<p>(l-r)&nbsp;Ben Affleck in &quot;Argo,&quot;&nbsp;Philip Seymour Hoffman in &quot;The Master&quot;&nbsp;and Bradley Cooper in &quot;Silver Linings Playbook&quot;</p>

(l-r) Ben Affleck in "Argo," Philip Seymour Hoffman in "The Master" and Bradley Cooper in "Silver Linings Playbook"

Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures/The Weinstein Company

Off the Carpet: Three to start the season

'Argo,' 'The Master' and 'Silver Linings Playbook' get us going

Ben Affleck's "Argo," Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master" and David O. Russell's "Silver Linings Playbook." With Venice, Telluride and Toronto in the rear view, those are the three films with the early stranglehold on the 2012-2013 Oscar season.

In the case of Affleck's thrilling true story, an impressive ensemble carries the load and the zeitgeist has been unexpectedly tapped in very direct ways. In the case of Anderson's artful Rorschach, a pair of compelling performances reflects a vibrant thematic treatise that is sure to court the cinephile vote this year. And in the case of Russell's Toronto Audience Award-winning dip back into the world of quirk and comedy, an apparent (it's the one I've yet to see) return to form for a veteran actor matched with a sure-fire Best Actress contender -- and a lead with his fair share of praise -- reflects a filmmaker keeping an impressive stride.

I mention the performances of each because the actors branch -- the largest of the Academy -- is sure to find plenty to appreciate in this trio. And that will be key, as always. This even in the case of "Argo," which doesn't have a single stand-out, though Alan Arkin will surely land his share of votes.

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Oscar Talk: Ep. 87 -- Fall fests, 'The Master,' 'Silver Linings,' 'Argo' kick off the season

Oscar Talk: Ep. 87 -- Fall fests, 'The Master,' 'Silver Linings,' 'Argo' kick off the season

We're back!

Welcome to Oscar Talk.

In case you're new to the site and/or the podcast, Oscar Talk is a weekly kudocast, your one-stop awards chat shop between yours truly and Anne Thompson of Thompson on Hollywood. The podcast is weekly, every Friday throughout the season, charting the ups and downs of contenders along the way. Plenty of things change en route to Oscar's stage and we're here to address it all as it unfolds.

It's been too long since we last got together. Technical difficulties conspired to keep us away during the Toronto Film Festival, while a bout of a flu-like-thing kept us away while in Telluride. Alas, it's all for the better, as we come to you this weekend with a full, measured slate of material. Let's see what's on the docket...

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<p>Joaquin Phoenix in &quot;The Master.&quot;</p>

Joaquin Phoenix in "The Master."

Credit: The Weinstein Company

Tell us what you thought of 'The Master'

HitFix
A-
Readers
B+
Paul Thomas Anderson's latest opens in limited release today

Well, the day has finally come -- for those of you lucky enough to live in New York or Los Angeles, that is. After an enigmatic marketing campaign, and an unorthodox series of pop-up screenings preceding festival appointments at Venice -- where it won Best Director, Best Actor and very nearly the Golden Lion too -- and Toronto, Paul Thomas Anderson's sixth feature film is here to dazzle and perplex the general public. I flipped for it in Venice (the next few months will have to be impossibly astonishing for it not to crack my year-end Top 5), and many top critics are similarly enthused -- for the number-crunchers, its Metacritic score is currently a robust 87. Not everyone's a believer in this gleaming but prickly movie, however: our colleague Drew McWeeny has doubts, and I anticipate some interestingly varied reactions from your good selves. (Awards expectations are similarly scattered, though I think it can go the distance.) Chime in below when you get a chance to see it and feel free to rate it above, as well. 

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<p>Joseph Gordon-Levitt (left)&nbsp;and Steven&nbsp;Spielberg during Google+&nbsp;Hangout Q&amp;A, broadcast on the ABC&nbsp;SuperSign in Times Square</p>

Joseph Gordon-Levitt (left) and Steven Spielberg during Google+ Hangout Q&A, broadcast on the ABC SuperSign in Times Square

Credit: HitFix

Steven Spielberg and Joseph Gordon-Levitt talk 'Lincoln' following trailer premiere

The Google+ Hangout event was broadcast in New York's Times Square

NEW YORK -- With much fanfare leading up to the reveal, Disney finally launched the trailer for Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln" this evening. The event was part of a Google Play cross-promotion with Spielberg and star Joseph Gordon-Levitt on hand in a Google+ Hangout to take questions from selected fans for 30 minutes after the trailer debuted.

