sweep of every precursor? Amazing to behold.), it almost feels redundant, but can you imagine a world where everyone had somehow forgotten this one while discussing the best films of the year?  Madness.  Let's be sane and give the Oscar to…

"Take This Waltz"
Sarah E. Polley


I think Joe Carnahan did a great job working with Ian Mackenzie Jeffers to turn his short story "Ghost Walker" into a haunting and beautiful movie about manhood, and "The Grey" deserves a script nomination at the very least.  Tracy Letts has turned into William Friedkin's muse at this surprisingly late date, and "Killer Joe" once again seemed like a perfect match of filmmaker and material.  I think David O. Russell's adaptation of "Silver Linings Playbook" is pretty canny, finding a film that has resonated loudly with many audiences.  The same is true of the "Life Of Pi" adaptation that David Magee did from Yann Martel's novel.  If you've read David Wong's novel, you know that Don Coscarelli did not have it easy turning "John Dies At The End" into a film, but boy did he work overtime to preserve the book's loopy sensibilities.  "Cloud Atlas" looked impossible on the page, but somehow, Andy and Lana Wachowski and Tom Tykwer found the book's beating heart and wrestled it up onto the screen.  One adaptation in particular, though, struck me as especially sensitive, and Stephen Chbosky deserves credit for maintaining a novelist's voice while absolutely turning his novel into something that lives and breathes as a film, and for that reason, the Oscar goes to…

"The Perks Of Being A Wallflower"
Stephen Chbosky


People argue about what really qualifies for "supporting" all the time, but I don't think it's how much screen time you have, but rather how important your time onscreen is to the lead in the film, and how well you give that person something to play off of.  The supporting categories are all about the assist, and there were plenty of examples to point at this year of people doing it right.  For example, Logan Lerman may be the lead in "The Perks Of Being A Wallflower," but that film is impossible to imagine without Ezra Miller as Patrick.  Sam Rockwell may have some tics and tricks he brings to every role, but they rarely coalesce in the way they did in his hilarious performance in "Seven Psychopaths."  I think Robert De Niro's work in "Silver Linings Playbook" is amazing because it seems like the first time in forever that he's been fully engaged, making subtle choices, and it reminds me of the De Niro I worshipped as a teenager.  Bruce Willis doesn't have a huge role in "Moonrise Kingdom," but his broken heart casts a potent mood over the film, and in the end, he's the one who brings Anderson's stylistic doodle to a powerful emotional conclusion.  Matthew McConaughey should win this award this year simply for being so good at supporting in so many films, with "Killer Joe" and "Magic Mike" serving as his high points for the year, but in the end, I have to give this to an actor who was equally omnipresent this year.  In one role, this performer managed to give our national shame human form, including all the horrifying social contradictions inherent to slavery in his remarkable performance as Steven.  Yes, it's true… the Oscar goes to…

"Django Unchained"
Samuel L. Jackson


Can't argue with Amy Adams as a choice here for her work in "The Master."  With a character arc that was subtle to the point of invisible, she still manages to suggest the real power dynamic in that house with laser accuracy.  Anne Hathaway sure does sing her ass off for that one scene, and it's a doozy, but she exists in her own film.  She's not supporting the movie… the movie feels more like an excuse for her big moment.  Rosemarie Dewitt's work in "Your Sister's Sister"… that's more like what I'm talking about.  Kylie Minogue only has a few moments onscreen in "Holy Motors," but she manages to suggest a whole lifetime of shared experiences in those few brief moments.  Rebel Wilson pretty much steals "Pitch Perfect" out from under everyone, and she deserves praise for doing so.  But for me, the supporting performance of the year, male or female, is a withering portrait of what happens when you manage to take someone's character flaws and weaponize them, and i am so haunted by her work that I have no choice but to give the Oscar to...

Anne Dowd


I will never understand how people can go see something like "Skyfall" and then not immediately want to heap rewards on Daniel Craig for the way he's managed to find his own voice for James Bond.  Turning an icon into something recognizably human is no small trick, and Craig has given us a Bond that feels vibrant and alive even 50 years into the franchise.  Liam Neeson's a one-man Irish wake in "The Grey," and the very real heartbreak that he was wrestling with during production helped create a potent and powerful portrait of grief.  And in any other year, I would have given Joaquin Phoenix the award instantly for his work as Freddie Quell.  It is a bold and almost unhinged performance, and Phoenix vanishes into it in a way that is persuasive and terrifying.  I would feel equally driven to reward Daniel Day Lewis for playing the title role in "Lincoln," but his is an understated greatness this time out.  No, for me, there's only one male performance this year that I feel redefines what acting is in the 21st century, and I have to give the gold to someone this next level.  He doesn't just play one role here, but rather plays acting itself, the ability to step in and out of different lives and different skins, and I have a feeling we're going to be studying this performance for decades to come.

