Inside the Best Picture nominees: A deep dive into 'War Horse'

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Image Credit: Andrew Cooper/DreamWorks Pictures

There are a whopping nine films nominated for Best Picture at this year’s Academy Awards. And between your work, family, and constant USA marathons of Law & Order: SVU (when will those ever stop being addictive?!), you simply do not have time to catch all nine in the theaters or on DVD. But never fear, dear PopWatchers — that’s why we’re here! Each day leading up to the Academy Awards Feb. 26, we’ll be providing you with a deep dive into one of the nine Best Picture nominees. Fear showing up to your Oscars party unprepared to discuss the year’s most notable films? We’ve got you covered. (Just beware:SPOILERS AHEAD!) And if you’ve already seen all nine films, even better — our inside look at each nominee will serve as a handy guide to remind you of the best and worst moments from every Best Picture candidate this year. In this installment we’ll break down all the statistics of War Horse. (And be sure click here for more deep dives into this year’s Best Picture nominees!)

Name: War Horse

Release date: December 25, 2011

DVD release date: April 3, 2012

Run time: 2 hours, 26 minutes

Box Office: First weekend (wide), $14.5 million; total domestic, $78.8 million

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 77 percent

War Horse’s movie math: (Black Beauty) x (Forrest Gump) + (Saving Private Ryan) + (Flyboys)

Tweetable description of War Horse: WWI England: a boy falls in love with horse, goes to war. Horse ends up in right places at right times. The play had cool puppets.

What EW’s Lisa Schwarzbaum said: “No wonder the filmmaker was smitten by the source material: The project is tailor-made for Saving Private Ryan Spielberg, the war-story specialist, as well as for E.T. Spielberg, the chronicler of boyhood desires and yearnings for family. Under the circumstances, simplistic class conflict, embodied by David Thewlis as a wealthy, sneeringly insensitive landlord feels like one talking point too many.… A-“

Number of Oscar nominations: Six. Besides Best Picture, War Horse is up for art direction, cinematography, original score, sound editing, and sound mixing nods. If John Williams’s grandiose orchestrations make the cut, it would be the prolific composer’s sixth Oscar win.

Cast/Director’s Oscar history: Steven Spielberg has won six Academy Awards and been nominated 12 times previously… but the cast is mostly newcomers, with the exception of Emily Watson as Albert’s mother, and the film did not receive any acting nominations – never a good sign.

What War Horse has won so far: AFI Film of the Year, Broadcast Film Critics Association Award – Best Cinematography

Why War Horse should win: War Horse is one of the few nominated films this year that really feels like a BIG movie, the kind that typically wins Academy Awards. It’s a simple plotline, but one that tells the story of the war in a very unique, moving way. Hell, I cried. It does a few things very well – Williams’s score is gorgeous and I’d never bet against him in an Oscar race. Spielberg is doing what he does best in making World War I look horrific but human, and those horses and their trainers all deserve their own Oscars for being beautiful, stoic, and characters in and of themselves.

Why War Horse should not win: It’s big, it’s beautiful, but it’s not that interesting. As a play, War Horse was a great piece that showed off amazing puppetry work and incredible on-stage talent. As a film, it’s good but not memorable. It doesn’t push boundaries like The Help. It’s not charming like The Artist. It’s not quirky like The Descendants, it’s not innovative like Hugo. In short, it’s pretty much what the Academy should expect from a Spielberg war movie. That said, the Academy is not so good with change, so maybe it has more of a shot than we are anticipating.

Vegas odds: 40/1, according to Las Vegas Sports Betting

EW’s Dave Karger’s odds: War Horse is trailing in a long-shot eight place, according to our Oscar expert’s recent ranking.

Moment most worthy of an Oscar: The boy, Albert, has been blinded in a gas attack, and separated from his horse for many months. He’s recuperating in the Army hospital when the horse, Joey, is brought in after surviving being caught in a barbed wire fence. The two are reunited and Joey and Albert recognize each other without seeing each other, despite their debilitating injuries.

Best line from War Horse:

British Trench Soldier #1: “You speak good English.”

German Soldier in No Man’s Land: “I speak English well.”

Worst line from War Horse: Rose [to Ted]: “I might hate you more, but I’ll never love you less.”

MVP (Most Valuable Prop): I don’t know if the horses count as props, but they are the real stars of this movie.

Best fashion moment: I do love a man in uniform and those WWI British Cavalry soldiers looked smashing.

Worst fashion moment: Gas masks are not the new black.

Best music moment: John Williams’ score for the battlefield scenes is unforgettable.

Extra special effects: There are only three shots lasting three seconds in the film that were digitally created, Spielberg told The Chicago Tribune. Pretty amazing that everything on screen really happened.

Mixed Reviews: War Horse was pretty well received by critics, but some tend to be skeptical of Spielberg and his never-failing to make everything turn out okay in the end. The New York Observer wasn’t afraid to gush: “War Horse is a don’t-miss Spielberg classic that reaches true perfection. It’s as good as movies can get, and one of the greatest triumphs of this or any other year. For maximum enjoyment, I recommend both a box of tissues and a box of popcorn.” But Canada’s Globe and Mail expressed the standard happy ending frustration: “The trouble here is not so much that Spielberg’s film staunchly insists on finding a happy ending even in the calamity of the First World War, but that he slathers it on so thick and leaves so soft an impression.”

Five Oscar Party talking points:

1) “We never see movies about World War I anymore. Everything is World War II, but World War I was when technology changed the entire way we fight wars. War Horse  does an amazing job of showcasing the change to automatic weaponry and pits tanks against cavalry.”

2) “Well, if you saw the play, you’d know that they used these amazing puppets made by a South African puppetry company as the horses on stage. Spielberg’s real horses embody emotion in a way I never thought possible. It’s the trainers that deserve the Oscar.”

3) “So War Horse is basically Forrest Gump with a horse. Okay, so the horse doesn’t meet JFK or play ping-pong, but he does end up in endless amazing situations with top ranking officials and charms them all. He somehow gets saved by horse lovers — even those who seem like bullies — all throughout the war and on both sides of the fence.”

4) “Yes, Emily Watson was in an Adam Sandler movie.”

5) “I just wish Steven Spielberg could make one movie without a happy ending. I mean sure, it’s war and lots of people died, but the horse –the horse lives with his rightful owner. Of course he does.”

For more on the Academy Awards, see live video from behind the scenes at the awards at Oscar.com.

Follow @laurahertzfeld

Read more
EW review: ‘War Horse’
‘War Horse': How Steven Spielberg and his team got such astonishing performances from the horses
‘War Horse': Did you cry?
Special Coverage: Oscars 2012

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