Here at CrimeHQ, the more murder, mystery, and mayhem you can fit into your movie, the more we’ll like it. This year, nine films were nominated for Best Picture, so we've created a custom carnage count to score the winners (if there were any justice in the world). Each movie will be judged on its three categories on a scale from 1 to 10, which will then be added together to give a final ranking. Yes, I have seen all nine movies, and yes, these rankings are exclusively the byproduct of my opinion.
There will be some minor/obvious spoilers. You’ve been warned.
Director: Spike Jonze; Main Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Scarlett Johansson.
A lonely writer develops an unlikely relationship with a newly purchased operating system that's designed to meet his every need.
Murder 0/10: It’s hard to give any points here when the word murder doesn’t even seem to float into the thoughts of any of the film’s characters.
Mystery 3/10: This is one of those rare stories where the plot progresses perfectly without the need of heightened mystery. The fact that the main character is falling in love with his computer is awkward enough to make us keep watching. The only mystery to me was how powerful the computer would become by the end (well, besides the other mystery of when the high-pants revolution will begin?) Unfortunately, for our purposes, the lack of mystery hurts Her.
Mayhem 2/10: There’s a tense scene where Joaquin Phoenix’s character (Theodore) loses his connection to his operating system and it is shot beautifully. However, there’s just not much mayhem here at all. I was tempted to give additional points for the kinky dead-cat cybersex scene, but just like Theodore, I was too creeped out to keep going.
Final Score: 5/30
Director: Stephen Frears; Main Cast: Judi Dench, Steve Coogan
A world-weary political journalist picks up the story of a woman's search for her son, who was taken away from her decades ago after she became pregnant and was forced to live in a convent.
Murder 1/10: Unlike Her, where the idea of death wasn’t even a thought, Philomena has brief moments of death. It’s not what the movie is about, nor is it ever really front and center. But they mention it, and think about it, and for that, I had to give it at least one point.
Mystery 4/10: True confession time – I only heard of Philomena after it had been nominated for Best Picture, and after reading its logline, I immediately labeled it typical Oscar fodder. Before even looking at the cast, I knew the titular Philomena would be played by Meryl Streep, Helen Mirren, or Judi Dench. It just had that vibe. Philomena was the last of the nine films I saw and I wasn’t expecting too much. But I was surprised, and there was a natural mystery built into the story regarding the outcome of the search for Philomena’s lost son.
Mayhem 1/10: Like fellow nominee Nebraska, Philomena is the story of a road trip taken by two people from two different generations. Unfortunately, those looking for a trip filled with mayhem need to look a bit further than Steve Coogan and Judi Dench. While their banter is adorable, the mayhem is lacking quite a bit.
Final Score: 6/30
Director: Alexander Payne; Main Cast: Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb
An aging, booze-addled father makes the trip from Montana to Nebraska with his estranged son in order to claim a million-dollar Mega Sweepstakes Marketing prize.
Murder 3/10: The graveyard scene. If you’ve seen this film, you’ll understand it when I tell you that almost all of the points Nebraska earns will be the result of this scene. Although there is no on-screen murder here, the topic does come up and it’s shockingly raw.
Mystery 4/10: I did find myself wondering how this movie would end. A blurry picture is painted when you combine long travel, dementia, and old age. And then there’s the other question of whether or not the million dollar prize is actually legitimate, as farfetched as it seems. It might not be heightened mystery, but it’s still clandestine.
Mayhem 3/10: Again, most of these points come from the graveyard scene. But there is also a good amount of drunken mischief, proving that Bruce Dern and Will Forte inject more mayhem into a road trip than Judi Dench and Steve Coogan. And that is worth at least one point.
Final Score 10/30
6) Dallas Buyer’s Club
Director: Jean-Marc Vallée; Main Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto, Jennifer Garner
In 1985 Dallas, electrician and hustler Ron Woodroof works around the system to help AIDS patients get the medication they need after he is himself diagnosed with the disease.
Murder 5/10: Ahh, finally. A movie on our list that is about death. I thought Hollywood was going soft on us there for a second. There may not be a serial killer running around (unless you want to consider AIDS a serial killer), but death is certainly in the forefront.
