<p>Solomon Northup</p>

Solomon Northup

Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures

'12 Years a Slave' featurette details the true story setting of Steve McQueen's film

Fox Searchlight's film is about to sieze the awards conversation again in Toronto

One of the reasons "12 Years a Slave" works so well is that it's rather naturally structured as a thriller. As the film follows Solomon Northup from freedom to shackles, his circumstances -- kidnapped in Washington D.C. and sold into slavery in the south -- are just terrifying, and director Steve McQueen follows that natural structure with convention and invention in equal measure.

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<p>Steve Carell and Channing Tatum in &quot;Foxcatcher&quot;</p>

Steve Carell and Channing Tatum in "Foxcatcher"

Credit: Sony Classics

'Saving Mr. Banks,' 'Foxcatcher' and 'Inside Llewyn Davis' set for 2013 AFI Fest

Bennett Miller's film will see its world premiere as a gala selection

AFI Fest has come out swinging with a pair of big premieres for the 2013 edition of the Los Angeles-based festival and a closing night selection reflective of an American indie skipping across the festival circuit like a stone this year.

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<p>Donald Rumsfeld in &quot;The Unknown Known.&quot;</p>

Donald Rumsfeld in "The Unknown Known."

Credit: TWC-Radius

Venice: American tricksters under scrutiny in 'The Armstrong Lie' and 'The Unknown Known'

Lance Armstrong and Donald Rumsfeld the focus of the fest's showcase docs

VENICE - Venice festival scheduling is a business that can seem haphazard at best, and perverse at worst. Kim Ki-duk's castration-and-incest bonanza "Moebius" straight after breakfast? Sure. Philip Groning's three-hour, 59-chapter dissection of domestic abuse to finish the day? Hey, why not? Sometimes, however, they let on that they really know what they're doing with a juxtaposition that seems too perfect to be accidental -- and they don't come much more effectively on-the-nose than last night's back-to-back double bill of Alex Gibney's "The Armstrong Lie" (B-) and Errol Morris' "The Unknown Known" (C+). (Even the titles have a pleasingly similar cadence.) It wasn't labelled in the programme as The Great American Douchebags Special, but we got the idea.

Perhaps it's a side effect of viewing them with only a 20-minute, theater-traversing in between, but the films seemed too well-matched -- not just in content, but in a number of their strongest and weakest points -- to review separately, even if they'll rarely be re-partnered outside the festival environment.

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<p>Chris Hemsworth and&nbsp;Daniel Br&uuml;hl in &quot;Rush&quot;</p>

Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl in "Rush"

Credit: Universal Pictures

Ron Howard's 'Rush' could shift into high gear this Oscar season

People are really responding to this biopic of F1 stars Niki Lauda and James Hunt

Ron Howard's "Rush" has occupied some prime real estate throughout our Contenders section for a number of weeks. Lots of "but racing movies don't register" and "it looks too commercial" or whatever greeted the suggestion that it could be an Oscar player. There's been a reason we've had a lot of faith in it: people love this movie. And today, Variety's Peter Debruge has posted a cartwheel-turning rave up one side and down the other.

I caught the film just before the Telluride Film Festival and had high hopes. I've been hearing stellar things about this one for a while now, particularly Daniel Brühl's performance. So maybe expectation was too high, but it felt like something was missing for me. Peter Morgan's script awkwardly makes its way through a story of rivalry and friendship between Formula One racing stars Niki Lauda (Brühl) and James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and it doesn't quite hit the high marks it apparently thinks it hits. But it's not like the film is a big miss or anything. There's a lot to appreciate here and I think it will continue to gather fans, perhaps on the way to major Oscar recognition.

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<p>Scarlett Johansson in &quot;Under the Skin.&quot;</p>

Scarlett Johansson in "Under the Skin."

