A user-friendly guide to the 2013 Academy Awards

Since 1929 the world of cinema has been celebrated and honored annually by a board of professionals known as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Every year, everybody who’s anybody makes their way down a red carpet wearing an extravagant gown or dapper suit with hopes of hoisting an Oscar. This year is no exception.

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Since 1929 the world of cinema has been celebrated and honored annually by a board of professionals known as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Every year, everybody who’s anybody makes their way down a red carpet wearing an extravagant gown or dapper suit with hopes of hoisting an Oscar. This year is no exception.

Both big-budget Hollywood and lesser-known indie films will share in the glory on Feb. 24. The Best Picture list this year contains a wide assortment of movies of all genres, ranging from international to action to family to historical drama to fantasy.

The Vanguard’s own Tess Anderson gives her two cents on this year’s nominations.

Best Picture breakdown

Michael Haneke has a history of releasing psychologically traumatizing foreign films revolving around masochistic piano teachers, a family of hostages in a remote cabin or post-World War I German children reminiscent of Children of the Corn.

Though the premise of his Best Picture-nominated film Amour still revolves around death, it’s his attempt at a softer, more compassionate, less esoteric film. Amour is this year’s token foreign film that most people probably hadn’t seen or heard of until it made the Oscar list.

The premise: Anne and Georges are octogenarians in love. The conflict of the story revolves around Anne having a stroke. Their daughter Eva is adamant about putting her in a nursing facility, while Georges has promised to keep her at home, regardless of how much it pains him to see the love of his life dying.

Amour has been nominated for five awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress (Emmanuelle Riva, who, at age 86, is the oldest actress ever nominated in the category), Best Original Screenplay and Best Foreign Language Film.

Argo, directed by Ben Affleck, is based on true events of 1979, when members of the CIA posed as a movie crew in an attempt to rescue hostages from Iranian revolutionaries.

Affleck thinks people will forget about his involvement in Gigli by directing movies involving law enforcement and really elaborate schemes (see: The Town, Gone Baby Gone). Sorry, Ben. An actor’s flops, regardless of whether or not he or she is now behind the camera, are never forgotten.

The film is up for seven awards, including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Alan Arkin), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Editing, Best Original Score, Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing.

My personal favorite for Best Supporting Actor this year is Argo’s Alan Arkin. His dry and sarcastic delivery is perfect for the jaded Hollywood producer he plays. In a perfect world he would share the award with costar John Goodman, long overlooked ever since his stint on Roseanne.

This year’s indie best Picture nominee, Beasts of the Southern Wild, has proved to be the little film that could since it first premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, where it took home the Best Dramatic Feature and Best Cinematography statuettes.

While I think this beautifully made movie should win in the big leagues, it probably won’t; the little ones usually only receive the participation ribbon.

The names attached to this movie were virtually unknown before its release, yet both the director, Benh Zeitlin, and the lead actress, Quvenzhane Wallis, have been nominated in their respective categories. At only 9 years old, Wallis is the youngest actress to ever be nominated for an Academy Award.

Not only does this movie hold the youngest-actress record, it also has the most intriguing description: “Faced with both her hot-tempered father’s fading health and melting ice-caps that flood her ramshackle bayou community and unleash ancient aurochs, 6-year-old Hushpuppy must learn the ways of courage and love.”

Beasts has been nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay.

Django Unchained is Quentin Tarantino’s fourth movie to be praised by the academy (in addition to Pulp Fiction, Inglourious Basterds and Jackie Brown). Tarantino’s blood-spattered revenge story revolves around a slave-turned-bounty hunter (Jamie Foxx) whose mission in life is to rescue his wife from evil plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).

Fun fact: The film contains a scene in which Candie’s hand is bleeding—that would be DiCaprio’s actual blood. He was cut by a prop he was holding and managed not to break character.

There are about 2,500 nerve receptors per square centimeter in the human hand, and a bunch of his were accidentally sliced. Leo didn’t even flinch. Personally, I find that pretty remarkable.

is nominated for five awards, including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Christoph Waltz), Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography and Best Sound Editing.

Les Miserables, directed by Tom Hooper, is the first musical in cinematic history in which the actors performed their songs live on set rather than in a recording studio.

The fact that the actors were actually able to act while delivering their songs powerfully draws the audience into the story.

The book-turned-musical-turned-movie tells the tale of love, loss, toil and redemption in post-revolutionary France, where people magically speak with English accents.

Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) once stole a loaf of bread and was stuck in prison for 19 years. Fantine (Anne Hathaway) is a factory worker who is fired and becomes a prostitute. These and other stories intertwine over a couple of decades, leaving even the most stoic of men in tears by the end.

It’s been nominated for eight awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor (Hugh Jackman), Best Supporting Actress (Anne Hathaway), Best Costume Design, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, Best Original Song, Best Production Design and Best Sound Mixing.

What’s more exciting than a shipwreck survival story? How about a shipwreck survival story featuring a tiger? Wild animals make any story more exciting, right?

Imagine Life of Pi as a CGI-dependent version of Castaway, except its Wilson could potentially kill Tom Hanks’s Indian boy counterpart.

The main character recounts his life’s story, prefaced as “a story that would make [him] believe in God.” This movie is anything but a religious experience.

It’s very pretty, and Ang Lee deserves props for creating a film that many directors had previously given up on, but it’s mostly fluff that ignores the more emotionally fulfilling bits of the actual story.

