<p>Steve McQueen (left)&nbsp;and Chiwetel&nbsp;Ejiofor on the set of &quot;12 Years a Slave&quot;</p>

Steve McQueen (left) and Chiwetel Ejiofor on the set of "12 Years a Slave"

Credit: Fox Searchlight

Steve McQueen on the right to pursue happiness and '12 Years a Slave'

'This is a story about America.'

Steve McQueen's "12 Years a Slave" hits theaters this weekend as part of an overall theme this Oscar season, or a theme the media has made sure is pronounced, in any case. But while films like "Fruitvale Station," "Lee Daniels' The Butler" and, indeed, "12 Years a Slave" do plenty to stoke a conversation about race in America, McQueen feels there's something much bigger at stake, at least with his film.

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<p>Casey&nbsp;Affleck and Brad Pitt in&nbsp;&quot;The&nbsp;Assassination of Jesse&nbsp;James by the Coward Robert Ford&quot;</p>

Casey Affleck and Brad Pitt in "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford"

Credit: Warner Bros.

Exclusive: Revival screening of Andrew Dominik's 'Jesse James' planned for December

New York's Museum of the Moving Image will host

Any longtime reader of this blog ought to know full well my affinity for Andrew Dominik's "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford." The film instantly won me over the moment I saw it on the heels of its Venice Film Festival world premiere and Toronto Film Festival North American premiere in 2007, and it definitively held the top spot on my list of the decade's best films. (It also, by the way, took the top spot on another list: the inaugural Top 10 Shots of the Year column). It is a masterpiece, and any chance to soak it up on the big screen should be welcomed.

Well, one such chance has arisen, and full disclosure up front, I had a small hand in putting this program together. The Museum of the Moving Image in New York is presenting, along with upstart programmer, museum member (and In Contention reader) Jamieson McGonigle, a screening of the film in December. "No Eulogies: A Revival of 'The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford'" will take place at the Sumner M. Redstone Theater on Saturday, Dec. 7. Dominik will be on hand to participate in a Q&A after the screening, and who knows what the candid artist will have to say with six years removed from what was a troubling post-production process and a release that, quite frankly, could have been more delicately handled by the studio?

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<p>Scarlett Johansson</p>

Scarlett Johansson

Credit: AP Photo

Roundup: ScarJo on her 'abstract' awards chances for 'Her'

Also: Pulling off 'All is Lost,' and banging the drum for Judi Dench

Scarlett Johansson says she feels "disconnected" from the awards talk for "Her," which started at last week's NYFF premiere and seems to be gaining in volume. That's appropriate enough, given that she's a disembodied presence in the film -- with critics heaping praise upon her vocal performance as a seductive operating system, a conversation is starting over whether she can be the first actor to get nominated without appearing on screen. Johansson, however, is bemused by it all: "I feel very disconnected from the awards process. I don’t even know how it works. And I’m an Academy member! It seems like a political thing. It just seems like such an abstract thing. Probably as abstract as trying to fit my performance into any particular category ... If people want to translate it into an awards conversation, it’s fine. More exciting for me is that the performance works, because it was such a big challenge.” [LA Times]

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<p>&quot;Ilo Ilo&quot;</p>

"Ilo Ilo"

Credit: Film Movement

Review: Singapore's Oscar hopeful 'Ilo Ilo' a hushed, melancholy family portrait

Winner of the Camera d'Or at Cannes is suitably promising

LONDON - It’s not hard to see why Anthony Chen won the Camera d’Or for best debut feature at Cannes this year, beating such higher-profile candidates as “Fruitvale Station.” Assured, humane delicacy is always an attractive quality to festival juries wary of more swaggering talent, and it’s one his warmly melancholy domestic drama “Ilo Ilo” (unsurprisingly selected as Singapore's entry for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar) has in spades. Light on story and heavy on curdled sentiment, this study of a communication-challenged middle-class Singaporean family weathering the country’s 1997 financial crisis – and numerous finer household fractures besides – has immodest formal reach behind its softly-softly approach.

