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BEST PICTURE The Artist
What Owen said: ''The Artist may be the ultimate clever curio. It's a black-and-white silent film, made in a lovingly exact imitation of the primitive technical style — and elemental emotional sincerity — of a 1920s title-card melodrama. Written and directed by the French filmmaker Michel Hazanavicius (though the movie is in English and set in Hollywood), The Artist is delightfully old-fashioned, but it's also poppingly contemporary, with a puckish spark of self-awareness.'' A-
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BEST PICTURE The Descendants
What Owen said: ''Almost everything about The Descendants seems novel, from the lived-in, slightly grungy urban Hawaii settings (the movie is about a family that has been on the islands for generations) to the less-smooth-than-usual image of George Clooney as Matt King, a rumpled lawyer in ugly tropical shirts, geeky-dad braided belts, and an ordinary-schmo haircut.'' A
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BEST PICTURE The Help
What Owen said: ''It's often been noted that before the civil rights era, the American South, while more racist than the North, was in one way more enlightened: Even at the vicious height of Jim Crow, blacks and whites coexisted with a casual and enduring day-to-day intimacy. They'd been living intertwined lives, after all, since the days of slavery. The Help, an emotionally enveloping, sharply alive big-canvas adaptation of Kathryn Stockett's powerful 2009 novel, is rooted in that truth more deeply than just about any Hollywood movie I can name. It understands that the ''separation'' of the races in the South wasn't just a crime — it was a grand illusion.'' A-
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BEST PICTURE Hugo
What Lisa said: ''Hugo both ticks and flies by, a marvel meant to be pulled from the cabinet and enjoyed again and again.'' A?
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BEST PICTURE Midnight In Paris
What Lisa said: ''But even as Allen goes further than he's ever dared toward acknowledging his weakness for nostalgia, the movie still confuses easy travelogue photography — pretty pics of France for distractible Americans — with dynamic filmmaking. ''We'll always have Paris,'' the director suggests. Oui, so long as we think of Paris as a joke about Scott and Zelda — and a beauty shot of the Eiffel Tower.'' B
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BEST PICTURE War Horse
What Lisa said: ''This is a beautifully built, classically framed movie, shot with the unshowy natural expressiveness of a John Ford Western by Spielberg's great cinematographer, Janusz Kaminski. The tears this War Horse wrings are honest, as Joey's fate becomes entwined with those of British and German soldiers equally capable (amidst bombs, gun blasts, and hideous barbed wire) of appreciating animal magnificence.'' A-
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BEST PICTURE Moneyball
What Owen said: ''The supersmart and rousing Moneyball, which may be the best baseball movie since Bull Durham, is also about talk, but in a coolly heady and original inside-the-front-office way.'' A-
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BEST PICTURE Tree of Life
What Lisa said: ''The wonder, in the end, is not that Terrence Malick has taken three years to release his long-awaited fifth feature, Tree of Life. No, pilgrims. Given Malick's soaring ambition to create an ecstatic, impressionistic, epic cinematic tone poem that entwines the stories of one Texas family in the 1950s with nothing less than the creation of the universe, the wonder is this: How did the famously deliberate, contemplative filmmaker finally decide the film was finished? The Tree of Life is both luminously precise (the family part, crowned by Brad Pitt's commanding performance as a disciplinarian but loving dad) and maddeningly without form and void (the spirituality-lite cosmos part, complete with the depiction of the Big Bang and dinosaurs).'' B+
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BEST PICTURE Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
What Lisa said: ''A polarizing load of quirkiness in Extremely Loud gunks up (at least for this hometown mourner; your results may vary) what is at heart a piercing story: Here's a tale that compacts the grief of an entire world, country, city, and thousands of loved ones left behind into the pain of one vulnerable, fictional boy. The gunk is not, in itself, the movie's fault.'' B-
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BEST ACTOR Jean Dujardin, The Artist
What Owen said: ''The hero, George Valentin, is a silent-film superstar who is sitting on top of the world. He's played by the wonderful Jean Dujardin, who functions as a living, breathing silver-screen artifact: He resembles Gene Kelly, but with an absurdly rousing sunbeam of a smile that marks him as a wholesome rogue in the Douglas Fairbanks mold.''
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BEST ACTOR George Clooney, The Descendants
What Owen said: ''It's George Clooney, though, who carries The Descendants on his noble and weary shoulders. He's still a rascal, but with the gleam in his eye now heightened (shockingly) by traces of fear. I wouldn't say that he's better here than he was in Up in the Air, but that was the movie that taught us that we weren't being suckered if we felt George Clooney's pain. In The Descendants, he draws upon that trust. He gives a pitch-perfect performance as a man awakened, for the first time in years, by the immensity of his loss.''
