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Smackdown Smacks Down the 2013 Oscar Nominees

Movie Smackdown loves a good old fashioned film fight — it’s something we do every day that Hollywood does once a year during awards season. Who among us can’t appreciate putting some films in a cage and letting them duke it out until there’s only one left standing?

This year there were nine nominations out of a possibility of ten in the “Best Picture” category. The films and their producers are:

  • Amour Margaret Menegoz, Stefan Arndt, Veit Heiduschka and Michael Katz, Producers
  • Argo Grant Heslov, Ben Affleck and George Clooney, Producers
  • Beasts of the Southern Wild Dan Janvey, Josh Penn and Michael Gottwald, Producers
  • Django Unchained Stacey Sher, Reginald Hudlin and Pilar Savone, Producers
  • Les Misérables Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Debra Hayward and Cameron Mackintosh, Producers
  • Life of Pi Gil Netter, Ang Lee and David Womark, Producers
  • Lincoln Steven Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy, Producers
  • Silver Linings Playbook Donna Gigliotti, Bruce Cohen and Jonathan Gordon, Producers
  • Zero Dark Thirty Mark Boal, Kathryn Bigelow and Megan Ellison, Producers

Oscars-2013Seven of the Nominees Come Pre-Smacked

We’ve had most of the nominated “Best Picture” films in the Smack ring already. This offers us the chance, here in this single post, to create a gateway for you to lots of fresh writing, keen observation and (of course) a general lack of respect for authority, cinematic or otherwise.

If you want to go straight to any of these reviews, just click on the graphics and away you’ll go! Each Smackdown has a poll embedded in it and some of them are just amazingly close, so check them out. After you’re done, drop by our Facebook page and let us know your own thoughts.


Argo (2012) -vs- The Last Shot (2004)

(Review by Arthur Tiersky) So let’s talk about movie movies.

First, you’ve got your movies about movies, which range from the beloved classics (Sunset Blvd., Singin’ in the Rain) to the cult oddities (Barton Fink, The Stunt Man) to the amusing trifles (Bowfinger) to the less-said-the-better (Hollywood Ending).

Then you’ve got your movies that sort of know they’re movies, i.e., meta-movies, a diverse genre that includes such intriguing experiments as Adaptation and Wes Craven’s New Nightmare.

Then there’s the movie-within-movie movies, notable entries being Kiss of the Spider Woman, The French Lieutenant’s Woman and Almodovar’s Bad Education.

And finally, there’s that most unsung of movie-related movie genres, movies about movies-that-were-never-meant-to-be-movies, or what I like to call movie-without-movie movies. This week, this esoteric category expands with the release of Ben Affleck’s docudrama-suspense-satire Argo, so naturally, we’ve decided to initiate it into the club with a Smackdown against… well, pretty much the only other member of the genre, Jeff Nathanson’s The Last Shot (2004). The movies inside the movies may be fake, but the Smackdown is bracingly, in-your-face real.

Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained compared to Inglourius Basterds

(Review by Arthur Tiersky) Once upon a time, long before you were born, way back in 1994, a writer-director named Quentin Tarantino made a movie called Pulp Fiction. It was a low-budget, stylish and irreverent thriller so wildly entertaining, energetic and fresh that it became an instant cult classic, was a huge critical and box office success, won Quentin an Oscar for his script (story co-written with Roger Avary), and turned him practically overnight into the biggest celebrity director since Alfred Hitchcock.

The movie was so unconventional in so many ways — unusual length (two hours and forty minutes), non-chronological/episodic/multi-plot structure, long stretches of idle chit-chat, hairpin plot turns, extreme violence sprinkled with laughs, eccentric soundtrack selections — and Tarantino was so amply lauded and rewarded for it that he began to believe he could do no wrong, that he could be either as daring or as lazy as he felt on any given day, and we would continue to bow at his feet. The films that followed over the next two decades were… well, it depends who you ask. There are those who still worshipped at his altar, but many others didn’t quite take to much of it, grew tired of waiting for the old Tarantino to return, and viewed each new release with ever-decreasing expectations.

Which brings us to his latest effort, the blood-drenched, race-themed Western,Django Unchained. On the surface, it would seem Tarantino may be carving a new niche for himself, reinterpreting historical events with his own gonzo spin. Critics responded well to his most recent film, the revenge-on-the-Nazis, movie-geek fantasy Inglourious Basterds, which took that route and won some awards for it in 2009. Let’s stick Django in the ring with it and see what happens. Cue up Stealers Wheel’s “Stuck in the Middle with You,” and here we go…


(Review by Bryce Zabel) Yes, I know, we could have put this operatic soon-to-be blockbuster, Les Miserables, up against any number of period musicals translated to movies, from The King and Ito Sound of Music to Moulin Rouge. Or we could have matched it against any of the multitudinous other film adaptations of the Victor Hugo novel or even against the stage musical itself. Someone else with more academic credentials or film school training than we have can dissect those comparisons at another time. (If you can’t wait, there’s always Wikipedia.)

The thing is, as I watched and listened to the sincere musical emoting of the modern Les Miserables at a pre-release screening at the Pacific Design Center theater here in Hollywood, my mind kept trying to focus on the actual story. Namely, the convict Jean Valjean’s flight from the relentless Inspector Javert, who just won’t cut him a break, no matter how many good deeds he’s done or may still do if allowed his freedom. Kind of like that Sam Gerard federal marshal chasing Dr. Richard Kimble in The Fugitive. What is it with these hard-ass law enforcement guys? Dogs with bones, if you ask me. Sure, they’re tough as nails against overmatched perps, but how do they stack up against eachother? Sometimes, all you need is a good Smackdown to find out.

