<p>Tony Kushner</p>

Tony Kushner

Credit: AP Photo/Jeff Chiu

Roundup: Kushner goes to bat for the competition

Also: Ephron to receive WGA tribute, and why Hollywood needs to be stricter

We begin today's roundup with a happy confluence of Oscar contenders. It's hardly surprising that a writer as intelligent and politically conscientious as Tony Kushner would be swift to stand up for a fellow artist's freedom of expression -- but it's still heartening, amid the heat of the Oscar contest, to see the nominated "Lincoln" scribe making a small but significant gesture of support for rival Best Picture contender "Zero Dark Thirty." Kushner is one of 28 signatories, alongside the heavyweight likes of Alan Dershowitz, on a letter sent to all US Senators, protesting the statements made against the film by Senators John McCain, Dianne Feinstein and Carl Levin. "History demonstrates, in particular the 1950s McCarthy period, that government officials should not employ their official status and power to attempt to censor, alter or pressure artists to change their expressions, believes, presentations of facts or political viewpoints," the letter says. [The Carpetbagger]

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<p>Judy Davis and River Phoenix in &quot;Dark Blood.&quot;</p>

Judy Davis and River Phoenix in "Dark Blood."

Credit: Berlin Film Festival

Review: River Phoenix's final film 'Dark Blood' is an unfinished oddity

HitFix
C+
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George Sluizer salvages his abandoned 1993 thriller, and it's an intriguing relic

BERLIN - I toyed with not giving one of our customary letter grades to "Dark Blood," a new film from 80-year-old Dutch veteran George Sluizer that isn't new at all. (It's 19 years old, as it happens, which isn't too far off the age River Phoenix, the incandescent young actor so abruptly taken from the living in 1993, was when he filmed it.) It's only three-quarters of a movie, after all.

Phoenix, it seems unduly difficult to imagine, would be 42 were he with us today; the film, meanwhile, would be languishing on obscure DVD (or even VHS) shelves, a rarely discussed representative of a lurid strain of steamy, quasi-mystical genre cinema that had a Hollywood moment in the early-to-mid 1990s. Instead, it got its first major unveiling today at the Berlin Film Festival, nearly four months after its official, less grandiose, world premiere at the Netherlands Film Fest. Were he with us today, its star would likely took a little worse for her. The film, on the other hand, might look a little better -- it'd be finished, at the very least.

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<p>Emmanuelle Riva, Michael Haneke (center)&nbsp;and Jean-Louis Trintignant on the set of &quot;Amour&quot;</p>

Emmanuelle Riva, Michael Haneke (center) and Jean-Louis Trintignant on the set of "Amour"

Credit: Sony Classics

A Valentine's Day conversation with 'Amour' writer/director Michael Haneke

Accessible though it may be, his latest is no compromise

Every time Michael Haneke has an idea for a film, there's always a different catalyst that makes him sit down and write it. It might be an image that comes to him, or a newspaper clipping that will stir his creativity. "The motivation has to be something that already interests you enough to want to think about it and reflect on it," he says, calling from Madrid where he's preparing a new opera. "Then you start collecting material and observations until you feel you have enough to start trying to order the material, structure. And that ordering and structuring is the longest, most difficult process."

Other times, like in the case of something like "Amour" and star Jean-Louis Trintignant, it might be a specific actor for whom he wishes to write a part. But his latest film, which has landed five Oscar nominations including Best Director and Best Original Screenplay for Haneke, had darker and more meditative beginnings than just that. He had an aunt once who asked him to help her pass away and he was forced to look on as a loved one suffered. And yet, "Amour" is a love story, with all the deeply considered complications of love and a life lived with another. It's fitting, then, that we're speaking on Valentine's Day.

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<p>Michael Haneke at the Golden&nbsp;Globes in January</p>

Michael Haneke at the Golden Globes in January

Credit: Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP

Michael Haneke responds to 'his' Twitter handle

Have you been following @Michael_Haneke?