The event was simultaneously broadcast on the ABC SuperSign in Times Square, where a modest group of people stopped to watch and snap photos as rush hour dwindled. Google users' comments scrolled across the sign with exclamations like "Those are all gonna be great performances!" and "Anyone else smell the coming Oscar for Daniel Day-Lewis?"

Calling the production "one of the most compelling experiences" he has had making a film, Spielberg noted that it was important to get a penetrating and thorough look at Lincoln as a man, not as a myth. And one way into that was to focus on the final four months of his presidency, rather than the entire width and breadth of it, and his cues were taken from Doris Kearns Goodwin's book "Team of Rivals," on which Tony Kushner's screenplay is based.

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<p>Ben Affleck in &quot;Argo&quot;</p>

Ben Affleck in "Argo"

Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Making the case for 'Argo' and the zeitgeist

Ben Affleck's film assumes the early frontrunner position

Some months back I pondered the idea of the dissolving of TomKat -- and therefore, a flood of fresh Scientology headlines -- adding a little extra leverage to the cause (if you will) for "The Master" this awards season.

The zeitgeist, you see, is a funny thing. It's malleable in some ways. The world is always torn in a million different directions, strife, discovery, politics and the economy all having their day in some fashion. And if any movie were to take the abstract approach, "The Master" is certainly it. Now that many have seen the film, of course, the Scientology angle has been softened. But the idea of putting one's faith and fate in the hands of another -- government, religion, whatever -- is still, and always, relevant.

But sometimes things line up specifically. Sometimes one doesn't have to connect a lot of dots to present that, say, "Moneyball" tells a story of the difficult, painful process of change for the good around the idea that the sum of all parts is greater than one single entity, and that that reflects where we are as a country (even if that's 100% true). Sometimes, like with Ben Affleck's Iran hostage crisis film "Argo," the reflections are much more defined.

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<p>Jake Gyllenhaal in &quot;End of Watch,&quot; one of 12 films contending for the top prize at next month's LFF.</p>

Jake Gyllenhaal in "End of Watch," one of 12 films contending for the top prize at next month's LFF.

Credit: Open Road Films

London Film Festival beefs up its awards shortlists

More films in the running for prizes at the October catch-up fest

With Telluride and Venice behind us, and Toronto winding down, the first, and biggest, wave of the fall festival season is just about over -- but Fantastic Fest, the New York Film Festival and the London equivalent are all still lying in wait. With no major world premiere this year in the vein of previous coups like "Frost/Nixon" and "Fantastic Mr Fox," London won't be competing with the Big Apple (which boasts "Life of Pi" and "Flight") for media attention, but it remains one of the most useful greatest-hits festivals on the circuit.

I was too tangled up in Venice business last week to report on the unveiling of the London lineup, but it's a healthy blend of established festival hits, less celebrated discoveries and archive gems. 200-odd features are in the mix, around 40 of which I've already seen -- affording me plenty of room to explore the farther corners of the programme when my coverage begins next month.

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<p>Cosmina Stratan and Cristina Flutur in &quot;Beyond the Hills.&quot;</p>

Cosmina Stratan and Cristina Flutur in "Beyond the Hills."

Credit: Sundance Selects

Romania enters Cannes winner 'Beyond the Hills' in the Oscar race

Will voters make it up to Cristian Mungiu after that significant 2007 snub?

For casual Oscar-watchers, the Cannes Film Festival may seem prime hunting ground for Best Foreign Language Film candidates, but it hasn't turned up much so far -- only two submissions have emerged from this year's programme. The first of these was obvious: Michael Haneke's Palme d'Or winner "Amour," eventually selected as Austria's entry. 

