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

A scene from "War Horse"

Credit: Touchstone Pictures

Digging into the cinematography field

This has been bugging me. I'd say the two hardest categories to predict this year are, of all things, Best Costume Design and Best Documentary Feature. Guy worked through the former today, while I worked through the latter yesterday.

But Best Cinematography is also something I keep circling back around to. I can't figure out where the spoils will fall. I have 20 bucks on this with Anne, who is taking the same route just about everyone else is and expects ASC winner "The Tree of Life" to win.

It's obviously the safe call. And ASC has matched up with the Oscar winner 10 out of the 26 years it has been dishing out kudos. Lately it's been on a bit of an every-other-year pattern. Last year's ASC winner, "Inception," went on to take the Oscar. Not only that, of course, but Emmanuel Lubezki's work in "The Tree of Life" has nearly run the table with precursor awards and would have turned in a perfect score if BAFTA hadn't awarded "The Artist" and the North Texas and Utah crowds hadn't gone their own ways with "War Horse" and "Drive" respectively (and the former tying "The Tree of Life" at the Critics' Choice Movie Awards). That's a pretty powerful narrative that screams: This film is all about the visuals.

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<p>Viola Davis accepts the award for Best Actress at the 2012 NAACP&nbsp;Image Awards.</p>

Viola Davis accepts the award for Best Actress at the 2012 NAACP Image Awards.

Credit: AP Photo/Chris Pizzello

'The Help' wins three at NAACP Image Awards

'Jumping the Broom,' 'Pariah' and 'In the Land of Blood and Honey' also awarded

The 43rd annual NAACP Image Awards were held this evening, and "The Help" was the big winner, taking down three prizes for Best Picture, Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress. "Jumping the Broom" also brought in two performances awards. Check out the full list of winners below.

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<p>James D'Arcy and Andrea Riseborough in &quot;W.E.&quot;</p>

James D'Arcy and Andrea Riseborough in "W.E."

Credit: The Weinstein Company

Oscar Guide 2011: Best Costume Design

'Anonymous,' 'The Artist,' 'Hugo,' 'Jane Eyre' and 'W.E.' square off

(The Oscar Guide will be 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 26, with the Best Picture finale on Saturday, February 25.)

If there’s one technical branch in the Academy that can be trusted above all others to prioritize the craft ahead of the film, it’s the costume designers: where others often merely check off consensus frontrunners, they routinely single out outstandingly costumed films with little to no buzz in any other race, whether it’s as highbrow as “I Am Love” or as downright dodgy as “Troy.”

They’ve certainly lived up to that reputation this year. Not only are three of the five nominees listed in this category alone, but two of them were widely panned by critics: nominating them seems a subtle assertion of independence on the voters’ part, particularly when they had the safer option of nominating less distinctive period garb from Best Picture nominees like “Midnight in Paris” and Costume Designers’ Guild nominee “The Help.” As is stands, only four of the Guild’s choices made the cut, as the Academy came to the rescue of arguably the baitiest threads of the bunch.

The nominees are...

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<p>Promotional artwork for &quot;Iris:&nbsp;A&nbsp;Journey Through the World of Cinema&quot;</p>

Promotional artwork for "Iris: A Journey Through the World of Cinema"

Credit: Cirque du Soleil

84th Oscarcast beginning to take shape

Slowly emerging details indicate a self-reverential theme

Earlier this week, Michael Cieply wrote a thorough enough piece at The New York Times explaining what we know, but mostly what we don't know, about the upcoming Oscar telecast.

Typically by this time, we have things like stage sketches and quotes from the producers expressing various intents with the annual broadcast by this time. This year? Not so much (though it was announced they'd be yanking the original song performances).

In the wake of Ratnergate, perhaps the Academy has felt it better to just keep its head down, push through and get on the other side of things without drawing a lot of attention to the process. But producers Brian Grazer and Don Mischer "have been conspicuously silent on [the show's] themes, challenges and the presumably fresh approach they will take," Cieply writes. Nevertheless, some things are now beginning to bubble up.

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Oscar Talk: Ep. 82 -- BAFTA winners, live action and documentary shorts

Oscar Talk: Ep. 82 -- BAFTA winners, live action and documentary shorts

Also: Is there really much of a race between Meryl and Viola?

Welcome to Oscar Talk.

In case you're new to the site and/or the podcast, Oscar Talk is a weekly kudocast, your one-stop awards chat shop between yours truly and Anne Thompson of Thompson on Hollywood. The podcast is weekly, every Friday throughout the season, charting the ups and downs of contenders along the way. Plenty of things change en route to Oscar's stage and we're here to address it all as it unfolds.

The penultimate podcast of the precursor season is here. With just a little over a week to go before the Oscars finally put a definitive bow on 2011, we're feeling the end upon us. But there are things to address in the final build-up, so let's see what's on the docket today...

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<p>Meryl Streep accepting her Honorary Golden Bear at the 2012 Berlin Film Festival.</p>

Meryl Streep accepting her Honorary Golden Bear at the 2012 Berlin Film Festival.

Credit: AP Photo/Markus Schreiber

Round-up: Streep saluted at the Berlinale

Also: Missing 2D 'Titanic,' and why isn't Williams the Best Actress frontrunner?

