<p>Ziyi Zhang in &quot;The Grandmaster.&quot;</p>

Ziyi Zhang in "The Grandmaster."

Credit: Annapurna Pictures

Wong Kar-wai's 'The Grandmaster' to open 2013 Berlinale

The director will also preside over the competition jury

As I mentioned last week, compared to Cannes and Venice, the Berlin Film Festival tends to look like something of a weak sister when it comes to securing major auteur titles. Their festival curtain-raisers, meanwhile, tend to be on the low-key side: while a good film, this year's opener, "Farewell, My Queen," wasn't exactly an event, while "True Grit" was old news by the time it kicked off the 2011 edition.

Both those traditions have been broken in grand style by this morning's doozy of an announcement. The official festival email slyly mentioned only "Opening Film" in the subject line: upon opening it, I had to blink a few times before believing that, yes, Wong Kar-wai's long, long delayed "The Grandmaster" will indeed be kicking off the Berlinale with its international premiere on February 7. (It's an international rather than a world premiere because it's scheduled for release in China the month before.)

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<p>Naomi Watts and Tom Holland in &quot;The Impossible.&quot;</p>

Naomi Watts and Tom Holland in "The Impossible."

Credit: Summit Entertainment

Roundup: Witherspoon stumps for Watts

Also: Hooper, Danna honored by Palm Springs, 'Holy Motors' tops IndieWire poll

Though the film itself can't seem to catch much of a break in the awards race -- those omissions from Oscar's VFX and makeup shortlists still sting -- "The Impossible" star Naomi Watts keeps gathering momentum. After neatly scoring SAG, Globe and BFCA nods last week, the actress now has her own vocal Academy advocate (her Julia Roberts, if you will) in the form of Reese Witherspoon. A public fan letter to Watts from Witherspoon, who is not a close personal friend, compares her performance to those of Meryl Streep in "Sophie's Choice" and Sally Field in "Norma Rae" (both Oscar winners, as it happens) and declares "The Impossible" "one of the best films I have ever seen in my entire life." Witherspoon is not the "Impossible" team's first celebrity cheerleader: Angelina Jolie hosted a screening last month. Is this the tip of the iceberg in terms of actors' branch support? [EW]

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<p>Elle Fanning in &quot;Ginger &amp;&nbsp;Rosa&quot;</p>

Elle Fanning in "Ginger & Rosa"

Credit: A24

10 outside-the-box considerations as the Academy votes

Performances that could use a look

With ballots in Academy members hands as of yesterday, the great settling is off and running. Various critics groups and top 10 lists have narrowed the pile enough that voters have a pretty good idea of the landscape in each category. More than that, "frontrunners" have staked their claim on the race, leaving precious little space for dark horses to maneuver.

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Daniel Day-Lewis to receive Montecito Award at Santa Barbara fest
Credit: Nino Munez

Daniel Day-Lewis to receive Montecito Award at Santa Barbara fest

Can anyone come between the man and his third Oscar?

When you're winning, you're winning. Daniel Day-Lewis hasn't missed a stop on the awards circuit so far this season, and the Santa Barbara International Film Festival wasn't about to be the first. It was announced today that the two-time Oscar champ will receive one of the festival's loftiest honors, the Montecito Award, both in recognition of his work in "Lincoln" and his career as a whole.

The award, which will be presented to Day-Lewis at a tribute evening on January 26, recognizes "a performer who has given a series of classic and standout performances throughout his/her career," and has been presented to Annette Bening, Naomi Watts, Javier Bardem, Kate Winslet, Julianne Moore and Geoffrey Rush since its instatement in 2005. I don't think many would deny that Day-Lewis meets the criteria. 

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Jessica Chastain on mining for details and feminism's new moment in 'Zero Dark Thirty'

Jessica Chastain on mining for details and feminism's new moment in 'Zero Dark Thirty'

And, of course, the nuance of depicting torture in the film

NEW YORK -- As the stage lights dim at the Walter Kerr Theatre, signaling an act break for "The Heiress," actress Jessica Chastain gets up off the floor and exits stage left. She sniffles back the tears she effortlessly manifested for the previous scene, preparing for the next act. Her character, Catherine, is frail, emotional, precious, and at the end of this act, burdened by the unloving eye of her father and twisted-up passion for a would-be beau. One can't help but think, "Maya would never be in this position."