Life of Pi (2012) vs Slumdog Millionaire (1993)

(Review by Sarah Harding) 

Life, as they say, is a journey, and that’s never so clear as when watching a life story unfold in the hands of a masterful film director. In Life of Pi, the voyage is both literal and symbolic, as the title character is forced to traverse the high seas under Grimms’ fairy tale-like circumstances that must be seen to be — well, if not believed, then at least experienced at a deep level. At the same time, the young, Indian lead character, a devoted spiritual seeker, undergoes an intense inner journey as well.

Slumdog Millionaire, the multi-Academy Award winning 2008 film, similarly explores a young, Indian’s life journey as he navigates the Dickensian streets of Mumbai, constantly relying on his wiles to survive, while also seeking love and, ultimately, fabulous wealth and the respect he deserves.

In both films, the main character’s stories are told in flashback to authorities who don’t initially believe them. This device is used as a way to heighten the other-worldly nature of both plots. In Slumdog, every flashback explains how the longtime street urchin acquired the knowledge to correctly answer questions on a popular television game show. In Life of Pi, the flashbacks are based on a possibly true story being told by a lively, if not entirely reliable narrator, who turns his tale into a religious fable. Both films are hugely ambitious and visually stunning, and each has multiple actors playing the lead role at different ages. When Life of Pi and Slumdog Millionaire go to the mat in this Smackdown, only one mostly innocent Indian boy hero can come out on top.

Lincoln (2012) vs Thirteen Days (2000) presidential films

(Review by Arthur Tiersky) You’ve heard about all the Kennedy/Lincoln coincidences by now. Some of them are even true. But did you know that Kennedy and Lincoln both have had movies made about pivotal moments in their presidencies? Yeah, I guess you probably did know that. The long list of movie Lincolns includes such notable stars as Henry Fonda, Walter Huston and now, in Steven Spielberg’s new film,Lincoln, Daniel Day-Lewis, while Kennedy has been assayed by, among others, Cliff Robertson, James Franciscus and Bruce Greenwood, who played our youngest President in the true-to-life political thriller,Thirteen Days.

But did you know that I just happened to watch both Lincoln and Thirteen Days in the same week?

Hmm… okay, I guess you probably could’ve surmised that. But did you know thatThirteen Days (2000) had a man named Lincoln as a key grip, and Lincoln had a key grip named Kennedy? Of course you didn’t, because it’s obscure movie trivia that I just made up, but the point is, what more appropriate time than Election Day week to have two of our most beloved, respected Presidents go head-to-head in the Smackdown ring? Have at it, POTUSes!

Silver Linings Playbook vs Benny and Joon (1993)

(Review by Arthur Tiersky) “Two damaged, anti-social people find each other and fall in love” is not exactly an under-utilized premise for movies.  The genre is actually pretty extensive, so much so that it would not be entirely inappropriate to wonder how David O. Russell’s new Silver Linings Playbook can even justify its existence, as well as what the hell is up with that title.

In fact, you would have been perfectly within your rights to wonder how Jeremiah Chechik’s Benny & Joon could have justified its existence way back in 1993, as well as who the hell was Jeremiah Chechik and what ever happened to him. But Benny & Joon was, in fact, a surprise hit in its day and set the tone for Johnny Depp’s now-extensive gallery of lovable misfits that followed, which is why it currently holds the Defending Champ trophy instead of such quasi-formidable contenders as Buffalo ’66, Lunatics: A Love Story, and The Other Sister, to name a few.

Still, it’s quite possible that one or both of these films can’t justify their existence, so we’re going to give them their best shot by turning them loose on each other. Paul Simon may not have wanted no part of that crazy love, but even he will want a part of the action in this crazy love Smackdown…

Which brings us to his latest effort, the blood-drenched, race-themed Western,Django Unchained. On the surface, it would seem Tarantino may be carving a new niche for himself, reinterpreting historical events with his own gonzo spin. Critics responded well to his most recent film, the revenge-on-the-Nazis, movie-geek fantasy Inglourious Basterds, which took that route and won some awards for it in 2009. Let’s stick Django in the ring with it and see what happens. Cue up Stealers Wheel’s “Stuck in the Middle with You,” and here we go…

Zero Dark Thirty (2012) vs Hurt Locker (2008)

(Review by Arthur Tiersky) Not quite satisfied with making history as the first female Oscar winner for Best Director with The Hurt Locker(2008), Kathryn Bigelow, working again with screenwriter Mark Boal, is back with Zero Dark Thirty, another topical and suspenseful Middle East adventure that’s already a serious contender for this year’s top Oscars. The new film expands far beyond the modest scope of its predecessor, taking on one of the biggest stories of recent years, the decade-long, multi-country search for 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden and how it eventually found closure, a mere 19 months ago (maybe you heard about that part).

ZD30 has already collected some prestigious year-end accolades as well as its share of controversy, largely with regard to its portrayal of, and attitude toward, detainee torture (sorry, “enhanced interrogation”), so it’s definitely the water-cooler movie of the season, but is it worth the hype? Has lightning struck twice, or is the new Bigelow-Boal collaboration merely coasting on the good will of its predecessor? And what the hell is a “hurt locker” or a “zero dark thirty,” anyway?

We here at Smackdown can’t promise all the answers, but we can provide you with the violent, stomach-churning spectacle of turning these two bad-ass movies on each other for your bloodthirsty reading pleasure. Have at it!

1 Comment on Smackdown Smacks Down the 2013 Oscar Nominees

  1. I’m rooting for Argo. I realize that Lincoln was a massive production and extremely well-crafted, but Argo had me simultaneously laughing and biting my nails. Did anyone notice the attention to detail? It was nearly impossible to tell the difference between the historical footage and the and that shot for the film. The clothes, the hairstyles, the color of the film. It was superb movie making, in my opinion.

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