It’s been nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Original Score, Best Original Song, Best Production Design, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing and Best Visual Effects.

Life of Pi is the only 3-D movie to be nominated for Best Picture. Steven Spielberg must have decided Honest Abe was better kept in the second dimension.

Speaking of which, Spielberg’s latest historical masterpiece, Lincoln, was the second movie of 2012 with our 16th president as the main character. Before Spielberg’s opus, Abe hunted vampires in an alternate history on the silver screen.

In the good version, however, the legendary Daniel Day-Lewis plays Abraham Lincoln during his struggle with slavery and the United States’ internal squabble over the 13th Amendment.

Among others, Day-Lewis is up against Joaquin Phoenix for Best Actor. While Day-Lewis is notorious for taking months to prepare for a role and has won two Oscars in the past, Phoenix may very well be the comeback kid this year for his first role in more than four years in The Master. He is “still here,” after all, lest we forget his short-lived “retirement” from motion pictures.

Lincoln leads the nomination list with 12 nods: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Daniel Day-Lewis), Best Supporting Actor (Tommy Lee Jones), Best Supporting Actress (Sally Field), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Costume Design, Best Score, Best Production Design and Best Sound Mixing.

At first glance, Silver Linings Playbook looks like a quirky romantic comedy with Step Up-style elements featuring Bradley Cooper as the neurotic hero and Jennifer Lawrence as the (also neurotic) seductress.

However, if Lost in Translation taught us anything, it’s that trailers can be deceiving: This movie actually plucks the heartstrings and addresses how a family deals with its issues and moves on from the past.

History also demonstrates that movies dealing with family issues seldom take home the big prize: See The Descendants, The Kids Are All Right and Little Miss Sunshine.

While this year’s movies are impressive and deal with important ideas, it would be a nice change of pace for a more relatable film to win, as opposed to one taking place in the 19th century (of which there are three).

Silver Linings Playbook is the first film in Oscars history to be nominated for all four acting categories: Bradley Cooper for Best Actor, Jennifer Lawrence for Best Actress, Robert De Niro for Best Supporting Actor and Jacki Weaver for Best Supporting Actress.

The first half of the film shines with originality, but even though the second half succumbs to formula it’s still a good story and its nominations are warranted.

Silver Linings Playbook has also been nominated for Best Picture, Best Director (David O. Russell), Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Editing.

Zero Dark Thirty is a military phrase referring to 12:30 a.m., or any time prior to sunrise. The film’s writer, Mark Boal, spent years researching, developing contacts and writing the script, and in May 2011, when Osama bin Laden was killed, the ending was written for him.

The film is straight to the point—a specialty of Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker)—and relatively objective and emotion-free (Jessica Chastain’s character doesn’t even have a last name), though it should definitely not be mistaken for dry or boring. It is here to make a political statement, and it places no blame on politicians. It simply relays the exhausting decade-long search leading up to the death of bin Laden.

Zero Dark Thirty has also been nominated for Best Picture, Best Actress (Jessica Chastain), Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Editing and Best Sound Editing.

Statuette snubs

One of the most disappointing absences on this year’s nomination list was The Dark Knight Rises. Between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan’s Batman franchise was nominated for nine Oscars, winning two for the second installment.

But this year? No cinematography nod to Nolan’s partner in crime, Wally Pfister, not a technical nomination like sound mixing/editing in sight, no mention of its visual effects—yet The Hobbit’s computer-generated abomination makes the list.

Kathryn Bigelow was the first woman to win an Academy Award for Best Directing (The Hurt Locker). While she continues her trend of making successful and interesting military films, she did not receive a Best Directing nomination for Zero Dark Thirty.

Ben Affleck was another deserving director to not garner a nomination, though Argo—which he both directed and starred in—is up for Best Picture.

Looper was one of the most talked-about movies of the year, in my experience. It offered a thoughtful, intricate and unique story with believable time-travel elements, yet it went completely unnoticed by the academy this year.

There are constant complaints that stories coming out of Hollywood these days are nothing but recycled plots, typecast actors and remakes. The academy is partially to blame: The well-done, original stories that do make it to the screen are frequently overlooked.

Note that only three of the nine movies up for Best Picture are wholly original, with the other six being based on a book, news story or musical.

Skyfall was nominated for five Oscars this year, four of which deal with sound, the other for cinematography.

It’s a bit disappointing, though, that it wasn’t recognized for anything more substantial. A Best Picture nomination would have made the greatest golden anniversary present for Mr. Bond.

It’s a Bond movie, yes, but it’s also a Sam Mendes movie (American Beauty, Revolutionary Road) starring Daniel Craig, Dame Judi Dench (six Oscar nominations, win for Shakespeare in Love), Ralph Fiennes ( Harry Potter 1-8, Schindler’s List ) and Javier Bardem (No Country For Old Men, Biutiful).

I would think at least one of those factors would be good enough but, no, Adele will do.

The 85th Academy Awards ceremony premieres on Sunday, Feb. 24 on ABC. The red carpet ceremony starts at 4 p.m. and showcases celebrities and their attire as well as interviews with filmmakers.

The actual awards ceremony begins at 5 p.m.

There will be a live feed of the event on the official Oscars website. And, since it’s 2013, there’s also an Oscars app available on iTunes and oscars.go.com.