"The Artist" was nominated for the Palme d'Or and won Best Actor for its star Jean Dujardin. Though the film on paper is an unlikely candidate for Best Picture (a French silent film in black-and-white), its critical acclaim, feel-good romance, and show-business theme could make it universally appealing to Oscar voters.
"The Descendants," about a man raising his daughters after his wife's boating accident, received rave reviews, and director Alexander Payne and star George Clooney have had an upward trajectory at the Oscars. The film won the Golden Globe for Best Picture (Drama).
"The Help" was a crowd favorite and an underdog blockbuster, making more than $160 million. Hollywood loves to reward a good success story. Also, the film's female-driven story appeals to an underserved contingent of viewers, and could do the same for female voters among the Academy. In addition, the film deals with important subject matter (civil rights in 1960s Mississippi) and comes from a literary source, both of which often appeal to voters. But the film is disadvantaged by its lack of writing, directing, and editing bids.
"Hugo" is directed by Oscar-winner Martin Scorsese, a frequent nominee who finally won his first Oscar for 2006's "The Departed." However, the 3D film, a fanciful adventure about a boy who lives in the walls of a train station, is a creative departure for the filmmaker, and the Academy doesn't honor family films as often as it honors the epics Scorsese is better known for. But "Hugo" is the most nominated film this year, with 11 bids, and the most nominated film usually wins the top Oscar.
This is Woody Allen's first Best Picture nominee since the 1980s. "Midnight in Paris" earned him his best reviews in years and became his highest grossing film (though not accounting for inflation). The film is an ode to famous artists like Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein, giving it a sense of nostalgia that might also translate to Allen at Oscar time; sentimental voters might be eager to reward Allen's comeback film.
Baseball movies have not historically been Oscar bait, but "Moneyball" has a number of factors working in its favor. It's directed by Bennett Miller, whose previous film, "Capote," was nominated for Best Picture. Second, its screenplay was co-written by Aaron Sorkin, who recently won an Oscar for Best Picture-nominee "The Social Network," and Steve Zaillian, who won for penning "Schindler's List." And the film received rave reviews. It's nominated for six Oscars overall.
"War Horse's" war-themed subject matter and the reputation of its director make it a force to be reckoned with, but despite generally positive reviews and box office, the film has not performed very well in the industry, snubbed in several key guild awards. The film is nominated for six Oscars, but missed key nominations for directing, writing, and editing.
"The Tree of Life" is only the fifth film by director Terrence Malick. His third film, the World War II-set "The Thin Red Line," earned him his first nominations for Best Picture and Best Director, and though his most recent film, "The New World," was not received as well, "Tree of Life" was a critical smash, winning the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival and receiving praise for its auteurist vision of the origin of life. It's only nominated in two other categories: Best Director and Best Cinematography.
"Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" has literary cachet (it's based on a novel by Jonathan Safran Foer), it deals with important subject matter (the 9/11 terror attacks on New York City), and is directed by Stephen Daldry, who was nominated for Best Director for all three of his previous feature films and earned Best Picture nominations for the last two ("The Hours," "The Reader"). Though it is one of the poorest reviewed films to be nominated for Best Picture and it was ignored by most precursor awards, it inspires passion among its fans. It is nominated for only one other award: Best Supporting Actor (Max von Sydow).
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