Hey, have you heard about the Michael Haneke Twitter account? No, of course the "Amour" director hasn't set up a bit of social networking self-promotion, but someone with a sense of humor sure has.

Yes, in this "Catfish" world of cyber fakery, anybody can be anybody. But I guess it can be particularly hilarious when there isn't much pretending going on, as is the case with the @Michael_Haneke handle.

Throwing around web verbiage you might attribute to a 12-year-old girl obsessed with Hello Kitty (or something) rather than an astute, multi-Palme-d'Or-winning practitioner of the filmmaking form, the account has amassed some 25,000 followers since it was set up on November 12. And it's that very aspect that has the REAL Haneke so bewildered.

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Greg P. Russell tweaks "Skyfall" for IMAX exhibition at Technicolor's post-production facility on the Paramount lot.
Greg P. Russell tweaks "Skyfall" for IMAX exhibition at Technicolor's post-production facility on the Paramount lot.
Credit: Greg P. Russell

Tech Support: Greg P. Russell on finding the nuance in action with Sam Mendes and 'Skyfall'

The oft-nominated sound mixer picked up his 16th Academy notice for the film

HOLLYWOOD - Being in sound mixer Greg P. Russell's shoes at the Oscars must be an interesting experience. He's been 14 times, you see (double nominated in 1998). But he's never heard his name called. He's watched his work on high-octane action hits like "The Rock," "Spider-Man" and the "Transformers" films lose to overall Academy favorites like "The English Patient," "Chicago" "The Hurt Locker" and "Hugo." He's been in the mix (so to speak) consistently since his first nomination, for "Black Rain" in 1989, but hasn't found himself on a project that the Academy at large -- which, whether they know from good sound mixing or not, votes collectively on the Oscar winners each year -- could warm to as worthy of their vote.

That could change this year, however. Nominated for the James Bond extravaganza "Skyfall," Russell finds himself on a production that has clear industry support and sentiment. At the same time, he's staring down Academy favorites once again in "Argo," "Les Misérables," "Life of Pi" and "Lincoln." But that's familiar territory for him.

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<p>&quot;5 Broken&nbsp;Cameras&quot;</p>

"5 Broken Cameras"

Credit: Kino Lorber

Oscar Guide 2013: Best Documentary Feature

'5 Broken Cameras,' The Gatekeepers,' 'How to Survive a Plague,' 'The Invisible War' and 'Searching for Sugar Man' square off

(Welcome to the Oscar Guide, your chaperone through the Academy’s 24 categories awarding excellence in film. A new installment will hit every weekday in the run-up to the Oscars on February 24, with the Best Picture finale on Friday, February 22.)

The staggering number of quality documentary features this year has been well-covered here and elsewhere. When the Academy made its inevitable cuts in the finalists stage, as usual, a great many gems were left off. But one couldn't argue with that slate of 15, a truly monumental set of contenders for the most part. And yet, one film has stood out as the frontrunner since it bowed at Sundance over a year ago.

The documentary features were sent to the entire voting membership of the Academy this year, along with the live action and animated shorts. That wider pool could change how one typically picks this race, but it really just means that popularity will reign supreme. And the film leading the charge this year is nothing if not popular.

The nominees are…

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<p>Get over it, people.</p>

Get over it, people.

Credit: Miramax Films

Roundup: What's the best worst Oscar moment?

