<p>Ernest Borgnine, for many the poster boy for the Academy membership.</p>

Ernest Borgnine, for many the poster boy for the Academy membership.

Credit: Screen Actors Guild

Round-up: A dry, old, white guy season

Also: The costumes of 'W.E.,' and making excuses for 'Cars 2'

The big topic of Oscar conversation over the weekend wasn't exactly a newsflash: anyone who didn't previously know that the Academy membership is dominated by older white men is presumably still reeling from the shock of "Twilight: Breaking Dawn" not receiving a Best Picture nomination. Even so, the stats revealed in the LA Times's investigation into the AMPAS makeup are pretty stunning: sadly, I'm perhaps less surprised that voters are 94% white than I am by the knowledge that they're 77% male. Add in the fact that only 2% of them are under the age of 40, and you wonder why anyone even entertained the possibility of "Bridesmaids" cracking the top category. Members from Alexander Payne to Alfre Woodard (who's a "Shame" fan, as it happens) weigh in on the matter. A must-read. [Los Angeles Times]

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<p>A scene from &quot;War Horse&quot;</p>

A scene from "War Horse"

Credit: Touchstone Pictures

'War Horse,' 'Super 8' win with MPSE

'Hugo,' 'The Muppets' and 'Tintin' also go home with goodies

The Motion Picture Sound Editors' (MPSE) 59th annual Golden Reel Awards were held this evening, celebrating excellence in sound editing. "Super 8," you'll recall, led the way with nominees (and was nominated by the Cinema Audio Society), yet failed to score an Oscar nod in either sound category.

Tonight, the film managed to take home an award, for dialogue and ADR in a feature film. So it gets to hold its head up high. However, it was "War Horse" that triumphed in the sound effects and foley department, which is the area that most corresponds to Oscar (at least in terms of how the category is largely viewed).

After last night's CAS win for "Hugo," I started to lean toward a split between that film (mixing) and "War Horse" (editing) in the sound categories. I'm feeling that even more after tonight, but both categories could just as easily end up going to one film or the other. Pick your splits carefully.

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<p>Ana Moreira and Carloto Cotta in &quot;Tabu.&quot;</p>

Ana Moreira and Carloto Cotta in "Tabu."

Credit: O Som e a Furia

Berlinale Diary: 'Tabu,' 'Barbara,' 'Sister'

Wrapping up Berlin with the three best films of the fest

BERLIN - After having spent the bulk of my Berlinale awards report complaining about the jury's curious choice of Golden Bear winner, I'm more pleased than ever that I waited until my final dispatch to dig into my three favorite films of the festival. For this year's fest, despite what you may have heard from grumpier attendees, was not one that deserved to be sent off with a sneer.

Typically uneven, but inventively programmed and shrewdly paced, it seemed less than usual like a lineup feeding off Cannes and Venice's scraps than one built to its own smaller, funkier agenda. (Yes, at least one Competition entry, Brillante Mendoza's excitingly divisive "Captive," was turned down by both Croisette and Lido selectors last year -- but more fool them, I say.) When one smart UK critic tweeted yesterday that he clearly hadn't missed anything by not attending the Berlinale this year, I couldn't resist replying, "Well, except for a number of excellent films." The success stories of Berlin this year may not have been audible from a distance, but the festival will quietly claim delayed credit as they slowly trickle through to international arthouses.

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<p>Rachel McAdams, Owen Wilson and Woody Allen on the set of &quot;Midnight in Paris.&quot;</p>

Rachel McAdams, Owen Wilson and Woody Allen on the set of "Midnight in Paris."

Credit: Sony Pictures Classics

'Midnight in Paris,' 'Descendants' take WGA Awards

Guild ineligibility of 'The Artist' complicates Oscar picture

Well, were you honestly expecting anything else? Thanks to a slew of WGA ineligibilities -- notably that of Best Picture Oscar frontrunner "The Artist" -- the competition for these particular Guild awards had already been considerably narrowed, and true enough, the winners were precisely the two films that been set up to triumph here all season long. Only in one of the two screenplay categories can tonight's result be seriously considered as a bellwether for Oscar night; the other remains a virtual toss-up.

