Managing editor Jess Cagle discusses year-end films that could be Oscar contenders

By Jess Cagle
December 07, 2012 at 05:00 AM EST

Back in 2007, when EW first got wind of a Hobbit movie in development, deputy managing editor Jeff Giles and his team released a cover featuring Gollum titled ”Return of the Ring?” We were onto something, so we simply adjusted the punctuation and used the line again on this week’s issue — a split run of four Hobbit covers with returning favorites Bilbo Baggins, Gollum, and Gandalf, as well as a new character, Thorin the dwarf, played by Richard Armitage, who actually stands 6 feet 2 inches tall and looks more like a rugby player than a Tolkien creation.

The Hobbit is one of a handful of highly anticipated year-end movies that studios have finally begun screening for the media and Academy voters. Critics are loving Kathryn Bigelow’s bravura follow-up to The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty — opening Dec. 19 — a meticulously researched film about the CIA’s hunt for Osama bin Laden. The sequence in bin Laden’s Pakistan compound is some of the most harrowing, confident, and intense filmmaking you’ll see this — or any — year. Django Unchained, opening Dec. 25, delivers what you’d expect from Quentin Tarantino: shock, controversy, bloody violence, and outrageous humor. And nearly everyone has been wowed by director Tom Hooper’s big, bold, and beautiful adaptation of Les Misérables, also opening Dec. 25. At every screening the crowd breaks into applause after Anne Hathaway sings ”I Dreamed a Dream.” Indeed, it’s probably the most powerful number ever performed in a movie musical, and it makes Hathaway the current front-runner in Oscar’s Best Supporting Actress race.

It’s been a great year for movies, particularly studio movies (see: Lincoln, Argo, and Les Misérables). In fact, this could be the first time in years that a film from a major studio, rather than an indie, walks off with the Best Picture Oscar. But I hope the indies get their fair share of attention and nominations. Silver Linings Playbook, The Impossible, and Anna Karenina are each breathtaking in their own way. The real winner this year, of course, is the audience. Turns out Homeland isn’t the only thing worth watching after all.

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