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BEST ACTOR Brad Pitt, Moneyball
What Owen said: ''As an actor, Brad Pitt has aged like a fine wine. In Moneyball, he's in classic, game-on movie-star mode, his hair flopping with boyish insolence over his rugged features, but beneath his funny, exhilarating, tossed-off strut of a performance, he gives Billy a deep river of self-doubt, as well as a need to prove himself that never quite comes out and shows itself. (That's its nagging power.)''
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BEST ACTOR Demián Bichir, A Better Life
What Owen said: ''[Unassuming gardener] Carlos must keep his head down, literally and emotionally, but anyone who looks at him and sees a meek, pleading, recessive man isn't reading between the lines of Demián Bichir's superb slow simmer of a performance. His Carlos is a silent striver who, like the heroes of The Bicycle Thief and Man Push Cart, embodies a humanity that is ultimately heartbreaking.''
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BEST ACTOR Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
What Owen said: ''The fabled 1979 BBC miniseries version starred Alec Guinness, in a classic turn, as George Smiley, le Carré taciturn, trench-coated veteran spy hero. The film hands the role to Gary Oldman, who tips his hat to Guinness — it's there in his rollingly deliberate speech — but brings to the part his own puckish, deadpan spirit.''
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BEST ACTRESS Viola Davis, The Help
What Owen said: ''Early on, Aibileen Clark (Viola Davis), grave and solid, with a look so impassive it takes you a moment to see the silent protest in her eyes, tells us that she's a maid just like her mother, and that her grandmother was a house slave. It's 1961, and the matter-of-fact way that she delivers that information is startling, because she's really telling us that she's a house slave too. She's just called by a different title. She also says that she has raised 17 white children, so that's another way that the word maid seems inadequate. She's a nanny — and in many ways, a surrogate mother.''
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BEST ACTRESS Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
What Lisa said: ''Streep is her own irresistible show as she assumes, with the precision that is her trademark, the character of the U.K.'s staunchly conservative prime minister in the 1980s. It's not just the physical transformation she gets right — the familiar helmet hairdo of lacquered waves, the distinctive vocal delivery that Thatcher willed herself to acquire. Streep also nails the comportment. She locates a soul. ? She finds an essence, so that every step ?and gesture reflect the journey of a grocer's daughter who became one of the most powerful women in the world.''
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BEST ACTRESS Michelle Williams, My Week With Marilyn
What Lisa said: ''Michelle Williams plays Monroe, and she's a wonder.... Williams knows exactly how to throw the switch that turns on MM's movie-star incandescence, then flick it off to reveal the vulnerable young woman in the dark.''
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BEST ACTRESS Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs
What Lisa said: ''But Close's decision to play Nobbs as a pinched, emotionally remote servant with closely combed wavy hair, a grim mouth, no eyelashes, and an unwavering facial expression of invisibility only makes this hermetic little story about the uses and limits of masquerade that much more easily erased from memory.''
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BEST ACTRESS Rooney Mara, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
What Owen said: ''As Lisbeth Salander, the sullen 24-year-old waif hacker who's the story's spectacularly outlandish heroine, Rooney Mara is a revelation. She sports the spiky black plumage of a punkette peacock, with oversize earrings tightened onto her lobes like gears, pale-gray skin set off by barely perceptible eyebrows, choppy bangs, and piercings she wears like scars. Even when Lisbeth is standing still, her whole look is really an act of violence, an assault against decorum. It's her way of fighting to be noticed, with a suppressed scream that says, 'Look at me — and stay away!' She's like Clarice Starling crossed with Joan of Arc crossed with a homeless, fingerless-gloved teen sociopath.''
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BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR Christopher Plummer, Beginners
What Lisa said: ''The great Plummer, meanwhile, creates an inspiring, fully rounded man in late bloom, and McGregor responds with a performance to match.''
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BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR Kenneth Branagh, My Week With Marilyn
What Lisa said: Branagh is ''suitably florid ... as that high thespian Sir Larry...''
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BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR Jonah Hill, Moneyball
What Owen said: ''Jonah Hill, spouting a gnomic fan's mastery of stats, brings his whole deadpan-geek thing to a new height of pinpoint timing (he's like a stone-faced rabbi of baseball)....''
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BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR Max von Sydow, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
What Lisa said: ''For a time, [the boy] is accompanied by a mute old man known only as the Renter (Max von Sydow, giving a great acting lesson in wordless physical action) because he rents a room from Oskar's grandma (Zoe Caldwell).''
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BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR Nick Nolte, Warrior
What Owen said: ''But the only thing that unites them now, apart from their ruthless hand-to-hand prowess, is how much they hate their father, Paddy (Nick Nolte), a recovering alcoholic whose drinking tore the family apart.''
