<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'

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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<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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