<p>A scene from 1994's &quot;Hoop Dreams.&quot;</p>

A scene from 1994's "Hoop Dreams."

Credit: Fine Line Features

Oscar’s big miss: ‘Hoop Dreams’

A look at one of the Academy's most glaring snubs

Nearly every year there are a number of films that Oscar simply seems to miss. Just recently Steve McQueen addressed some of the reasons he believes that Oscar ignored Michael Fassbender's performance in what was, for me, one of the best films of the year: “Shame.” Certainly Guy, Kris and I have all expressed our support for “Margaret” and our wish that the Academy voters had caught onto its value in time for it to make even a small showing.

Over the years there have been a number of omissions that have inspired either a quiet or riotous outcry from audiences and critics circles. In recent memory “The Dark Knight” and “Dreamgirls” were each considered shocking snubs by many given their momentum in the precursor circuit. In general terms, there are certain categories that tend to yield frustrating nominations and wins due to nonsensical and counterproductive voting practices.

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<p>Anton&nbsp;Furst poses on the badass instrument of his creation:&nbsp;the 1989 Batmobile</p>

Anton Furst poses on the badass instrument of his creation: the 1989 Batmobile

Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

My favorite Oscar win: Anton Furst and Peter Young for 'Batman'

On final approach, we look back at some of Oscar’s finer moments

There's a stand-by in Oscar season, if you're one of us who obsesses on guessing below-the-line categories, that I learned never to forget last year: Don't bet against a Tim Burton film in the Best Art Direction category.

Last year it was "Alice in Wonderland" that took the award, when I and a number of others thought "The King's Speech" might grab it in a bit of a sweep scenario for the eventual Best Picture winner. Three years prior, it was this season's expected victor, Dante Ferretti, winning the award for Burton's "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street." Eight years before that, the inarguable work of Rick Heinrichs and his team took it for "Sleepy Hollow."

That run started, though, in 1989, when Anton Furst and Peter Young beat out James Cameron's "The Abyss," Terry Gilliam's "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen," Best Picture winner "Driving Miss Daisy" and Edward Zwick's "Glory" for their towering Gothic creations on the year's (and, to that time, the industry's) biggest hit: "Batman."

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

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

Credit: Sony Pictures Classics

Oscar Guide 2011: Best Director

Michel Hazanavicius, Alexander Payne, Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen and Terrence Malick 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.) 

For many Oscar voters and watchers, Best Director appears to be something of a superfluous category: If you directed the best film of the year, the reasoning goes, you must be the best director of the year too. That may be true more often than not, but the Academy doesn't always distinguish between a true visionary and a safe pair of hands guiding well-chosen collaborators.

So it is that, over 83 years of Academy Awards history, the Best Picture and Best Director awards have gone to the same film 75% of the time -- and in recent years, haven't been separated since the 2005 ceremony. Last year, the Academy opted for the safe pair of hands: Tom Hooper, a comparatively untested Brit with a TV background, beat four idiosyncratic American auteurs, to the chagrin of critics everywhere. This year again sees a foreign first-time nominee pitted against a quartet of more established Yanks. (All four of them, moreover, are previous nominees -- the highest proportion in the category since 1993.) Once again, the outsider is favored to triumph, though in this case, it's for a work of more director-centered ingenuity. He's also one of four writer-directors among the nominees, a number last matched in 1995.      

The nominees are...

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<p>Andy Serkis on the set of &quot;Rise of the Planet of the Apes.&quot;</p>

Andy Serkis on the set of "Rise of the Planet of the Apes."

Credit: 20th Century Fox

Round-up: Calling for a collaborative performance Oscar

Also: Clothing 'Jane Eyre,' and rejecting the idea of 'Oscar bait'

With many grousing that the Academy's technophobia deprived Andy Serkis of an Oscar nod for "Rise of the Planet of the Apes," Matt Zoller Seitz makes a case for a compromise honor: a new Oscar category for Best Collaborative Performance, for characters created by heavily altered actors in conjunction with motion-capture artists, animators and makeup wizards. Serkis aside, performances Seitz suggests could have won here include Jeff Goldblum in "The Fly" and Brad Pitt in "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" -- though his notion that anti-FX bias cost Pitt the 2008 Best Actor Oscar is an empty one when you consider his competition. Overall, It's an intelligent suggestion, though it would surely hinder the possibility of such performances cracking the main acting races. [Press Play]     

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<p>&quot;Harry&nbsp;Potter and the Deathly Hallows:&nbsp;Part 2&quot;&nbsp;became the first film in the franchise to be recognized by the guild since &quot;The Sorcerer's Stone&quot;&nbsp;in 2001.</p>

"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2" became the first film in the franchise to be recognized by the guild since "The Sorcerer's Stone" in 2001.

Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Costume Designers Guild speaks up for 'Harry Potter,' 'Dragon Tattoo' and 'W.E.'

Oscar frontrunners 'The Artist' and 'Hugo' fall to Madonna's living Vogue spread

The 14th annual Costume Designers Guild Awards were held this evening, and it was a good night for wizards, hackers and, uh, Madonna.

The Harry Potter franchise was honored for the first time since 2001 by the group as Jany Temime, who has been with the series since 2004's "The Prisoner of Azkaban," won the Excellence in Fantasy Film award for "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2." The last Potter costumer awarded by the guild was Judianna Makovsky, way back on the series' first installment, "The Sorcerer's Stone," making for nice bookends for the franchise. The series' only other nomination was for Temime again on "The Order of the Phoenix" in 2007.

