Over the weekend, two major Best Picture contenders were screened for critics in New York and Los Angeles, and if there's any primary consensus to be ascertained from the reactions it's that Zero Dark Thirty and Les Miserables will definitely be going head-to-head in the Best Actress category at the Oscars. From the former, Kathryn Bigelow's thriller about the killing of Osama bin Laden, the sure thing is Jessica Chastain, who leads the film in the role of a CIA analyst. And from the latter, Tom Hooper's adaptation of the period musical, it's Anne Hathaway who is deemed a lock for her performance in the prominent part of Fantine.
But there are other praises, and this being the season for awards buzz trumping absolute criticism (for Les Miz, though, the lack of straight engagement of the material is partly due to a review embargo), pundits are weighing chances for these films in all other categories. Mostly, though, after the Best Actress certainty, there are only strong possibilities outlined for Bigelow and Hooper (who won the Academy Award for Best Director this year for The King's Speech) and actor Hugh Jackman, for his leading role in the musical.
Outside Oscar talk, though, there was still room to consider the prospects of dividisive responses. Is Zero Dark Thirty too complimentary to the Obama administration, people may wonder, and will Les Miz be enjoyable to those of us unfamiliar with the book/show? The answers seem to be: no, and ZDT (or 0D30) is apparently an intense ride -- and maybe, the musical sounds triumphant enough to wow anyone.
Zero Dark Thirty
"This feels like the most personal thing Bigelow has ever made, a movie about how someone can move in a world that is not used to making space to fit them and how they can succeed in that world without giving up the elements that personally define them. [...] the assault on bin Laden's compound [...] is an incredibly staged sequence, tense and brutal and direct, and perhaps the single greatest expression of everything Bigelow's worked towards in the staging of action over the years." - Drew McWeeny, HitFix
"Bigelow directs the sh*t out of this movie. The bin Laden raid involves some of the most exciting scenes put on film this year or any year." - Sasha Stone, Awards Daily
"While not as taut and lean as the more action-based The Hurt Locker, ZDT is an electric, sprawling and ambitious effort that’s easy to become absorbed by, and a picture that should impress those keen on the director’s intelligent, composed and determined brand of filmmaking." - Rodrigo Perez, The Playlist
"Will knock Ben Affleck's popular Argo down a notch--it's that film's more advanced and contemporary cousin, on steroids." - Anne Thompson, Thompson on Hollywood
"This is in no way a political film; it carries neither a torch for Barack Obama nor the agitated imprint of an Oliver Stone film. Essentially, it’s a police procedural on the grand scale. [...] This is movie journalism that snaps and stings, that purifies a decade’s clamor and clutter into narrative clarity, with a salutary kick." - Richard Corliss, Time
"As a complete novice to the world of Les Miz, I thought the film was wonderful and found myself momentarily confused only a handful of times. [...] my gut is telling me that it will beat both Argo and Lincoln for Best Picture." - Mike Ryan, The Huffington Post
"[Hugh] Jackman gives his all in this movie, and his performance is a tour de force of passion in the same way that Daniel Day-Lewis' portrayal of Abraham Lincoln is a triumph of precision. At this point, the Best Actor race is all about them." - Frank Digiacomo, Movieline
"Jackman has finally found a screen role custom-made for and worthy of his talents as a great physical specimen who can sing as well as anyone who can also act. [...] But this year's best actor Oscar race couldn't be more competitive, and, despite giving a career-best screen perf, he's no sure-thing for a nom." - Scott Feinberg, The Hollywood Reporter