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BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS Octavia Spencer, The Help
What Owen said: ''Set in Jackson, Miss. — the middle-class heart of the Deep South — The Help is Aibileen's story, and it's also the story of her best friend, Minny (Octavia Spencer), a pixie-faced rascal of a housekeeper/cook who's as feisty and contemptuous as Aibileen is circumspect. Davis and Spencer are both brilliant, etching these women's hopes and broken dreams with every line, and between the lines, too.''
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BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids
What Owen said: ''Annie and the four other bridesmaids recall the motley rat packs in films like The 40 Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up, and the actresses are all scene-stealers, notably Melissa McCarthy as the linebacker-tough Megan, whose every word arrives as a blunt shock.''
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BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS Bérénice Bejo, The Artist
What Owen said: ''At his latest premiere, Valentin is being interviewed when a fan from the surrounding throng spills onto the sidewalk and interrupts his photo op. Her name is Peppy Miller, and she's played by Bérénice Bejo, who's quite an image herself, gorgeous and wide-eyed, like Parker Posey fused with Charlie Chaplin.''
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BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS Jessica Chastain, The Help
What Owen said: ''Yet one of the scrupulous pleasures of The Help is that there isn't a caricature in it. Every woman on screen is fresh, live, and three-dimensional, whether it's Elizabeth (Ahna O'Reilly), the girlish conformist who cedes her motherly duties, including nurturing, to Aibileen; Hilly (Bryce Dallas Howard), the snarling princess and out-of-the-closet racist who thinks that by forcing Minny to use a bathroom out back, she's preserving the cause of racial harmony (she's keeping everything in its place); or Celia (Jessica Chastain), the flaky, lost, Marilyn-esque white-trash rich girl who hires Minny on the sly.''
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BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs
What Lisa said: ''The arrival of a strapping housepainter called Hubert (the magnetic Janet McTeer, a Close colleague on TV's Damages), who has finessed the use of female-to-male cross-dressing with much happier success (and who discovers Nobbs' subterfuge), unnerves him. ''
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BEST DIRECTOR Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
What Owen said: ''As [Valentin's] already icy wife leaves him and the stock market crashes, The Artist pays homage to silent films like Sunrise in which good people meet pitfalls of degradation that can potentially bedevil all of us. The movie, like a silent Star Is Born, counterpoints George's descent and Peppy's rise, though the affection between them is anything but spent. I do wish that the last act were truly wrenching instead of just mildly touching. Yet the ending is a madly exhilarating surprise. Days after I saw The Artist, I was still thinking (and grinning) about it, because the movie's real romance is the one between us, the jaded 21st-century audience, and the mechanical innocence of old movies, which here becomes new again.''
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BEST DIRECTOR Martin Scorsese, Hugo
What Lisa said: ''A mysterious mechanical man with the ability to write and draw holds a place of honor in Hugo, Martin Scorsese's exquisite adaptation of Brian Selznick's magical, award-winning children's book The Invention of Hugo Cabret. And the author's description of the automaton's construction — ''A cascade of perfect movements, with hundreds of brilliantly calibrated actions'' — is an equally good way to describe Scorsese's achievement in making art that uses the most advanced of 3-D technology to sing a song of love to the movies, from the very dawn of the medium.''
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BEST DIRECTOR Alexander Payne, The Descendants
What Owen said: ''The Descendants, Payne's long-awaited new film, is another beautifully chiseled piece of filmmaking — sharp, funny, generous, and moving — that writes its own rules as much as About Schmidt or Sideways did. In a funny way, Payne has become the Stanley Kubrick of serious American comedy: He takes forever to make a movie, searching every time (as Kubrick did) for the perfect book to adapt. But when he finally discovers it and gets rolling (in this case, it's a novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings), he turns each film into a masterfully realized and inhabited universe.''
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BEST DIRECTOR Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris
What Lisa said: ''Having sampled London and Barcelona in recent films, Woody Allen continues his grand tour of European cities with Midnight in Paris, an ingratiating, tourist-oriented exercise in nostalgia for a city that doesn't exist. One could argue that Allen's beloved New York City doesn't exist either — that his Manhattan is a state of mind and an exclusive zip code populated by Allen-esque characters less likely to visit Queens than Qatar. This Paris, though, really exists solely in the mind, reachable each night only at the stroke of 12.''
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BEST DIRECTOR Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life
What Lisa said: ''Malick clings to the promise of grace: His vision of the afterlife is a dreamy beach, enhanced by an excellent playlist of fine classical music, and promising the peace that surpasses all understanding. Plus a beautiful sky.''