<p>&quot;Despicable Me 2&quot;</p>

"Despicable Me 2"

Credit: Universal Pictures

'Despicable Me 2' comes out strong with Annie Awards nominations

Universal's money-making brand leads with 11 mentions

It was Universal's "Despicable Me 2" leading the way today with 11 nominations for the 41st annual Annie Awards. But Disney's "Frozen" — not far behind with 10 mentions — received nominations for Best Animated Feature, Best Direction and Best Writing. It's sure to dominate the scene this season en route to a likely Best Animated Feature Film Oscar win.

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<p>Alfonso Cuar&oacute;n (left)&nbsp;and Emmanuel&nbsp;Lubezki on the set of &quot;Gravity&quot;</p>

Alfonso Cuarón (left) and Emmanuel Lubezki on the set of "Gravity"

Credit: Warner Bros.

Emmanuel Lubezki talks artistic similarities between Alfonso Cuarón and Terrence Malick

'They don't use cinematography as an illustration to text.'

One of the great achievements of the year is Emmanuel Lubezki's lensing of Alfonso Cuarón's "Gravity," which it would seem has all but locked up his first Oscar win for Best Cinematography to date. His work in the film, which the uneducated will dismiss as limited due to the amount of CGI on display (failing to understand his invaluable place in that process), is a work of technical prowess and thematic potency.

On that last point, I recently spoke to Lubezki about some of the specific frames and fluid shots he and Cuarón crafted in the film. Perhaps you'll be reading those quotes later in the year as part of our annual "Top 10 Shots of the Year" column, but what struck me while discussing one image in particular was how much his thematic view of "Gravity" matches up with another film he made recently, from another master of the form.

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<p>Will Forte, Bruce Dern and Stacy Keach in &quot;Nebraska.&quot;</p>

Will Forte, Bruce Dern and Stacy Keach in "Nebraska."

Credit: Paramount Pictures

Roundup: What Nebraskans make of 'Nebraska'

Also: Asia's influence on current US cinema, and is 'Pines' flying to voters?

Since its Cannes premiere, Alexander Payne's "Nebraska" has more or less divided critics into two camps: those who accept it as a wry but essentially loving study of small-town manners and mores in the director's home state, and those who see it as something rather more patronizing and misanthropic than that. (I'm in the latter camp.) Steven Zeitchik goes to Norfolk, Nebraska -- where much of the film was shot -- and finds residents there similarly mixed on its merits. Many are approving: one enthuses that "now the world will get to see" the divisions that exist in their society. Another, however, voices reservations about what he sees as the film's use of unfavourable stereotypes. Payne's response? "People want to say it's condescending? Let them say that. This is my love letter to the state of Nebraska." [LA Times]

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<p>Leonardo DiCaprio goes wild in &quot;The Wolf of Wall&nbsp;Street&quot;</p>

Leonardo DiCaprio goes wild in "The Wolf of Wall Street"

Credit: Paramount Pictures

Is 'The Wolf of Wall Street' just what the doctor ordered this Oscar season?

Martin Scorsese's dark comedy finally screens and it could take the edge off

It's been quite the somber season in some ways: slavery and racial tension, piracy and health care, dementia-addled fathers and embittered folk crooners. Even the year's biggest spectacle achievement, Alfonso Cuarón's "Gravity," ultimately takes its weightless heroine to weighty moments of emotion and catharsis (not that we're complaining). It almost feels like what the 2013 film awards season needs is a nice prestige-level dose of the outrageous, something bonkers, something to take the edge off. And Martin Scorsese's "The Wolf of Wall Street" is here to answer the call.

The film isn't set to screen for the press at large for another week, but this weekend it began making its way through guild screenings, where plus ones and crossover memberships with critics and the film commentariat are just unavoidable. So it was Saturday afternoon that I made my way to the first of two SAG screenings of this absolutely unrepentant entry (hopefully that caveat saves the studio some disgruntled phone calls — over 100 people were turned away from the two screenings, which were filled to the brim). Stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Rob Reiner, Cristina Milioti, Jon Favreau, P.J. Byrne and Kenneth Choi were on hand to discuss working with a master filmmaker and the life and times of a man, Jordan Belfort, who by anyone's measure should probably be dead by now.

