The Oscar nominations are just around the corner. On January 10, we’ll find out which five to ten films 2012 will be remembered by.

Moreso than most years, 2012 has a whole slew of likely nominees fighting for a slot in the Best Picture race, including everything from Steven Spielberg’s presidential prestige pic Lincoln to the family-friendly castaway fantasy Life of Pi to the offbeat Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence romance Silver Linings Playbook.

And as with every year, some films are recognized on the merits of their quality while others seem to have won a random popularity contest. With the Golden Globe, SAG, and Independent Spirit nominees already announced (amongst others), we have a pretty good idea who we’ll see on the red carpet when the Oscars air in February. But are they deserving of the honor?

Here are the films people are taking about this awards season ― some overrated, some underrated, and some rated juuust right.

 

Overrated: Les Miserables

Underrated: The Impossible

We’re with Adam Lambert on this one. Anne Hathaway’s performance was far from “eh,” and the movie also contains standout turns from lesser-known stars like Eddie Redmayne and Samantha Barks. But major stars like Hugh Jackman, Amanda Seyfried, and particularly poor Russell Crowe aren’t always able to carry their musical numbers, and Tom Hooper’s in-your-face directorial style only works when both the acting and singing are coming off (like in Anne’s “I Dreamed A Dream”). A movie that starts off promising ends up dragging on and on.

So it’s too bad Les Mis is still one of the front-runners for a Best Picture win at the Oscars when there are a ton of other movies that aren’t getting their moment in the sun. The Impossible isn’t on very many people’s awards radar, and if so, it’s only for Naomi Watts’ unbelievable performance. It’s the real-life story of a family that was separated by the devastating tsunami that hit Thailand and surrounding countries just after Christmas 2004.

True, The Impossible is guilty of pulling an Argo and making a Spanish family British instead, but in every other way the movie busts through the usual disaster movie clichés and depicts the jaw-dropping event as harrowingly as a movie ever could. This is no popcorn flick like The Day After Tomorrow or 2012 ― it’s brutal in the natural horrors faced by this family and others, but also a strong story about familial bonds featuring a very good child performance from Tom Holland.

We’d be plenty happy to see Anne Hathaway take home an Oscar for her superb work in Les Mis, but otherwise, we hope it makes way for some stronger films. Having already made a hefty amount of money overseas, The Impossible deserves more attention than it’s getting, for its performances, direction, cinematography, and the astounding special effects (which are primarily not computer-generated).

 

Overrated: Argo

Underrated: Zero Dark Thirty

Nothing against Ben Affleck, who has proven himself to be a mostly adequate director thus far with three films under his belt. Argo was a slick piece of entertainment that mixed Hollywood satire with Middle Eastern terrorism. And yes, it played rather fast and loose with the facts ― Ben’s real-life counterpart is Latino, and the Canadians did a lot more than this American movie gives them credit for ― but the real problem is that most of the movie’s conflicts feel forced and artificial (particularly since it’s meant to be a true story). Even its jabs at the film industry feel pretty stale.

In contrast, Zero Dark Thirty feels as true-to-life as can be as it follows a woman on a decade-long hunt for Osama bin Laden. And, okay, it may be a little much to call one of the best-reviewed films of the year “underrated” (it has a 93% on Rotten Tomatoes), but so far discussion of whether or not the film endorses torture has eclipsed most of the awards buzz.

Zero Dark Thirty may just feel a little too unbuzzed-about because it hasn’t opened in wide release, thus a lot of the country can’t see it yet. (That will change as it gradually rolls out throughout January.) Director Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman in history to win a Best Director Oscar with 2009’s The Hurt Locker, and now she could be the first to win it twice.

So it’s time to make it official, and let it be known that Zero Dark Thirty blows Argo out of the water on pretty much every level. It’s much more (genuinely) suspenseful, it has a far better lead performance (sorry, Ben), and the subject matter could hardly be any more momentous in this day and age. If you’re going to reward one tense, true-story drama set in the Middle East this year, shouldn’t Zero Dark Thirty be the one?

 

Overrated: Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

Underrated: Holy Motors, Bernie, Ruby Sparks, Your Sister’s Sister

Let’s be clear about something ― there is a 0% chance that Salmon Fishing in the Yemen will be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars this year. But a film that almost nobody noticed managed to snag three Golden Globe nominations, including Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Actress  in the Musical Or Comedy categories.

Now, the Golden Globes are notorious for nominating films that would never have a shot at a nomination in any other self-respecting awards show ― like a couple years back, when Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie in The Tourist somehow made the cut, presumably because the Hollywood Foreign Press (who runs the Globes) just wanted them to show up. Or how about when the dreadful Christina Aguilera and Cher flick Burlesque got a Best Picture nomination?

