It’s been almost 10 years since the nominees of the 85th Academy Awards were announced. The ceremony itself took place in February 2013, but the films being nominated/awarded were all released during 2012, which is generally how the Academy Awards work. It’s a little confusing, but it’s just something we’ve got to live with.
As such, the following movies all celebrated their 10th anniversary in 2022. It makes now as good a time to revisit them, as enough time has passed to view them more objectively, as well as outside the hype – and occasional hysteria – of each year’s award season. What follows is an honorable mention that probably deserved a nomination, followed by a ranking of the nine 2012 films that did receive a Best Picture nomination, from worst to best.
Honorable mention: ‘The Master’
The Master is perhaps Paul Thomas Anderson’s most haunting and difficult film. It’s also arguably his best-acted, which the Academy did ultimately recognize, as it got a Best Lead Actor nomination for Joaquin Phoenix, and nods in the Supporting Actor/Actress categories for Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams, respectively.
However, it didn’t receive nominations in any other categories, with snubs for cinematography and screenplay being particularly baffling. It also should have earned at least a nomination for Best Picture, as it’s a stronger and more memorable movie than some other Best Picture nominees of 2012. It’s been praised by other groups at least, and notably, Anderson also lists it as his personal favorite movie that he’s directed so far.
9. ‘Les Misérables’
One of many Les Misérables film adaptations, this 2012 film directed by Tom Hooper is at least notable for being one of the few adaptations of the stage musical. It tells the timeless story of ex-convict Jean Valjean’s quest for redemption, all the while being pursued by a ruthlessly persistent police officer, Javert.
Les Misérables isn’t terrible overall; it’s just very messy. It has some great performances and scenes, while other performances and scenes fall short. Some of the film’s songs sound great, and some really don’t. The presentation is interesting, but maybe a bit overdone when it comes to the crazy camerawork and very in-your-face (literally) close-ups. It’s a strange, perplexing, ambitious film, but is ultimately the worst of the 2012 Best Picture Oscar nominees by quite a large margin.
A Steven Spielberg-directed biopic about the last few months of Abraham Lincoln’s life, Lincoln is a pretty solid film overall. It might not be among the director’s very best, but considering it’s largely been forgotten about since the 85th Academy Awards ceremony, you could make the argument that it’s a little underrated.
At least it made a decent impact at the time of its release. It got a staggering 12 Academy Award nominations, and won two: Production Design, and Best Actor for Daniel Day-Lewis in the title role. And to be fair, Day-Lewis does give a great performance that leaves an impact. The movie may otherwise be a little dry and slow-moving in parts, but its technical qualities are strong, and it does have that Day-Lewis performance to further boost it a little.
7. ‘Silver Linings Playbook’
Like the aforementioned Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook also earned a large number of nominations at the 85th Academy Awards: eight in total. Written and directed by the controversial David O. Russell, it proved to be one of his biggest hits, and is overall a solid dramedy about a man with bipolar disorder, his relationship with his parents, and the romantic bond that develops between him and a young widow.
It might not be the most memorable movie, but in the moment, it’s a good watch. It’s a quiet and somewhat unassuming film, has several great performances (it scored four nominations across the four Acting categories, after all), and it does a decent job of balancing the feel-good moments with its darker dramatic moments.
Nowadays, Argo may not seem like the very best nominee of all those nominated for 2012, but it was the film that ultimately won Best Picture for that year. At least it wasn’t the worst of the nominees, and it helps that overall, it is a good movie. This means it doesn’t come close to ranking among the most baffling Best Picture wins in Oscar history.
It’s a well-assembled, well-paced, and very engaging movie about a real-life hostage rescue that was planned at the tail-end of the 1970s, and executed near the start of 1980. Perhaps it’s the fact that part of the rescue plan involved the rescuers pretending to make a science-fiction film that helped Oscar voters enjoy Argo even more. After all, Oscar voters do tend to enjoy movies about movies, and in Argo, a fake movie ultimately helps save the day.
5. ‘Life of Pi’
A visually spectacular film directed by the great Ang Lee, Life of Pi focuses on a teenage boy stuck at sea, on a small lifeboat after a shipwreck. The only other survivor who shares the lifeboat with him is a Bengal tiger, with much of the movie being about the tension – and eventual bond – between the two.
Life of Pi holds up as having some of the best and most immersive 3D in recent memory. It was all the rage in the years following 2009’s Avatar, and even if viewers were getting tired of it by the early to mid-2010s, Life of Pi at least used the technology well. The special effects as a whole were also excellent, and the story at its core is a simple, memorable, and moving one.
4. ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’
Perhaps the most underrated of all the Best Picture nominees from 2012, Beasts of the Southern Wild may lack the star power or budgets of its fellow nominees, but it didn’t need either. It’s a small-scale, moving film about a six-year-old girl and her father living in a small community that becomes heavily impacted by the effects of climate change.
It’s a drama and something of a coming-of-age film, but it also incorporates fantasy elements in numerous interesting ways. It’s a film that does a great deal with a budget of less than $2 million, and represents the kind of movie that the Academy Awards should probably recognize more often.
A grim, sometimes emotionally distant, and inevitably heartbreaking movie about the struggles of growing old, Amour follows a couple in their 80s. Life is hard enough already for them, but things get worse when the wife suffers a stroke, and the husband needs to make difficult decisions about what to do next.
Amour is certainly not for everyone. Even those who like/love the film might well readily admit that they didn’t enjoy it. Yet it’s endured more than many of its fellow 2012 nominees, and might well have the best shot at feeling timeless in the coming years and decades, too. Amour is an honest and effectively blunt film that doesn’t shy away from the trials and tribulations of aging, and is an undoubtedly powerful film as a result.
2. ‘Zero Dark Thirty’
Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker was the Best Picture winner for 2009, and her 2012 follow-up, Zero Dark Thirty, was almost as successful, earning five Oscar nominations. It dramatizes the manhunt for Osama bin Laden following the September 11 Attacks in 2001, and was notable for being heavily rewritten and redeveloped after bin Laden himself was located and killed in a 2011 raid.
It’s a long film with pacing that’s arguably imperfect, but everything else about it is extremely well-done. Bigelow’s direction is fantastic, the film’s climax is undeniably suspenseful and gripping, and Jessica Chastain is excellent in the lead role. It’s a dark and tense film, but overall, a very good one.
1. ‘Django Unchained’
Quentin Tarantino has always loved Westerns, and some of his past films certainly had influences from the genre (most notably, Kill Bill Vol. 2). However, 2012’s Django Unchained was his first full-blown Western, as it told the story of a recently freed slave in 1858 teaming with a German bounty hunter and stopping at nothing to rescue his wife from an evil plantation owner.
While not Tarantino’s very best film, it is an excellent one, and ultimately stands as the best 2012 film that was nominated for Best Picture. It’s got great performances from its entire cast, some explosive action scenes, and the great dialogue and stylish visuals you’d expect from a Tarantino film. Though it didn’t win Best Picture for the year of 2012, it was the best of the nominees.