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Posted at 11:00 AM ET, 12/17/2008

You Name the Best Picture

By Jen Chaney

"Benjamin Button," are you The One? (Merrick Morton/Paramount)

While our beloved Liz is away, Jen Chaney -- Liz's partner in "Lost" obsessiveness -- weighs in with a guest post on the most wonderful time of the year. (Hint: It ain't the holidays.)

Awards season is here and anyone who keeps track of Hollywood accolades is already -- to borrow a phrase from the timeless anthem "We Built This City" -- knee deep in the hoopla. Critics' groups from around the country have already begun to heap their praise on the year's best cinematic offerings, as has the Hollywood Foreign Press Association with last week's Golden Globe nominations. All of it is, of course, preamble to the Lord God King of Awards Shows, the Oscars, whose nominations will be announced Jan. 22.

If you haven't been keeping score, consider the following the equivalent of a Sports Center update on the Best Picture winners/nominees thus far:

Golden Globe Nominees for Best Drama:
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," "Frost/Nixon," "The Reader," "Revolutionary Road" and "Slumdog Millionaire"

Los Angeles Film Critics' Association: "Wall-E," with "The Dark Knight" as runner-up

New York Film Critics' Circle: "Milk"

Broadcast Film Critics' Association Critics' Choice Award nominees:
"Changeling," "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," "The Dark Knight," "Doubt," "Frost/Nixon," "Milk," "The Reader," Slumdog Millionaire," "Wall-E" and "The Wrestler."

American Film Institute's 10 Best Films of the Year:
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," "The Dark Knight," "Frost/Nixon," "Frozen River," "Gran Torino," "Iron Man," "Milk," "Wall-E," "Wendy and Lucy" and "The Wrestler."

Washington Film Critics' Association: "Slumdog Millionaire"

Of course, there are plenty of other groups that have handed out awards so this is really just a taste. But from this sampling, you may notice a trend. Several of these films either have not opened in theaters yet (see "Benjamin Button," "The Wrestler") or are playing only in limited release ("Doubt," "Frost/Nixon"). And that raises one small issue with all this proclaiming of what is "best."

While many critics and Hollywood insiders have seen all of these films, your average cinephile has not. Personally, I always wonder if all this "best-ing" affects the way people react to a movie. For example, if you know that "Benjamin Button" is supposed to be a Best Picture-caliber film, will you proclaim that it's great by default? Or will you deem it less than worthy simply because the awards machine amped up your expectations before you even had a chance to order tickets online?

I love the pomp, the politics and the predictions of awards season more than anyone. But I also realize that all of this prize-giving can sometimes strip away the pleasures of cinematic discovery. And these endless lists of winner also makes it seem like these associations and groups know better than the average movie-goer, which isn't necessarily the case.

So today, I invite the Celebritology audience to wade knee deep into this hoopla. Post a comment and let the world know what you think is the Best Picture of 2008. If it was "Pineapple Express," fine. If your fave was "Twilight" or "American Teen," so be it. It's confession time, so there is no judgment here. (Okay, there might be some judgment. But seriously, be honest anyway.)

And while you're at it, let us know which movies you think will likely get nominations come Oscar time. Your opinions are valid, too, so consider this your opportunity to speak truth to power. Or something.

For the record, while I like and admire much of what I have seen, I have not fallen drunkenly in love with any of this year's entries. (And yes, I have seen most of the winners/noms mentioned above, including "Benjamin Button," "Gran Torino," "Revolutionary Road" and "The Wrestler.") But if someone asked me to name the Best Picture of the year, I'd choose two: "Milk," and one that hasn't appeared on any of these lists, the keenly observed "Rachel Getting Married."

Now, let the cinematic debate begin.

In addition to obsessing about "Lost," Jen also is the movies editor and a DVD columnist for washingtonpost.com.

By Jen Chaney  | December 17, 2008; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  Awards Season  
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Comments

Of all the movies mentioned, I've only seen the Dark Knight, and was impressed until a point in the movie, then it just became long. In fact, I've only seen one other movie in 2008 in the theater: Sex and the City. Pretty sad coupling, huh? We just watch On Demand. I could finally give my thoughts on last year's nominees.

Posted by: mannc | December 17, 2008 11:32 AM | Report abuse

Overall I don't pay attention to what the critics think. I go to a movie to get away from life for awhile and am generally easily entertained.

