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

Denzel Washington in "Flight"

Credit: Paramount Pictures

The Denzel Washington Best Actor push takes 'Flight'

Will Robert Zemeckis's latest bring him back to the dance?

Ever since I first heard word of Robert Zemeckis's "Flight" back in the early summer, and certainly since the trailer dropped some time later, it's been at the top of my list of anticipations for the year. It's exciting to me that a mid-budget, adult, character-driven drama from a major director with a movie star at its center has been made. They seem all too rare.

It was doubly exciting to see the New York Film Festival tap the film as its closing night gala, part of a defining 50th anniversary slate that really announces the fest as a significant stop for awards season contenders. I'm counting the days until that premiere and my fingers are crossed that all the positive word I've heard on the film bears out.

Meanwhile, though, there's a foundation being laid. We've had Denzel Washington tapped for potential Best Actor consideration every since we first launched the Contenders section for the 2012-2013 Oscar season, but you can finally see the gears turning on the upcoming campaign.

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<p>Bradley&nbsp;Cooper, Eva Mendes and Ryan Gosling at the red carpet gala for &quot;The Place Beyond the Pines&quot; in&nbsp;Toronto</p>

Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes and Ryan Gosling at the red carpet gala for "The Place Beyond the Pines" in Toronto

Credit: AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Frank Gunn

Focus Features picks up Derek Cianfrance's 'The Place Beyond the Pines'

Studio sets the Ryan Gosling drama for 2013

Seeing the reactions to Derek Cianfrance's "The Place Beyond the Pines" land on Twitter yesterday, I still couldn't quite get a handle on what to expect when I finally see the film. I was a huge fan of the director's 2010 indie "Blue Valentine," and particularly Ryan Gosling's performance therein. Gosling was robbed of an Oscar nomination for one of the year's best performances, but at least co-star Michelle Williams was noticed.

But reactions to Cianfrance and Gosling's latest collaboration, which also stars Bradley Cooper and Eva Mendes, seemed a bit split. Some found it impeccable and another step up. Others, like HitFix's Greg Ellwood, found it to be lacking.

Calling the film "uneven" from the start, Greg wrote that "the script feels like a worked over mash-up of too many familiar ideas and movie cliches." I hope I beg to differ. But in the meantime, "Pines" has found a nice home for not-so-easily-defined indie dramas. Focus Features has announced its acquisition of the title, with plans for a 2013 release.

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<p>Philip Seymour Hoffman in &quot;The Master.&quot;</p>

Philip Seymour Hoffman in "The Master."

Credit: The Weinstein Company

Two major awards for 'The Master,' but Kim Ki-duk's 'Pieta' takes Golden Lion at Venice

Paul Thomas Anderson's film was reportedly jury's first choice for the top prize

VENICE -- Sorry for the delay there. The wi-fi in the press room went haywire, so I had to bolt the second the Golden Lion was announced and cycle furiously back to my apartment to get online again, like a lanyard-wearing Nancy Drew.

Clearly, however, technical difficulties weren't just limited to the press room, as all manner of crossed signals and mixed messages made for the most confusing festival awards ceremony I've ever seen -- and that was before word leaked of an abrupt switch, forced by festival brass, in the jury's choice for the top prize.

After jury president Michael Mann announced at the start of the ceremony that no film could be given more than one award, two films were given a pair of statues. Minutes later, two winners were handed the wrong trophies, and were called back onto stage to exchange awards. And finally, it has emerged that film the jury deemed overwhelmingly the best in show hasn't won the award for, well, best in show. Confused? So are we -- and you didn't have to watch this all play out in Italian.  

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<p>Joaquin Phoenix is a heavy favorite to win Best Actor in Venice today for &quot;The Master.&quot;</p>

Joaquin Phoenix is a heavy favorite to win Best Actor in Venice today for "The Master."

Credit: The Weinstein Company

Venice: What will win the big awards... and what should

Critics are crazy for 'The Master,' but will the jury throw a curveball?

VENICE -- It's the final day of the Venice Film Festival, and everything has wound down to a suitably Italian pace. The journalists have largely headed home or on to Toronto -- including my flatmates, leaving me rattling around a three-bedroom apartment, idly contemplating potential house-party guests.