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen might be a perfectly nice little movie ― we wouldn’t know, no one has seen it ― but it certainly isn’t one of the year’s best. If the Golden Globes wanted to highlight a smaller, little-seen film, it might have been better off going with a far better independent comedy that could use the attention, like the Jack Black comedy Bernie, the surreal love story Ruby Sparks, the absurd (and occasionally musical) Holy Motors, or Your Sister’s Sister (which, like Salmon Fishing, also stars Emily Blunt). Sure, these films are all too small and obscure to get any love from the Academy, but so is Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.

There are a ton of movies this year that deserve more awards attention than they'll get. So if you're going to nominate an underrated movie for Best Picture, why not nominate one of the ones people actually like?

 

Rated Just Right: Lincoln

This 19th century-set biopic is likely to earn a whole slew of nominations, including Best Picture. But most of the focus is on Daniel Day-Lewis, just as it should be. Spielberg's historical drama is solid and thoughtful, but it's all held together with a performance you can hardly believe is not Abraham Lincoln himself. It's almost impossible to imagine him not winning Best Actor.

 

Underrated Actor: Bradley Cooper in Silver Linings Playbook

Bradley is on the shortlist for an Oscar nod, but there’s a possibility he’ll be pushed off in favor of a more-respected thespian like Denzel Washington in Flight or Hugh Jackman in Les Mis. That would be a big mistake, because in Silver Linings Playbook he displays versatility and likability we rarely see from him, and steps onto the A-list for consideration in more than just raunchy comedies. There’s no chance he can beat Daniel Day-Lewis’ towering achievement as Abraham Lincoln, but he deserves a nomination at least!

 

Underrated Supporting Actor: Matthew McConaughey in Magic Mike

Is it too much to ask that Magic Mike get an Oscar nomination? Steven Soderbergh’s stripper drama had more depth than you’d expect from a movie loosely based on Channing Tatum’s life, and this was the year Matthew stepped up his game and appeared in a number of unexpectedly serious roles that showed off more than just his grin and abs. If he doesn’t make the cut this year, at least it looks like he has a good shot for his skeletal part in Dallas Buyer’s Club

 

Underrated Actress: Naomi Watts in The Impossible

Yes, we're talking about The Impossible again, because not enough other people are. Naomi gets put through hell in this flick as she's hit by a giant tsunami. We see her accrue every injury in graphic detail, then she spends several minutes in the water screaming for her husband and children. Then it's a long journey to find shelter and safety, and then she lands in the hospital with a potentially life-threatening infection. Through it all, Naomi totally sells it and puts us right there with her, as hard as it can be to watch. Even just thinking of all the time she had to spend in a giant water tank screaming and crying makes us feel like she deserves an Oscar. Let's hope she's not ignored.

 

Underrated Supporting Actress: Rosemarie DeWitt in Your Sister’s Sister

Your Sister's Sister is a small indie about a man who accidentally comes between two sisters. Rosemarie plays a lesbian with a secret agenda when it comes to the man in question. She's far from a household name, though she's a actress you probably recognize from something. (She's currently starring with Matt Damon in Promised Land.) The Independent Spirit Awards nominated her this year for this film and it's about time the Oscars took notice of her, too, since she brightens every film she's in.

 

Rated Just Right: Jennifer Lawrence

It's a very good year to be Jennifer Lawrence. Few actresses can claim that they were nominated for an Academy Award and starred in one of the biggest blockbusters of the year, but that's just what she did, earning praise for her turn as Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games and, to be sure, an Oscar nomination for Silver Linings Playbook. (Take that, K-Stew!) Katniss is a girl who won't let romance stand in the way of her survival, while her Playbook character Tiffany is a tough-on-the-outside, vulnerable-inside widow whose sexual flings have made her life a total mess. Is there anything this girl can't play? We doubt it.

 

Underrated Foreign Film: Rust and Bone

Rust And Bone was nominated for Best Foreign Film at the Golden Globes, but it won't repeat at the Oscars. That's because the Academy demands that each country can only submit one film for the race, and France chose another movie. The good news is that Marion Cotillard's performance as a whale trainer who loses her legs in a tragic accident, and engages in a complicated affair with a self-involved fighter, will still likely find its way into the Best Actress category, marking the second time Marion is nominated for a film in her native French language. The film uses some jaw-dropping CGI trickery to show Marion as an amputee, and has probably the most unusual use of Katy Perry's "Firework" ever.

 

Underrated Director: Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained

Okay, so a lot of people would put Quentin on a list of the top filmmakers who ever lived. Underrated? Well, we're not sure he's getting enough for his revisionist history film, which has received flack from some for an overuse of the N-word and possibly being disrespectful to ancestors of Spike Lee. In a year chockful of somber movies like Lincoln, Life of Pi, Zero Dark Thirty, all of which may very well see their directors nominated, Quentin brought the fun (and the violence) in spades and added another great movie to his spotless record. He likely won't see an Oscar nomination for his troubles, but maybe he should.

 

Which films or actors do you think were underrated this year?