Awards Season Super Sunday: LA Film Critics anoint 'The Descendants' as AFI dumbfounds
Credit: Fox Searchlight

Awards Season Super Sunday: LA Film Critics anoint 'The Descendants' as AFI dumbfounds

Boston Film Critics also have their say

The presidential campaign may have Super Tuesday, but awards season has Super Sunday.  Sure, you could argue that moniker should be designated to Oscar Sunday, but when you have the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, the AFI yearly Top 10 and Boston Film Critics being announced on the same day, that's pretty significant.  Plus, there's also those minor orgs such as the San Francisco Film Critic's Circle, the New York Online Film Critic's and the Houston Film Critic's Circle who dish out their yearly picks on this fine December day.  (And, no, the last three really don't mean anything in the larger scheme of things, but they look pretty on for your consideration ads).

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<p>Tilda Swinton in a portrait taken at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival.</p>

Tilda Swinton in a portrait taken at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival.

Credit: AP Photo/Carlo Allegri

An epic conversation with Tilda Swinton

The struggles of getting 'Kevin' made and how independent cinema has changed in 20 years

Tilda Swinton has earned a reputation as an iconoclast. A rebel.  A visionary. An artist.  So, it was somewhat jarring to meet Swinton on the rooftop deck of the ritzy Montage Hotel smack dab in the middle of gaudy, downtown Beverly Hills.  The best supporting Oscar winner for "Michael Clayton" wasn't staying there, mind you.  She was spending the afternoon going from one locale to another doing interviews.  In fact, Swinton was in the middle of an intense few days of press opportunities to promote a film she helped bring to the screen and stars in, "We Need To Talk About Kevin."

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<p>The &quot;Transformers&quot;&nbsp;franchise is once more in the running for a VFX&nbsp;Oscar nomination.</p>

The "Transformers" franchise is once more in the running for a VFX Oscar nomination.

Credit: Paramount Pictures

'Thor,' 'X-Men,' 'Transformers' and 'Tree of Life' among 15 official Oscar Visual Effects contenders

If it was a summer blockbuster it's on the list

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences revealed the top 15 films in contention for the 2012 Visual Effects Oscar today and there were hardly any surprises. 

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<p>Michael Shannon in Jeff Nichol's acclaimed Sundance drama &quot;Take Shelter.&quot;</p>

Michael Shannon in Jeff Nichol's acclaimed Sundance drama "Take Shelter."

Credit: Sony Classics

Michael Shannon on audiences needing 'guts' to see 'Take Shelter' and 'Boardwalk Empire's' season finale

How did an Oscar nominee shoe-in at Sundance become a borderline contender?

As you'd expect for the first week of December, it's pretty chilly in Vancouver, B.C. these days.  But, Michael Shannon, who is north of the border shooting Zack Snyder's "Man of Steel," took a few minutes on Thursday to warm up and chat about his acclaimed performance in "Take Shelter."

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<p>Alan Rickman's final turn as Prof. Servus Snape in &quot;Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Pt. 2.&quot;</p>

Alan Rickman's final turn as Prof. Servus Snape in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Pt. 2."

Credit: Warner Bros.

Alan Rickman clarifies just how much J.K. Rowling told him about Snape's fate in the 'Harry Potter' series

Could the audience and critic's favorite crash the supporting actor party?

More than any awards season in recent memory, the past few months has shined the spotlight on the great actors and actresses who still haven't been honored with the Oscar spotlight.  Whether it's the embarrassing fact that Gary Oldman still hasn't been nominated once or that legendary actors such as Nick Nolte, Christopher Plummer, Glen Close, Julianne Moore, Ian McKellen or Sigourney Weaver are statue-less, the unrecognized club has found more vocal support than usual.  One member of that illustrious group who should be getting a bit more consideration for his work this year is none other than Alan Rickman.

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Watch: Meryl Steep transforms into Margaret Thatcher in 'The Iron Lady' trailer
Credit: The Weinstein Company

Watch: Meryl Steep transforms into Margaret Thatcher in 'The Iron Lady' trailer

Will the actress break her Oscar losing streak with this performance?