Maya is Chastain's character in Kathryn Bigelow's "Zero Dark Thirty," a dense and principled account of the hunt for Osama bin Laden. She's driven, single-minded, seemingly without emotion, save for the tears she can finally shed when her mission is over. It's a fascinating foil to Catherine, who spends the entirety of "The Heiress" moving to a place of rigid, emotionless resolve. And so while on the stage Chastain is performing a fragile character's journey of clenching up, strengthening and hardening, on the screen she's performing a hardened character's journey of releasing, letting go and softening.

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<p>&quot;Zero&nbsp;Dark&nbsp;Thirty&quot;</p>

"Zero Dark Thirty"

Credit: Columbia Pictures

'Zero Dark Thirty' wins Best Picture from Austin film critics...and nothing else

'The Master' picked up three awards, however

"Zero Dark Thirty" remains on top of the critics awards haul today with another Best Picture nod, this time from the Austin Film Critics Association. Oddly, though, the film won nothing else. "The Master" seemed to be more of a favorite, taking Best Director, Best Actor and Best Cinematography. Check out the full list of winners below and, well, you know -- The Circuit.

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<p>Daniel&nbsp;Day-Lewis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in &quot;Lincoln&quot;</p>

Daniel Day-Lewis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in "Lincoln"

Credit: Touchstone Pictures

'Lincoln' finally wins a critics award for Best Picture, from Dallas-Ft. Worth

'Zero Dark Thirty' wins Best Director, Best Actress and Best Screenplay

After sitting idly by and watching films like "Zero Dark Thirty" and "Argo" reap most of the critics' Best Picture awards, Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln" finally has one of its own, from the Dallas-Ft. Worth Film Critics Association. The film won Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress in addition to Best Picture, but fell to Kathryn Bigelow in the Best Director category. Check out the full list (ranked through runners-up) below, and keep track of the season via The Circuit.

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<p>&quot;Argo&quot;</p>

"Argo"

Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

'Argo' wins big with Florida Film Critics Circle

Daniel Day-Lewis and Jessica Chastain also win...again

The Florida Film Critics Circle has joined a recent build for Ben Affleck's "Argo" in the critics awards circuit, handing the film Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay honors. Daniel Day-Lewis and Jessica Chastain added to their lead actor and actress haul, while Philip Seymour Hoffman and Anne Hathaway were singled out in the supporting ranks. Check out the full list of winners below, and keep track of the season via The Circuit.

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<p>Michael Fassbender received a Best Supporting Actor nomination for &quot;Prometheus.&quot;</p>

Michael Fassbender received a Best Supporting Actor nomination for "Prometheus."

Credit: 20th Century Fox

'Amour' and 'The Master' lead London Critics' Circle nominations

'Beasts,' 'Pi' fend off 'Lincoln,' 'Zero Dark Thirty' in Film of the Year field

The London Film Critics' Circle joined their American counterparts today in announcing their nominations, and I think they did rather a good job. Then again, I would say that: I'm one of the voters. And it's pretty clear which films we responded to most as a collective: Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master" and Michael Haneke's "Amour" handily lead the field with seven nominations each, including a trio of acting nods apiece.

A number of US critics' favorites, however, fell short: "Lincoln" was confined to the acting categories alone, while "Zero Dark Thirty" managed nods for Best Director, Screenplay and Actress, but just missed out in the Film of the Year category, which was filled out with "Argo," "Beasts of the Southern Wild" and "Life of Pi." (It's perhaps coincidental but nonetheless interesting that both are dramas centered very much on US political concerns -- are Brits simply less invested? It'll be interesting to see how BAFTA respond.) 

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<p>Denis Lavant in &quot;Holy Motors.&quot;</p>

Denis Lavant in "Holy Motors."

Credit: Indomina Releasing

Toronto critics favor 'The Master,' Lavant, Weisz

2012 Toronto Film Critics Association Awards

As you'd expect from a city boasting one of the world's major film festivals, the Toronto Film Critics Association is one of the most discerning and unconventional groups on the block, and so they've again proved with their 2012 picks. Continuing its recent mini-run of critics' prizes, "The Master" takes another Best Picture prize, also nabbing Best Director, Screenplay and Supporting Actor for Philip Seymour Hoffman.

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