<p>A scene from &quot;Moonrise Kingdom.&quot;</p>

A scene from "Moonrise Kingdom."

Credit: Focus Features

'Silver Linings Playbook,' 'Moonrise Kingdom' lead Indie Spirit noms

'Beasts,' 'Bernie,' and 'Keep the Lights On' round out top category

The season's first major precursor nominations (sorry, Gotham Awards) have landed and, as usual, the Independent Spirit Awards have given the biggest boost to the biggest indies, amplifying the Oscar buzz they already had. It's no surprise, then, to see the Weinsteins' "Silver Linings Playbook" and Focus Features' "Moonrise Kingdom" leading the field with five nods apiece.

However, while the former's Best Picture Oscar nod was already a sure thing, the haul for "Moonrise," coming on the heels of its Gotham triumph last night, raises the question of whether Wes Anderson's nostalgic bauble, earmarked by most pundits chiefly as a screenplay contender, can crack the Academy's top field.

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<p>Helen Mirren and Athony Hopkins in &quot;Hitchcock.&quot;</p>

Helen Mirren and Athony Hopkins in "Hitchcock."

Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Roundup: The trouble with the artist biopic

Also: The foreign-language Oscar boost, and holding off the 'Les Mis' train

It sure feels like a long time ago that Fox Searchlight announced it was releasing "Hitchcock" in 2012 and multiple Oscar pundits adjusted their Best Picture charts: the film's detractors keep growing in number, some offended, others merely bored. (I haven't had an opportunity to see it yet.) One of the best pieces for the prosecution I've read comes from Scott Tobias, who uses his issues with the film as a springboard for a discussion about the problem with artist biopics in general: they tend to be so much more conventional than the figures they're about, and "any scene that fails to illuminate the creative process is more banal than trivia." He cites "Topsy-Turvy" and "32 Short Films About Glenn Gould" as examples of films that successfully dodge the "Wiki-movie" pitfalls of the artist biopic; I'd add "I'm Not There" and "Before Night Falls," among others. [A.V. Club]

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

"Moonrise Kingdom"

Credit: Focus Features

'Moonrise Kingdom' takes top honors at 22nd annual Gotham Awards

'Beasts of the Southern Wild' takes two prizes

NEW YORK -- The Gotham Awards at Cipriani Wall Street were a first for me this evening. Matt Damon, John Krasinski, Emily Blunt, Jack Black, Mark Duplass, Melanie Lynskey, David O. Russell, Marion Cotillard, all on hand to ring in the season with the first (real) awards show of the year.

There's very little I could add that Greg didn't already cover in his live-blog of the awards, New York's answer to the Independent Spirit Awards. I sat, I ate, I endured Mike Birbiglia (hey, he tried). "Moonrise Kingdom" was the big winner as "The Master" got nowhere (and looks to be going nowhere fast in the awards race unless a critics group or two speaks up fast).

I was very happy for documentary winner "How to Survive a Plague," which will be discussed at length along with other docs in the race in Friday's podcast. But the rest felt like my screener pile awards, because other winners -- "Middle of Nowhere," "Your Sister's Sister" -- and nominees -- "Safety Not Guaranteed," "Hello, I Must Be Going" -- are sitting over there on the shelf, waiting for me to see them. And I will.

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<p>Denis Lavant in one of his many, many &quot;Holy Motors&quot; guises.</p>

Denis Lavant in one of his many, many "Holy Motors" guises.

Credit: Indomina Releasing

The not-impossible dream: an Oscar nomination (or two) for 'Holy Motors'

Could the unpredictable music and makeup branches throw a wild card?

With awards season now unavoidably under way -- the Oscar nominations are just over six weeks away, if you can get your head around that -- I'm facing the possibility of another year where few of my personal favorites are in the hunt. Of course, I have yet to see the likes of "Zero Dark Thirty," "Les Misérables" or even "Lincoln": I could fall in love with any one of them, as so many others have, and thus have something to root for as fervently as I did "The Hurt Locker" a few years ago. For now, however, the projected Best Picture roster and the early drafts of my 2012 Top 10 mostly appear poles apart. 

Which is all the more reason to get invested in the finer details of the race: the narrow openings and blind spots that could benefit less expected films in less keenly scrutinized categories. Be it last year's Best Sound Editing nod for "Drive," a Costume Design mention for "Bright Star" or an Original Song bid for "Dancer in the Dark" -- making Lars von Trier an Oscar-nominated songwriter, if nothing else -- I've come to treasure isolated votes of Academy approval for adored outsiders. Such nominations are almost comical in how inadequately they represent the films' qualities, but there's something perversely satisfying about seeing these largely uninvited Cinderellas turning up at the dance after all. And the outlier I'm rooting for most this year? "Holy Motors." 

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<p>Quvenzhan&eacute; Wallis in &quot;Beasts of the Southern Wild&quot;</p>

Quvenzhané Wallis in "Beasts of the Southern Wild"

Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Bringing 'Beasts of the Southern Wild' back into the Oscar fray

Fox Searchlight kicks it into gear for a little film that could

NEW YORK -- How do you bring an indie darling back around when the season is filling up with quality work of the "Oscar" sort? Well, you do whatever you can, and for Fox Searchlight and "Beasts of the Southern Wild," it started with an intimate luncheon at Tomate Rouge this afternoon on 60th Street.

