<p>&quot;The Dark&nbsp;Knight&quot;&nbsp;picked up seven nominations in the crafts categories in 2008 (and one win). Will &quot;The&nbsp;Dark&nbsp;Knight Rises&quot; hit a similar tally?</p>

"The Dark Knight" picked up seven nominations in the crafts categories in 2008 (and one win). Will "The Dark Knight Rises" hit a similar tally?

Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Tech Support: Kicking off 2012's crafts coverage

From 'The Avengers' to 'Zero Dark Thirty,' which films will spark below the line?

Welcome back. Today marks the beginning of the seventh year of Tech Support here at In Contention. If I may compliment Kris, this blog has come a long way in seven years. And if I may toot my own horn for a moment, the “Tech Support” columns have become one of the regular staples of this outlet and I’d like to think that our analysis of the categories that award below-the-line achievements, as well as our interviews with many of the artists in contention in such categories, has resulted in a number of other outlets beefing up their coverage in that arena.

Over the next 10 weeks, each of the “technical” category races will be analyzed: Best Cinematography, Costume Design, Film Editing, Makeup & Hairstyling, Original Score, Original Song, Production Design, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing and Visual Effects. We'll move between visual and audio categories to keep things fresh along the way.

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<p>A scene from &quot;The Imposter,&quot; one of the films voters will be considering for the Best Documentary Oscar.&nbsp;</p>

A scene from "The Imposter," one of the films voters will be considering for the Best Documentary Oscar. 

Credit: Indomina Releasing

Roundup: Are the Academy's new doc rules really democratic?

Also: A kinky year at the movies, and Ramsay to send 'Moby Dick' into space

Earlier this year, the Academy's alteration of the eligibility criteria for Best Documentary contenders -- limiting it to bi-coastal theatrical releases from the calendar year -- was generally hailed as a positive move that would de-ghettoise the category. But as branch voters are now being plied with around 100 Academy screeners, some are wondering if the changes are either workable or fair, particularly now that the discs arrive "with a letter suggesting specific films to focus on." That seems hugely ill-advised to me, and several Academy members too -- while most voters may not have time to see all the eligible films, instructing their viewing in this way surely defeats the very point of the new voting system. Dave Itzkoff looks into the issue. (Meanwhile, I'll be belatedly compiling a Contenders page for the category over the weekend.) [New York Times]

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<p>&quot;Here comes the judge. Here comes the judge.&quot;</p>

"Here comes the judge. Here comes the judge."

Credit: Touchstone Pictures

As Obama and Romney debate, Disney releases a new 'Lincoln' TV spot

The drama gets a healthy jolt with a new trailer

Did you catch the debate tonight? Most seem to agree: no matter your politics, Jim Lehrer loses. Okay, maybe that's harsh. And you heard Romney, Lehrer has a pink slip coming anyway.

In any case, much has been made of Steven Spielberg's desire to keep "Lincoln" out of the election cycle so as to not be seen as attempting to impact the proceedings. Hence the AFI Fest premiere and a November release AFTER the election. Regardless, Disney isn't above using the occasion to drum up interest in the movie, and so a new two-minute TV spot aired tonight with the debate.

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<p>Golden Globe Best Picture nominee &quot;Burlesque&quot; -- a rare anti-consensus precursor pick.</p>

Golden Globe Best Picture nominee "Burlesque" -- a rare anti-consensus precursor pick.

Credit: Screen Gems

The Long Shot: Free to be... you and me

Why other awards should welcome the Academy's calendar shift

When the Academy announced a fortnight ago that they were pulling next year's Oscar nominations announcement a full five days forward from the initially scheduled date, you'd have been forgiven for thinking -- from the howls of anguished confusion, rippled with the odd delighted cackle, across the Oscar blogosphere -- that they'd instead ruled all non-3D features ineligible for awards, or at least appointed James Franco the ceremony's solo host.

Some pundits' sense of disorientation was guilelessly geeky: We'll now know the Oscar slate for Best Film Editing before we do the Eddie nominees? Sacre bleu! Others, however, responded in a more conspiracy-minded fashion, sensing in the shift an open hostility to subordinate awards-season events. The rather specious explanation offered by the Academy for the move was that it was to allow voters more time to see the nominated films -- that it simultaneously allows them less time to see the far larger pool of films hunting for nominations was left tactfully unsaid.

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<p>Richard Linklater (left), Scott Rudin (center)&nbsp;and Jack Black (right) on the set of &quot;School of Rock&quot;</p>

Richard Linklater (left), Scott Rudin (center) and Jack Black (right) on the set of "School of Rock"

Credit: Paramount Pictures

Jack Black and Richard Linklater on the 'arranged marriage' of 'School of Rock'

And are we ready for 'School of Jazz?'

Yesterday I sat down with "Bernie" star Jack Black and director Richard Linklater to talk about their latest collaboration, which was critically acclaimed upon release but, as early releases tend to do, faded a bit as the season's big efforts took hold. But Millennium Entertainment is trying to stir a little consideration where it can, bringing the two to New York for a SoHo Apple Store conversation on Monday followed by a late-night soiree at Merc Bar downtown.