If Gregory's recent review of the film is any indication, Meryl Streep looks headed for another Oscar nomination - perhaps even a win? - for her performance as former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher in the upcoming historical drama "The Iron Lady". Indeed, judging from the full-length trailer for the film that hit the web today, I'd say that's a pretty safe bet. 

Juding from the mere 2 1/2 minutes of the Phyllida Lloyd-directed film (Lloyd also directed Streep in "Mamma Mia!") shown in the new spot, Streep certainly looks and sounds the part of the Conservative leader - the first and so far only female to hold the nation's top political office - but of course it's the soul of the performance that will secure her a nod come Oscar time.

Known for her often-astonishing ability to mimic accents, Streep has proven time and again that she's capable of not only mastering the technical aspects of playing a role but cutting to the heart of the characters she plays. I have no doubt she'll manage to do that again here, but will it be enough to garner her a third Best Actress Oscar? 

As noted by Gregory in his review, Streep hasn't won an Academy Award since 1983, for her performance as Polish Holocaust survivor Zofia "Sophie" Zawistowski in "Sophie's Choice". Though she's surely the most lauded actress of her generation, it still doesn't seem quite right that it's been so long since she last took home the gold. Will she break her long Oscar "losing" streak next year? Guess we'll have to wait and see.

As for the trailer itself, I found it to be a good mixture of the film's political and human elements (as Gregory points out in his review, it focuses quite a bit on the relationship between Thatcher and her now-deceased husband Denis Thatcher, played here by Jim Broadbent). My favorite moment comes at around the :35second mark, when Streep as Thatcher opens her eyes with a look of astonished consternation after being belittled by a fellow politician. Needless to say, I'd hate to be the poor guy on the receiving end of that particular onslaught.

My grade for the trailer: "A". Check it out below and then rate it for yourself at top left!


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<p>Mark Strong, Gary Oldman and Colin Firth in &quot;Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.&quot;</p>

Mark Strong, Gary Oldman and Colin Firth in "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy."

Credit: AP Photo/Matt Sayles

Lunch with Oldman, Firth, Strong, Alfredson as 'Tinker' takes LA

The critically acclaimed thriller finally hits the U.S.

"I love this lunch set up," Mark Strong says to me. "It actually allows you to talk [to the press] about the little things."

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<p>Steven Spielberg at the world premiere of &quot;War Horse&quot; Sunday night at Lincoln Center in New York City.</p>

Steven Spielberg at the world premiere of "War Horse" Sunday night at Lincoln Center in New York City.

Credit: AP Photo/Evan Agostini

Steven Spielberg insists 'War Horse' is not one of his 'war' movies

Plus: The scene in the play that had a 'profound' effect on him

NEW YORK - Horses aren't anything new to legendary filmmaker Steven Spielberg. No, it's not because of helming the installments of "Indiana Jones" that found Harrison Ford jumping on a horse to save the day or escape chasing Nazis.  Instead, it turns out Spielberg's youngest daughter Destry is actually a competitive jumper and their family stable has 8 horses ready to ride. It also means he didn't have to walk far to begin researching his latest film, "War Horse."

"When I realized i was going to commit to direct 'War Horse' I actually went out there and just was photographing them from all angles," Spielberg says. "I spent a lot of time with the iPhone taking photos."

Along with "The Adventures of Tintin," which was released in Europe at the end of October, "War Horse" marks Spielberg's return to the director's chair for the first time in three years.  Set during World War I, "War Horse" is based on Michael Morpurgo's 1982 young adult novel about Joey, a horse that is raised by a young Englishman, Albert, but sold to a British Officer to serve in the war.  As Joey meets different people during his journey through the great war, Albert eventually enlists to try and find his beloved horse and bring him home.  The story gained greater notoriety after playwright Nick Stafford adapted "War Horse" for the stage.  The show was produced by the U.K.'s National Theater in 2007 and received critical acclaim for its stunning puppetry to bring the horses, including Joey, to life on the stage. Early this year, "War Horse" came to Broadway and in June won five Tony Awards including best play.

Spielberg became interested in bringing "War Horse" to the screen after longtime producing partner Kathleen Kennedy convinced him to see the London stage production.  Speaking in New York over the weekend and less than a mile from where "War Horse" rides every night at Lincoln Center (and were the film's world premiere was), Spielberg says he was drawn to the project by Albert and Joey's story, not a chance to depict World War I.