In a season heavy on veteran nominees, the Guild played along by adding to the laurels to two multiple previous honorees: Woody Allen took his fifth WGA award in the Best Original Screenplay category for "Midnight in Paris," while Alexander Payne took his third Best Adapted Screenplay gong for "The Descendants," sharing the prize with fellow writers (if not collaborators) Nat Faxon and Jim Rash.

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<p>Sacha Baron&nbsp;Cohen in &quot;Hugo&quot;</p>

Sacha Baron Cohen in "Hugo"

Credit: Paramount Pictures

'Hugo' sounds great to Cinema Audio Society

Film beats out fellow sound mixing Oscar nominee 'Moneyball,' among others

The Cinema Audio Society has made some interesting calls over the years. "True Grit" last season, in the face of blockbuster and eventual Oscar winner "Inception." "No Country for Old Men" in 2007 rather than the skillfully layered "Transformers" (and, again, eventual Oscar winner "The Bourne Ultimatum"). "Road to Perdition" over musical heavyweight "Chicago" and feast for the ears "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers."

I applaud that. Very much. And indeed, when you look over their history, they often eschew the big, "loud" stuff that tends to have an easier time at the Oscars. In addition to the above-mentioned "Inception" and "The Two Towers," they ignored all the "Spider-Man" films, all the "Pirates of the Caribbean" films, "King Kong," "The Dark Knight," etc., etc. Well, tonight they did something they have done a few times in the past -- they went with a serious Best Picture contender that doesn't really have showcase sound qualities. They went with "Hugo."

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<p>George Clooney in &quot;The Descendants&quot;</p>

George Clooney in "The Descendants"

Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures

'Descendants' wins the USC Scripter Award

Can it keep the screenplay love going tomorrow at the WGA Awards?

The 24th annual USC Libraries Scripter Awards were held this evening just south of downtown at the Doheny Library on the USC campus. For the first time in a while, I had to miss the show (which is always a classy affair and, as a former USC grad student, always a bit odd, ordering a vodka tonic at the counter where I used to check out books for thesis and term paper purposes).

Anyway, the goal of the honor is to recognize adaptation of the written word. Once upon a time that was limited to literature, but in recent years it has expanded to include former screenplays (allowing for remakes to be recognized) and comic books.

This year, the big winner, unsurprisingly, was "The Descendants." Screenwriters Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash were awarded alongside author Kaui Hart Hemmings. The film won the honor just moments after it was announced as this year's ACE Eddie winner for dramas.

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<p>A scene from &quot;The Descendants&quot;</p>

A scene from "The Descendants"

Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures

'Descendants,' 'Artist' and 'Rango' have an ACE up their sleeve

Alexander Payne's drama upsets 'Hugo,' 'Moneyball' and 'War Horse'

The 62nd annual ACE Eddie Awards, recognizing achievement in film editing, were held this evening, and the big surprise came in the drama category. Alexander Payne's "The Descendants" beat out fellow Best Picture nominees "Hugo," "Moneyball" and "War Horse," as well as the slickly cut (by last year's Oscar winners) "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" for the award.

Meanwhile, "The Artist" predictably took the comedy/musical prize, besting "Bridesmaids," "Midnight in Paris," "My Week with Marilyn" and "Young Adult." And "Rango" beat out "The Adventures of Tintin" and "Puss in Boots" for the animated prize. (I might have gone with the former instead, as Michael Kahn's work there was really a virtue and part of the film's identity. But I'm happy I'm such a fan of both of those films this year and any success either gets is fine by me.)