Also: Oscar-nominated screenwriters get political, and a look at two VFX hopefuls

"No mass cultural event has the capacity to infuriate like the Oscars." A truer line was never written, and so Grantland writer Mark Lisanti launches a "tournament" to determine the most egregious Oscar travesty of all time, rounding up any number of supposed outrages from past Academy Awards ceremonies that people still love to bitch about, and pitting them against each other for you to vote on. Nominees range from contentious winners to infamous onstage moments, many of which I still don't understand the fuss about. I, for one, think it's nice that Angelina Jolie is close to her brother. And I'll never get why it must be a cast-iron fact that "Saving Private Ryan" is a better film than the perfectly delightful "Shakespeare in Love." Then again, I still feel less than sanguine about "Crash": everyone has their Oscar sore points. Perhaps the better question would be: what Oscar "travesties" are you totally okay with? [Grantland]

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<p>Jeremy Irons in &quot;Night Train to Lisbon.&quot;</p>

Jeremy Irons in "Night Train to Lisbon."

Credit: Berlin Film Festival

Berlinale: Jeremy Irons derailed in 'Night Train to Lisbon,' but Arvin Chen charms again

Chen's 'Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow' a worthy follow-up to 'Au Revoir, Taipei'

BERLIN - Looking at the list of seen films I have yet to write up out of the Berlinale, I'm finding it harder than usual to forge connections between them that would make for a satisfying review roundup. Some have been good. More have been bad. That's about the extent of the narrative at a festival that, while enjoyable as ever, hasn't so far maintained the standard of last year's "Tabu"-"Sister"-"Barbara"-"War Witch"-"A Royal Affair" mini-feast. Only Sebastian Lelio's wonderful "Gloria," meanwhile, seems to have buyers buzzing along with the critics; it'll be a major shock if it doesn't take a significant prize from Wong Kar-wai's jury on Saturday.

So forgive this rather randomly paired duo of reviews, which have little in common beyond their presence in lineup and... well, they're both vaguely Valentine's Day-friendly. I thought I'd at least couch bad news with good, which wouldn't have been the case if I'd opted to pair up two former Best Foreign Language Film winners instead. (More on Danis Tanovic's drab Competition entry "An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker" -- surely a candidate for the most parodic-sounding arthouse movie title of all time -- at a later stage.)

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<p>Alan&nbsp;Arkin in&nbsp;&quot;Argo&quot;</p>

Alan Arkin in "Argo"

Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Oscar Guide 2013: Best Supporting Actor

Alan Arkin, Robert De Niro, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Tommy Lee Jones and Christoph Waltz square off

(Welcome to the Oscar Guide, your chaperone through the Academy’s 24 categories awarding excellence in film. A new installment will hit every weekday in the run-up to the Oscars on February 24, with the Best Picture finale on Friday, February 22.)

For the first time in Oscar history, we have an acting category composed entirely of past winners. Seth MacFarlane noted this is a “breath of fresh air.” He has a tendency to use sarcasm. Not only are the nominees all past winners, the race for the nominations was terribly predictable, notwithstanding occasional precursor support for Javier Bardem (“Skyfall”), Leonardo DiCaprio (“Django Unchained”) and Matthew McConaughey (“Magic Mike”).

And like Best Supporting Actress, I found this year's supporting actor nominees largely underwhelming. In my view, two of the nominees are giving slightly different takes on the characters that already won them an Oscar. Two veterans are very good but fall short of greatness in my opinion. And the one truly great performance in the lot is a leading role masquerading as supporting. This is, nevertheless, by far the most exciting acting category when it comes to the race for the win. Indeed, plausible cases can be made for every contender.

The nominees are…

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<p>&quot;Moonrise Kingdom&quot;</p>

"Moonrise Kingdom"

Credit: Focus Features

The top 10 shots of 2012: part two

Wrapping up the year in individual film images

If you missed yesterday's lead-in to this year's shots column, go catch up. In it you'll find my somewhat unique criteria and reasoning for choosing this year's assortment.

Before diving into part two today, some thoughts on the year in cinematography on the whole. It's worth remembering that, often enough, a great year of cinematography won't yield a high volume of still images that speak to the purposes of a column such as this. Just as often, a poor year for the form might actually yield an incredible array of inspired frames. We're boiling down to the base elements of cinema here, and the combination always turns out something unique each and every year.

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