Cry hard

The first mistake was starting with Les Misérables.

Considering that I've never made it past Fantine's death dry-eyed in any venue, it was hopeless to think I'd avoid tears throughout the whole—long—movie.

So I bawled my eyes out in a nearly deserted Regal Cinemas theater in Natomas last Thursday morning. I cried when Anne Hathaway turned “I Dreamed a Dream” from a power ballad to a breathy lament—and it did work, I think—and I cried when Gavroche got shot, and I cried when Javert took his own life—and I think Russell Crowe actually added some nuance to the role—and I cried at the end.

This, of course, meant that my eyes were already plenty red and puffy before Lincoln even started later that afternoon, when I was faced with the personal grief of the Great Emancipator and his wife, not to mention the terrible wounds of an entire nation.

Fortunately, I'd recharged by the time I saw Life of Pi the next day. Is it a bad thing if you're rooting for the tiger to just go ahead and eat the annoyingly spiritual kid?

Perhaps it was just exhaustion, although I did thoroughly enjoy the spectacle and special effects. Ang Lee knows how to make a screen beautiful, and he didn't hold back at all with this philosophical story.

Nonetheless, I fell short in my plan to see all the 2013 Oscar nominees for Best Picture in a mere four days. I burned out. I used On Demand to pull up Beasts of the Southern Wild, found that most of the criticism of its racial politics appeared to be accurate, and gave up. I couldn't even hold out for the weekend, which was supposed to be Argo and Silver Linings Playbook.

That's because the rule for awards season is “go for the emotional punch.” Oscar-winning movies must make you cry, either because the tragedy is too great to bear or because the triumph overwhelms your cynical heart. There's no such thing as a “small” Oscar movie.

And even though by those standards, the tear-extracting Les Misérables should sweep the awards up with a big broom, I'm not going to bet on it—though you really should go see it, if only to see how musical film can work when there's a decent story and the actors are truly committed. Also worth noting: The big stars—Hathaway, Crowe, and that Wolverine guy—aren't nearly as bad as the musical snobs are saying, plus Eddie Redmayne kicks ass. He's the best Marius I've ever seen, and I was plenty skeptical.

But Les Misérables won't be the best picture this year. When the Academy picked Chicago in 2002, they guaranteed that the musical film won't be “rediscovered” until 2022 at the earliest. Les Miz is great, but it's not fashionable.

My money's on Lincoln. Not because it's the best film (although it is quite good and I'd happily see it again, if only to see some Republicans with moral fiber), but because its political timing is impeccable. Today's good guys are tomorrow's bad guys, and politics has always been a dirty business where the lobbyists do the real work and a bunch of rich old white guys make decisions about lives they'll never in a million years fully comprehend.

“Can you hear the people singing, singing the songs of angry men …”