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Oscar Talk: Ep. 80 -- The runaway 'Artist' train and Santa Barbara tributes

Oscar Talk: Ep. 80 -- The runaway 'Artist' train and Santa Barbara tributes

Also: Is 'The Grey' the first Oscar contender of 2012?

Welcome to Oscar Talk.

In case you're new to the site and/or the podcast, Oscar Talk is a weekly kudocast, your one-stop awards chat shop between yours truly and Anne Thompson of Thompson on Hollywood. The podcast is weekly, every Friday throughout the season, charting the ups and downs of contenders along the way. Plenty of things change en route to Oscar's stage and we're here to address it all as it unfolds.

It's been about a week and a half since we assessed the season immediately post-nominations. Today Anne and I are both back in LA after trips to Sundance and Santa Barbara and there have been some awards announcements in the interim. So let's see what's on the docket today…

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<p>A scene from &quot;Transformers: Dark of the Moon.&quot;</p>

A scene from "Transformers: Dark of the Moon."

Credit: Paramount Pictures

Round-up: Paramount steps up the campaign for 'Transformers'

Also: The perils of online voting, and Jennifer Lawrence for Best Actress 2012?

It's not often you see a studio pushing hard for Oscar wins in the less-prized technical categories, but that's exactly what Paramount is doing for "Transformers: Dark of the Moon." Despite the film being pointedly snubbed in the Best Picture category, its handlers are spending money on hefty TV promotion for the film's nominations in the Sound Mixing, Sound Editing and Visual Effects races. What's interesting, of course, is that Paramount's prestige baby "Hugo" is competing in the same categories, but according to Pete Hammond, the Michael Bay blockbuster's ongoing franchise status and super-producer connections, make it a priority. The sound awards, in particular, seem up for grabs -- though the Academy tends to favor more critically approved action fare for those. [Deadline

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<p>Katharine McPhee and Megan Hilty vie for the role of Marilyn Monroe in &quot;Smash.&quot;</p>

Katharine McPhee and Megan Hilty vie for the role of Marilyn Monroe in "Smash."

Credit: NBC

Review: NBC's 'Smash' has talent, but does it sing?

Backstage musical drama stars Debra Messing, Anjelica Huston and Katharine McPhee

Through four episodes of "Smash," the new NBC musical debuting Monday night at 10, I kept waiting to hear the music.

Not the literal music, mind you. There's plenty of that to be heard and enjoyed in this backstage drama about attempts to make a Broadway musical out of the life of Marilyn Monroe, some of them original compositions by the award-winning team of Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, some of them contemporary pop hits covered by a cast that includes "American Idol" runner-up Katharine McPhee, Debra Messing and Broadway actors Megan Hilty and Christian Borle. Shaiman and Wittman's songs for the show-within-the-show are energetic and everything you might expect from the duo who wrote the Tony-winning "Hairspray" score. And the pop numbers position the show as every bit the "'Glee' for grown-ups" NBC so desperately wants it to be. (If anything, comparing it to the narrative mess "Glee" has become is damning it with faint praise; "Smash" is much more coherent with its stories and characters.)

But even though "Smash" is a solidly-crafted show with a terrific cast (the ensemble also includes Anjelica Huston and Jack Davenport), great New York atmosphere and, yes, those songs, I never heard quite what the show wanted me to hear, or what a number of other critics I respect have heard. I never heard the music.

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<p>Alex Russell, Michael B. Jordan, and Dane DaHaan star as three teens who come into contact with something that leaves them struggling with new and dangerous powers in the riveting genre-bender 'Chronicle'</p>

Alex Russell, Michael B. Jordan, and Dane DaHaan star as three teens who come into contact with something that leaves them struggling with new and dangerous powers in the riveting genre-bender 'Chronicle'

Credit: 20th Century Fox

Review: Smart and angry 'Chronicle' pushes superhero genre past the breaking point

And frankly, it's about time someone did it

My first reaction to "Chronicle" would be to wildly overreact simply because it does so much so well and with such confidence.

It is, at heart, though, a modest accomplishment, and that's entirely by design.  This is not a franchise kickstarter, a giant broad-appeal down-the-middle genre movie that was designed to sell lunchboxes and Happy Meals.  Whatever this film is, whatever its pleasures or achievements, it feels personal and intentionally scaled, and it absolutely hits the target for which it aims.  A male "Carrie" for the 21st century, a skeptical, heartbroken reaction to the nonstop horseshit of the "chosen one" myth that has been force fed a generation ad nauseam, "Chronicle" is lean and scary and sad, and director Josh Trank and writer Max Landis have ample reason to be proud of what they've done.