Credit: StudioCanal

First glimpse of Scarlett Johansson in the stunning 'Under the Skin'

Jonathan Glazer's ultra-minimalist sci-fi officially premieres in Venice tonight

VENICE - I want to sit with Jonathan Glazer's "Under the Skin" for a while longer before writing about it at length: the film's hard surfaces are so immaculate, belying the powerful, frayed-nerve story of multiple forms of bodily invasion that nestles inside, that I may take in a second screening at Venice before trying to crack them. This much is immediately apparent: it's the riskiest, most extravagantly sensual and image-fuelled film in Competition at Venice. Naturally, a handful of dolts booed it at this morning's press screening. What else is new?

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<p>Errol Morris and Werner Herzog at the 40th annual Telluride Film&nbsp;Festival</p>

Errol Morris and Werner Herzog at the 40th annual Telluride Film Festival

Credit: Tom Quinn

Telluride: Wrapping up the 40th annual fest

The Academy celebrated the festival's anniversary and the Oscar season revved its engines

TELLURIDE, Colo. - The 40th annual Telluride Film Festival has come to a close, unofficially launching the Oscar season and wrapping up another wonderfully curated program that continues to be one of my most anticipated journeys each year.

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<p>Sandra Bullock in &quot;Gravity.&quot;</p>

Sandra Bullock in "Gravity."

Credit: Warner Bros.

Telluride Roundup: 'Prisoners,' 'Palo Alto,' 'Gravity'

Looking back at some of the major films at Telluride's 40th

TELLURIDE, Colo. - The 2013 Telluride Film Festival has come to a close and, overall, the quality of the slate was befitting the event's 40th anniversary. Granted, you might have expected more celebratory moments, but Telluride has always been about the movies first. Parties? Special ceremonies?  Eh, they'll stick with the annual Thursday "feed" and Labor Day picnic thank you very much.

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<p>Christoph Waltz in &quot;The Zero Theorem.&quot;</p>

Christoph Waltz in "The Zero Theorem."

Credit: Voltage Pictures

Review: Terry Gilliam's 'The Zero Theorem' doesn't add up to much

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Headache-inducing sci-fi's futurism is so dated, it's practically a period piece

VENICE - Playing an online shrink, Tilda Swinton raps for about 30 seconds at the midpoint of "The Zero Theorem" -- a stiff, Scots-accented Fresh Prince breakdown performed from under a broom-like hairpiece. It doesn't advance the story in any way, but then, nothing here does; her screen is switched off and the rap passes without comment, like a slippery fart in an elevator; the onscreen witnesses look sheepish to have heard it at all.

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<p>J.C.&nbsp;Chandor (right) and Robert Redford on the set of &quot;All is&nbsp;Lost&quot;</p>

J.C. Chandor (right) and Robert Redford on the set of "All is Lost"

Credit: Roadside Attractions

Telluride: J.C. Chandor on the multiple metaphors of 'All is Lost'

Is it an abstraction about the financial crisis? Maybe...

TELLURIDE, Colo. - Like any artist, J.C. Chandor isn't interested in tying his work down with one thematic takeaway. Indeed, his latest film, "All is Lost," lives in the abstract and can service any number of perspectives on it. But for a guy who launched his career with the financial crisis indie "Margin Call," one can't help but wonder if this film, about a man stranded at sea as things go from bad to worse, isn't in some way a metaphor for market collapse and financial ruin as seen over the last five years.

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<p>&quot;Gravity,&quot;&nbsp;&quot;12 Years a Slave&quot;&nbsp;and &quot;Labor Day&quot; hope to keep the fire going through the fall.</p>

"Gravity," "12 Years a Slave" and "Labor Day" hope to keep the fire going through the fall.

Credit: Warner Bros./Fox Searchlight/Paramount

Off the Carpet: Telluride launches the season from 'Gravity' to '12 Years a Slave'

Will films that hit be able to keep the high going through the circuit?

The Telluride Film Festival wraps up today and with that, the upcoming awards season has finally taken a little shape. We have a long way to go, of course, and no one should be calling the race from this far out, but we certainly know a few things.

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