<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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Introducing HitFix Oscar Picks!

Introducing HitFix Oscar Picks!

Go on the record with your own predictions this year

We've been teasing a new feature here at In Contention for a few months now and I'm happy that we can finally lift the veil on HitFix Oscar Picks!

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Judi Dench and Steve Coogan in "Philomena."
Judi Dench and Steve Coogan in "Philomena."
Credit: The Weinstein Company

The Long Shot: Two shades of Britain

Two of this year's Oscar hopefuls show the UK industry at a crossroads

Two British (or part-British) films came out on top at the Toronto Film Festival this year -- and they haven't much more in common than what's already in this sentence. Unless you've just returned from an extended meditation retreat in the Hindu Kush, you're probably aware that Steve McQueen's biographical slavery drama "12 Years a Slave" emerged most triumphant all from the fall fests, bearing bushels of critical praise, the much-coveted TIFF Audience Award and a position as Oscar frontrunner that only "Gravity" has seen fit to challenge so far. We have yet to see how it fares in the real world, but it's an impressive run for a film that, by consensus, takes a brutal, unyielding approach to an eternally tough historical subject.

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<p>Barkhad Abdi in &quot;Captain Phillips.&quot;</p>

Barkhad Abdi in "Captain Phillips."

Credit: Sony Pictures

Roundup: Let the whisper campaigns begin

Also: Bullock rules Hollywood, and 'Croods' wins the animated screener race
Every Oscar season it happens: a strong Oscar contender (or several) has to battle the negative publicity that comes from charges of factual inaccuracy. "Argo" survived it last year. Ditto "A Beautiful Mind" a few years back. And like clockwork, the knives have started to come out for some of this year's frontrunners: biographical dramas "Captain Phillips" and "12 Years a Slave," and even the fictional "Gravity." Steve Pond looks into the shadowy world of whisper campaigns:  "They’re designed to be untraceable, and to offer plausible deniability. Why wouldn’t CNN have pulled out a three-year-old interview that ties into a big movie opening in a few days?" Will all three films ride it out? Probably. [The Wrap]
 
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Best Actress 2014: Oscar contenders include Amy Adams, Sandra Bullock and Meryl Streep

Best Actress 2014: Oscar contenders include Amy Adams, Sandra Bullock and Meryl Streep

Oscar vets face newcomers in a competitive year for the category

This year's Best Actress race is full of Oscar veterans, but there are also a fair amount of up-and-coming indie hopefuls, outsider foreign film players and fresh faces to the awards scene looking for their first trip to the Dolby Theater.

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<p>Robin Weigert</p>

Robin Weigert

Credit: AP Photo/Taylor Jewell

Robin Weigert on leaving TV (and her inhibitions) behind in 'Concussion'

The Emmy-nominated actress is a revelation in the sexually charged indie

“Brave” is a word sorely overused by critics when describing any actor taking on a somewhat sexualized character – especially when they take off their clothing in the process. If the sexuality in question is LGBT, so much the “braver,” apparently. It's a word, then, that you may have read applied a few times to Robin Weigert's terrific performance as a dissatisfied lesbian wife and mother in Stacie Passon's sharp, sensual debut feature “Concussion” – released last Friday on the Weinsteins' TWC-Radius label.

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