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<p>Congolese teenager Rachel Mwanza won Best Actress at the Berlin Film Festival for her performance as a child soldier in &quot;War Witch.&quot;</p>

Congolese teenager Rachel Mwanza won Best Actress at the Berlin Film Festival for her performance as a child soldier in "War Witch."

Credit: AP Photo/Gero Breloer

Italy's 'Caesar Must Die' takes top honors at Berlinale

15 year-old newcomer Rachel Mwanza wins Best Actress

As I wrote in my most recent Berlin Film Festival dispatch -- and will explain further tomorrow, when I review my favorites of the festival -- this year's Competition turned out far stronger than it looked on paper, with a handful of rangy, robust formally exciting films that would have passed muster even in a more high-stakes Cannes lineup.

"Caesar Must Die," a comeback effort of sorts from veteran Italian auteurs Paolo and Vittorio Taviani, was not, for my money, one of those films. A gimmicky melange of re-enacted documentary and heightened performance piece that feels padded even at 76 minutes, it follows the rehearsal and staging of an amateur production of Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar" in Rome's rough Rebibbia prison.

With an array of real-life convicts, most of them Mafia-related, playing themselves, the film rather unsubtly underlines the liberating powers of culture -- at one point, by having one of the men helpfully say that he feels liberated by culture. (Another participant, Salvatore Striano, was paroled in 2006 and has since cultivated a career as an actor, popping up in "Gomorrah" a few years back.) The film premiered early in the fest and had its admirers, but swiftly dropped out of the critical conversation -- and, indeed, my memory. 

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<p>Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston perform &quot;When You Believe&quot; at the 1999 Oscars.</p>

Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston perform "When You Believe" at the 1999 Oscars.

Credit: AP Photo

Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey perform at the Oscars in 1999

And a brief remembrance

Whitney Houston is being laid to rest today in her hometown of Newark, New Jersey. I've been watching people like Alicia Keyes and Kevin Costner (who delivered a knock-out remembrance) pay tribute to the late singer, who was discovered dead last weekend at the Beverly Hilton Hotel today, and I have to say, the more I've considered this situation all week, as of course the media has kept turning it over so it's always there to be considered, the sadder I've become.

My first reaction when I was told the news a week ago, the circumstances under which Houston's body was discovered, was, "Of course." How callous. How utterly devoid of emotion. How disconnected.

But the truth is, Houston has kind of been a constant in my life, as I'm sure she has for so many others. The 80s success instantly recalls my childhood. Her unbelievable performance of The Star Spangled Banner at Super Bowl XXV was actually played on the intercom of my fourth grade high school every morning in Virginia Beach. The "Bodyguard" soundtrack was massive and unavoidable in 1993, certain tracks becoming staples of middle school dances where I tried to pump myself up to ask this girl or that onto the dance floor.

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<p>Brad&nbsp;Pitt in &quot;Moneyball&quot;</p>

Brad Pitt in "Moneyball"

Credit: Columbia Pictures

Why it should be 'Moneyball'

No Best Picture nominee addresses the zeitgeist in more human terms

“We’re all told at some point in time that we can no longer play the children’s game," a baseball scout says to a young Billy Beane in a flashback sequence in "Moneyball," one of this year's nine Best Picture nominees. "We just don’t know when that’s going to be. Some of us are told at 18, some of us are told at 40. But we’re all told.”

A “sports movie” is designed to follow a now familiar trajectory. There is an underdog (be it a group or an individual), an obstacle, a struggle, a conflict, a sequence where we believe that our hero will be forced to retreat and finally a life-affirming moment of triumph.

What is so fascinating about “Moneyball” is that it simultaneously follows and shatters those standards. It fundamentally disagrees with the overarching messages of the majority of sports films (just as its central character fundamentally challenged the way the financial team-building game of baseball was played). Many traditional sports movies either overtly or inherently deliver the message that our worth can be discovered, confirmed or solidified in one moment of victory and/or within the framework of a shiny, easily identifiable skill -- even if that skill is simply strength of will.

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