<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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<p>Robert&nbsp;Redford in &quot;All is Lost&quot;</p>

Robert Redford in "All is Lost"

Credit: Roadside Attractions

Tech Support: Space, music and the high seas clash in the race for Best Sound Mixing

Also: Could Disney's 'Frozen' be an unexpected contender?

Welcome to Best Sound Mixing. This Oscar category loves blockbusters and war films, particularly (albeit by no means necessarily) of the prestigious variety. Like many categories, being a Best Picture contender also helps here, and there is one particular sort of film – the musical – that does disproportionately well here, as the work done on a musical’s soundtrack is obviously incredibly important to the film’s success.

Most individuals recognized in this category tend to be previous nominees, and there are many sound artists who have received well in excess of five or 10 nominations over their careers. These talented individuals frequently anchor the list.

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<p>Idina Menzel voices Elsa in &quot;Frozen.&quot;</p>

Idina Menzel voices Elsa in "Frozen."

Credit: Walt Disney Pictures

Tell us what you thought of 'Frozen'

Disney's throwback adaptation of 'The Snow Queen' opened yesterday

I went into "Frozen" with tempered expectations -- Disney's last couple of attempts to revive the princess formula ("Tangled," "The Princess and the Frog") were, for me, pleasant but characterless, and this musical adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Snow Queen" looked to be in the same mold. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised: after a rushed, muddled first act, it settles into a touching, visually textured work of authentic Disney classicism, with a welcome feminist twist on the original fairytale and a pleasing lack of the smarmy, adult-targeted irony that permeates so many kids' films these days. I wouldn't go quite as far as Drew McWeeny did in hisA-grade rave, but I might just call it my favourite Disney animated feature since the studio's brief 1990s golden age.

But enough from me -- what do you think? Is it on-form Disney? And is it Oscar-worthy? I'm sure many of you will be checking it out over the holiday weekend, so when you do, be sure to share your thoughts here, and vote in the poll below.


<p>&quot;The Wind Rises&quot;</p>

"The Wind Rises"

Credit: Walt Disney Pictures

Roundup: Is it time for the animated Oscar to grow up?

Also: 'Wolf' clocks in at three hours, and Philomena on 'Philomena'

With "Frozen" opening today, the received wisdom that it's the film to beat for the Best Animated Feature Oscar will be further concretized. And while a win for the film would be a first for Disney, it'd follow very much in the tradition of past champions in the 13-year-old category. Jen Chaney writes how the Academy's choices for the award -- however deserving -- have reinforced the commonly held notion of animation as chiefly a kids' medium, and how Miyazaki's more adult-focused "The Wind Rises" presents an opportunity for the award to come of age. "An animated film that deals with complicated, non-child-friendly themes, or visuals that don’t match the playful picture-book aesthetic... [may be viewed] as a negative instead of a potentially refreshing, groundbreaking departure," she writes, before going on to suggest that the Academy's new, more inclusive voting system in the category means "that unintentional bias could become even more of an issue." [The Dissolve]

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<p>Greta Gerwig and Mickey Sumner in &quot;Frances Ha.&quot;</p>

Greta Gerwig and Mickey Sumner in "Frances Ha."

Credit: IFC Films

The Long Shot: Independents' day

Have the Indie Spirit Awards outgrown their own purpose?

The avalanche of advance speculation, live Twitterage and post-game analysis that surrounded yesterday's announcement of the Independent Spirit Award nominees was indicative, perhaps, of the way the internet has amped up every stop on the ever-expanding awards trail -- however minor its real-world presence -- to event status. But it also proved that the Spirits are no longer as small, nor as off-the-beaten-track, as their calculatedly modest presentation would have you believe.They haven't been for a while: for better or worse, they're now considered as valuable (if, by their very nature, not as all-encompassing) an Oscar bellwether as any of the glitzier Globe or Guild events on the circuit.

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<p>&quot;The Best Man Holiday&quot; will be one of the films included at the BFCA's Celebration of Black Cinema.</p>

"The Best Man Holiday" will be one of the films included at the BFCA's Celebration of Black Cinema.

Credit: Universal Pictures

From 'Best Man Holiday' to 'The Butler,' BFCA hails a banner year for black film

Their 'Celebration of Black Cinema' evening is set for January 7

The Broadcast Film Critics' Association is hardly the first group or individual to note that this has been remarkable year for black filmmakers and black-themed films. Ever since "Lee Daniels' The Butler" emerged as a surprise box-office sleeper in the summer, followed shortly afterward by the triumphant festival debut of "12 Years a Slave" -- both films consolidating the Sundance success of Ryan Coogler's "Fruitvale Station" in January -- the shorthand narrative of 2013 as "the year of black cinema" has been cemented in the media, and inevitably bled into the awards race.

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<p>Scarlett Johansson at the Rome Film Festival premiere of &quot;Her.&quot;</p>

Scarlett Johansson at the Rome Film Festival premiere of "Her."

Credit: AP Photo/Domenico Stinellis

Roundup: Golden Globes won't be seduced by Johansson's voice in 'Her'

Also: The unmade 'Mary Poppins' sequel, and a diverse Thanksgiving playlist

There's been a lot of speculation about the possibility of Scarlett Johansson scoring an acting Oscar nod for her acclaimed voice work in "Her." It'd be a first, but the buzz is growing in volume. Still, if she pulls it off, it'll be without any help from the Golden Globes -- the HFPA has ruled her ineligible in their Best Supporting Actress category. It's not exactly surprising, given that they've previously disqualified motion-capture performances by the likes of Andy Serkis. (The Globes are littered with arcane restrictions: animated and foreign-language films can't compete for Best Picture, for example.) Warner Bros. appealed against the ruling, but to no avail; the good news is that she's still eligible for Oscar and SAG consideration. [Variety]

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<p>&quot;We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks&quot;</p>

"We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks"

Credit: Focus World

PGA surprises with documentary nominees, but Alex Gibney makes the cut

Will any of their choices show up on the Academy shortlist?

Unlike their award for narrative features, which tends to closely mirror the Academy's Best Picture race, the Producers' Guild of America Award for documentaries is far less predictable and more idiosyncratic. The PGA may have agreed with the Academy (as did pretty much every major awards body) on "Searching for Sugar Man" last year, but the year before, not a single one of their nominees wound up in the Oscar race.

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