Two of the most highly anticipated potential fixtures in this year's Oscar race made their debuts this weekend, and the reaction was extremely positive.
Further complicating an awards race that already has seemingly surefire contenders in Ben Affleck's "Argo," Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln," Ang Lee's "Life of Pi" and David O. Russell's "Silver Linings Playbook" (all four of which were in the box office top ten this weekend), early reaction from the screenings of both Tom Hooper's "Les Miserables" and Kathryn Bigelow's "Zero Dark Thirty" (collectively and notably directed by two of the last three best director Oscar winners) suggest there's now six films most definitely in the best picture race, with a trio of others — Michael Haneke's "Amour," Benh Zeitlin's "Beasts of the Southern Wild" and Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master" — waiting in the wings and hoping for some serious love from the critics awards (which they likely all will receive).
Of the two, reaction from "Les Miserables" was the most overwhelming. There's an embargo on reviews, but tweets from critics and Oscar analysts out of both New York and Los Angeles screenings screamed "frontrunner":
Nathaniel Rogers @nathanielr
Jackman and Hathaway both absolutely sensational in Les Miz #omg #audiencewentwild4it (also read Rogers' piece on the film's screening here)
Anne Thompson @akstanwyck
Les Miserables is a tour de force dramatic musical, no holds barred, a tearjerker. Jackman drew cheers from SAG actors at Chinese tonight.
Kristopher Tapley @kristapley
Hathaway wins. GOD. I wept. Film's a triumph. They're on their feet here. NYC crowd ate…it…up. #lesmiserables
Dave Karger @davekarger
First #LesMiserables screening went over extremely well. I'd call it a sure thing Picture nominee for Oscar and the probable Globe winner.
Scott Feinberg @ScottFeinberg
ANALYSIS: LES MIS wows at first screening (applause after each number), clearly headed for Oscars
Sasha Stone @AwardsDaily
Oh I think Anne Hathaway definitely wins
Eddie Redmayne could def snag a best supporting actor nod. Hugh Jackman likely a lock for a best actor nod now. #LesMiserables
Some seriously strong words, and it definitelty seems Anne Hathaway might have won her Oscar this weekend. And the film itself is basically a confirmed best picture nominee. Thanksgiving, indeed.
As for "Zero Dark Thirty," there was no embargo on reviews which resulted in two absolute raves from Todd McCarthy at The Hollywood Reporter and Richard Corliss at Time. McCarthy said it "could well be the most impressive film Bigelow has made" and raves about lead actress Jessica Chastain:
"As it has emerged instead, it could well be the most impressive film Bigelow has made, as well as possibly her most personal, as one keenly feels the drive of the filmmaker channeled through the intensity of Maya’s character. The film’s power steadily and relentlessly builds over its long course, to a point that is terrifically imposing and unshakable. Chastain carries the film in a way she’s never been asked to do before. Denied the opportunity to provide psychological and emotional details for Maya, she nonetheless creates a character that proves indelible and deeply felt. The entire cast works in a realistic vein to fine effect."
Corliss, meanwhile, is similarly impressed:
"First and last, Zero Dark Thirty is a movie, and a damned fine one. Like Argo — which, with all due respect to director Ben Affleck and the film’s many admirers, ZDT blows out of the water — it dramatizes a true-life international adventure with CIA agents as the heroes. (And it takes fewer fictional liberties with the source material than Affleck did.) In the tradition of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood and Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff, Boal tracked down the particulars of a sensational exploit and, skipping the “non-fiction novel” stage, created an original screenplay that provides a streamlined timeline of the hunt for bin Laden. The word “docudrama” doesn’t hint at Boal’s achievement. This is movie journalism that snaps and stings, that purifies a decade’s clamor and clutter into narrative clarity, with a salutary kick."
He also raves about Chastain, suggesting that perhaps this weekend gave us our first reactions to not one but two actresses heading for Oscar. Jennifer Lawrence is definitely the current frontrunner, but its a shaky lead and one Chastain could easily steal away (or, hopefully, give us a bonafide to woman race). But one thing's for sure, we're heading into one of most crowded, competitive Oscar races in years.