Mystery 4/10: Perhaps the greatest mystery of all might be how a movie headlined by Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto, and Jennifer Garner has managed to be nominated for Best Picture. Seriously, imagine going back in time only three years. If you told your friend that McConaughey, playing a homophobic, frail redneck, and Leto, playing a cross-dresser, would headline a Best Picture nominee and (quite possibly) take home Best Actor awards, you’d have been met with either laughter in your face or grave concern for your health. However, in all seriousness, there wasn’t too much mystery or misdirection going on in this movie. I think almost everyone saw the ending coming.
Mayhem 3/10: Again, I’d like to remind everyone that McConaughey plays a redneck, complete with a southern drawl that drips racist and homophobic slurs, who is forced into a business partnership with Leto, the cross-dressing transvestite. If that doesn’t invoke some signs of mayhem, what will? Overall though, the mayhem was toned down and replaced with character development. What gives, Hollywood?
Grammar Rant: How the hell, with millions of dollars invested into this film, could the production company fail to add a simple apostrophe? It should be Dallas Buyer’s Club! It’s a club of buyers from Dallas, not a club of people looking to buy Dallas. For sheer incompetence, I deduct 1 point.
Final Score: 11/30
5) American Hustle
Director: David O. Russell
Main Cast: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Jeremy Renner
A con man, Irving Rosenfeld, along with his seductive British partner, Sydney Prosser, is forced to work for a wild FBI agent, Richie DiMaso. DiMaso pushes them into a world of Jersey powerbrokers and mafia.
Murder 1/10: For a movie centered on crime, theft, and the mob, there certainly wasn’t much attention paid to death. I never really feared for any of the main cast’s lives. But unlike Her, where the word fear never once popped into my thoughts, American Hustle at least told a story where a death or murder wouldn’t be completely out of left field.
Mystery 6/10: I didn’t see the ending coming. That alone separates American Hustle from the majority of these films. I genuinely thought something else would happen. I also think it’s quite a mystery as to how anyone can take Jennifer Lawrence seriously as a middle-aged housewife.
Mayhem 5/10: Shenanigans. And I’m not talking about the restaurant with all the stuff on the walls. I’m talking about the result of what happens when you take a group of A-List actors and combine them with a director they’ve won awards with. This movie is fun because the actors and directors were having fun. And fun leads to mayhem.
Hair Scare: I have never been as transfixed by an opening scene as I was watching Christian Bale try to do his hair. I award 1 point simply because I can.
Final Score: 13/30
Director: Alfonso Cuarón; Main Cast: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney
A medical engineer and an astronaut work together to survive after an accident leaves them adrift in space.
Murder 4/10: An on-screen death! We’ve finally got an on-screen death! Hallelujah! Sadly, I can’t award any more points. Outer space is the villain of the movie, but you can’t really blame it for everything that goes wrong, it’s just doing its thing. The humans are the ones trespassing. Stupid humans.
Mystery 7/10: The fact that our protagonist is out there, in space, just floating around is some truly scary stuff. Outer space may have more mystery associated with it than any other single topic. It’s a total mind f**k. The worst thing anyone can do is start to think about it right before bed – you’ll be up for hours. (If you’re reading this just before attempting to sleep, I’m sorry!)
Mayhem 7/10: I try to avoid clichés, but sometimes they just can’t be avoided. I was truly on the edge of my seat the entire movie. This may have been the most visually-stunning movie I have ever seen (it’s between Gravity and Life of Pi). There’s mayhem everywhere: exploding space stations, floating tethered astronauts, malfunctioning equipment, and even edgy George Clooney banter!
Final Score: 18/30
3) The Wolf of Wall Street
Director: Martin Scorsese; Main Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie
Based on the true story of Jordan Belfort, following his rise as a wealthy stockbroker living the high life to his fall involving crime, corruption and the federal government.
Murder 5/10: Some more onscreen deaths! Yet again, nature is the killer–this time with a seagull blowing up a jet (yes, that actually happens). There are also a few more fights and violence that give it an ever so slight bump in its rating, including the mainstay in intimidation tactics–dangling someone from a balcony.
Mystery 5/10: There is but one mystery in this movie, and it is easily worth 5 points: how the hell can someone pump that many different types of narcotics and alcohol into their body while still not only living, but remaining coherent?
