Oscar Talk: Ep. 73 -- Our top 10 films of 2011!

Oscar Talk: Ep. 73 -- Our top 10 films of 2011!

Where will your favorites rank?

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.

Here at the end of December's first week, all 2011 films have officially screened for press. And yet, we can't discuss the last two to drop. Whatever shall we do in this interlude...

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<p>Jerry Robinson's Joker as seen in Batman #1.</p>

Jerry Robinson's Joker as seen in Batman #1.

Credit: DC Comics

Oscarweb Round-up: R.I.P. Jerry Robinson

Also: Who almost starred in Spielberg's movies and Cameron sued over 'Avatar'

It was with great sadness yesterday that I read the news of comic book artist Jerry Robinson passing. Robinson is widely known as the creator of the Joker in the Batman comic books (though that was naturally disputed by Batman creator Bob Kane in his time). It's an iconic gift to the world of graphic literature, no matter how you slice it, and Robinson's imprint on the industry was a considerable one. For "The Dark Knight," filmmaker Christopher Nolan went back to the pages of Batman #1, the Joker's first appearance, so it's fair to say we owe Heath Ledger's interpretation of the character to Robinson. Speaking of which, the prologue of "The Dark Knight Rises" was screened for select press last night. It will be attached to IMAX versions "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol." [New York Times]

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Teamsters and the manufacturers of the Oscar statuette stalemate
Credit: The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

Teamsters and the manufacturers of the Oscar statuette stalemate

Contract negotiations halt and the union goes public

As the race for Oscar continues to heat up the teamsters who manufacture and deliver the physical statues are coming into conflict with R.S. Owens & Company, the producers of the Oscar and Emmy statuettes.  According to The Huffington Post, contract negotiations between Owens and its workers have come to a halt and the union is now reaching out to Hollywood to back them up in their dispute. In a release on Tuesday the employees revealed that the company had frozen wages for three years beginning in 2007 and plans to renew the policy for the next three years, leaving them without the benefit of a pay increase for nearly a decade.

The union further alleges that Owens intends to cut vacation and bereavement benefits and increase health care costs. Though production continues, there is the ever present possibility of a strike, which could theoretically affect the February 26 awards show. Teamsters Local 743 plans to seek Federal mediation as a part of its negotiations strategy.

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<p>Charlize Theron in &quot;Young Adult.&quot;</p>

Charlize Theron in "Young Adult."

Credit: Paramount Pictures

Review: 'Young Adult' is a smart, sour anatomy of a bitch

Charlize Theron keeps the ugliness inside in her best work since 'Monster'

There’s a single line—make that a single word—in the opening reel of “Young Adult” delivered with such pointed lack of empathy as to immediate wipe clean any cosier expectations we might have had of a second collaboration between director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody. Staring disconnectedly into her glass while on a blind date with a seemingly decent chap wittering on about his experience of teaching in South East Asia, Charlize Theron’s divorced, 37 year-old youth fiction novelist Mavis Gary screws up her face and spits out the question, “Why?”

The guy doesn’t acknowledge the question; indeed, it doesn’t break his flow for a second. But after Theron’s drolly apathetic tone gets the required laugh from the viewer, her sourly confused expression seals the moment as more than a snarky throwaway: this isn’t just a woman who disdains people who help others, it’s one who sincerely doesn’t comprehend them. A kind of high-functioning autism invisible beneath her snippy intelligence and immaculate lipstick, Mavis’s misanthropy makes in her mind a gigantic ‘why’ of all human relationships, though she’s sufficiently self-possessed enough not to care about the answers. We never see the face of her hapless date in that early exchange; in a sense, one doubts she does either.

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<p>Octavia Spencer is in line for an Oscar nomination for her performance in &quot;The Help.&quot;</p>

Octavia Spencer is in line for an Oscar nomination for her performance in "The Help."

Credit: AP Photo/Chris Pizzello

Octavia Spencer to receive Breakthrough Award at Palm Springs

'The Help' co-star's Supporting Actress campaign gets an extra boost

It's never too late to be recognized as a "breakthrough performer," apparently. 15 years after making her first big-screen appearance in "A Time to Kill," 39 year-old actress Octavia Spencer -- the chief source of comic relief in the ensemble of "The Help" -- has been honored with the Breakthrough Performance Award at the Palm Springs festival.

Like most of the awards dished out at Palm Springs and Santa Barbara next month, this honor acts chiefly as an Oscar nomination forecast: previous winners of the prize include Felicity Huffman, Jennifer Hudson, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Renner and Carey Mulligan. (Hard luck, Mariah Carey and Freida Pinto.) Not that one needs  any such minor bellwethers to predict Spencer's nomination, which has been set in stone since "The Help" opened in August: the question is whether she can win in a field that still has no clear frontrunner.

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<p>An Elton&nbsp;gnome from &quot;Gnomeo &amp;&nbsp;Juliet.&quot;&nbsp;Yes, an Elton&nbsp;gnome.</p>

An Elton gnome from "Gnomeo & Juliet." Yes, an Elton gnome.

Credit: Walt Disney Pictures

Tech Support: Chris Cornell, Elton John, Madonna and 'The Muppets' throw down for Best Original Song

Other contenders include tunes from 'Captain America' and 'Footloose'

Tech Support inadvertently took a week off as I never did get around to writing up the Best Original Song category. No worries. Nothing has happened of note in the field all year long, really, and the contenders have pretty much laid themselves bare, for the most part.

