Cate Blanchett in "Blue Jasmine."
Cate Blanchett in "Blue Jasmine."
Credit: Sony Classics

Roundup: Why a winner-heavy Best Actress race is a bad thing

Also: 'Gravity' backlash, and where 'Blue Jasmine' is competing at the Globes

Mark Harris' latest Oscar column is, as usual, a good read. The first half of it deals with the already much-discussed Oscar prospects of "Gravity," but things get really interesting when he turns to the Best Actress race, which is in danger of becoming only the second acting category ever to consist wholly of past Oscar winners. (The first, of course, was last year's Supporting Actor lineup.) And that, Harris writes, is "deplorable": "I don't know what's most dispiriting, the strong suggestion the Best Actress field lacks a deep bench, the comparative paucity of opportunities for actresses that a non-deep bench implies, or the assumption that Academy voters are disinclined to look beyond people they already know can give a nice speech." Of course, it doesn't have to be this way. Delpy, Gerwig, Exarchopoulos, Garcia: think outside the box, Academy. [Grantland

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<p>Matt Damon and Cate Blanchett in &quot;The Monuments Men.&quot;</p>

Matt Damon and Cate Blanchett in "The Monuments Men."

Credit: Sony Pictures

New trailer for Clooney's 'Monuments Men' underlines the 'art is important' message

Probably a good way to sell one of the season's last unseen Oscar players

George Clooney's "The Monuments Men" will be among the last of the season's potential Oscar candidates to reveal itself -- skipping the festival circuit, the film will open in the US on the prime holiday-season date of December 18. And while we have little else to go on right now, the project certainly doesn't lack for kerb appeal: a high-gloss Second World War adventure with an all-star cast including Clooney, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Jean Dujardin, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Hugh Bonneville and Bob Balaban.

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<p>Sandra Bullock in a tense scene from &quot;Gravity&quot;</p>

Sandra Bullock in a tense scene from "Gravity"

Credit: Warner Bros.

Composer Steven Price on scoring the soundscape of 'Gravity' and the power of Atmos

How breaking down various aural elements enhanced the immersive quality of the film

In a film such as Alfonso Cuarón's "Gravity," which takes place in orbit and embraces the reality that "in space, no one can hear you scream" -- or anything else, for that matter --  music was always going to have an expanded role in the experience. The director was very determined from the outset that, like so many other elements in the film, the score would need to serve the immersive ends he was aiming toward. It was always going to be sort of moving around the audience in the theater, making you feel as though you were part of the action taking place on screen.

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<p>Daniel Radcliffe during a press conference for &quot;The F Word&quot; at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival.</p>

Daniel Radcliffe during a press conference for "The F Word" at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival.

Credit: AP Photo/Evan Agonisti

Is Daniel Radcliffe having the time of his life? You bet he is

'Kill Your Darlings' star has had a busy two years

Let's be frank.  Daniel Radcliffe made enough money starring in eight "Harry Potter" films to never have to work a day in his life gain.  And, even at 25, that's an intriguing proposition.  Instead, like his co-star Emma Watson, Radcliffe has been working his butt off.

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<p>&quot;Karama Has No&nbsp;Walls&quot;</p>

"Karama Has No Walls"

Credit: Hot Spot Films

Eight documentary shorts make Academy's Oscar shortlist

Which three won't make the nomination cut?

The Academy has announced this year's field of contending documentary short subject films for the 86th annual Academy Awards. The crop has been trimmed down to eight, from which five nominees will be chosen.

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<p>A scene from &quot;Gravity&quot;</p>

A scene from "Gravity"

Credit: Warner Bros.

Tech Support: Can anything beat 'Gravity' for Best Cinematography?