"I also don't consider 'War Horse' to be a war movie," the "Saving Private Ryan" director notes.  "It's not one of my war movies.  This is more of a real story about the way animals can actually connect people together. And that's what Joey does.  Joey's miracles are really in great sense of optimism and hope and all the people he brings this into their lives.  This was much more focused I think on the characters.  The war was certainly a horrendous backdrop providing tension and drama and the need to survive.  But, the war was not in the foreground of 'War Horse.'"

In fact, Spielberg freely admits he didn't know much about World War I and found himself frustrated by his relative ignorance of the bloody and dark conflict.  Spielberg says, "My first reaction every time I delve into an episode of history that I don't know very much about is anger that my teachers didn't teach me much about it.  'Why didn't I learn this in school?'"

Spielberg and his producing team were actually invited to go through the private archives of the Imperial War Museum which was an essential education in making the film. Of the visit, Spielberg adds, "I wasn't willing to bring it out in the film, because this wasn't meant to be a history lesson. There is nowhere in the film that says 4 1/2 million horses were killed in the first World War.  [But,] it really informed us and gave us some gravitas when we worked with [screenwriter] Richard Curtis."

As you'd expect,the "Notting Hill" and "Love Actually" screenwriter made some essential and necessary changes as "War Horse" went from book to stage to screen. For instance, the novel is written from the horse's point of view which could have been problematic if there was, well, voice over in the movie. That was never an option in Spielberg's view.

"Instantly, the second Joey starts to speak it becomes a horse of a different color," Spielberg says smiling. "It becomes more of a real fable and I think you suspend your disbelief so radically when the horse starts to think out loud that there is no touchstones you can relate to. So, the first decision was not to let Joey think and speak, but just let Joey emote and exist inside these these sequences with these characters."

One of the things Spielberg did do was work with longtime cinematographer Janusz Kaminski in broadening the shots and point of view of the camera.  The picture has more long shots and vistas than any Spielberg film in recent memory.  Many cinephiles may assume Spielberg is using the subject matter to pay homage to such classic American filmmakers as John Ford or Howard Hawkes, but it wasn't foremost in the Oscar winner's mind (even with a final shot that screams "Gone with the Wind").

"The conscious thing I did was I made the land a character in the story," Spielberg says. "And simply by making the land a character and falling back to wide shots more than close ups to let the audience actually make choices about where and when to look, that was the dynamic of most movies that were made in the 1930's and 1940's.  Not just by Ford, but by Kurosawa in the '50s, by Howard Hawkes.  I mean, directors used what was before them. They celebrated the land and made the land a character and made spaces and environments characters in movies."

Spielberg continues, "I just thought of all the movies I'd made in recent years this offered the opportunity to include the land as a character which is a determining factor as to whether [Albert's] family is going to survive and either keep or lose their farm.  And then the land becomes a bloody character as history tells us as occurred on the Somme, that occurred in No Man's Land."

"Empire of the Sun," one of Spielberg's previous war-themed and underrated films (yes, he may not think "Horse" a war film, but it is) marked the screen debut of a young, unknown actor named Christian Bale.  For "War Horse," Spielberg wanted to make sure Albert was also played by a first timer. Needless to say, finding the perfect Albert wasn't easy.

"We saw hundreds of possible Alberts. Sometimes you see someone early and you say, 'Top this.' We didn't meet Jeremy Irvine until mid way through the process," Spielberg reveals. "Halfway through the process Jeremy came in. Totally untested and -- all I look for is honesty. Jeremy was the most real kid we saw."

But for many people, especially in the U.K., their first experience with "War Horse" will be the play.  Spielberg has put in some nice nods to the play including a testy goose on Albert's family farm, but the film is a significantly different beast.  Still, I asked Spielberg if he found any broader inspiration from the stage production for the movie.

"One of the catharses for me in also helping me tell the story to audiences in the film was something that was sort of hinted at in the play," Spielberg says. "There is a little moment when the Brit and the German are able to help Joey who is trapped in barbwire.  It was a lovely moment in the play. A very fleeting moment in the play, but it made a profound impact on me.  And that was a moment that Richard and I decided to expand and to go deeper with.  That was something the play certainly inspired. But also, the great thing about theater is there are just some illusions that you can only create on the boards that you can never create on film now matter how many digital tools are at your disposal and that was the amazing moment in the play when the little Joey becomes the adult Joey. That incredible piece of visual theatricality and that you can never do in the film."

