No one needs awards coverage this deep

Should 'The Avengers' assemble for SAG ensemble?

Bear with me, here

<p>The cast of &quot;The Avengers&quot;&nbsp;at Comic-Con in 2010</p>

The cast of "The Avengers" at Comic-Con in 2010

Credit: Screencrave

A few weeks ago I saw "The Avengers." The next morning, I cranked out a thousand words or so with all my thoughts, I felt, perfectly representative of what I took away from the movie. I felt good about it. Then the internet ate it.

Oh well, it happens, but the gist of the piece was this: "The Avengers" succeeds mainly because its all-star cast, playing all-star characters, gels perfectly, organically, no ego tipping the scales, no "front man" (as it were) emerging from the mix. Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner and Tom Hiddleston work wonderfully off each other and finally bring Marvel to a place DC Comics should have been a few times over by now.*

So on one hand, yeah, the headline here is a joke. The Screen Actors Guild's nominating committee, and indeed, any "self-respecting" awards-giving body is highly unlikely to pass kudos approval on a film like "The Avengers." But in the case of a category meant to honor well-oiled machines like this one, perhaps they should.

Cannes Check: Leos Carax's 'Holy Motors'

Continuing our series of Cannes competition previews

<p>Eva Mendes on the set of &quot;Holy Motors.&quot;</p>

Eva Mendes on the set of "Holy Motors."

Credit: Les Films du Losange

The auteur: Leos Carax (French, 51 years old)

The talent: There are a couple of eclectic ensembles to be found in this year's Cannes lineup, but surely none weirder than this one. That weatherbeaten French character actor (and longtime Carax associate) Denis Lavant ("Beau Travail") takes the lead role here is hardly a surprise. Gallic veterans Michel Piccoli (most recently seen in "We Have a Pope") and Edith Scob ("Summer Hours") also make sense. But who would have expected them to share the bill with Eva Mendes and, wait for it, Australian pop pixie Kylie Minogue? The mind reels.

Carax wrote the script on his own. Below the line, Bruno Dumont's favorite DP Yves Cape (who hit a career high with Claire Denis on "White Material") is one of two cinematographers on the project; the other, Caroline Champetier, recently won a Cesar for "Of Gods and Men." Editor Nelly Quettier (who also has some Claire Denis credits on her CV) has worked with Carax since 1986's "The Night is Young"; production designer Florian Sanson is a relative newcomer, but recently did some impressive work on "Black Venus." The score, apparently, is by British semi-novelty band The Divine Comedy, because, well, obviously

‘The Raven,’ the death impulse and harmony

‘There is nothing more fascinating in the world than a beautiful woman dying.’

<p>John&nbsp;Cusack as Edgar Allan&nbsp;Poe in &quot;The Raven&quot;</p>

John Cusack as Edgar Allan Poe in "The Raven"

Credit: Relativity Media

This weekend “The Raven,” director James McTeigue’s imagined version of horror master Edgar Allan Poe’s final days, makes its way into theaters. A predictable thriller with uneven attempts to elevate itself beyond the confines of a formula while still satisfying the demands of the middle ground, I cannot say that I wholeheartedly recommend it.

However, I find the film's subject matter and the ideas that inspire it to be somewhat intrinsically intriguing. I do not believe that "The Raven" captures Poe's tone or essence; it is a bit too shallow for that, lacking the density of those who really wish to engage with his work. There are moments in the film that were awkward to the point of being nearly painful to behold and others that felt like they struck the balance between naturalism and suspense/fantasy. But it is what "The Raven" points to in the broader context of the genre that has been, and is, of interest to me.

The Lists: Top 10 most anticipated films of Cannes 2012

From 'The Paperboy' to 'Amour,' the films I can't wait to see on the Croisette

<p>Brad Pitt in &quot;Killing Them&nbsp;Softly&quot;</p>

Brad Pitt in "Killing Them Softly"

Credit: The Weinstein Company

With the rosters for both Critics' Week and the Directors' Fortnight both having been unveiled this week -- more on those later -- the lineup for this year's Cannes Film Festival is essentially complete, though festival director Thierry Fremaux has promised that there are one or two additions still to come. (Don't hold your breath for Malick or Paul Thomas Anderson -- a title like Cate Shortland's well-buzzed "Lore," on the other hand, may be a more realistic wish.)

When people ask me if I'm excited about this year's Cannes crop, the only sensible answer is yes: what cinephile worth his salt would feign indifference to the prospect of seeing new films from Jacques Audiard, David Cronenberg, Michael Haneke, Michel Gondry, Raul Ruiz and so on? Cannes is never not exciting in that respect, as this week's list makes pretty clear. Yet I still think this year's lineup, and the Competition strand in particular, falls short in some respects. Not for lack of big names, but rather for lack of smaller, more surprising ones. With no female directors or debut features in the running for the Palme, the Competition also isn't as global as it might be: Asia gets just two of the 22 slots, Africa one, South America zero.

Cannes Check: Jacques Audiard's 'Rust and Bone'

Continuing our preview series on the Cannes competition

<p>Marion Cotillard in &quot;Rust and Bone.&quot;</p>

Marion Cotillard in "Rust and Bone."

Credit: Sony Pictures Classics

The auteur: Jacques Audiard (French, 59 years old)

The talent: Though Audiard has never been averse to working with actors on the French A-list, his latest represents his shiniest star collaboration to date, with Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard taking top billing -- the Hollywood adoptee's first lead role in a French-language feature since 2009's "The Last Flight." Audiard's male leads, in recent years, have been rather imaginatively chosen, and this one is no exception: Matthias Schoenaerts may still be an unfamiliar name to many, but the hulking, impressive Belgian actor made a major impact in last year's Oscar-nominated "Bullhead," for which he won several festival awards. The supporting cast featueres another notable Belgian, actor-director Bouli Lanners, and relative newcomer Celine Sallette, Cesar-nominated for last year's Cannes entry "House of Tolerance."

