Sitthiphon Disamoe,  Thep Phongam and Sumrit Warin in "The Rocket."
Sitthiphon Disamoe, Thep Phongam and Sumrit Warin in "The Rocket."
Credit: Kino Lorber

Review: Australia's Oscar hopeful 'The Rocket' is a sticky but sweet survival tale

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Child's-eye story offers lyricism with a dash of James Brown and fireworks

LONDON - Disenfranchised families, displaced by water, scouring an unaccommodating landscape for some semblance of home -- it's easy to see why the "Beasts of the Southern Wild" references surfaced when "The Rocket," a bright, appealing debut narrative feature from Australian documentarian Kim Mordaunt, blew up at Berlin and Tribeca earlier this year. As with most such loose-fitting comparisons -- useful when trying to articulate enthusiasm for something otherwise unfamiliar-looking -- they don't much describe or favor either film. Set in a post-Katrina South, "Beasts" used tragedy to immerse audiences into a state of positively unearthly social decay; set in a war-scarred Laos, "The Rocket," predicated on a bureaucratic rather than natural disaster, undercuts its exoticism with recognizable social comedy at every turn. It's a feel-good film that only momentarily pauses to feel otherwise.  

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<p>&quot;Dallas Buyers Club&quot;</p>

"Dallas Buyers Club"

Credit: Focus Features

Off the Carpet: How do this year's Oscar hopefuls reflect the zeitgeist?

Films from 'All is Lost' to 'Dallas Buyers Club' have something to say about the here and now

We've weighed the contenders and early declarations have been made. The whisper campaigns and casual takedowns have begun with no real (comfortable) frontrunner to emerge for a while yet. But as we look out over this year's Oscar contending crop, what does it have to say about where and who we are?

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<p>Joaquin Phoenix in &quot;Her.&quot;</p>

Joaquin Phoenix in "Her."

Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Roundup: 'Her' arrives in the Oscar race

Also: The Weinsteins' 'Fruitvale Station' error, and LAFCA honors Richard Lester

The story of the weekend, as you may have heard by now, is that Spike Jonze's "Her" went down a storm at the NYFF this weekend. Critics (including HitFix's Drew McWeeny) are nuts for the oddball techno-romance. Can all that critical love translate into Academy attention, as it did with Jonze's first two features? Steve Pond belives so, declaring the film a likely bet for Best Picture and Best Original SCreenplay nominations, though he thinks acting nominations will require some adventurousness from the actors' branch -- particularly if Scarlett Johansson is to be the first actor ever nominated for a voice-only performance. [The Wrap]

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<p>&quot;A Hijacking&quot;</p>

"A Hijacking"

Credit: Magnolia Pictures

On 'Captain Phillips,' 'A Hijacking' and the year of movie twins

'Phillips' is a gripping tale of modern pirates, but another 2013 release did it better
LONDON - "Captain Phillips" provided a sober kickoff to the London Film Festival on Wednesday, segueing into an Opening Night party that was, thankfully, anything but. It was, in many respects, the right choice of curtain-raiser: riveting enough to hold a large audience, cinematic enough to fill the huge screen of the Odeon Leicester Square, with the added value of a homegrown director in Paul Greengrass and a red-carpet draw in star Tom Hanks. Also -- and not to put too fine a point on this, but the horrors of 2011 opener "360" haven't yet been forgotten -- it's actually a good film.
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<p>Mahat M. Ali, Tom Hanks and Faysal Ahmed in &quot;Captain Phillips.&quot;</p>

Mahat M. Ali, Tom Hanks and Faysal Ahmed in "Captain Phillips."

Credit: Sony Pictures

Tell us what you thought of 'Captain Phillips'

Paul Greengrass' tense true-life hostage thriller opens today

We don't have to wait until the holiday season for the Oscar movies to start flowing thick and fast -- while "Gravity" is still hogging the conversation and burning up the box office, a different kind of white-knuckle survival story land in theaters today. I'll be writing more about Paul Greengrass' "Captain Phillips" later today, but having caught up with it earlier this week at the opening night of the London Film Festival, I was pleased to find the awards talk mostly justified. This is technically immaculate filmmaking, smart and tight and clean as can be: I certainly didn't feel 134 minutes passing. It boasts some of Tom Hanks' finest work, with a career-topping final scene that should clinch one of several Oscar nominations for the film, though I'll be rooting for livewire newcomer Barkhad Abdi to crack a nod too.

We're curious, however, to know what you think: is the hype justified? Is it an Oscar contender? And if you've seen the markedly similar Danish film "A Hijacking" from earlier this year, which one came out on top? Tell us in the comments, and be sure to vote in the poll below.  

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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