Mayhem 10/10: I’m going to go ahead and assume this needs no explanation. By now, you’ve either seen the movie or heard about the movie, and you know why it received a 10. This movie put its foot on the pedal and even now, it has refused to let up. In fact, Martin Scorsese announced that the Blu-ray will include an uncut version of the film that is over an hour longer. Let the mayhem continue!
Oscars Drinking Game: Every time Martin Scorsese’s name is mentioned during the awards, take a drink. You’ll be buzzed before they even start giving out the awards.
Final Score: 20/30
2) Captain Phillips
Director: Paul Greengrass; Main Cast: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi
The true story of Captain Richard Phillips and the 2009 hijacking by Somali pirates of the US-flagged MV Maersk Alabama, the first American cargo ship to be hijacked in two hundred years.
Murder 7/10: It happened! The threat of murder finally happened! This film has death threats, hostages, guns, and blood! There's death. And of course, we have pirates. It may have taken eight movies to get here, but it still is a beautiful sight.
Mystery 7/10: Amazingly, this was Barkhad Abdi’s first experience acting. Originally from Somalia and now from Minnesota, Abdi was working as a chauffeur before landing the role of Muse, the young, but driven Somalian pirate. Abdi’s performance mixed together equal parts sensitivity and rage, leaving us never really sure if he was going to kill Captain Phillips or hug him.
Mayhem 8/10: So I’m sitting there, watching this movie, and everyone knows that the cargo ship is going to get boarded by the pirates. And yet, the tension produced as the scene unfolds is unwavering, and it only rises as the pirates come on board and start to take over the ship. Talk about a bumpy ride.
Ahoy Matey: Director Paul Greengrass separated the actors on the cargo ship from the actors playing the pirates. The first time either group met was when the pirates boarded the ship. The reactions you see are genuine. Plus 1 point for creativity.
Total Score: 23/30
1) 12 Years a Slave
Director: Steve McQueen; Main Cast: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Lupita Nyong’o
In the antebellum United States, Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery.
Murder 10/10: Look no further, readers! We have found our winner. Was it really ever a question? This movie not only centers on death, it’s built upon it. The infrastructure of this film is molded from the idea that no one is safe, and anybody on the screen may succumb to death. Ironically, death would serve as a sweeter deal for most of the characters. Lupita Nyong’o’s portrayal of heartache and defeat have put her so glaringly on the map that we might be watching the birth of a new star. And, if you’re forcing me to choose a recipient for Best Leading Actor, Chiwetel Ejiofor gets my vote every day of the week.
Mystery 7/10: The biggest thing I kept asking myself during this film was: How much more f***ed up can it get? I was visibly angry at how Ejiofor’s Solomon Northup was mistreated. I wished I could yell at the characters and make it stop. But I couldn’t. And as Solomon was dragged further and further into the South, the further and further and further he slipped into total despair. Every time a scene ended, you’d hoped that was the worst to come. It never was.
Mayhem 9/10: This movie really jumps right into the action and despair, and it really doesn’t let up. Every scene is brimming with tension, and that doesn’t account for Michael Fassbender’s scenes, where the suspense is multiplied tenfold. There’s no laughing during this movie. You won’t smile either. There's a good chance the mere mention of soap will make you cry. The only positive feeling that might seep into you is the feeling of relief. And in this film, that relief is fleeting.
Scene Stealer: Paul Dano has been stealing scenes for a while now. Between his roles in 12 Years a Slave and Prisoners (which deserved more recognition this year) this year, Dano has carved himself a nice place atop the ranks of Hollywood’s best. He’s due for an Oscar nomination any year now.
Total Score: 26/30
So that’s it, folks. 12 Years a Slave just had too much murder, mystery, and mayhem for any other film to keep up with it.
Do you think I’ve missed anything? Did I forget a particular murderous or mysterious scene? Would you have ranked them any differently? Let me know in the comments.
Joe Brosnan is an editor and writer for Criminal Element who graduated from Marist College in 2012. He spends his time obsessing equally over the Game of Thrones series and the New York Giants, and is realizing how weird it is to write in the third person. You can follow him on Twitter @joebro33.
You mean, Dallas Buyers’ Club, I think.