It's been a while since I've given a damn about romance in Hollywood

Where is the love, Tinseltown?

<p>Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable in &quot;Gone with the Wind&quot;</p>

Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable in "Gone with the Wind"

Credit: Warner Brothers Pictures

Guy and I have something in common (other than the fact that we both write for In Contention). Producer David O. Selznick’s seminal Civil War epic “Gone with the Wind” stands out for each of us as one of our most beloved films of all time. The film won eight Academy Awards including Best Picture and has remained a significant part of our cinematic history for over 70 years.

I was introduced to the adaptation one Sunday afternoon as an 11-year-old and soon found myself obsessed with all things to do with the production. I had biographies of Selznick, each of the film’s stars, every “making of” special I could get my hands on and even a “Gone with the Wind"-inspired cookbook.

I was fascinated by Selznick’s compulsion to see his own vision fulfilled, his attention to detail down to the petticoats that each of the O’Hara sisters wore beneath their elaborate dresses and with the directorial hirings and firings along the way. (Although Victor Fleming ultimately received the credit, both George Cukor and Sam Wood took turns at the helm).

‘Avatar’ director James Cameron backs a space venture to expand Earth’s resources

Is life imitating art?

<p>James Cameron in London following the release of "Titanic 3D"

James Cameron in London following the release of "Titanic 3D"

Credit: AP Photo/Joel Ryan

James Cameron is not a man who believes in boundaries. He’s been pushing the edges of technology as well as his own creative limits (and those of his crew) for years. He recently returned from a journey to the Mariana Trench (a 7-mile-deep canyon and the ocean's deepest known point). He was in fact the first person in history to make it a solo trip.

Equally impressive is the fact that he helped to design the vessel that made the heretofore impossible journey.

I happen to love Cameron. For me, he is the best possible version of bonkers and gives "no limits" a very good name. Many of us spend our lives imagining the extraordinary. Cameron spends his in relentless pursuit of it. Amidst his other achievements, he is, of course, responsible for the top grossing film of all time: “Avatar.”

Cannes Check: Wes Anderson's 'Moonrise Kingdom'

We kick off our series of Competition previews with the festival opener

<p>Edward Norton (left) in &quot;Moonrise Kingdom.&quot;</p>

Edward Norton (left) in "Moonrise Kingdom."

Credit: Focus Features

I'm not sure I'm ready for it, but yesterday's full lineup announcement brought home the fact that this year's Cannes Film Festival is less than a month away. It scarcely feels like a year ago that the likes of "The Artist," "The Tree of Life" and "Drive" entered our lives, but here we are, ready to welcome next batch of potential crossover hits, treasured obscurities and inevitable disappointments.

With that, welcome to our Cannes Check series, in which I'll individually preview each of the 22 titles in Competition. (Much as I'd love to give similar treatment to Un Certain Regard and other festival strands, I am but one man.) Same as last year, I'll be covering one film a day, in alphabetical order of the director's surname. Tidily enough, that means we're kicking off with the film that itself will be raising the curtain on this year's festival -- Wes Anderson's "Moonrise Kingdom."

'Beasts of the Southern Wild' director to be honored by San Francisco fest

Cannes's lone Sundance holdover gets an early kudo in the Bay Area

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

Quvenzhané Wallis in "Beasts of the Southern Wild"

Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures

After catching Benh Zeitlin's "Beasts of the Southern Wild" at Sundance, I kept finding that the film was sticking with me. I wasn't particularly enchanted while actually watching it, for some reason, probably because soaking up the richness of the voice and the uniqueness of the world was at the fore, but as I drifted away from it, it kept calling me back. I'm eager to see it again and I'm happy Fox Searchlight continued down a path of un-Searchlight-like acquisitions by picking it up in Park City.

The film was the only Sundance holdover announced as part of the 2012 Cannes film festival line-up this morning, following in the footsteps of films like "Precious," "Blue Valentine," "Martha Marcy May Marlene" and "Take Shelter" before it. It's a natural pick and I'll be curious to see how European festival audiences take to it. Could it signal even louder a potential awards trajectory? Maybe, maybe not. The truth is I don't know how much of a chance a film like that could have in awards season, but it will certainly be a healthy contender with programs like the Gotham and Independent Spirit Awards, and potentially plenty of love on the critics awards circuit. (Surely young Quvenzhané Wallis will get her share of debut performance love.)

Remembering Levon Helm in 'The Right Stuff'

The musician and actor's unfortunate passing sparks an old memory

<p>Levon Helm on the set of &quot;The Right Stuff&quot;</p>

Levon Helm on the set of "The Right Stuff"

Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

I didn't know until I got an AP brief yesterday that musician and actor Levon Helm was so on the ropes in his 16-year battle with throat cancer. Today, the inevitable announcement: Helm has left us. He was 71.

Of course, most know Helm from his tenure as the drummer/sometime vocalist of The Band (immortalized forever by Martin Scorsese's documentary of their swan song performance, "The Last Waltz"). But Helm also had a steady-enough acting career, beginning in 1980 with a significant part in Michael Apted's "Coal Miner's Daughter."

Indeed, when I think of Helm, it's rarely "The Weight" or "Up on Cripple Creek" that leaps to mind. It's actually his work opposite Sam Shepard as Chuck Yeager's right-hand man, pilot Jack Ridley, in Philip Kaufman's "The Right Stuff" that registers first.

2013-2014 OSCAR NOMINATIONS
UPDATED: MARCH 2, 2014

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