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<p>Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson in &quot;Saving Mr. Banks.&quot;</p>

Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson in "Saving Mr. Banks."

Credit: Walt Disney Studios

Contender Countdown: Will 'Saving Mr. Banks' crash the Best Picture race?

Things are getting tight

It may turn out to be the most competitive Best Picture race in years, but the showdown between co-frontrunners "Gravity" and "12 Years a Slave" to win it all may soon turn into a three-way race. Walt Disney Studios' "Saving Mr. Banks" will debut at the London Film Festival on Sunday as the Brits will be the first to chime in on the long-buzzed awards player. And, at this point, "Banks" may be the only remaining unseen contender who can make a real mark on the long marathon for the top prize.

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"Pacific Rim"

Credit: Warner Bros.

Tech Support: A tight race beyond 'Gravity' for Best Visual Effects features hobbits, Jaegers and men of steel

It's probably safe to engrave the Oscar on this one now, though

Best Visual Effects has long been one of the most "mainstream" of the Oscar categories. It’s always filled with blockbusters and films which have made lots of money. This year, though, beyond the race for the win (it would appear), the race for nominations is fairly wide open.

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<p>Mark&nbsp;Wahlberg in&nbsp;&quot;Lone Survivor&quot;</p>

Mark Wahlberg in "Lone Survivor"

Credit: Universal Pictures

Peter Berg's 'Lone Survivor' to premiere at AFI Fest

Special screenings added, including 'Her,' 'August: Osage County' and 'The Last Emperor 3D'

AFI Fest sure has done a great job of securing itself some nice buzz titles this year. In addition to "Out of the Furnace" it has been announced today that Peter Berg's "Lone Survivor" will also see its world premiere at the Hollywood festival.

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<p>Michael Moore in &quot;Bowling for Columbine.&quot;</p>

Michael Moore in "Bowling for Columbine."

Credit: MGM Home Entertainment

Cinema Eye's list of 25 most influential docs ranges from Michael Moore to Orson Welles

Only five Oscar-winning films make the grade

When it comes to documentaries, the Academy has missed the boat on landmark films as often as they have with narrative features -- and one need only look at Cinema Eye's new list of the 25 most influential documentaries of all time to be reminded of that.

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<p>Tom Hanks in &quot;Saving Mr. Banks.&quot;</p>

Tom Hanks in "Saving Mr. Banks."

Credit: Walt Disney Pictures

Roundup: Saving -- but not sanitizing -- Mr. Banks

Also: The boring hotness of 'Blue is the Warmest Color,' and Stone on Ebert
Advance word on Disney's "Saving Mr. Banks" -- one of the season's few remaining big reveals -- is increasingly positive ahead of its world premiere this Sunday in London: I've spoken to some fairly hard-to-please critics who were charmed by the true-life Hollywood tale. That might be because it's slightly less softball filmmaking than it appears to be from the outside. Speaking to the NYT's Brooks Barnes, director John Lee Hancock and others discuss their determination to present Walt Disney as he really was: “I was a bit afraid because we wanted to be honest about Walt ... I imagined the moment when Disney would say, ‘Sorry, we like him better as a god than a human.’ To their credit, they were smart enough and brave enough to realize that a human Walt was not only a better character, but was easier to love.” [New York Times
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Steve McQueen on the set of "12 Years a Slave."
Steve McQueen on the set of "12 Years a Slave."
Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures

The Long Shot: Direct influence

There's much to celebrate if this race comes down to McQueen vs. Cuarón
"How are you not the best director if you made the best movie?” I remember this question being asked, with ingenuous bafflement, at an Oscar party earlier this year, as the puzzle of Ben Affleck’s missing Best Director nomination was being hashed out for the umpteenth time in six weeks. It’s one that surfaces repeatedly in similar situations, often by people who haven’t given that much thought to its politics – it’s a funny truth that hardline auteurists and many casual film fans are united in their belief that all films are the exclusive creative property of their directors, and should only be measured and compared as such.
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