Naturally there will be some other considerations when the official list of qualifying tunes is revealed soon enough. That announcement dropped on December 15 last year, so I imagine within the week we'll know what's in the running.

For now, though, it's time to run a comb through what we're aware of and see what makes sense as formidable in the field. There are a number of tracks worth considering, so as we close up shop on Tech Support's category analysis this season, let's see what they are.

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<p>The cover of &quot;Clint&nbsp;Eastwood:&nbsp;35 Films 35 Years at Warner Bros.&quot;</p>

The cover of "Clint Eastwood: 35 Films 35 Years at Warner Bros."

Credit: Warner Home Video

Oscarweb Round-up: 35 years of Eastwood at Warner Bros.

Also: George Méliès turns 150 and Asa Butterfield talks Scorsese film school

Remember that exchange on "Entourage" a few years back? Something about Clint Eastwood being set up at Warner Bros. for decades. "We give him $90 million to make movies now," the studio head said. To which Turtle quipped, "I heard he uses 60 and pockets 30. That's why he only does one take." Like so much of the show, it was inside baseball, but it cracked me up. Anyway, the point being, Eastwood has been a fixture on that lot seemingly since the dawn of time. Every once in a while he's ventured out and done a film with another studio, but home base is Warner Bros. So it makes sense for a handsome boxed set of his work there to hit the market. Enter "Clint Eastwood: 35 Films 35 Years at Warner Bros.," which would make a great Christmas gift for the Eastwood fanatic in your family. It has everything from "Where Eagles Dare" to "Invictus." [Amazon]

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<p>A scene from Frederick Wiseman's &quot;Titicut Follies.&quot;</p>

A scene from Frederick Wiseman's "Titicut Follies."

Cinema Eye honors Frederick Wiseman film with Legacy Award

1967 doc 'Titicut Follies' to receive retrospective recognition

With Oscar season so invariably focused on the new and the now, it's refreshing when the occasional awards body casts a look backward to slightly older releases -- though they don't tend to go back 44 years. Trust the conscientious folks behind the Cinema Eye documentary awards to take up that cause with a Legacy Award for classic individual documentaries that, in their view, still carry resonance and influence today. This year's recipient: Frederick Wiseman's 1967 debut feature "Titicut Follies."

I've never had an opportunity to see Wiseman's film, an exposé of the grim conditions at a Massachusetts prison for the criminally insane, but it'd be interesting to see on what note he started his prolific and still-productive career. I'm familiar only with the director's later works, peaking with his staggering Paris ballet study "La Danse." His work of late has been preoccupied with human movement and performance; his latest, "Crazy Horse," about the titular Paris nightclub, continues in that direction. It opens in the US in January, neatly coinciding with the Cinema Eye presentation.

Edited press release after the jump. 

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<p>Viola Davis in &quot;The Help.&quot;</p>

Viola Davis in "The Help."

Credit: Walt Disney Pictures

The Long Shot: Vehicle trouble

Why are so many of this year's Oscar-tipped actresses better than the films around them?

It is an unhappy and semi-annual habit among Oscar-watchers to dismiss the Best Actress race as “weak,” a selection of performances that handily distils – either by conformity or exception – Hollywood’s routine neglect of its female performers. That narrative thankfully took a rest last year: with peak-form work by Annette Bening, Nicole Kidman, Michelle Williams and winner Natalie Portman, plus a genuine revelation in Jennifer Lawrence, all of them in variously meaty, artful films, 2010 will likely be seen as a banner year for the category for some time.

It almost certainly won’t be topped this year – the tone across the blogosphere suggests that accusations of weakness are back in full force with this year’s lead actress race. Which is not to say that the field is thin or even uncompetitive: a look at the fringes of the category reveals a wealth of fine actresses turning in remarkable work in exciting films. Tilda Swinton in “We Need to Talk About Kevin.” Olivia Colman in “Tyrannosaur.” Elizabeth Olsen in “Martha Marcy May Marlene.” Anna Paquin in “Margaret.” Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg in “Melancholia.” Juliette Binoche in “Certified Copy.” Kristen Wiig in “Bridesmaids.” If this is the standard of the outsiders, how can this possibly be deemed a weak field?

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Make your Best Picture case for "Rango" and win!
Make your Best Picture case for "Rango" and win!
Credit: Paramount Pictures

Contest: Win a 'Rango' DVD

Make your case for the film's Oscar worthiness

Thanks everyone who participated in the "Super 8" contest on Monday. The winners were "ASCHU" and "GRUBI," so if you're reading, drop me a line so I can get you your prizes.

The giveaways keep on truckin' today as we have two DVDs of Gore Verbinski's "Rango" to dish out. I think we'll do something similar to the last contest. With an expanded field of Best Picture nominees, the odds are slightly better for animated films to make it into contention. While Pixar has had the stranglehold on that kind of consideration the last two years, this year, they clearly do not. And some might consider "Rango" the heir apparent to Best Picture potential in the medium.

So, if you agree, give me 100 words or less telling me why you think it deserves a fair shake and should play with the big boys in the Best Picture field.

Deadline is noon on Friday. Now... Go!