Other hopefuls in the category include 'Captain Phillips' and '12 Years a Slave'

"Lights. Camera. Action." This phrase is admittedly somewhat of a cliché, but it is iconic because it captures the feel of making a movie. Interesting that two of the three commands are directed to a film’s camera department. Without a camera, there is no cinema. Cinematography is essential, and when done well, from lighting to camera placement and movement to capturing the mood, there is no purer way to bring the director’s vision to screen.

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<p>Idris Elba in &quot;Mandela.&quot;</p>

Idris Elba in "Mandela."

Credit: The Weinstein Company

Idris Elba's 'Mandela' to meet the Queen as this year's Royal Film Performance

Can the indifferently reviewed biopic regain any awards momentum?
The Weinstein Company's "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom" landed with a bit of a thud at Toronto.  Idris Elba may have received respectable reviews for his performance as the freedom fighter who became South Africa's first democratically elected president, as did Naomie Harris as his controversial wife, Winnie. But early, trailer-assisted fears that the film would turn out to be a stodgy, Wikipedia-style biopic were largely borne out by the reviews, swiftly cutting the film's awards hopes down to a long-shot Best Actor bid for Elba and little more. 
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<p>&quot;Life of Pi,&quot; the last film to win the Best Cinematography and Visual Effects combo.</p>

"Life of Pi," the last film to win the Best Cinematography and Visual Effects combo.

Credit: 20th Century Fox

Roundup: Are the cinematography and visual effects Oscars getting too close?

Also: Variety's 10 Actors to Watch, and the complex effects of 'Noah'
As mentioned in a roundup earlier this week, Emmanuel Lubezki is the runaway favorite to win his first (and overdue) Best Cinematography Oscar for "Gravity." Many would agree that seems a just outcome, but Lubezki fan Nathaniel Rogers has some reservations. Pointing out that it'd almost certainly be the fifth year in a row that one film wins for cinematography and visual effects -- following "Avatar," "Inception," "Hugo" and "Life of Pi" -- Rogers believes this signals the "collapse" of the former category. Lubezki would be a deserving winner, he writes, but "I worry for the craft that it's come to this, that your film has to push the visual effects envelope and you have to be 3D for your DP to be considered Oscar-worthy." Is he right to be concerned? [The Film Experience]
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<p>Benedict Cumberbatch as Julian Assange in &quot;The Fifth Estate.&quot;</p>

Benedict Cumberbatch as Julian Assange in "The Fifth Estate."

Credit: DreamWorks Pictures

Julian Assange writes Benedict Cumberbatch, ironically helps publicize 'The Fifth Estate'

Or perhaps that's what he meant to do?

It’s safe to say that reviews for Bill Condon’s WikiLeaks thriller “The Fifth Estate” were not quite what DreamWorks was hoping for when it opened the Toronto Film Festival last month. It was no embarrassment, and a number of critics had kind words for Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance as Julian Assange, but the middling response meant any opening-night buzz was swiftly subsumed by the prestige films that followed. (In contrast, “Gravity” opened Venice and was still a talking point by the festival’s close.)

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<p>Sarah Paulson and Chiwetel Ejiofor in a scene from Steve McQueen's &quot;12 Years A Slave.&quot;</p>

Sarah Paulson and Chiwetel Ejiofor in a scene from Steve McQueen's "12 Years A Slave."

Credit: Fox Searchlight

Exclusive: Sarah Paulson questions Chiwetel Ejiofor in '12 Years a Slave' clip

'American Horror Story' actress the film's unheralded performance

The cast of Steve McQueen's acclaimed new drama "12 Years a Slave" is something of a wonder. Whether it's the remarkable work of Chiwetel Ejiofor as kidnapped freeman Solomon Northup or Michael Fassbender as the shockingly inhumane plantation owner Edwin Epps or Best Supporting Actress contender Lupita Nyong'o, the film features some of the most riveting performances of the year. What has gone slightly unheralded, however, are the fantastic smaller turns by the likes of Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Giamatti, Paul Dano and Alfre Woodard. And, the always wonderful Ms. Sarah Paulson.

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