The "Best Dramas" usually are pictures that require the viewer to be a little more than a passive observer. It often helps to know a little background on the subject or have a more than usual appreciation for the art than most other films. (There are of course, exceptions to this statement but I believe this in general to be true). I like these kinds of movies too when I'm in the right mood.

Posted by: hodie | December 17, 2008 11:40 AM | Report abuse

I have seen many, many movies this year and I have 2 that are the BEST. The Visitor and Slumdog Millionaire. I have seen other films that were very entertaining, like Mama Mia and Dark Knight. the biggest disappointment has to be " Sex and the City". Horrible movie, horrible.

Posted by: rodeno | December 17, 2008 11:54 AM | Report abuse

I usually do not care about what the critics think about movies, because their tastes can sometimes be pretentious. I tend to go towards the movies that provide some sort of escapism rather than the ones that require me to think a little bit, this doesn't mean that I don't like those types of movies, I just have to be in the mood for them. I only saw two movies in the theater this year, Cloverfield and the Dark Knight and I enjoyed both of them. Cloverfield was just an escapist movie for me because I enjoy monster movies. I thought the Dark Knight was well made and well acted, I thought Heath Ledger was fabulous. I hope he gets the Golden Globe and an Oscar nod.

Posted by: VAtoLA | December 17, 2008 12:00 PM | Report abuse

I only saw 2 movies in 2008 too. Just no time to go and waste $10 per picture. I saw Indy 4 and The Duchess. Indy 4 was okay. The Duchess was GREAT. I thought it might be long and drag, but whoa, did that sucker move along. You felt for all the characters. You understood the time. The costumes were gorgeous. It was a great period piece.

Posted by: epjd | December 17, 2008 12:04 PM | Report abuse

Jen,

Could you pass along the formula for picking as "Best Picture" a movie you have never seen? How do these groups do that? Do they just go by the fact it has a great director they like (e.g., Ron Howard) or is it a stellar cast, or some combination of those?

Posted by: reddragon1 | December 17, 2008 12:12 PM | Report abuse

I don't pay attention to critics, I use the trailers or my mood on a Friday night to determine what I'm going to watch.

For instance, I enjoyed The Bodyguard, the critics didn't. I slept through The Remains of the Day, I believe they called it a moving masterpiece.

Posted by: petalceleb | December 17, 2008 12:44 PM | Report abuse

The last 2 movies I saw in the theater were The Dark Knight and Hellboy II.

Liked 'em both.

Posted by: dablues1 | December 17, 2008 12:45 PM | Report abuse

Okay, so here is the saddest thing ever, the only movie I have seen in a theater this year is Burn After Reading. I know I should have seen more movies, especially since the Dark Knight came out this year, but I was so busy I just didn't.

I hang my head in smame.

Posted by: DorkusMaximus1 | December 17, 2008 12:50 PM | Report abuse

What, no "Marley and Me" on anybody's list? After Jennifer gave her all to the publicity tour, posing in the nude and getting all chatty about the end days with Brad again?

Dang, what a waste.

This year, I only saw Speed Racer and Madagascar 2. I got nothin'.

Posted by: 44west | December 17, 2008 12:53 PM | Report abuse

Dorkus, you are ok, I am ok...I hope. I have not been inside a movie theater in about two years. I simply can not recall the last movie that I saw that was not on TV or via netflix. There are many reasons for this, not least amoung them is my toddler, and, as a direct result of said toddler, our significant reduction in disposable income (reference ep's comment about wasting $10 - that's a box of diapers!)

Posted by: VaLGaL | December 17, 2008 12:56 PM | Report abuse

reddragon1
formula for picking as "Best Picture" a movie you have never seen?

I try to read or hear a variety of reviews of a film to get some sense of it.

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | December 17, 2008 1:00 PM | Report abuse

I gave up on critics (present company excepted of course) because they tend to reveal too much of the films they don't like. Just because they don't like something does not mean I won't. The snootier ones also use "entertaining" as pejorative. If I'm going to spend $18 for myself and Mrs. Dragon for a couple hours movie, I WANT to be entertained, dammit!

Posted by: reddragon1 | December 17, 2008 1:09 PM | Report abuse

This is really very sad. I went through the lists of movie release dates to try to figure out the last movie that I saw at the theater - it was Monster House in July of 2006. I hope that I have not disqualified myself from visiting Celebritology by this serious admission.

