With all the fuss over the Oscars, I felt driven somehow to point you at some things I've seen over the last year which I think, in most cases, are better than the current contenders (the Oscars are actually over at the time of writing this, but I still don't know who the winners are). To be clear - I liked Argo, but I don't think it's the best movie of the year. Django Unchained was, I thought, a return to form for Tarantino, although I think he had about two movies worth of material in a single work - enough so he might have been better going down the same route he did with Kill Bill 1 & 2. I also enjoyed Zero Dark Thirty, and thought it a clever, smart movie that in no way remotely condones torture - rather the opposite, in fact. I haven't, unfortunately, seen Lincoln, although from what I've seen and heard both it and its lead actor deserve their nominations.
But there are always movies that I am surprised to find are not even nominated. Here's the one that particularly struck me as glaring omissions:
The Hunter - based on a novel by Julia Leigh, starring Willem Dafoe as a man sent by a biotech company to find and kill the last Tasmanian tiger so they can benefit from unique properties inherent in the creature's biochemistry (essentially, they want to develop a powerful nerve agent). This is one of those man-against-nature and man-against-man movies. It's powerful and gripping and reminds me why Dafoe is such a superb actor. Definitely one of my movies of the year.
A Royal Affair - this is based on a true story. IMDB says: "In 1767, the British Princess Caroline is betrothed to the mad King Christian VII of Denmark, but her life with the erratic monarch in the oppressive country becomes an isolating misery. However, Christian soon gains a fast companion with the German Dr. Johann Struensee, a quietly idealistic man of the Enlightenment. As the only one who can influence the King, Struensee is able to begin sweeping enlightened reforms of Denmark through Christian even as Caroline falls for the doctor. However, their secret affair proves a tragic mistake that their conservative enemies use to their advantage in a conflict that threatens to claim more than just the lovers as their victims."
What's remarkable about this Danish film is that it feels weirdly science-fictional. Both Caroline and Struensee (played by the same chap who appeared as le Chiffre in Casino Royale) are effectively airdropped into a society considerably more backwards than their own, so that they almost feel like time travelers from the present lost in a scarcely post-medieval society - but with the unique privilege of being able to change it.
Finally, I'd recommend The Sessions - also based on a true story: "At the age of 38, Mark O'Brien, a man who uses an iron lung, decides he no longer wishes to be a virgin. With the help of his therapist and his priest, he contacts Cheryl Cohen-Greene, a professional sex surrogate and a typical soccer mom with a house, a mortgage and a husband. Inspired by a true story, The Surrogate, follows the fascinating relationship which evolves between Cheryl and Mark as she takes him on his journey to manhood."
In summary like that, it sounds like some kind of American Pie affair, but it's really, really not. It's way smarter and cleverer than that. O'Brien was a noted poet, with several books of his work out, despite being completely immobilised from youth. And it shows, through the dialogue and his interactions with the people and the women around him, and it's hardly surprising, if this movie is anything to judge by (and assuming it's an accurate portrayal of his life) that so many women ended up falling in love with him.
So there you go: three recommendations from me.