THE dust has settled and all the 2013 Academy Award best picture nominees have been released on DVD or are available to download.
The final straggler is Zero Dark Thirty, Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal’s follow-up to their 2009 best picture Oscar winner, The Hurt Locker.
And of the nine best picture nominees this year, I consider Zero Dark Thirty (M, Icon, 157 min, $29.99) and Michael Haneke’s Amour to be the best of the bunch.
Sure, Ben Affleck’s Argo won the main prize this year and it is a very entertaining thriller, but there’s something lacking that means it doesn’t quite hit you as emotionally as other films.
Amour, as discussed last week in brief, has this, and will arguably be viewed as the only masterpiece of the bunch. Zero Dark Thirty isn’t a masterpiece or even as emotionally wrenching a film as Amour but it nonetheless kicks you in the gut as a ripping thriller.
It was undervalued as such. Its major problem was not of the film’s doing. Discussion about its merits was hijacked by criticism that the film about the pursuit of Osama bin Laden appeared to condone torture. Then there was the criticism that the film focused on the American side of the story, at the expense of the Pakistanis and/or terrorists.
The latter point was self-defeating; the nature of the conflict says the enemy is largely unknown. And Bigelow and Boal would obviously be more simpatico with the American narrative. Nevertheless, John Stockwell’s telemovie on the same subject, Seal Team Six: The Raid on Osama bin Laden, portrayed the subplot of two Pakistani fixers effectively.
I hadn’t really got the Jessica Chastain thing before this film either. She seemed to be one of those actors who was ubiquitous because Hollywood decided she should be the new star, just as it had with Shia LaBeouf (although I still don’t get the LaBoeuf thing).
As Maya, the CIA agent who doggedly pursues bin Laden despite doubts and 6m-high brick walls, Chastain is the film’s heart.
She is surrounded by some terrific performers, including Aussie Jason Clarke, Jennifer Ehle and James Gandolfini, but she is the protagonist, one woman defying the men, and she shows greater range and subtlety than she has displayed before.
Boal’s script is a cracker because it presents its moral questions visually. He doesn’t resort to bloated soliloquies about the whys and wherefores of combat or torture. You see it in Maya’s face or hear it in the film’s cruel prelude, a black screen accompanied by a collage of voices from September 11.
Much like Haneke’s form in Amour, Bigelow and Boal know how to work cinematically. They don’t push or prod; they present their wares and let the audience do the work. It’s a great film.