Hollywood's nonstop attempt to wring cash from superhero tropes was on full display in the trailers I saw in front of the movie tonight.  "The Avengers" and "The Dark Knight Rises" look to be sure-fire monster hits this summer, and both will cost an arm and a leg getting there.  There was lots of CG firepower on display in trailers for "Battleship" and "John Carter" and "Men In Black 3."  All of it looked and felt familiar, and no doubt will look and feel familiar when I see the finished films as well.  That's what Hollywood does best right now… familiar.

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<p>Andrea Riseborough talks about &quot;Shadow Dancer&quot;&nbsp;and &quot;W.E&quot;&nbsp;while at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.</p>

Andrea Riseborough talks about "Shadow Dancer" and "W.E" while at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.

Future star: Andrea Riseborough talks 'W.E' and 'Shadow Dancer'

Discover her before she stars opposite Tom Cruise in 'Oblivion'

PARK CITY - About 18 months from now most Americans will likely be able to recognize Andrea Riseborough from countless other starlets gracing the big screen.  At the moment though, the 30-year-old British actress has only appeared in indie films such as "Brighton Rock," "Made in Dagenham" and "Never Let Me Go" and she's hardly a household name even in her native England. However, as you're likely reading this, Riseborough is preparing for her biggest role to date in Joseph Kosinski's currently untitled Sci-Fi epic formerly known as "Oblivion."  It's a summer 2013 tentpole starring Tom Cruise and getting a lot of attention as Kosinski's follow up to "Tron: Legacy."  Happily, for those looking to discover new talent, Riseborough has a number of films you can catch before then including Madonna's "W.E" which is finally hitting theaters this weekend after debuting at the Venice Film Festival way back in September.  

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<p>Madonna at the press conference for her Super Bowl halftime show in Indianapolis, IN Thursday.</p>

Madonna at the press conference for her Super Bowl halftime show in Indianapolis, IN Thursday.

Credit: AP Photo/David J. Phillip

Check out the track listing for Madonna's 'MDNA'

Plus, watch a taste of the video for 'Give Me All Your Luvin''

Every day brings a little more Madonna our way. Tonight, we got the track listing for “MDNA,” which comes out March 22.

It’s hard to decipher anything from titles alone, but there are plenty of names here that sound like they could be raves, including “Turn Up The Radio,”  “I Don’t Give A,” and “Girls Gone Wild.”

[More after the jump...]

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<p>Daniel Radcliffe of &quot;The Woman in Black&quot;</p>
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Daniel Radcliffe of "The Woman in Black"

Credit: CBS Films

Movie Review: Daniel Radcliffe in 'The Woman in Black'

The Man Who Was Harry Potter investigates some old-fashioned supernatural occurrences
James Watkins' "The Woman in Black" is willfully out-of-step with all of the horror trends of the past decade.
 
It isn't found footage or torture porn or adapted from something the Japanese or Koreans did first. It isn't in 3D or a reboot, nor is it proliferated with romantic vampires or fast-moving zombies. No sexy stars from The CW get butchered in half-clothed ways and no former film and TV icons are using their ironic on-screen deaths for career resurrection. You might say that "The Woman in Black" is in a similar vein to the 2001 smash "The Others," but it isn't a narrative built entirely around a Shyamalanian twist ending.
 
"The Woman in Black" is old-fashioned and proudly so. You can think of it as Hammer meets Masterpiece Theater, but it's really just a classically structured Victorian ghost story equipped with a couple decent scares, some spooky atmosphere and a very reasonable 96-minute running time. 
 
Attempts to find characterization, subtext or real surprises in "The Woman in Black" probably won't amount to anything, but accepting it as the creepy, decently made exercise that it is ought to yield some minor frights.
 
Full review after the break...
 
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"The Vampire Diaries"

"The Vampire Diaries" 

Credit: The CW

Recap: 'The Vampire Diaries' - 'Bringing Out the Dead'

Klaus is about to get his comeuppance -- or is he?