[For more on "War Horse" check out select clips from the film related to within this post. ]

"War Horse" opens nationwide on Christmas day.

For year round entertainment commentary and awards season news follow @HitFixGregory on

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<p>Newcomer Jeremy Irvine at the world premiere of &quot;War Horse&quot;&nbsp;Sunday night at Lincoln Center in New York City.</p>

Newcomer Jeremy Irvine at the world premiere of "War Horse" Sunday night at Lincoln Center in New York City.

Credit: AP Photo/Charles Sykes

New York's finest step out for Steven Spielberg's 'War Horse' premiere

Epic debuts only yards away from Tony winning Broadway play

NEW YORK - The world premiere of Steven Spielberg's "War Horse" took place Sunday night at Avery Fisher Hall in Lincoln Center and a slew of notable New Yorkers came out to screen the potential best picture player. Besides Spielberg himself, other industry faces included Walt Disney Studios Chairman Rich Ross, Joel Coen, Stephen Daldry (who has his own awards season player waiting in the wings), best actress contender Elizabeth Olsen, "Shame" director Steve McQueen, NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams, Brian Cox, Billy Connolly, Ed Westwick, Stephen Lang, Eriq La Salle, Phylicia Rashad and um, Kathie Lee Gifford among others.

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<p>Kellan Lutz and Nikki Reed show their tree strength in a scene from &quot;The Twilight Saga:&nbsp;Breaking Dawn, Pt. 1.&quot;</p>

Kellan Lutz and Nikki Reed show their tree strength in a scene from "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Pt. 1."

Credit: Summit Entertainment

Box Office: 'Breaking Dawn' fights off the 'Muppets' to stay no. 1

'Shame' has a spectacular limited debut

"The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Pt. 1" pulled off a rare feat this year retaining the top spot at the box office for a third straight weekend.  With $16.9 million and $247.5 million to date domestic and over $550 million worldwide, the fourth installment of Stephenie Meyers' vampire saga has given Summit Entertainment an early if not expected Christmas present.  The picture also is a rare three-weekend topper this calendar year joining "The Help" (four weekends) and "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" (three) in that regard.

Before Friday many industry observers thought Disney's "The Muppets" could use strong word of mouth to overtake "Breaking Dawn" for the top spot.  Not only did that not occur, the Jason Segel passion project didn't even come close with just another $11.2 million and a troubling 62% drop. With just $56.4 million so far its unlikely the "Muppets" will hit the $100 million mark.

"Hugo," which upped its theater count to 1,840 locations this weekend, grossed $7.6 million.  The National Board of Review winner for best picture pulled has now grossed $25.1 million to date. Paramount Pictures and GK Films will continue to hope awards season recognition can fuel Martin Scorsese's latest critical wonder.

Another film showing true word of mouth appears to be "Arthur Christmas."  The Sony Animation and Aardman collaboration dropped only 39% for another $7.5 million and $25.2 million so far.  The Santa Claus themed animated comedy will still need international to make up most of its $100 million plus budget, but the hold is certainly a nice silver lining for the filmmakers.

Rounding out the top five was "Happy Feet Two" with $6 million and $51.7 million to date. Warner Bros. can take solace that "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows" looks like it will have a monster opening in two weeks.

"Shame" debuted in 10 theaters with a spectacular $361,181 or $36,118 per screen.  It's even more impressive when taking the film's NC-17 rating into account.  Fox Searchlight will hope that continued critical acclaim and awards season attention fuels interest in Steve McQueen's breakout.

Another impressive limited player is "The Artist."  After winning the NYFCC award for best picture, The Weinstein Company release didn't drop after adding 2 screens for another $205,580 and a $34,263 per screen. 

"The Descendants" continued its strong limited run as well jumping to 574 theaters and another $5.2 million.  Searchlight's premier best picture player has now grossed an impressive $18 million to date.

Next weekend's wide releases include "New Year's Eve" and "The Sitter."

Box office actuals are released on Monday.

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