The jury's deliberations have been done. The closing film (the Depardieu-starring Victor Hugo adaptation "The Man Who Laughed") has been screened, and is reported to be, as is the usual wont of festival closers, rather dreadful. Warned off by colleagues at dinner last night, I opted for a lie-in this morning instead. As such, my festival viewing is complete, but my reviewing isn't: look out for a couple more short-form review pieces in the next few days. 

In other words, it's a low-key end to a festival that has been decidedly low-key from the start. That's not to say it's been a bad one: there's much to admire in this year's slimmed-down programme, particularly outside of a Competition lineup that most agree has been a shade less inspired than those of the last two years. Still, the Competition is where everyone's eyes ultimately land, as the inevitable question arose at the dinner table last night: "What's looking good for the Golden Lion?"

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<p>A scene from &quot;Lore,&quot; Australia's submission for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.</p>

A scene from "Lore," Australia's submission for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.

Credit: Music Box Films

Australia enters foreign-language race with German-language WWII drama 'Lore'

Meanwhile, two-time Best Director nominee Lasse Hallstrom represents Sweden

(UPDATE: No sooner had I posted this story than I received notification that Hungary has submitted Berlin Silver Bear winner "Just the Wind," which I've seen. More detail on that in the next category update.) 

In the few days since I last checked in on this category, there have been several new titles added to the growing pile of Best Foreign Language Film Oscar submissions -- and the rate will only increase as the deadline for entries looms at the end of the month. We're up to 13 now, but it'll be 60 or so before you know it.

The most notable title from the new entries is Australia's submission "Lore" -- which I suggested back in June would be one to watch in the race. Like Austria's pick of Michael Haneke's "Amour," it's a selection that couldn't have been made a few years ago, when countries had to submit films in a native language. Indeed, there's nothing obviously Australian about "Lore" -- a German-set, German-language World War II survival story about five children's 500-mile trek to safety in the dying days of the Third Reich -- bar the fact that it's a largely Australian production from a noted Down Under director, Cate Shortland. (Britain and Germany also had in hand in the financing -- so between "Lore," "Amour" and their own selection "Barbara," the former country indirectly has a number of dogs in this fight.)

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<p>Logan Lerman in &quot;The Perks of Being a&nbsp;Wallflower&quot;</p>

Logan Lerman in "The Perks of Being a Wallflower"

Credit: Summit Entertainment

Logan Lerman stands out in 'The Perks of Being a Wallflower'

The young actor comes fully into his own with a surprising performance

Stephen Chbosky's "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" is set to play the Toronto Film Festival tomorrow. Press screenings are happening today. It's a nice, public space to debut the film, which opens on September 21, but it's also sure to be a big coming-out for star Logan Lerman, who gives a shattering performance of tenderness, emotion and, its its own way, charisma.

Lerman hasn't been on my radar in any substantial way, really. He's the "Percy Jackson" guy. He was good enough in "My One and Only" and certainly held his own in "3:10 to Yuma." But I wasn't really prepared for what he had to offer here, opposite a scenery-chewing Ezra Miller and an Emma Watson looking to put a little distance between herself and the "Harry Potter" franchise that made her.

But it's a performance that, I think, deserves real consideration this awards season. The Best Actor race will likely shake out the way it usually does -- a few obvious contenders playing roles that were half-way there on the page and maybe this wild card or that, depending on how campaigning goes -- but Lerman should be in the conversation.

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<p>Rachel McAdams and Noomi Rapace in &quot;Passion.&quot;</p>

Rachel McAdams and Noomi Rapace in "Passion."

Credit: Integral Film

Review: The devil wears La Perla in De Palma's disappointing 'Passion'

Art-trash master's return to the thriller form plays as sedated self-parody

VENICE -- You can forgive a film for a lot if it passes the essential test of being alive – it’s a more crucial box to tick than any degree of creativity or even competence, and it’s hard to define beyond instinctively listing the haves and have-nots. All great films are alive, as are many rather bad ones: films that make their missteps with purpose and conviction and even a little wit, keenly aiming for an artistic target that may or may not be visible. Brian De Palma has made some bad films in his time, but he’s never made a dead one; his trademark art-trash sensibility has a rudely healthy pulse, even when the balance is as out of whack as it is on an exquisite failure like “Mission to Mars.” 

