Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

The Long Shot: When good enough is good enough

Why 'Argo' is right for Oscar, plus my latest predictions

There's nothing like an imminent Oscar to remind previously indifferent observers just how vociferously they actually dislike a film. With Ben Affleck's "Argo" four days away from an all-but-certain Best Picture win, it's been the subject of far more takedown pieces and message-board ire than it appeared to merit upon its autumn release -- back when you might have been forgiven simply for thinking it a tidily enjoyable little studio thriller.

Thanks to the Oscar race, we've since learned that "Argo" is at once so much more and less than that: it's a blind signifier of western anti-Iranian sentiment, a jumped-up betrayal of a true story with an irresponsibly embroidered final act, a smug example of Hollywood self-mythologising and a slap in the face of Canada to boot. Much column ink (or the intangible online equivalent) has been spent on telling us what a grave mistake the Academy is heedlessly making or all these reasons, not to mention the formal limitations and alleged martyr complex of Affleck himself -- whom we are repeatedly told is winning out of collective industry pity, as if the lack of a Best Director nod for a successful, handsome, moneyed Hollywood prince is a sob story that has moved voters en masse, despite their complete disregard for his film. 

Read Full Post
<p>&quot;What does this thing do,&quot;&nbsp;one Academy voter apparently wonders.</p>

"What does this thing do," one Academy voter apparently wonders.

Credit: AP Photo/Chris Carlson

Why the entire Academy should not be allowed to vote on every category

Someone tell this guy what a re-recording mixer does

In case you needed reminding that there are those in the Academy ignorant to the various crafts and trades recognized at the Oscars, I direct you to this Hollywood Reporter piece built around one brave soul's ballot and open reasoning about his vote.

The voter is a member of the Academy's directors branch and, quite frankly, is a perfect case study for why the Academy should not be allowed to vote for the winners in every category. This is my opinion, of course, but maybe this will be a bit of illumination as to why I have that opinion. Because there are guys like this throughout the organization. There are plenty who are astute and get the nuance in this or that category. But many simply don't.

Take Best Sound Mixing, for instance. It's a shame to me that a member of an esteemed branch such as the directors apparently has no clue whatsoever as to what a re-recording mixer does. "This is the award for sound that is mixed on the set on the day," he says, clueless, getting it dead wrong.

Read Full Post
<p>Charlize Theron in &quot;Snow White and the Huntsman.&quot;</p>

Charlize Theron in "Snow White and the Huntsman."

Credit: Universal Pictures

Oscar Guide 2013: Best Costume Design

'Anna Karenina,' 'Lincoln,' 'Mirror Mirror,' 'Les Misérables' and 'Snow White and the Huntsman' square off

(Welcome to the Oscar Guide, your chaperone through the Academy’s 24 categories awarding excellence in film. A new installment will hit every weekday in the run-up to the Oscars on February 24, with the Best Picture finale on Friday, February 22.) 

Best Costume Design is one Oscar category for which I have particular affection -- partly because I find the discipline itself so interesting, but largely because it's arguably the most forgiving and open-minded of all the Academy's below-the-line races. Whereas most other branches allow their voting to be at least partially dictated by their feelings for the films in question, the Academy's costume designers routinely focus on the craft itself, regardless of the surrounding vehicle. You can rely on this category to single out remarkable costume work in films otherwise forgotten by Oscar, from outright bombs ("W.E.," "Across the Universe") to arthouse outsiders ("Bright Star," "I Am Love"), and for that we should all be grateful.

When it comes to the award itself, however, things tend to get markedly more predictable, as the winner often seems to be determined by the sheer number corsets, ruffles and hoop skirts filling every frame. Last year's win for the sleek, monochrome 1920s Hollywood fashions in "The Artist" was a relatively atypical one, presumably assisted by the film's Best Picture momentum, but this year promises a return to colorful, aristocracy-based period spectacle, unless one of the category's two outliers -- both, coincidentally enough, based on the same storybook classic -- proves a spoiler.   

The nominees are...

Read Full Post
<p>Ian McKellen in &quot;The Hobbit:&nbsp;An&nbsp;Unexpected Journey&quot;</p>

Ian McKellen in "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey"

Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Peter Jackson's 'The Hobbit' leads the way with Saturn Awards nominations

Oscar nominees 'Les Misérables' and 'Life of Pi' have strong showings

Peter Jackson's return to Middle Earth, "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," led the way with nine nominations for the 39th annual Saturn Awards, recognizing the best in genre filmmaking. It picked up nods in the Best Fantasy Film and Best Director categories, among others. Not far behind were Ang Lee's Oscar nominee "Life of Pi" with eight and Sam Mendes's James Bon actioner "Skyfall" with seven.

Read Full Post
<p>Martin Freeman in &quot;The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.&quot;</p>

Martin Freeman in "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey."

Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Oscar Guide 2013: Best Production Design

'Anna Karenina,' 'The Hobbit,' 'Life of Pi,' 'Lincoln' and 'Les Misérables' square off

(Welcome to the Oscar Guide, your chaperone through the Academy’s 24 categories awarding excellence in film. A new installment will hit every weekday in the run-up to the Oscars on February 24, with the Best Picture finale on Friday, February 22.)