The second is similarly predictable: eyebrows would have been raised if Romania hadn't submitted "Beyond the Hills." Cristian Mungiu's long-awaited follow-up to his 2007 Cannes champion, "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days" earned a raft of glowing reviews -- if not quite the unanimous veneration that greeted his previous film -- upon its premiere back in May, and was the only film in Competition to take more than one jury award: Best Screenplay for Mungiu and Best Actress for young novices Cosmina Stratan and Cristina Flutur. (As with the recent kerfuffle in Venice, the latter prize was something of a compromise: "Amour" lead Emmanuelle Riva was reportedly the jury's first choice.) 

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<p>Garret Hedlund (left), Kristen Stewart and Walter Salles (right) at a New York screening of &quot;On the Road&quot; last night</p>

Garret Hedlund (left), Kristen Stewart and Walter Salles (right) at a New York screening of "On the Road" last night

Credit: AP Photo/Stapix, Dave Allocca

On Kristen Stewart and stripping away the tabloid persona

The 'On the Road' star is finding her way

Not to be crass, but it struck me yesterday that a screening of "Anna Karenina" followed by moderating a Q&A with Kristen Stewart (along with Walter Salles and Garrett Hedlund for "On the Road") was an interesting juxtaposition. Young lady errs and gets maligned by society. Hmm. But stripping the tabloid away from a persona is always a good thing, and spending a few hours with Stewart, first on stage then later in the evening at an after-party, really endeared me to her, I must say.

People put their best face on in this game so you're always going to be charmed, seduced, wooed by the "please like me" thing of it all. But Stewart (who was nevertheless exposed to the film industry from a very early age) is a very normal girl in the throes of very abnormal circumstances. And her "best face" is difficult to manage. She squirms on stage in between the smoothly collected Hedlund and the cerebral Salles. She feels like she doesn't belong, but she desperately wants to. Indeed, she thinks she deserves to.

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<p>Cho Min-soo in &quot;Pieta.&quot;</p>

Cho Min-soo in "Pieta."

Credit: Next Entertainment World

Review: Mother doesn't know best in proudly nasty Golden Lion winner 'Pietà'

HitFix
C
Readers
B+
Winding down our Venice coverage with thoughts on the fest's top prizewinner

(As promised, we still have a couple of straggler reviews left to wind down our Venice coverage, kicking off with the film that wound up taking the gold -- and which I caught up with on the festival's final evening.)

VENICE -- As a general rule of thumb, no film that opens on an image of a rusty meat hook is going to rival “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” in the innocuous-crowdpleaser stakes. Sweatily, almost loving lit in such a way that suggests the “Saw” franchise hasn't entirely missed batty Korean auteur Kim Kim-duk's cultural radar, that hook – which almost certainly has never been used for curing Christmas hams – promises a baseline of nastiness from which this elevated exploitation thriller never deviates, whether tilting into geometrically ironic black comedy or the florid maternal melodrama implied by the title. There's a lot going on in “Pietà,” but with most of it falling under the column of extreme suffering and humiliation in variously high keys, it won't feel that way to those with only one eye on the bubbling plot. 

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<p>Daniel&nbsp;Day-Lewis in &quot;Lincoln&quot;</p>

Daniel Day-Lewis in "Lincoln"

Credit: Touchstone Pictures

Watch 44 seconds of Steven Spielberg's 'Lincoln'

Counting down to the trailer launch with...a trailer

Oh me, oh my. Trailers for trailers. I guess they're here to stay.

Last week we gave you the heads up that the trailer for Steven Spielberg's hotly anticipated biopic "Lincoln" will drop on Thursday as part of a bizarre Google+ hangout thing. And it'll be screened in Times Square to boot. But to make sure everyone gets the picture, a preview of the preview has landed today, representing the first footage of the film to yet be revealed. The 44 seconds features what I imagine is a touch of John Williams's original score and is carried through by dialogue from Union soldier to Daniel Day-Lewis's 16th Commander-in-Chief.

The film will surely enter the season amid a lot of speculation and awards chatter. Much of that is thanks partly to numbskulls like me, who write things like, "[The project] is a marriage of artist and material that couldn't be packed with more potential, a portrait of another very divided time and the one man who could collect the strands and strengthen the ties that bind a nation," as I did in this season's introductory Oscar column two weeks ago.

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