Whether she wins her third Oscar or not, even Meryl Streep's most impassioned advocates would be hard pressed to say the actress has been underappreciated in a season that has added an eight Golden Globe, a fifth New York critics' award, a second BAFTA and, this week, an Honorary Golden Bear from the Berlinale to her already groaning mantel. Unfortunately, I didn't get to attend the Streep presentation at Berlin -- it's indicative of how busy the festival is that I didn't even hear any reports from it until today. Accepting the award from festival juror Jake Gyllenhaal, it seems she was in typically fun form, declaring herself "overrated" and repeating her gracious Globes trick of singling out other standout female performances from 2012, this time name-checking Anna Paquin and Olivia Colman. As if we needed more reasons to love her. [24 Frames]  

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<p>Melissa Leo in &quot;Francine.&quot;</p>

Melissa Leo in "Francine."

Credit: Pigeon Projects/Washington Square Films

Berlinale Diary: 'Jayne Mansfield's Car,' 'Francine'

Billy Bob Thornton and Melissa Leo show off their eccentric sides in U.S. indies

BERLIN - Rarely the first port of call for mainstream prestige fare or the loftiest international auteurs, the Berlinale has, after an indifferent start, started showing off the alternative depths of its programming in the last few days: one week in, I’ve seen a handful of outstanding films from directors whose presence in, say, the Cannes competition would prompt befuddled ‘who-dat?’ questioning from casual arthouse patrons, but whose actual films would pass muster in even the starriest lineup.

The Competition, inevitably spotty given the givens, has nonetheless more than lived up to the standard set last year by the likes of “A Separation” and “The Turin Horse,” even if its highlights can’t necessarily be promised the same level of crossover success. I’ve been particularly wowed by a trio of European titles – Miguel Gomes’s “Tabu,” Ursula Meier’s “Sister” and Christian Petzold’s “Barbara” – for which Thierry Fremaux would be champing at the bit if they happened to be directed instead by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, the Dardenne Brothers and Michael Haneke, respectively. (I’m planning a joint piece on all three, but don’t wish to rush my thoughts on any of them.)

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<p>Emmanuel&nbsp;Lubezki on the set of &quot;The Tree of Life&quot;</p>

Emmanuel Lubezki on the set of "The Tree of Life"

Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Tech Support Interview: Emmanuel Lubezki on capturing the moment in 'The Tree of Life'

The cinematographer says working with Malick has changed his life

"I learned that everything I knew, I had to get rid of it," cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki says when prompted to recall his collaborations with director Terrence Malick and, particularly, the work done five years ago on "The Tree of Life" (which finally hit theaters in May of 2011). The celebrated lenser has nearly run the table on precursor awards this season, most recently adding an ASC win to his list of laurels. An Oscar nomination in tow, he is considered the odds-on favorite to win the Oscar next Sunday.

But the experience of working on a Malick film is drastically different than the goings-on of a typical film set. And a photographer's work, much like an actor's, is collaborative at the start, but ultimately an element to be manipulated to the director's will. Fans of Malick wouldn't have it any other way, because the end result is often something so unique, at the very least. But while some on a crew or cast might chafe at having their ego squashed like that, Lubezki finds it liberating and educational.

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<p>A scene from &quot;Hell and Back Again&quot;</p>

A scene from "Hell and Back Again"

Credit: New Video

Oscar Guide 2011: Best Documentary Feature

'Hell and Back Again,' 'If a Tree Falls,' 'Paradise Lost 3,' 'Pina' and 'Undefeated' square off

(The Oscar Guide will be 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 26, with the Best Picture finale on Saturday, February 25.)

I have no idea what's going to win the Best Documentary Feature category. Zero. Zilch. Nada. I might as well get that out of the way right at the top. And I've even seen each film twice. It's a rare year that sees such solid arguments in favor of each and every nominee of the bunch. That's not to say that, personally speaking, each nominee is award-worthy, but I could just see the Academy's doc voters falling for any of them.

It was a typical year where the narrow-down process was concerned. Controversy indeed met the list of finalists that dropped in November, which snubbed critics' favorites "Senna" and "The Interrupters" (the latest smack in the face of filmmaker Steve James), while yet another Werner Herzog entry was ignored completely. Nevertheless, there is a wide cross-section of issues represented here, and that's never a bad thing.

The nominees are…

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<p>A stunning shot from &quot;Undefeated&quot;</p>

A stunning shot from "Undefeated"

Credit: The Weinstein Company

'Undefeated' demands a recount on the shots

Oscar-nominated football doc features one of the year's most arresting images

Well. This is a first.

Every year when I wrap up the annual shots column, there are inevitably a few images that linger into my mind and make me wish I had considered them a little more, or make me wish they hadn't hidden from my memory until it was too late. But never has such a shot hit me so hard that I could legitimately say it might have been my top choice.

Yesterday I sat down to watch the documentary "Undefeated" again in preparation for today's Oscar Guide on the doc feature category. I've actually revisited each nominee because, it's such a close race, I felt I needed to dig through each one a second time. In any case, an image in the film's final moments stood up and shouted out to me, demanding retribution.

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