 Sorry this recap is a little late, but my dog died unexpectedly this evening. Of course, watching "The Vampire Diaries" makes me really wish there was a magical ring or some vampire blood that worked on the canine set, but this episode does, oddly enough, grapple with some of the very human issues that rarely get tackled on a show about werewolves and vampires and hybrids, oh my -- the end of life and the natural order of things. This show may be one of the more effective in deglamorizing the dark, bloody world of the undead and suggesting that, though finite, being human isn' t so bad after all -- or at least that's what Elena might actually be coming to believe. 

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<p>Josh Fox at a rally against gas drilling in Harrisburg, PA.</p>

Josh Fox at a rally against gas drilling in Harrisburg, PA.

‘Gasland’ director Josh Fox arrested in D.C.

Freedom of speech meets independent documentary film

Indiewire reports that documentary filmmaker Josh Fox was arrested on Wednesday morning at 10:30am in Washington D.C. for unlawful entry after he attempted to record a House Science Committee hearing on fracking.

"Fracking," you ask? No, not the inspired alternate universe cussword from the rebooted "Battlestar Galactica" series (though I would like to see that hearing). Fracking is actually a far more serious matter.

Otherwise known as hydraulic fracturing, or hydrofracking, fracking is a process stimulation procedure that “creates fractures in rocks and rock formations by injecting fluid into cracks to force them further open. The larger fissures allow more oil and gas to flow out of the formation and into the wellbore, from where it can be extracted.” Oil companies use the process to breach otherwise impenetrable rock.

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"Project Runway"

 "Project Runway"

Credit: Lifetime Television

Recap: 'Project Runway' - 'Clothes Off Your Back'

The designers must find muses in Central Park - and get their clothes

Not to bum anyone out, but tonight's recap may be a little frayed around the edges (not unlike those Chanel jackets from a few years back) as my little dog Bacon, a rescue I've had since Denise Richards was married to Charlie Sheen, died unexpectedly earlier this evening following surgery. But fashion waits for no man or beast, so we will soldier on. R.I.P., little friend. 

This week's challenge? The designers must find a muse to inspire a fashion-forward look. They must find this muse in Central Park, which is kind of like looking for inspiration at the airport or a 24 Hour Fitness. But that's not the only challenge awaiting our intrepid designers! There's a twist! They must convince their muse to give them the clothes off their back, then create outfits using said clothes.The budget of $150 can be used to bribe the muse, and whatever's leftover can be used at Mood. The designers groan. I also groan. I mean, come on! What exactly does this have to do with actual design? The toughest part of this challenge is, if you ask me, trying to get someone to give you a decent piece of clothing so you can hand them a white T-shirt in exchange. I think most people would see this as a pretty crappy deal, even if you're a fan of "Project Runway." 

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<p>Whatever they've done to Riddick (Vin Diesel), the side of his head has certainly seen better days.</p>

Whatever they've done to Riddick (Vin Diesel), the side of his head has certainly seen better days.

Credit: Vin Diesel

Vin Diesel's busy posting more 'Riddick' photos on his Facebook page

David Twohy's untitled sequel continues shooting in Canada

That's not the most spoiler-oriented photo of all time, but just seeing Vin Diesel looking like he's back in full Riddick mode makes me happy.

When I saw "Pitch Black" for the first time, USA Films wasn't sure what to do with it.  They were trying to position themselves as a serious studio, making Oscar-worthy films, big and important, and a movie like "Pitch Black" seemed to confuse them a bit in terms of marketing and positioning.  Harry Knowles and I were shown the film in the company's Beverly Hills screening room, with no one else in the theater, and by the end of it, we were both ecstatic.  That first movie is just good old fashioned pulp science fiction without a pretentious bone in its body, a modestly-scaled monster movie that set up a really interesting anti-hero in the form of the big broody Vin Diesel, who was really only known to us at that point as the dude Spielberg ordered written into "Saving Private Ryan" and the voice of "The Iron Giant."

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<p>Amy Poehler and Rashida Jones in &quot;Parks and Recreation.&quot;</p>

Amy Poehler and Rashida Jones in "Parks and Recreation."

Credit: NBC

'Parks and Recreation' - 'Operation Ann': Riddle me this, Ron Swanson

On Valentine's Day, Leslie plays matchmaker, Ron solves a puzzle and Chris' funk deepens

A review of tonight's "Parks and Recreation" coming up just as soon as I play music from the end of a movie about a monk who killed himself...

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