"Holy Motors"
Dennis Levant


Juno Temple is a bruised little bird in "Killer Joe," and if we don't feel something towards her, then the film doesn't work.  She is electrifying playing this walking scar, and she floored me both times I saw the film.  Mary Elizabeth Winstead does an exceptional job of externalizing the turmoil of recovery in "Smashed," and she gets bonus points for the way she breaks Nick Offerman's heart in the movie.  If you judge "best" by how well someone does what they were hired to do, I have about 75 broken bones that would like to make a case for Gina Carano's work in "Haywire."  Emily Blunt is so quietly great that people seem not to notice how amazing she is in things like "Your Sister's Sister," and at this point, people seem to take the tremendous work done by Marion Cotillard in "Rust and Bone" as a given.  Something to be expected.  Emmanuelle Riva's slow slide into helplessness in "Amour" was brutally difficult to sit through, while Jennifer Lawrence's effervescent attitude in "Silver Linings Playbook" was almost impossible to look away from.  Halle Berry made me like her again by being so game for the elaborate shell game of "Cloud Atlas," and Anne Hathaway wore her black leathers like a boss in "The Dark Knight Rises," bringing a carnal heat to Gotham for the first time in Nolan's series.  Jessica Chastain will probably rack up another 4000 nominations in her career, and she'll deserve every single one of them, just like she deserved the one for "Zero Dark Thirty."  But since I'm the one giving the awards this year, I'm giving this one to the performance that affected me most deeply, the one where it felt like an actress just opened up her chest and somehow spilled her heart out onto the screen.  She takes an indefensible decision and makes it feel urgent and necessary and she manages to stay sympathetic even as she burns down her own perfectly good marriage.  I honestly think she's one of the very best we have working today, and it pleases me to no end to give the Oscar to…

"Take This Waltz"
Michelle Williams


I'm going to give this out for the director who has the clearest voice this year, the one who managed to wrangle all the unlikely elements of their film into something that felt coherent and organic and whole.  I'm just as impressed by the relatively inexperienced Stephen Chbosky and his attempts to bring his own high school experience to life as I am by the restraint demonstrated by Steven Spielberg on "Lincoln."  I think William Friedkin's overheated lunacy is like a fine wine in "Killer Joe" in much the same way that I felt like Joe Wright's audacious visual approach to "Anna Karenina" pays off in something beautiful and thrilling.  "Django Unchained" feels a little shaggier than most of Tarantino's films, but there's still such a muscular sense of creation that I have to give it up.  Sarah Polley's beautiful "Take This Waltz" depends on her eye for detail and the particularly feminine sensibility that she brings to the way she tells the story, while Kathryn Biegelow's clinical eye in "Zero Dark Thirty" is crucial to the way that film works.  One film jumps out at me, though, as a master class in how to do things your own way, without hesitation or fear or compromise, and I hope winning this award will convince this guy to be more prolific.  One film a decade… that's all I ask.

"Holy Motors,"
Leos Carax.


And finally, we get down to the big one.  It's hard enough for me to pick my own personal favorite film of any given year, but when you're talking about this Oscar, you want to pick something that encapsulates where we were as an industry this year, that somehow packs all of the experiences we've had at cinemas this year into one digestible shape, something that stands as summation as much as cinema.  I loved many films this year, and certainly I'd be happy to see "Take This Waltz" or "Django Unchained" or "Cloud Atlas" or "The Perks Of Being A Wallflower" take the statue.

But when we talk of 2012 in the future, I want to plant a flag that says that we were well aware of what a masterpiece the year produced, and that we were proud to see our entire industry somehow captured perfectly by a Frenchman who has never worked inside the system.  He took his own broken heart, fresh from a family tragedy, and turned it into a film that says everything about cinema and pretend and storytelling and our modern life, all without spelling things out explicitly.  There is room for you to have your own experience with the film, and it goes out of its way to never make explicit that which it can accomplish in pure, surreal expressionism.  I have seen the film five times already, and I know I've just barely scratched the surface, so I feel very strongly about this one.  Come on up and take that bow, Leos Carax, because you absolutely made 2012's greatest movie, and we are thrilled to present the Oscar to…

"Holy Motors."

And on that note, we're done.  Please tune in tonight to watch Seth Macfarlane try to build some dance numbers around "Cloud Atlas" and "Holy Motors," and I can't wait to hear what Leos Carax has to say about his amazing film when he finally takes the stage to pick up his statue.  I feel like I pretty much just reproduced the awards as they were originally given, and I'm sure the Academy will use my picks instead of desperately trying to find the original voting totals.  I hope you don't mind me helping them out this way, and that you are equally pleased by my choices.

If you're not, though, then tell me… if the Academy came to you and said you had to pick all the awards again yourself, without restriction, what would you have rewarded?  What movies summed up this year best for you?  And if you could be the one-person Oscar voting committee, what values would you consider most important when picking your winners?

We now return you to your regular movie year, already in progress.

"The 85th Annual Academy Awards" begins broadcasting live from Hollywood today at 8:30 PM EST, 5:30 PM PST.

(1) No, there hasn't.

(2) No, they haven't.

(3) No, I haven't.
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A respected critic and commentator for fifteen years, Drew McWeeny helped create the online film community as "Moriarty" at Ain't It Cool News, and now proudly leads two budding Film Nerds in their ongoing movie education.