<p>Joaquin Phoenix in &quot;The Master.&quot;</p>

Joaquin Phoenix in "The Master."

Credit: The Weinstein Company

Roundup: Phoenix keeps riding the truth train

Also: Gearing up for AFI Fest, and is 'Cloud Atlas' still a Best Pic player?

I have to say, Joaquin Phoenix deserves the Oscar for his interviews alone this season -- whether he likes it or not, he's swiftly shaping up as the most compelling human figure in this year's awards race, and I'm increasingly thinking his sheer unfiltered bolshiness could be more of a help than a hindrance to his reluctant Best Actor campaign. His latest refreshing dose of candor comes in a UK broadsheet interview, and is perhaps more endearing than his headline-making anti-awards rant. The choice quote: "I think the trouble is I'm not very good and I need a lot of help; I need the entire set to be working to help me." Keep going, sir. [The Independent

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2013 Best Director Contenders: From Ben Affleck to Robert Zemeckis

2013 Best Director Contenders: From Ben Affleck to Robert Zemeckis

A varied field of filmmakers makes the push for Oscar recognition this year

Moving right along through the season's major Oscar categories, we come today to the Best Director field. A wide and varied field of contenders is represented, from intimate dramas to CGI blockbusters and everything in between.

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<p>Jessica Chastain in &quot;Zero Dark Thirty.&quot;</p>

Jessica Chastain in "Zero Dark Thirty."

Credit: Columbia Pictures

The Long Shot: A hazy shade of winter

Should the annual December glut of prestige fare be discouraged?

Spot question: What do the last seven winners of the Best Picture Oscar all have in common? Chances are you won't find many narrative, practical or technical common points between the lot of them, but there is this: none of them were first released Stateside in December. Yes, “The Artist” and “The King's Speech” only narrowly count by virtue of their limited Thanksgiving releases, but the point is that they, too, got in just ahead of the traditional Christmastime glut of prestige fare that has become inseparable from Oscar season.

In every year since the last-minute sneak attack by “Million Dollar Baby” in the 2004 season, the overstuffed Christmas stocking that is the December release calendar has produced contenders and nominees aplenty – as well as the high-profile misfires that are an equally inevitable part of the season. But when it comes to actually choosing their favorite of favorites, the Academy has recently proved that its collective memory can extend at least a little beyond the eggnog fog.

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<p>A scene from&nbsp;&quot;Moonrise&nbsp;Kingdom&quot;</p>

A scene from "Moonrise Kingdom"

Credit: Focus Features

Tech Support Interview: Adam Stockhausen on hand-making the world of 'Moonrise Kingdom'

The production designer of Wes Anderson's latest details the experience

After serving as production designer Mark Friedberg's art director on 2007's "The Darjeeling Limited," Adam Stockhausen went on to design a number of commercials for director Wes Anderson over the last five years. In that time, the relationship strengthened and Anderson eventually tapped him to design his latest feature, "Moonrise Kingdom," and all the New England quirks and Boy Scout flourishes that would come with it.

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<p>The &quot;Star Wars&quot; franchise lives to fight another day.</p>

The "Star Wars" franchise lives to fight another day.

Credit: Twentieth Century-Fox

Roundup: Disney and Lucasfilm get hitched

Also: Celebrating 2012's risk-takers, and the greatest horror films ever

While I was sleeping last night, Twitter apparently melted down over the announcement that Disney has bought up Lucasfilm, an acquisition about which movie geeks and business brains alike have very strong feelings. I don't, but when I absorbed the news that a new "Star Wars" film will be coming down the pike in 2015 -- sans George Lucas, but still -- I was forced to conclude that this hasn't been much of a week for good news. Anyway, Drew McWeeny is both more informed and more invested than I, and offers his view of the situation, while Drew, Kris and Greg serve up a list of 10 things to look out for in the wake of the deal, from the theme park-ification of Skywalker Ranch to "Star Wars" for preschoolers. What joy. [Motion Captured]

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<p>Denzel Washington stumbles into The Ed Sullivan&nbsp;Theater.</p>

Denzel Washington stumbles into The Ed Sullivan Theater.