Posted by: VaLGaL | December 17, 2008 1:09 PM | Report abuse

I didn't see many in the theatre either. Just the Dark Knight, Indiana Jones, and Leatherheads (dollar matinee). Most of the current movies I've seen this year were on airplanes or On Demand at home.

Posted by: hodie | December 17, 2008 1:10 PM | Report abuse

"The English Patient" really, really sucked, yet was the darling of the critics.

Posted by: jezebel3 | December 17, 2008 1:11 PM | Report abuse

I have Netflix, so I have no need to leave my house. That being said, the only movie I physically left my house to see was the Sex and the City movie and that was because it was free (along with drinks and cupcakes). I'm sure many of the movies listed above will be on my Netflix queue in the near future.

Posted by: milesdy | December 17, 2008 1:11 PM | Report abuse

I hope that I have not disqualified myself from visiting Celebritology by this serious admission.

Posted by: VaLGaL | December 17, 2008 1:09 PM

No, the Dream Interpretation stuff buys you a pass.

Posted by: jezebel3 | December 17, 2008 1:14 PM | Report abuse

Hey, just wanted to respond to reddragon1's question from earlier. The critics in these groups have seen these films; they either go to screenings or receive "For Your Consideration" screeners on DVD. That's how I was able to see "Benjamin Button" and some of the others so early.

So they're not voting in ignorance. But the process, to some degree, does set expectations for the general public, which doesn't some of these films until much later. "Revolutionary Road" doesn't open here in D.C., for example, until January.

Hope that explains a little better...

Posted by: jenniferchaney | December 17, 2008 1:14 PM | Report abuse

Among the best I've seen this year are "Burn after reading" and "Appaloosa." "Milk" was also fantastic.

Posted by: GuiS | December 17, 2008 1:19 PM | Report abuse

My movie watching sounds like most of the others. The only movies I saw in the theater were Wall-E, Sex and the City and Indy 4.

I thoroughly enjoyed Wall-E, though don't really consider it a "best picture" contender by any means.
Loved Sex and the City - I'm a total chick-flick junkie - but it's definitely not award-worthy.
Absolutely HATED the latest Indy. My opinions about the movie are similar to those of the South Park writers.

I LOVED Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (got it on Netflix), but I'm sure it'll get overlooked.

Posted by: eet7e | December 17, 2008 1:23 PM | Report abuse

I have only seen Twilight in the theatres this year, as I don't have a lot of money to spend going to the theatre.
I liked it, but am not surprised it didn't get anything.

I still need to see Iron Man, Dark Knight, etc. I usually am about a year to a year and a half behind movies anyway...unless it is Harry Potter or was Lord of the Rings. Those were my exceptions. :)

Posted by: Ohyouknow | December 17, 2008 2:35 PM | Report abuse

No shame ValGal, I actually own Monster House on DVD.

And I agree with eet7e on Miss Pettigrew it was a fun movie.

Posted by: petalceleb | December 17, 2008 2:37 PM | Report abuse

Just like most of the others I did not see many movies in the theater this year. The Dark Knight, Iron Man, and Role Models are the only three I saw. I took my 21 year old son to all three. Of those, Iron Man was the best.
I always watch On Demand or rent all of the Academy Award nominees eventually and have to say that at least 75% of them turn out to be very boring or a disappointment. I am not sure if it is like Jen says, the build up raised my expectations, or I just don't like what critics like.

Posted by: Iowahoosier | December 17, 2008 3:00 PM | Report abuse

It's interesting that we're interested enough to read Celebritology (for me, on a daily basis), yet not interested enough to go see more than a couple movies in the theater.

Posted by: mannc | December 17, 2008 3:01 PM | Report abuse

It's interesting that we're interested enough to read Celebritology (for me, on a daily basis), yet not interested enough to go see more than a couple movies in the theater.

Posted by: mannc | December 17, 2008 3:01 PM

*******************************************

Well, typically we are more entertaining and more original than what Hollywood puts out on the big screen.

Posted by: DorkusMaximus1 | December 17, 2008 3:21 PM | Report abuse


It's interesting that we're interested enough to read Celebritology (for me, on a daily basis), yet not interested enough to go see more than a couple movies in the theater.

Posted by: mannc | December 17, 2008 3:01 PM
-----------------------------------------------

Speaking for my Cheap Sumb|tch Self, all we have to do is wait 6-8 months for almost any movie to make it to HBO. And in addition, we get to see HBO originals such as Generation Kill and House of Saddam and John Adams that blow away most anything you can see in the theater.

