Armchair Vacation: Criterion Alternatives For All Nine Best Picture Nominees


Well ladies and gentlemen, Oscar Sunday is just on the horizon, and with the event this weekend, comes an uptick in both discussion about how may win or lose, as well as the anger that comes with watching a perfectly great film like Argo getting dumped in the backlash pile simply for having unanimous praise.

Now, say what you will about the importance of The Oscars or just where this year’s slate of nominees will be held up in the eye of history, but 2012 was a mighty fine year for film. However, what about those of us who are already caught up on the nominees going into awards weekend? Well, here are alternatives for every Best Picture nominee, to leave your weekend full of film.

1. Argo  // Kanal

While one is inarguably the frontrunner for this year’s Best Picture Oscar and the other being a hardly seen masterpiece from a master filmmaker, Argo and Andrzej Wajda’s Kanal share a lot in common. Inherently about men and women trying to race against the existential elements in order to not only get free but stay alive, the films have revolution as a backdrop. With Argo being on the opposite end of the Warsaw Uprising-centric drama that is Kanal, both films are brilliantly crafted dramas that may not share much stylistically (Argo is, admittedly, a very down the center piece of craft where this is far from that), but aren’t as far off from one another as you’d think.

2. Amour // Make Way For Tomorrow

Nothing like a good tearjerker to make you revalue everything about your life.  Both Haneke’s film and the all-time heartbreaker of heartbreakers from director Leo McCarey tell stories of two elderly people in the final throws of their life, attempting to connect, love and make the most of their final moments. Touching on everything from love and loss as well as the generation gap (children are involved with both narratives), these films are two of the most emotionally affecting films about aging that have ever been made. For added effect, toss in (and this isn’t a Criterion film but sue me) Away From Her for a trilogy of old people nearing the end of their lives for your soul to be crushed under.

3. Beasts Of The Southern Wild // Walkabout

Roeg’s film and last year’s debut for director Benh Zeitlin have more to them than just child leads. Both lusciously crafted aesthetically, the films feature collectively great performances from their young casts, and narratives that find their young leads attempting to come to terms with a violent world around them.  This year’s nominee was a seemingly beloved piece of cinema as its director even garnered a Best Director nomination to the collective surprise of the film world, but if it is as lovingly remembered as Roeg’s breathtaking masterwork, it’s one hell of a feature debut.

4. Lincoln // Alexander Korda’s Private Lives

Taking up an entire Eclipse set, these films are beautifully crafted looks at historic icons, as is Spielberg’s masterwork. Possibly his best film since Minority Report, the film is subdued and yet completely representative of a director as in love with films like John Ford’s Young Mr. Lincoln (a more obvious, but just as fitting comparison) as he is the broad paint strokes of a director like Stanley Kubrick, a man he has once called a friend and collaborator. Korda’s films are lavishly made and brazenly performed, particularly by Charles Laughton in both The Private Lives of Henry VIII (the best film in the bunch) and Rembrandt. Laughton often times goes big and scenery chomping (particularly in Henry), but the films are no less poignant.

5. Life Of Pi // The Jungle Book

This one is almost too simple. And Lee’s film will likely garner him a Best Picture win this Sunday, and while no awards came to Zoltan Korda for his adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s collection of tales here (he was, however, nominated for four Oscars), Pi and The Jungle Book share a deep idea. Both centrally about a boy coming of age in the presence of animals, and to a much broader sense the definitive “man versus nature” type tale, both also share a luscious sense of style and production design and deep thematic musing.  Lee’s film is an absolute gem of a drama despite its rough first act, but if you have not seen Korda’s definitive adaptation of the Kipling tale, it’s currently available on Hulu Plus.

6. Silver Linings Playbook // Something Wild

One of the tougher films to attempt to find a Criterion proxy for, David O. Russell’s film feels oddly indebted to one of Jonathan Demme’s great unsung gems. Both films tell the story of a man having his life changed by a new woman in his life, and with heart to spare, both films have a fantastic sense of humor, and are brimming with great performances. Truly ensemble pictures, each have added senses of drama, albeit different in tone and thematic relevance, but are driven by the cavalcade of great performances that each picture carries.

7. Zero Dark Thirty // Silence Of The Lambs

Oddly enough, this comparison was one that I thought of walking out of the theater. Both films are brazen thrillers about women stopping at nothing to take down one singular entity, with the only difference here being narrative scope. Conceptually kin, the main difference between the two films come in directorially and narrative choices. Demme’s film is far more standard in its attempt at being a definitive thriller, where Bigelow’s masterpiece is a breathtaking meditation on obsession more comparable conceptually to a film like David Fincher’s Zodiac. However, the films are, at their core, about two women pulling out all the stops to get serial killers, so the comparison stands.

8. Django Unchained // Young Mr. Lincoln

This one may take a minute to connect. Having said on many occasions that he’s not a big proponent of the films of director John Ford due to his alleged racism (he states that, for example, he had a role in A Birth of A Nation), Tarantino’s films have always seemed to be more inspired by the work of someone like Sam Peckinpah than Ford, who himself appears as more of an influence on a filmmaker like Steven Spielberg. However, in honor of this alleged disdain for the legend’s work, no two films may prove creative differences more. Both in a way about slavery (Tarantino’s firmly and Ford’s Young Mr. Lincoln only due to the added air of gravitas the film feels as though it carries given its central character, despite not being directly about slavery), there could not be a bigger chasm between two artists and two cinematic artists. Toss in Stagecoach for added effect, or if you’re interested in seeing something like a melodramatic Western (Django is, at its core, a romance) you can see a film like The Furies.

9. Les Miserables // Les Miserables

This one is the most obvious of the bunch. Hidden deep within the Criterion Collection, and more so The Eclipse series, is Raymond Bernard’s adaptation of Victor Hugo’s monstrous novel “Les Miserables.” Where the Tom Hooper film has been one of the, if not the very most polarizing feature film of 2012, this has long been considered the best adaptation of a novel that should, on the face of it, be nearly impossible to film. It’s a lush and vibrantly made black and white adaptation with fantastic performances, and is truly a masterwork of filmic craft, where as Hooper’s film has been described as having craft so bombastic, that it’s nearly unwatchable. I myself adore both adaptations, but it’s not shocking that Bernard’s film, with legendary performances and art direction, is one of the great literary adaptations of all time.

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