Best Art Direction was one of two Oscar categories to get rechristened last year: from here on out, it'll go by the rather more imposing-sounding Best Production Design. It was a long-overdue change, really, given that the award includes production designers and set decorators among its nominees... but not, funnily enough, art directors. Go figure.

The name may be new, but this year's slate of Best Production Design nominees otherwise finds the award on familiar ground, offering voters a choice between period spectacle and fantasy spectacle -- though none of it in films too far outside the Academy's comfort zone. (Three of the nominees are also up for Best Picture.) Compounding the sense of familiarity: all but two of the 11 names cited have been to the dance before, while one of the nominated films adjoins a franchise previously rewarded in this category. In recent years, the Academy has often opted for films that combine fantasy and period elements, with expensive, effects-heavy productions winning out for the last few years running. Still, this year's field offers more traditionalist voters a couple of attractive handmade options. 

The nominees are...

Read Full Post
<p>The Academy's official poster for &quot;The Oscars.&quot;&nbsp;</p>

The Academy's official poster for "The Oscars." 

Credit: AMPAS

Roundup: The name's Oscars... just The Oscars

Also: The best acceptance speeches, and the Academy's lawyers speak

This Sunday's Academy Awards ceremony with be the 85th in history -- an auspicious number, and a "wine anniversary" if you go according to the traditional gift list. (Appropriate, too: I think we could all use a drink now.) But you won't find any mention of that in the show's official marketing this year, which has erased the phrase "85th Academy Awards" in favor of the simpler, more casual-sounding "The Oscars." Steve Pond reports that producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron chose to rebrand the show in this fashion to give it a younger appearance: "We're not calling it 'the 85th annual Academy Awards,' which keeps it mired somewhat in a musty way," says Meron. Personally, I think the number lends proceedings a sense of authority rather than mustiness, but I can't see it making much difference either way. An AMPAS spokesperson, meanwhile, says the change isn't necessarily permanent. [The Wrap]  

Read Full Post
<p>&quot;5 Broken&nbsp;Cameras&quot;&nbsp;co-director Emad Burnat</p>

"5 Broken Cameras" co-director Emad Burnat

Credit: AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes

Michael Moore: Oscar nominee detained at LAX, threatened with deportation (UPDATED)

It looks like it's a bumpy start for Emad Burnat this week

"Emad Burnat, Palestinian director of Oscar nominated '5 Broken Cameras,' was held tonight by immigration at LAX as he landed to attend the Oscars," documentary filmmaker and Academy branch governor Michael Moore Tweeted to his 1.4 million followers this evening. "Emad, his wife and 8-year-old son were placed in a holding area and told they didn't have the proper invitation on them to attend the Oscars."

Read Full Post
<p>Julia Roberts in &quot;Mirror Mirror&quot;</p>

Julia Roberts in "Mirror Mirror"

Credit: 20th Century Fox

'Anna Karenina,' 'Mirror Mirror,' 'Skyfall' win Costume Designers Guild Awards

The late Eiko Ishioka gets recognized for her fantasy threads

It was a big year for the costumers. They finally broke away from the art department folks in the designers branch to have their very own branch in the Academy. And this evening, the Costume Designers Guild put a bow on the industry awards circuit by being the final such group to present superlatives for 2012 in advance of this weekend's Independent Spirit Awards and the 85th annual Oscars.

Read Full Post
<p>Cover art for &quot;The&nbsp;Master&quot;&nbsp;Blu-ray</p>

Cover art for "The Master" Blu-ray

Credit: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Win a copy of 'The Master' on Blu-ray!

Paul Thomas Anderson's film hits shelves next week

Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master" is still in the conversation at the end of the season because the actors stuck up for it in three key races. But the masterful 70mm effort will live on beyond this year, of course, as everything Anderson has put out into the world has.

My journey with the film has been an interesting one. I knew when I emerged from the Ziegfeld Theatre premiere here in New York that it wasn't going to be a Best Picture nominee. I also knew that didn't matter one bit because there was something lurking in that big, bold mixture that was speaking to me. A handful of revisits solidified it for me as one of the 10 best films of 2012.

While we wait to see if any of its actors has a shot at shocking the world on Oscar night, the film will be making it's way to the home market a week from today and we have an opportunity for you to win a copy of the Blu-ray Combo Pack and DVD for yourself. We have two copies, in fact. It's been a while since we've run a contest so let's remedy that!

Read Full Post
<p>Samantha Barks, the one &quot;Les Mis&quot; principal to have played her role on stage.</p>

Samantha Barks, the one "Les Mis" principal to have played her role on stage.

Credit: Universal Pictures

'Les Mis' returns to the Great White Way

On the heels of its screen success, the musical is set for a 2014 Broadway run

Good news for younger Broadway geeks who never got to see "Les Misérables" before it disappeared from New York stages in 2007, and have had their appetites whetted by Tom Hooper's film: the blockbuster musical is returning to the Great White Way next year. The 25th anniversary touring production that's been touring the US for a while now will settlle into a Broadway theater in spring 2014, a development presumably facilitated by the film's popularity. (Dates, venues and casting have yet to specified.)

On London's West End, where "Les Mis" is now in the 28th year of its run, the show has never stopped being a hot ticket -- albeit for tourists more than anyone else -- but apparently even its routinely robust box office has intensified since the film's release. Even Londoners are going to see it, I'm told, which probably hasn't happened in significant numbers since the 1980s.

Read Full Post