Elsewhere, "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" won in the contemporary category (beating out films like "Bridesmaids" and "Drive"), while "W.E." costumer Arianne Phillips was the surprise winner of the evening, besting Oscar frontrunners "The Artist" and "Hugo."

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<p>Kevin Kline in&nbsp;&quot;A&nbsp;Fish Called Wanda&quot;</p>

Kevin Kline in "A Fish Called Wanda"

Credit: MGM

My favorite Oscar win: Kevin Kline for 'A Fish Called Wanda'

On final approach, we look back at some of Oscar’s finer moments

In the final heated build-up to Oscar night, the tendency is to look at all of the ways the Academy has failed us or is bound to fail us. We do last-minute championing of underdog films and performances or perform a final public, or private, snub lament (not to worry, some of that is forthcoming).

I thought it might be nice, however, to take a look back at some of the moments where the fates have aligned to provide a win we can really appreciate. I spent some time yesterday afternoon looking over the Academy Award winners of the past 20-odd years, and there were some notable pleasures in the mix. Whether they were upsets or favored, whether I recall watching the moment live or have since come to appreciate the significance, they inspire that rare sense of visceral gratification.

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<p>A moment in the opening scene of &quot;Rio,&quot;&nbsp;featuring Best Original&nbsp;Song nominee &quot;Real in&nbsp;Rio&quot;</p>

A moment in the opening scene of "Rio," featuring Best Original Song nominee "Real in Rio"

Credit: 20th Century Fox

Oscar Guide 2011: Best Music (Original Song)

'The Muppets' and 'Rio' 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.)

So, 39 songs were qualified for eligibility in this year's Best Original Song race. 39. That's one short of 40. But apparently 37 of them just weren't good enough for the music branch, as the category turned up two -- yes, two -- nominees. One of them, at least to my mind, is dubious at best, while the other would at least appear to be in a cakewalk for the win (judging by consensus).

Is it not just patently obvious that the music branch can't be bothered with this category anymore? Just get rid of it if that's the case. I happen to like the category (many would like to see it die a quick death), but seeing something like this go down, after countless screw-ups in better fields over the last few years, it's just painful to watch.

The nominees are…

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<p>Jessica Chastain in&nbsp;&quot;The Help&quot;</p>

Jessica Chastain in "The Help"

Credit: Walt Disney Pictures

The Lists: Top 10 Oscar upsets we'd like to see

Crossing our fingers for this hopeful and that

In five hours, it's pencils down for the Academy. Ballots are due this afternoon and then it's five days before we find out what they amounted to.

For the most part, these races are decided. We sometimes get big, stunning upsets, though typically they have one or two indicators that we only pick up on after the fact. Sometimes, though, they don't. Who can forget humble "Precious" scribe Geoffrey Fletcher having his name called for Best Adapted Screenplay two years ago, speechless as he took to the stage, expecting, like all of us, for the category to go a different way?

Those are the kinds of moments you hope for to shake things up, but particularly if you think they are deserving upsets. This year, there are certainly a few of those across the Academy's 24 categories worth spotlighting, and so we have, dedicating this last pre-show list to the cause.

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<p>Steve McQueen thinks America is too &quot;scared of sex&quot; for &quot;Shame&quot; to have received an Oscar nomination.</p>

Steve McQueen thinks America is too "scared of sex" for "Shame" to have received an Oscar nomination.

Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Round-up: McQueen blames America's fear of sex for Fassbender snub

Also: The oldest Oscar voter speaks, and Ebert sinks 'Titanic 3D'

Michael Fassbender's had nearly a month to get over missing out on an Oscar nod for "Shame," but clearly the snub still rankles for others. While we recently had Alfre Woodard calling out the Academy on being too conservative to consider him, "Shame" director Steve McQueen has now weighed in, calling Fassbender a "once-in-a-generation actor" and extending the blame for his non-nomination to America in general: "In America they're too scared of sex, that's why he wasn't nominated. If you look at the best actor list you're saying, 'Michael Fassbender is not on that list?" McQueen may be right that a lot of voters were uncomfortable with the film, but I think he'd be surprised how many of them didn't see it at all. [Yahoo! Movies]

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<p>Jean Dujardin after winning Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2011.</p>

Jean Dujardin after winning Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2011.

Credit: Jean-Paul Pelissier/Reuters

Cannes regains its Oscar foresight

Three of this year's Best Picture nominees began life on the Croisette

As the absence of any potential Oscar fodder from the just-wrapped Berlin Film Festival became apparent -- pundits on the hunt for a second consecutive "A Separation"-style crossover item were disappointed with the lineup, though cineastes needn't have been -- I got to thinking about the presence of festival fare in this year's Academy Awards class.

In recent years, the festival circuit has become far more integral to the Oscar race than it used to be: all but one of the last six Best Picture winners debuted at a high-profile festival, from Cannes and Venice to Toronto and Telluride.

That's in marked contrast to the beginning of the new century, when all five winners from "Gladiator" through to "Million Dollar Baby" were major studio productions that had no need of a festival platform. As independents increasingly dominate the awards conversation, so too do the festivals that birth them: spotting an orphan film that can be groomed into a major Oscar player has become a more viable practice for many studios than developing their own, with Harvey Weinstein still the master of the game.

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