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"The Act of Killing"
"The Act of Killing"
Credit: Drafthouse Films

'The Act of Killing' and 'Gravity' top Sight & Sound's 2013 critics' poll

But '12 Years a Slave' surprisingly fails to make the Top 10

Less eccentric than the Cahiers du Cinema list, and more representative than the awards of individual critics’ groups, the annual Sight & Sound poll is about the best monitor of international critical consensus at the year’s end – recent winners include David Fincher’s “The Social Network,” Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life” and Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master." But if those choices were easily seen coming, the 100-odd critics surveyed this year have thrown a collective curveball: Sight & Sound’s top film of 2013 is “The Act of Killing.”

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<p>Leonardo DiCaprio in &quot;Wolf of Wall Street.&quot;</p>

Leonardo DiCaprio in "Wolf of Wall Street."

Credit: Paramount Pictures

Contender Countdown: A December to remember for Oscar's Best Picture race?

Only seven weeks until dreams are shattered

We've reached a critical phase of the season, Oscar watchers. We're not talking about the shortened shopping season or families reuniting across the country for the holidays. No, Hollywood is heading into the high season.  A time when we stop talking about who's going to get a nomination and who's going to actually win.

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<p>Oscar Isaac and Justin Timberlake singing &quot;Please Mr. Kennedy&quot;&nbsp;in the Coen Bros' &quot;Inside Llewyn Davis.&quot;</p>

Oscar Isaac and Justin Timberlake singing "Please Mr. Kennedy" in the Coen Bros' "Inside Llewyn Davis."

Credit: CBS Films

Justin Timberlake and Adam Driver sing 'Please Mr. Kennedy' for 'Inside Llewyn Davis'

Oh, and Oscar Isaac too

It's hard to believe that the Coen Bros.' "Inside Llewyn Davis" debuted at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival over six months ago. Now, after numerous festival screenings and events, its theatrical release is finally around the corner. Sure, it won't be anywhere near nationwide yet, but Coens fans will take it.

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<p>Idris lba and Naomie Harris in &quot;Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.&quot;</p>

Idris lba and Naomie Harris in "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom."

Credit: The Weinstein Company

Review: Idris Elba is a miscast Mandela in steady but stodgy 'Long Walk to Freedom'

But Naomie Harris is a fiery standout as Winnie

It is a cruel rule of thumb that extraordinary lives rarely make for extraordinary films. The more densely storied the personal narrative of its subject, the harder it is for dutiful screenwriters to resist tackling it whole, checking off every compelling accomplishment in thorough, linear fashion, even if such orderly diligence comes at the expense of more time-consuming character nuance. Critics have taken to calling this approach – not inaccurately – the “Wikipedia biopic,” though of course it dates back to the dustiest days of 1930s studio prestige drama, while Richard Attenborough effectively rebranded the genre in his own name decades later with the nobly dreary likes of “Young Winston” and “Gandhi.”

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<p>Ken Loach</p>

Ken Loach

Credit: AP Photo

Roundup: Ken Loach to be honored at Berlinale

Also: Disney's image war, and Streep's harsh image in 'August'

After a year years away, Ken Loach -- king of British social realism, though he'd probably resent the royal analogy -- returned to the Berlin Film Festival last year to premiere his documentary "Spirit of '45." He'll be back next year too, this time as an honoree: he will receive the festival's Honorary Golden Bear for lifetime  achievement, while the programme will feature a retrospective of 10 of his films. Declaring him "one of Europe's great directors," Berlinale director Dieter Kosslick praised him showing "an extraordinary degree of continuity, while remaining innovative at all times. His profound interest in people and their individual fates, as well as his critical commitment to society have found expression in a variety of cinematic approaches."  [Berlinale]  

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SAG Awards 2014 Contenders and Pretenders: Who's really a player?

SAG Awards 2014 Contenders and Pretenders: Who's really a player?

And who isn't?

It may be the traditional Thanksgiving break, but awards season doesn't take a holiday.  December is full of key events that will make or break the hopes of numerous contenders.  Along with key critics' groups honors one of the most important indicators for Oscar's acting races (and slightly for best picture) are the Screen Actors Guild Awards.  Nominations for January's ceremony will be announced in less than two weeks on Dec. 11.  While reading SAG nominating committee members is arguably more difficult than any other guild, the HFPA or Academy members (SAG members seem to love almost everything) reactions do mean something. Oh, and history does too.  

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