"Bernie" marks the second collaboration for Black and Linklater after 2003's "School of Rock." But, despite the fact that, as noted yesterday, Black really responded to Linklater's work as an independent filmmaker, he didn't really think of him for the film (which was written by his friend Mike White, who also stars). It was, in fact, the "stroke of brilliance" from a well-known producer that put the project together with the filmmaker, and the rest, as they say, was history.

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<p>Denzel&nbsp;Washington in &quot;Flight&quot;</p>

Denzel Washington in "Flight"

Credit: Paramount Pictures

Exclusive: Denzel Washington takes 'Flight' in the poster for Robert Zemeckis's latest

The film will close out the New York Film Festival next week

Is Robert Zemeckis's return to live-action filmmaking a triumph? Is Denzel Washington a new, formidable contender in the ever-competitive Best Actor race? Did the New York Film Festival go out with a bang? Those are all questions that will be answered when the 50th annual fest comes to a close on October 14 with the gala presentation of Zemeckis's "Flight."

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Best Actor 2013: Potential nominees from Ben Affleck to Denzel Washington

Best Actor 2013: Potential nominees from Ben Affleck to Denzel Washington

Surveying the year's leading men as the season commences

As the Oscar season slowly begins cranking up its machinery, we at HitFix are continuing our broad warm-up survey of the possible contenders in each major category, all gathered in a pretty photo gallery for your reference. We kicked off last week with Best Picture, and this week we move on to what -- at this point, at least -- looks to be the most stacked of the performance categories.

Sad to say, due to the way Hollywood works, it seems there are always more baity male roles out there to choose from, but this year looks particularly competitive, ranging from acclaimed known quantities like John Hawkes in "The Sessions" to presumed behemoths like Daniel Day-Lewis's "Lincoln" -- with alternatives including another veteran actor's interpretation of a US president, a former Oscar host looking to prove himself as a dramatic heavyweight, and no fewer than three French-language standouts. (We've left out "Cloud Atlas" only because we're waiting on category confirmation.) Check out the gallery below as we weigh up their individual pros and cons. You can also keep up with the ups and downs of this race at In Contention's Best Actor Contenders page.  

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<p>A scene from &quot;Rise of the Guardians.&quot;&nbsp;</p>

A scene from "Rise of the Guardians." 

Credit: DreamWorks

Roundup: 'Rise of the Guardians' to be rewarded in Rome

Also: Ford on dressing Bond, and 'Looper' for Best Picture

As we were saying the other day, the Best Animated Feature Oscar -- usually sewn up by this time of year -- is still very much up for grabs. Chief among the contenders yet to be unveiled is DreamWorks' "Rise of the Guardians," which I'll probably stop confusing with that Zack Snyder owl movie sometime around 2015. Expectations are high, and the film has just added a small but shiny feather to its cap with the news that it will receive the inaugural Vanity Fair International Award for Cinematic Excellence at the Rome Film Festival next month -- I don't quite know what that means, but it sounds impressive enough. It's also a nice publicity opportunity for the fest itself, which is hosting the film's international premiere. Rome is under the management of former Venice head Marco Mueller, who is looking to make the lesser Italian festival a rival to the Lido in terms of prestige and press. That's a long way off, but he's going about it in the right way. [Rome Film Festival]

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<p>Nicole Kidman in &quot;The Paperboy.&quot;</p>

Nicole Kidman in "The Paperboy."

Credit: Lionsgate

The Lists: Top 10 Nicole Kidman performances

As the actress is honored at the NYFF, we round up her career highlights

It's a good week to be a fan of Nicole Kidman. First off, her deliciously scuzzy performance in "The Paperboy," Lee Daniels' ripe Southern-Gothic-meets-Southern-Comfort thriller, hits US screens on Friday -- months after hogging the headlines at May's Cannes Film Festival. While checking that out, meanwhile, viewers may be treated to the just-released trailer for another wild-looking genre outing for the actress, "Stoker," from an unlikely director who typifies her off-center taste in collaborators -- South Korean auteur Park Chan-wook.

The icing on the cake, meanwhile, comes tomorrow at the New York Film Festival, where the Oscar-winning actress will be celebrated -- and, of course, interviewed -- in a two-hour Gala Tribute, followed by the US premiere of "The Paperboy." This marks the first year the New York fest have ever done such tributes, which makes the honor all the more distinguished for Kidman, underlining her status as one of the leading actors of her generation. 

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<p>Teresa Taylor in &quot;Slacker&quot;</p>

Teresa Taylor in "Slacker"

Credit: Orion Classics

Jack Black and Richard Linklater on 'Slacker' and the Bohemia of Austin, Texas

How the 'Bernie' star first responded to his director's early work

Earlier this afternoon I had a quick lunch with "Bernie" director Richard Linklater and star Jack Black. Millennium Entertainment has the duo in town for a few days hitting the east coast post-DVD circuit, trying to ride some of the buzz on the film and particularly Black's performance and find a little room in the season. They could get there, at least with the Independent Spirit Awards and maybe the Golden Globes.

I'll post the full interview in a few days, but in the meantime, a couple of nuggets about this and that. Like, for instance, Black's first exposure to Linklater's work. Like most, it was the director's debut feature film "Slacker," which, along with Steven Soderbergh's "sex, lies and videotape," was a harbinger of the 1990s independent film explosion. The film also celebrated its 20th anniversary last year. For Black, though, it was also revelatory of a whole community that, for a young actor working the audition circuit, seemed like a truly inspiring place.

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