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<p>Russell Crowe in &quot;Les Mis&eacute;rables&quot;</p>

Russell Crowe in "Les Misérables"

Credit: Universal Pictures

Off the Carpet: The Oscar bait got good

They looked great on paper AND the screen in 2012

I never much cared for the term "Oscar bait," at least the consistency with which it's tossed around and the connotation it carries. (Though I'm well aware we launched a feature recently called just that.) Maybe I'm naive, but I don't believe anyone sits down to map out an Oscar movie. It's turning evening, you're chasing the light, the crew's tired, you have tomorrow's schedule to iron out…the last thing you're thinking about are the awards prospects of your project. And I think anyone who feels differently hasn't spent much time on film sets.

Beyond that, it just seems to me a disdainful way to diminish or discredit films of a certain ilk. Biopics, "issue" films, projects shrouded in the prestige of respected and/or previously awarded source material or high-caliber acting ensembles, they signal something for many -- a red flag. Which is odd, but maybe that speaks to the track record of such projects more than the inherent thing of it all. So it's with hesitation that I even begin to say this, but 2012 seems to be the year the "Oscar bait" got good.

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<p>Madonna's &quot;W.E.&quot; was the victim of more than a few 'exuberant pans' last year.</p>

Madonna's "W.E." was the victim of more than a few 'exuberant pans' last year.

Credit: The Weinstein Company

Roundup: On the power of the critical pan

Also: 'Silver Linings' vs. the heavier contenders, and 'Sugar Man' wins again

I had never heard of Guy Fieri until a few days ago, so I have no dog this fight, but I'm interested in how the media kerfuffle over a single scathing restaurant review has opened up a conversation on critical boundaries and responsibilities in all fields. The New York Times, who ran the offending review to begin with, has fed back into it with a piece by Margaret Sullivan on the necessity of what she terms the "exuberant pan" -- the review that zestily takes no prisoners in shooting down a creative endeavor, whether it's a film or a diner. Having written a few such pans myself -- I'm likely never going to be on Madonna's Christmas card list, nor Julie Taymor's -- I side with Sullivan: criticism is an artform itself, with no place for bland prose or tempered honesty, but the harshest words should be, in her words, "an arrow reached for only rarely." [New York Times]  

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<p>Jessica Chastain in &quot;Zero&nbsp;Dark&nbsp;Thirty&quot;</p>

Jessica Chastain in "Zero Dark Thirty"

Credit: Columbia Pictures

Kathryn Bigelow's 'Zero Dark Thirty' tells it straight, to varying effect

Will the 'Hurt Locker' director be back for Oscar seconds?

When Kathryn Bigelow walked away with honors for Best Picture and Best Director at the 2009 Academy Awards, she was the little guy. The narrative was David vs. Goliath as James Cameron's "Avatar" was the big dog on campus, the money-guzzler, "the future." This year things are a little different.

"Zero Dark Thirty" arrives amid a cloud of secrecy. Columbia Pictures -- and Bigelow and Mark Boal -- have been very careful about what is and isn't known about the film, which details the near-decade-long manhunt for Osama Bin Laden. Even the particulars of Jessica Chastain's character had been held somewhat close to the chest. But enough peek-a-boo.

The film is as clinical as they come, a 160-minute procedural. It details Chastain's "Maya," what may be a slight composite but is in all likelihood "Jen," the woman recently heralded by the member of Seal Team Six who wrote a book about the final raid on Bin Laden's Abbottabad compound. She came into the CIA young, entered the Bin Laden case early and did nothing else until he was confirmed dead.

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<p>Hugh Jackman performs &quot;What Have I Done?&quot; in &quot;Les Mis&eacute;rables,&quot; one of many moments that brought a round of applause in this afternoon's screening.</p>

Hugh Jackman performs "What Have I Done?" in "Les Misérables," one of many moments that brought a round of applause in this afternoon's screening.

Credit: Universal Pictures

Tom Hooper unveils 'Les Misérables' to over-the-moon, theater-loving NYC audience

The crowd of guild and Academy members (and press) ate it up with a spoon

NEW YORK -- "Happy Thanksgiving," director Tom Hooper said by way of introduction to an Alice Tully Hall packed with guild and Academy members this afternoon. He was on hand to present his latest film, an adaptation of the musical "Les Misérables," his first effort since the Oscar-winning "The King's Speech" two years ago and one of the awards season's most anticipated titles.

The film had screened for Screen Actors Guild Nominating Committee members earlier in the morning, but Hooper nevertheless made the crowd feel special with a little white lie. "In case you feel you're slow to the party, you are the first audience to see the film," he said. "We finished it at 2am yesterday."

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<p>Keira Knightley in &quot;Anna Karenina.&quot;&nbsp;</p>

Keira Knightley in "Anna Karenina." 

Credit: Focus Features

Tech Support: Jacqueline Durran on playing with history (and Chanel) in 'Anna Karenina'

The British costume designer seeks her third Oscar nod for Joe Wright's latest

It's rare that a single garment in a film takes on an iconic status independent of the character or performer wearing it, yet such was the case five years ago when British designer Jacqueline Durran created That Dress for Keira Knightley in Joe Wright's “Atonement.” I needn't describe it: the shimmery emerald number launched a thousand prom-night knockoffs, has entire blogs devoted to it and is currently on display in London's Victoria & Albert Museum. Durran may have lost the 2007 Oscar to “Elizabeth: The Golden Age,” but it turns out there's more than one way to reward great costume design. 

Intricately in-period, yet subtly, flexibly modernized, Durran's creations were a vital collaborative element in Wright's first two films with actress Keira Knightley: two years before “Atonement,” she earned her first Oscar nod for her youthfully mud-splashed Regency garb in “Pride and Prejudice.” 

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