So when it becomes apparent mere minutes into “Passion” – his long-awaited return to the kinky Venetian-blind thriller territory of “Body Double” and “Femme Fatale” – that the film is not just calendar years away from his best work, there’s still much to hope for. A remake of the late Alain Corneau’s nastily compelling erotic thriller “Love Crime,” itself no jewel of the form, the project seemingly plays to De Palma’s strengths as a hall-of-mirrors cinema fetishist, while allowing him ample room for improvement and simple tarting-up; more Hollywood remakes should hand incompletely realized scripts to directors best qualified to handle them in the first place.

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<p>Willie Nelson</p>

Willie Nelson

Credit: AP Photo/Mark Duncan

Calling all Best Original Song contenders

Willie Nelson, Katy Perry and The Arcade Fire all in contention

As the season hums to life at the start of the fall festival circuit, it's time to take a look at the Best Original Song race and figure out what we're working with.

Just last week, the Academy announced new rules that will have a considerable impact on how things shake out. First and foremost, the screening event and points system has been done away with and a guaranteed slate of five nominees has been put back in place. Voters will still view songs within the context of their films, though on DVD, and they'll be asked to rank their five favorites.

This should take some of the burden off. Songs won't necessarily have to play well within the context of the narrative, though of course it will still help. Nevertheless, with a wider net from voting members, songs will likely get in on merit more than they did under the previous system.

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<p>Doona Bae in &quot;Cloud Atlas&quot;</p>

Doona Bae in "Cloud Atlas"

Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

New 'Cloud Atlas' trailer drops in advance of Toronto bow

How do you whittle all of that down to two-and-a-half minutes?

Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski and Tom Tykwer are all set to blow Toronto audiences' minds with the premiere of "Cloud Atlas" in a few short days. Everything I've heard about the ambitious ensemble project ends up pointing to "it's not for everyone," but each new nugget certainly makes me think it'll be for me.

A few weeks ago Warner Bros. tossed out a six-minute initial trailer for the film, an "extended first look," which did a great job of pre-immersing the audience in the world of the narrative (which is taken from David Mitchell's novel of the same name). And now, with the film getting ready for its close-up in Canada, things have been whittled down for an official trailer.

I'd have to think cutting trailers for this film is almost as difficult as seeing the whole production through. How do you find a throughline and steer away from confusing audiences while being inclusive enough to represent the entirety of the ensemble and the various settings they inhabit over the course of the film? Madness.

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<p>Shia LaBeouf in &quot;The Company You Keep.&quot;</p>

Shia LaBeouf in "The Company You Keep."

Credit: Sony Pictures Classics

Review: Redford's 'The Company You Keep' hangs with the right crowd

Few surprises in enjoyably old-fashioned thriller, save for the cast itself

VENICE -- For one of the more sedate festivals on the circuit, there’s been a curious running theme of restless youth at Venice this year that can hardly be accidental. In Competition, Harmony Korine’s manic, fluorescent “Spring Breakers” – which I reviewed for Variety – observed (it’d be a stretch to say critiqued) the directionless nihilism of today’s college-going generation. Its opposite number, Olivier Assayas’s “Something in the Air” (reviewed here), mused on the ambitious social ideals of kids 40 years ago – but steered clear of suggesting that their activism was any more effective than 21st-century irony.

Indirectly triangulating with Korine and Assayas, only out of competition, is “The Company You Keep,” Robert Redford’s absorbing, undemanding and agreeably old-fashioned political thriller about where Vietnam-era radicals go when the flowers really are all gone. It’s more romantically liberal than both the aforementioned films, painting its 1970s rebels as more nobly consistent and influential than Assayas’s floaty political dilettantes and suggesting, in the doggedly principled form of Shia LaBeouf’s lone-wolf reporter and Brit Marling’s whip-smart law student, that there are youngsters more willing to continue their cause than Korine’s junked-up party posse. 

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