Credit: CBS

Washington and Zemeckis brave Sandy to promote 'Flight' on Letterman and Fallon

The director and star stop by audience-free late night in New York

With writer John Gatins and star John Goodman in the air leaving Savannah after film festival tributes there, Paramount had the highlights of its "Flight" crew -- Robert Zemeckis and Denzel Washington -- back in New York Monday to promote the film, which releases Friday. Zemeckis was set to appear on "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon" while Washington was all set for "The Late Show with David Letterman." Then Hurricane Sandy came a'knockin'.

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<p>Elizabeth Olsen and John Hawkes in &quot;Martha Marcy May Marlene.&quot;</p>

Elizabeth Olsen and John Hawkes in "Martha Marcy May Marlene."

Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Wins for 'The Help,' 'The Artist,' 'Martha Marcy' at Casting Society of America Awards

We're not quite done with 2011's awards contenders yet

Thought you'd seen "The Artist" win its last award? Think again. The Casting Society of America pretty much partied like it was 2011 at last night's Artios Awards -- the premier honor for casting directors in the industry, given the absence of an Oscar category for the discipline. (That absence is often lamented, but let's be honest -- the average Academy member knows even less about casting than he does about sound editing.)

Anyway, while a scattering of early 2012 releases -- "The Hunger Games," "21 Jump Street," "Friends With Kids" -- had cracked the nominee list, the CSA was all about the awards contenders of 2011 when it came to choosing the winners. "The Help" took the prize in the Big-Budget Feature: Drama category, which is hardly surprising, given the number of ensemble awards (culminating in SAG's top honor) the film took down last season.

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<p>John&nbsp;Gatins at the New York&nbsp;Film&nbsp;Festival premiere of &quot;Flight&quot;</p>

John Gatins at the New York Film Festival premiere of "Flight"

Credit: AP Photo/Jason DeCrow

Interview: John Gatins on wrestling his demons to write 'Flight'

'There are no atheists in foxholes or at 30,000 feet.'

NEW YORK – The day after John Gatins graduated Vassar in 1990 he got into a car and drove to California to be an actor. He was already having borderline "Whip-like issues," he says, referencing Whip Whitaker, the alcoholic airline pilot Denzel Washington plays in "Flight." Part of the decision was an attempt to leave those problems behind a little bit. So, naturally, he became a bartender.

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<p>Colin Firth in &quot;The King's Speech.&quot;</p>

Colin Firth in "The King's Speech."

Credit: The Weinstein Company

Roundup: The movies are dead, again

Also: Dressing 'Les Mis' and the new, non-sexist Bond

For a medium we're told nobody cares about, people sure are devoting a lot of column inches to the end of cinema. Michael Cieply joins the long line of writers sounding the artform's death knell, claiming that Hollywood has lost its grip on the public imagination to TV. He points out that even the film of the moment, "Argo," has still attracted fewer viewers over its three-week run than a single episode of "Glee," while the number of specialist films released in US market has dropped by 55% in the last decade. Furthermore, Cieply quotes sources suggesting the Oscars are complicit in this disconnect, citing the recent coronation of the backward-looking "The King's Speech" (to which audiences flocked, mind you) as an example. I think people might be getting a bit dramatic. [New York Times]

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<p>Tessa Ia in &quot;After Lucia.&quot;</p>

Tessa Ia in "After Lucia."

Credit: Pop Films

Foreign Oscar watch: 'After Lucia' and 'Kauwboy'

Mexico and The Netherlands offer two contrasting portraits of youth in turmoil

While official Academy screenings are already under way for the long roll-call of foreign-language Oscar submissions, I've slowly been wading my own way through the pile. Having now seen in the region of 25 contenders, around two-thirds of the list remains – I'll never get to them all, but I'm still feeling more well-briefed than usual. Meanwhile, the more I see, the more impressed I am by the standard of this year's competition; the threat of “The Intouchables” notwithstanding, Academy voters will really have to go out of their way to make a dud choice. 

Today's double-shot of contenders for discussion haven't been been paired for any reason beyond the fact that I saw them back-to-back at the London Film Festival last weekend. Certainly, at first glance, Mexico's serenely threatening high-school drama “After Lucia” and The Netherlands' gentle slip of a family film “Kauwboy” don't have much more than that in common. On closer inspection, however, some clear dramatic and thematic links belie the gaping tonal and formal differences between them.

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