This year, the Oscar for best picture will likely go to a film audiences consider a good movie.
Unlike most years - where many of the best picture nominees are art films seen by few people - the films up for the top award tonight are very popular with the moviegoing public.
The nine Oscar best picture nominees have grossed $922 million domestically and $2 billion worldwide, according to boxofficeguru.com. When "Silver Linings Playbook" passed the $100 million domestic mark Feb. 19, it created a new industry record of six best picture nominees passing the century mark at the box office in this country.
With more people than usual seeing these films, some of the pictures have attracted their champions. Members of the public are willing to debate, argue and discuss why their favorite best picture nominee has more merit than someone else's.
Joe Ciapanna, 50, of Smithville section of Galloway Township, made sure he saw all nine best picture nominees. He likes "Silver Linings Playbook" the best.
"I think the film appeals to me especially because I'm a (Philadelphia) Eagles fan. I think there is this emotion of being an Eagles fan. The only thing (the father in the film) really has in common with his son is the fact that they are both devoted to the team. I just really enjoyed the film," said Ciapanna, who is the morning show co-host at WZXL-FM 100.7 in West Atlantic City.
Ciapanna said he discussed the film via email with his friend, former Pinnacle Entertainment Inc. spokewoman Carmen E. Gonzalez, who thinks "Argo" should walk away with the Oscar. Pinnacle owns the land of the site of the old Sands Casino Hotel in Atlantic City.
Gonzalez was not able to persuade Ciapanna to change his alliance.
"I still think 'Silver Linings Playbook' is hands down the best film. I think 'Argo' got a lot of sympathy votes because of the way Ben Affleck was shut out as far as director. That probably was an oversight. I still think as far as a film's total content, 'Silver Linings' was just better," Ciapanna said. "I think 'Argo' fell short. It had good supporting characters like John Goodman and Alan Arkin, but I didn't see enough of them to make the movie funny for me."
David Von Roehm, 50, a teacher of film and television at CharterTech High School of the Performing Arts in Somers Point, saw seven best-picture Oscar nominees.
"I think it ('Silver Linings Playbook') was a surprising comedy, but it had a heart... It had a good message," said Von Roehm, who added he thought "Lincoln" would win best picture because it was visually spectacular and had an effective soundtrack.
Von Roehm talked to each of his four classes of 15 students about the best pictures nominees.
Of the students who saw some of the films, those who didn't like "Silver Linings Playbook" best, mentioned "Argo" frequently because it was a real-life event, and it drew them in, and "Beasts of the Southern Wild" because for a low-budget movie, it told a big story, Von Roehm said.
Bob Fowler, 58, of Smithville, owner of SSR Recording Studios in Smithville, has seen half of the best-picture nominees. He likes "Lincoln" best.
"I was really compelled by not only the acting, but the story," said Fowler. "It's hard for me to divorce the best actor from the best movie. I just can't throw one away and say, 'Hey, it's great acting... To me, there was a lot more that carried the movie than Daniel Day-Lewis' performance. I think Tommy Lee Jones and Sally Field did an incredible job. It was so well acted and felt so authentic to me."
Fowler's wife, Kathy, did not see "Lincoln," but of the best-picture nominees she saw, she preferred "Life of Pi" because of there was an originality to that movie that isn't seen often.
Ernie Rockelman is a teacher at the Film Institute at Absegami High School in Galloway Township and a part-time video producer at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey in Pomona. Rockelman said last year was an OK year for film. He has seen all of the nine best-picture nominees. He thinks "Argo" is the best of the pictures nominated.
"It recalls the days when thrillers entertained, but also told a story. It features everything you'd want from a best picture - action, suspense, humor. It's well acted, superbly directed and is based on a true story," said Rockelman, 33.
Rockelman said his co-instructor of the Film Institute, Scott Alten, teach together and talk about films all the time.
Alten told Rockelman "Argo" is more than competent storytelling, but "Django Unchained" pushes the boundaries in terms of subject matter. "Django Unchained" is the nominated film people will still be talking about years from now, Alten told Rockelman.
"'Django' was an innovative way of examining the horrors of slavery and will open the door to more realistic, however dark, interpretations of a terrible time in American history," said Rockelman about what Alten told him.
Sean Patrick has seen five of the nine best-picture nominees. Patrick, the host from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays at WMGM-FM 103.7, is another champion of "Argo."
"I thought it was directed brilliantly by Ben Affleck. It's a shame that he didn't get nominated for director, but I thought it was a great story. I loved how it was told. I thought the acting in it was great - from John Goodman to Alan Arkin and Ben Affleck," said Patrick, 36, of Galloway Township. "I knew the ending, what it was going to be, because it was based on a true story, but it still had me on the edge of my seat whether they were going to get out or not."
Patrick's history-buff buddy can't speak highly enough of "Lincoln."
"He thought it was excellent. I think he went to see it the week it came out. We talked on Facebook. We talked back and forth about movies. He just thought it was brilliant. I personally thought it was very good, but very slow," Patrick said.
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