All for $14 or so a month.

For the Cheap-A$$-MoFo...errrr...thrifty... that'sthe word -THRIFTY -- person, Netflix or premium cable channel is the way to go.

Posted by: sasquatchbigfoot | December 17, 2008 3:42 PM | Report abuse

Iron Man. Not only was it true to the character of Tony Stark/Iron Man, but the plot was engaging and Downey was smokin'.

WALL-E is a close second for pure originality and great visual effects. I love that little guy.

This was, overall, a pretty good movie year.

Posted by: DCCubefarm | December 17, 2008 3:47 PM | Report abuse

For the Cheap-A$$-MoFo...errrr...thrifty... that'sthe word -THRIFTY -- person, Netflix or premium cable channel is the way to go.

Posted by: sasquatchbigfoot | December 17, 2008 3:42 PM

What sas said. That and it seems that people in my area like to bring their infants to movies, regardless of the rating. No kids at home, I can make my own stacks and there's a cute puppy to cuddle.

Posted by: eet7e | December 17, 2008 3:49 PM | Report abuse

Well, typically we are more entertaining and more original than what Hollywood puts out on the big screen.

Posted by: DorkusMaximus1 | December 17, 2008 3:21 PM

And there is no b.o. on the net.

Posted by: jezebel3 | December 17, 2008 3:49 PM | Report abuse

I love dark comedies, particularly Burn After Reading and In Bruges this year. I'm not a huge Colin Farrel fan, but he did a phenomenal job in that movie. And I don't see how you can live in DC and not have thoroughly enjoyed Burn After Reading.

In other genres, I was very happy with Iron Man, Wall-E, Sex and the City, and Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day.

Posted by: whatrocks9 | December 17, 2008 4:31 PM | Report abuse

thx, ms. Jen.

So the critics are not voting in ignorance, but as the other posts point out, by and large, we are.

Atleast if some of the good ones get an Oscar nom, (I'm thinking Slumdog here) Mrs. D and I will be able to see it in what megaplex moviedom considers Redneck Prince William County. Otherwise I guess it's wait an Netflix for us.

Posted by: reddragon1 | December 17, 2008 4:56 PM | Report abuse

Wall-E. Loved it. Don't see why it couldn't be a serious contender if people were really judging based on creativity, entertainment and sheer movie-making skill. It was exceptional. Now if you're a snob who thinks anything animated is inherently inferior, then I can't help you.

Posted by: Roxie1 | December 17, 2008 5:15 PM | Report abuse

What, no love for the 'Love Guru'?

Best movie I saw this year was Tropic Thunder. Not very PC I know and it will get shunned award time for it (not that comedies have much chance anyway).

Posted by: gorilla_monsoon72 | December 17, 2008 6:40 PM | Report abuse

I haven't seen many of this year's movies. I did see both Wall-E and the Dark Knight. Though I enjoyed them both, if they are on the lists for the best movies of the year, either it was a bad year for movies or the lists suck.

Posted by: cmecyclist | December 17, 2008 8:07 PM | Report abuse

There is no question, there is no other competition, the best movie of the year absolutely must be

WHO'S NAILIN' PALIN

with many thanks to Dr. Flynt.

Posted by: tennesseemoonshiner | December 18, 2008 10:15 AM | Report abuse

As a volunteer ticket taker at an art movie theatre in Boise, Idaho, I see a lot of movies, and my "best of the last year" would have to include these:

The Visitor
Milk
Slumdog Millionaire
The Duchess

I attended a premiere of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and although it was ambitious, it could not be called the best movie of the year by any measure.

I hope no one forgets Richard Jenkins' lovely, understated performance in The Visitor come Oscar nomination time. If you haven't seen this movie, make it your New Year's Resolution.

Wish I could be as amusing as Dorkus or Byoolin, but I opted for sincerity.

Posted by: scandibaby | December 18, 2008 12:50 PM | Report abuse

I actually do love to read what the critics think, and have some whose rec's I follow. (The WP has good critics, btw.) But I agree with whoever said The English Patient sucked! I believe that some years there is an element of the-emperor-has-no- clothes because some reviewers are not willing to say that they didn't like, or didn't get, what was supposed to be the brainy, classy movie of the year.

I only saw Burn after Reading and Tropic Thunder this year. The awards

Posted by: msame | December 18, 2008 3:33 PM | Report abuse

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