<p>Rachel Weisz in &quot;The Deep Blue Sea.&quot;</p>

Rachel Weisz in "The Deep Blue Sea."

Credit: Music Box Films

The Long Shot: It's an award, not a precursor

Critics' choices remind us their awards are more than a means to an Oscar

It's getting harder to identify an official kick-off point for the precursor run – is it the Gotham Awards? The Independent Spirit nominations? Such-and-such magazine's Top 10 list? But whether it began days or weeks ago, we are already in the thick of it: by Friday, two of the Big Three critics' groups will have showed their hand, while the picks of the not-quite-critics' group that is the National Board of Review are still on the cooling rack. 

Next week: SAG, Globes, the BFCA Awards, sundry small critics' groups... you know what, I can't think about next week for now. I still have a truckload of movies to see, for starters, and my own critics' group voting deadline is just nine days away. My family may just have to settle for opened screener discs as Christmas gifts this year. If I find time, I'll wrap them. 

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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

National Board of Review names Kathryn Bigelow's 'Zero Dark Thirty' Best Picture

Bigelow took Best Director while Jessica Chastain was named Best Actress

"Zero Dark Thirty" was crowned the best film of 2012 by the New York-based National Board of Review of Motion Pictures. Kathryn Bigelow took the Best Director prize for her work on the film, while Jessica Chastain won Best Actress. Bradley Cooper was named Best Actor for his performance in "Silver Linings Playbook" while David O. Russell's film also picked up Best Adapted Screenplay.

The award is the second in a row at the start of the precursor circuit for Bigelow's account of the hunt for Osama bin Laden following the New York Film Critics Circle's crowning of the achievement on Monday. The Los Angeles Film Critics Association will speak up on Friday and may well join the club, which will lead many to chalk it up as the prohibitive frontrunner for Best Picture at the Oscars, if they aren't already. But films like "Brokeback Mountain" and "The Social Network" know it's not smart to count your chickens before they hatch.

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<p>Pedro Almodovar at the 2002 Academy Awards.</p>

Pedro Almodovar at the 2002 Academy Awards.

Credit: AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

Roundup: Almodóvar to receive an Academy tribute in London

Also: The best-ever lone Oscar nods, and is 'Cloud Atlas' really 2012's worst?

Last year, the Academy crossed the pond  to celebrate the career of Vanessa Redgrave with an intimate tribute evening in London; this year, it's two-time Oscar winner Pedro Almodóvar's turn, with the British capital again hosting on December 13. Not to be confused with an honorary award, it's a more casual and cosy form of back-patting -- and this one is set to include appearances from such colleagues and admirers as Stephen Frears, Alberto Iglesias and Jean-Paul Gaultier, as well as a Q&A with Almodóvar himself. The AMPAS press release cites "the breadth of his artistic explorations, his passionate engagement with the human heart, and a worldview often articulated by powerful female leads." The news underlines that Almodóvar is plainly the Academy's Euro auteur of choice, having already accomplished the all-too-rare feat of winning both a general-field Oscar (Original Screenplay for "Talk to Her") and the foreign-language award (for "All About My Mother"). [AMPAS]

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<p>Saskia Rosendahl in Cate Shortland's film &quot;Lore.&quot;</p>

Saskia Rosendahl in Cate Shortland's film "Lore."

Credit: Music Box Films

Interview: Cate Shortland on reinvigorating the Holocaust film in 'Lore'

The striking WWII drama is Australia's foreign-language Oscar hopeful

Rightly or wrongly, the term 'Holocaust film' is often greeted with cynicism in Oscar-watching circles, where the Academy's perennial recognition of cinema centered on that period of history as something of a running joke. 

It's not entirely a fair one, of course. 70-odd years on, the atrocities of Nazi Germany remain so vast, so politically and socially pervasive, that one can hardly blame filmmakers for continually seeking new angles within it – it's a story that will never be completely told.

The Academy's appreciation of the subject's enduring artistic relevance covers such films as “Schindler's List,” “The Pianist” and “The Reader,” but it's in the Best Foreign Language Film category where it reveals itself most consistently. The number of Holocaust-themed films nominated in the category over the years, up to and including last year's “In Darkness,” has led some more jaded pundits to dismiss any such submission as awards bait of sorts. However, if Cate Shortland's superb new film “Lore” – Australia's Oscar submission, though wholly German-set and spoken – follows in their footsteps, it won't be because it comfily ticks any boxes. 

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<p>Liam Neeson in &quot;The Grey&quot;</p>

Liam Neeson in "The Grey"

Credit: Open Road Films

Open Road brings Joe Carnahan's 'The Grey' back around for awards consideration

The studio is also re-expanding 'End of Watch' in theaters

Nearly a full year later, Joe Carnahan's "The Grey" is still, to me, one of 2012's best films. There was talk last year of it being released in time for awards consideration, but it didn't happen. And when the January bow happened this year, there was discussion of bringing it back around for consideration by year's end. It looks like that will happen, in some small way.

