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Oscars 2013: 3 Movies You Have to See Before Watching the Academy Awards

With 2012 securely behind us, we anxiously count down the days to the 85th Academy Awards, which will air on February 24. Presented for your benefit are three top contenders from yesteryear. Which movie will strike it rich? Who deserves to take home the gold for Best Actor? Let us know in the comments section.

Lincoln

Directed by Steven Spielberg, scored by John Williams, and fielding an all-star headed by Daniel Day-Lewis, this biopic of the 16th U.S. president pulls out all the stops, and it shows; the film has received a total of 13 Academy nominations, including Best Picture, Director, Actor, Original Score, and Adapted Screenplay.

The film concerns itself with the final months of Lincoln’s presidency as he maneuvers through a political landscape divided and devastated by the Civil War in order to pass the 13th Amendment. We all know the setting and the plot. We all know how the story ends. What matters are the actors, not only the man behind the legend, but also the men and women who helped guide his conscience across one of the most tumultuous periods in American history, including Mary Todd Lincoln (Sally Field), Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones), and William Seward (David Strathairn).

Day-Lewis’s devotion to his roles borders on the memetic, and where his performance truly shines is not in Lincoln’s sweeping oratory or imposing presence, but in his few moments of quiet self-doubt. His portrayal drives home a point which carries greater weight today than ever before: that great men are ordinary men who have been called upon by circumstance to make extraordinary decisions.

Spoiler alert: Lincoln dies. If you did not see that coming, I recommend picking up a copy of Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin.

Zero Dark Thirty

The mere premise of this film was enough to divide audiences even before Kathryn Bigelow was slated to direct. The release of the trailer during the 2012 presidential race drew accusations of pro-Obama leanings, related to allegations that the White House had permitted filmmakers illegal access to classified documents as source material.

Zero Dark Thirty centers around “Maya” (Jessica Chastain), a fictional stand-in for the real CIA officer who headed the decade-long search for Osama bin Laden following the 9/11 attacks. A number of parties have labeled it a political film, which is a peculiar assessment. If Bigelow’s previous film The Hurt Locker says anything about her style, it’s that she doesn’t take a stance. She recreates the world in meticulous detail, sometimes nauseating, frequently unpleasant, but uncompromising in its honesty.

Unlike the made-for-television movie Seal Team Six: The Raid on Osama Bin Laden (curiously produced by the producers of The Hurt Locker), Zero Dark Thirty recognizes that Operation Neptune Spear was only the winning stroke in a long and painful game of cat and mouse. The angle shifts between the key players in the hunt, including CIA official “George” (Mark Strong), interrogator “Dan” (Jason Clarke), and the members of DEVGRU’s Red Squadron lead by “Patrick” (Joel Edgerton).

Whether or not any of the accusations surrounding the film bear merit, the film has been nominated for five Oscars.

Spoiler warning: Osama bin Laden dies. If you did not see that coming, I recommend consulting No Easy Day by “Mark Owen,” or one of the several hundred newspaper and magazine articles on the subject. That is, unless you subscribe to the belief that bin Laden’s death was a sham.

Les Misérables

Acclaimed director Tom Hooper brings one of the most beloved musicals of all time back to the silver screen with his adaptation of Les Misérables. For those unfamiliar with the novel on which it is based, Les Misérables follows the footsteps of Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), a lowly French convict who attempts to raise his adoptive daughter (Isabelle Allen and Amanda Seyfried) with virtue while on the run from an implacable inspector (Russell Crowe).

A simple synopsis fails to communicate either the scope or the rich complexity of the story. Covering a period of decades, the film wrings both its protagonist and audience through an unending gauntlet of sorrow, all the while lending itself to nothing less than a frank examination of what it means to be human.

If there’s one reason to watch this film (and there are many), it is the dynamic and talented cast of singers. Hugh Jackman carries the star role with panache, not at all surprising considering his previous engagements with such theatrical productions as The Boy From Oz and Oklahoma!, and despite her relatively abbreviated presence onscreen, Anne Hathaway delivers a presence which is both heartwarming and heartbreaking.

Spoiler alert: No. Go out and buy a ticket. Watch it. I mean it. Seriously, stop reading this article and go see the damn movie.

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