There are only five blazingly well-crafted, obviously levitational 2012 films that truly deserve to be Best Picture nominated. Not eight, seven or six…five. One of these is Michael Haneke‘s Amour, although I’m presuming it’s been relegated in most minds to the Best Foreign Language category. The second of these, Leo Carax‘s Holy Motors, has barely been seen and hasn’t a chance. Joe Wright‘s Anna Karenina has been seen, but has been widely dismissed by too many critics (to their eternal discredit) that it’s almost certainly a non-starter.

That leaves Kathryn Bigelow‘s Zero Dark Thirty and David O. Russell‘s Silver Linings Playbook. These are the only two main-event sluggers with that special blend of craft, command and transportation that people remember decades later.

The Gold Derby “experts” who are currently asserting that Lincoln‘s Steven Spielberg is in the lead position for Best Director know a lot less than you might think. In my mind they’re lazy defaulters who are hanging out in the lobby and going “I don’t know but I guess this is how the dullest people are thinking…right?” You can’t give a Best Director Oscar to a hack billionaire whose next film will reportedly be Robopocalypse just because he made a good Abraham Lincoln film. Try to restrain your impulse to show obeisance before power. You will not receive a check in the mail if you vote for Spielberg and he takes the Oscar.

The Stalinist-committee claim that ZD30 should be dismissed because it endorses torture is one of the most vile p.c.-hysteria charges in Hollywood history. But it has stuck to the wall because too many people are letting the sound bite into their heads without considering the particulars, and because Sony management has apparently decided to let ZD30 absorb the slings and arrows without rushing to its defense.

I’ve said more than enough about Silver Linings so let’s let it lay, but it’s the only contender that really generates its own kind of energy and delivers according to its own particular personality terms, and which offers a kind of social-cultural undercurrent (i.e., we’re all crazy-hyper under the skin) that lingers after the credits.

Ben Affleck‘s Argo is a professionally composed, highly satisfying period caper film — hats off, due respect, thumbs-up.

Tom Hooper‘s Les Miserables is madly, wildly loved thing that has alienated too many people (i.e., roughly 25% to 30% of critics and industry types), although it does come together exceptionally, I feel, during the final 40 minutes.

If you separate the performances by Daniel Day Lewis, Tommy Lee Jones, Sally Field, James Spader and David Strathairn, watching Steven Spielberg‘s Lincoln is like listening to the tick-tick of a grandfather clock.

Ang Lee‘s Life of Pi will be Best Picture-nominated in order to round out the field — let’s leave it at that.

Paul Thomas Anderson‘s The Master is a major auteurist-muscle-flex film with a lead performance (i.e., Joaquin Phoenix‘s) that combines anti-social alienation and alcohol-sipping with the behavior of slithery, tongue-flicking serpent-geek, and which peaks somewhere between the halfway and two-thirds point and doesn’t really come together in the end.

Benh Zeitlin‘s Beasts of the Southern Wild deserves a little-engine-that-could Best Picture nomination, but it won’t happen. Tough game, hot kitchen.

Quentin Tarantino‘s Django Unchained is an ugly cheeseball exploitation film that uses slavery as a protection-pass cloak that permits QT to wallow in all kinds of wink-wink blood, venality and racial venom for close to two hours and 40 minutes.