Open Road Films has announced that the film will be given an exclusive two-week engagement at Laemmle theaters in both Santa Monica and Encino starting this Friday, December 7. Guild and Academy members will be given free entrance to the showings by presenting their membership cards, so obviously the goal is to get them out of the house to see the film on the big screen rather than risk it being lost in the never-ending stack of screeners that accumulates this time of year.

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<p>&quot;Argo&quot; was the NYFCC's runner-up for Best Picture.</p>

"Argo" was the NYFCC's runner-up for Best Picture.

Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Roundup: Unpicking the NYFCC vote

Also: 'Lore' and 'Sapphires' rule Down Under, and Sundance premieres revealed

The surprise-sprinkled New York Film Critics' Circle vote may have been the biggest news of a stacked precursor day yesterday, but as usual, stories of the voting conflicts behind the scenes are even more interesting than the results themselves. The most detailed report I've read comes from esteemed NYFCC member J. Hoberman, and it's a fascinating read for awards geeks. While the winners list might suggest Best Picture was a close-run thing between "Zero Dark Thirty" and "Lincoln," the latter actually didn't even figure in the final three: "Argo" came in second and "The Master" took the bronze position, though neither film received any kind of consolation prize. Moreover, Steven Spielberg didn't receive a single Best Director vote. Moral of the story: this remains anyone's race, and hurrah for that. [Art Info]

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<p>Daniel Craig in &quot;Skyfall.&quot;</p>

Daniel Craig in "Skyfall."

Credit: Columbia Pictures

Satellite Award noms run the gamut from 'Silver Linings Playbook' to 'Skyfall'

'Les Mis' leads with 10 nods, but misses out in directing and writing races

Amid today's mad rush of awards activity, we almost forgot to mention the Satellite Award nominations. I confess I've never been sure entirely sure what these awards represent -- they're voted for by a group called the International Press Academy, but my knowledge ends there -- but they've been cheerfully going their own way for 17 years now, annually coming up with one of the season's more entertaining, eclectic nomination lists.

This year is no exception. Amid the predictable spread of mentions for the likes of "Lincoln" and "Silver Linings Playbook" -- "Les Mis" leads with 10 nods, though director Tom Hooper was left out -- are wildcard Best Picture nods for "Skyfall" and "The Sessions." More interesting still are crossover nominations for some pretty out-there foreign fare.

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<p>A scene from &quot;Zero&nbsp;Dark&nbsp;Thirty&quot;</p>

A scene from "Zero Dark Thirty"

Credit: Columbia Pictures

Tech Support: Greig Fraser on shooting the dead of night in 'Zero Dark Thirty'

Freshly awarded by the NYFCC, the DP discusses the 'guerrilla' feel of the production

One of the callbacks critics are noting vis a vis Kathryn Bigelow's "Zero Dark Thirty" is Alan J. Pakula's 1976 political thriller "All the President's Men." Both films detail the minutiae of following a process to an end and how that end impacts the psyche of a nation, never shying away from inherent narrative bogging, unfussy in their visual vocabulary. It's no surprise, then, that cinematographer Greig Fraser, who shot "Zero Dark Thirty" for Bigelow, finds such minutiae fascinating.

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<p>&quot;How to Survive a Plague&quot;</p>

"How to Survive a Plague"

Credit: Sundance Selects

'Central Park Five,' 'Queen of Versailles,' 'West of Memphis' shafted by Academy's doc branch

15 titles proceed in a competitive year for the category

More good timing as the Academy has announced its shortlist of 15 advancing titles in the Best Documentary Feature race after Anne and I discussed the field at length on the podcast Friday. And it naturally figures that most of the films we talked about were not passed through.

The biggest omission to my eyes is "The Queen of Versailles," one of the best films of the year -- doc or narrative -- period. Maybe they didn't like that filmmaker Lauren Greenfield lucked into her story, but that film is of the moment and vital as all hell. Alas, this is to be expected. Great stuff is so often skipped over, and it appears the new rules and regs did little to alter that course.

Also left off the list: "West of Memphis," which is just a travesty. I get worked up every year on this shortlist and I'll try not to now, but Amy Berg's film is a monument. Ditto "The Central Park Five," which just won the New York Film Critics Circle prize for non-fiction film this morning and now has to deal with this.

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<p>&quot;Zero&nbsp;Dark&nbsp;Thirty&quot;&nbsp;director Kathryn&nbsp;Bigelow</p>

"Zero Dark Thirty" director Kathryn Bigelow

Credit: Columbia Pictures

'Zero Dark Thirty' wins Best Picture and Best Director from New York Film Critics Circle

'Lincoln' wins three prizes, for Actor, Supporting Actress and Screenplay

Last year, the New York Film Critics' Circle rather set the pace for the season by handing their two top awards to “The Artist.” (They also set eventual Best Actress Oscar winner Meryl Streep on her way.) This year, however, they're more likely to mix the conversation up in a few crucial areas. Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress and Best Supporting Actor got a fresh injection in lieu of frontrunner rallying, while the group's selection of Kathryn Bigelow's "Zero Dark Thirty" in the Best Picture and Best Director categories puts it at the top of the Oscar heap.

Check out the full list of winners below and remember to keep track of all the goings on throughout the season at The Circuit.

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