The Oscars ceremony is Sunday night (3/2/2014 at 7pm ET on ABC)), and you might be wondering which movies are worth watching before the hardware is handed out in Hollywood.
1. 12 Years a Slave
Its persistent violence is hard to watch, but this movie is a masterpiece. There's not a frame wasted, the acting is world-class and the story is heartbreaking and moving. I left the theater angry at slavery and any culture that embraces it, but I'm glad I saw this, certainly the best picture of the year.
2. Dallas Buyers Club
Matthew McConaughey should win the Oscar for best actor in this movie, but that's not the only reason this is one of the best movies of the year. It's a story of determination, right and wrong, survival and hypocrisy, all rolled up in an entertaining and sometimes heartbreaking package that's surprisingly fun to watch.
In this tale of loss, forgiveness and perseverance, Judi Dench shows why she's earned seven Oscar nominations, with one win in 1999 for Shakespeare in Love. if it weren't for her exemplary acting and the fact that this a true story, I would find it hard to believe that a woman who was so wronged could react to such evil with such love.
Even though I'm not crazy about Bruce Dern, all he does is play himself in this black-and-white work of art. Will Forte turns in a first-rate performance in this film that reminds me of a Steinbeck novel. This is one of my favorites of the year, which I like a lot more than I thought I would.
The subtlety of the future world of Her feels accurate, Joaquin Phoenix seems just geeky enough, and Amy Adams is appropriately sympathetic in this movie that feels like reality 20 years hence. The star of this movie, though, is director and writer Spike Jones's Oscar-nominated script, which futurist Ray Kurzweil thinks is close to what the near future may bring.
With some of the best special effects ever created, sharp and patient directing and a spellbinding subject, this is a thrilling film. And who wouldn't like the superb acting of Sandra Bullock and George Clooney? Gravity doesn't reach the pinnacle of filmmaking for me, though, because of its plethora of weightless Hollywood clichés along for the ride.
7. Captain Phillips
Tom Hanks has a way of shape-shifting himself into characters, and his star turn as Captain Phillips is no exception. The same goes for newcomer Barkhad Abdi, whose subtle mix of menace and fear is the surprise tour de force of this movie. I only wish I hadn't already known the outcome, which was widely reported in the press when it actually happened.
8. American Hustle
I can't understand why so many people like this movie. Most of it was improvised, and it shows. The worst performance was by the loathsome, lisping Christian Bale, the most overrated actor in Hollywood history. At least 30 minutes too long, the single part of this self-indulgent travesty I like is Robert DeNiro's cameo appearance. The only realistic hustle going on here is when they take your money at the box office.
9. The Wolf of Wall Street
What a pathetic disappointment this is for me, a diehard Martin Scorsese fan. Sure, Wolf is intended to be satire, but it feels too much like glorification of greed. There is nothing entertaining or enlightening about it, and at least 90 minutes of it is filler and self-indulgent claptrap. I dislike this movie so much, I can safely say it's my least favorite movie I've seen in many years. Save your time and money.
I watched all nine of the Best Picture nominees, so if you haven’t seen all of them yet, I’ll save you some time and money, showing you which movies were my favorites. In the gallery above, they’re presented in my order of preference.