<p>A scene from the Quay Brothers' &quot;Maska,&quot; one of 45 films longlisted for the Best Animated Short Oscar.</p>

A scene from the Quay Brothers' "Maska," one of 45 films longlisted for the Best Animated Short Oscar.

Credit: Se-Ma-For Studios

45 animated shorts longlisted for Oscar

Contenders range from Pixar to the Smurfs to the Quay Brothers

Aside from being a handy wild card in any Oscar betting pool (as much as I like recent winners "Logorama" and "The Lost Thing," I value them most for what I gained from their victories), the Best Animated Short Oscar is always fun to keep an eye on at this stage, given that it's almost impossible to handicap this far out, and yet not too difficult to research. So it is with the 45 shorts that were recently revealed to have qualified for the award, any number of which look from afar like potential nominees.

As usual with this category, shorts from major animation outfits like Pixar, Disney and Warner Bros. are jostling for space with minute independent productions from various corners of the globe -- what's lovely about this category is that size is rarely an advantage here. It's interesting to note that only one of Pixar's two 2011 shorts is on the list, and it's not the one ("Toy Story: Hawaiian Vacation") that preceded "Cars 2" in theaters; rather, their hopes lie with acclaimed festival player "La Luna," which you may recall Kris flipped for in Telluride. Smart move.

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<p>Ringleader of &quot;The Muppets,&quot; Kermit the Frog.</p>

Ringleader of "The Muppets," Kermit the Frog.

Credit: Walt Disney Pictures

The Muppets face the indignity of product placement

Our fuzzy friends star in tongue-in-cheek UK cinema ad for phone network

Okay, so they didn't get the Oscars. Boo. But hey, work is work, so the Muppets have instead lent their services to UK cellphone network Orange (which, if you squint at it, looks kind of like Oscar) for the latest entry in a series of celebrity-satirizing theatrical ads that have become a customary part of going to the movies in Britain.

Essentially elaborate reminders to cinema patrons who haven't yet turned their phones off, the ads do so by sending up the commercial evils of product placement in films ("Don't let a mobile phone ruin your movie," is the recurring punchline) and the vulnerability of fading stars seeking career resuscitation -- all of which ties in nicely with the meta-narrative around "The Muppets" as a comeback vehicle for previously down-and-out vaudeville veterans.

Previous good sports who have appeared in the ads range from Sigourney Weaver to Spike Lee to Patrick Swayze to Juliette Lewis, so the felt gang is in good human company; the latest ad (embedded after the jump) isn't the sharpest in the series, but frankly, I'll watch these guys in life insurance commercials if it comes to that. (Meanwhile, how envious am I that Kris has seen the movie and I haven't? Guess.) 

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<p>A detail of the new UK poster for &quot;Shame.&quot;</p>

A detail of the new UK poster for "Shame."

Credit: Momentum Pictures UK

UK poster for 'Shame' puts its two stars on an equal footing

British quad is film's first poster design to give actors face time

The collected press on Steve McQueen's "Shame" thus far has presented the film very much as The Michael Fassbender Show -- understandable, given that his superb performance in it represents the creative peak of a breakout year for the actor. Still, I do feel for Carey Mulligan, whose similarly startling work in what is arguably a co-lead role also marks exciting (I'd say career-best) new territory for a rising star, but has been somewhat sidelined in the conversation around the film.

The film's new UK poster, however, puts that to rights: each actor is given precisely half the available space, selling it very much as a two-hander. It's an elegant if not terribly inventive design, but I find it interesting in that it's the first poster for the film to place the emphasis squarely on its stars -- previous designs for the marketing challenge of a movie have skewed distinctly more oblique and theme-oriented.

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<p>A&nbsp;scene from Fernando Meirelles' &quot;City of God&quot;</p>

A scene from Fernando Meirelles' "City of God"

Credit: Miramax Films

Aiming for head of the cinematic class

It's early yet, but how is a new decade in cinema shaping up?

We are right in the midst of a cinephile’s favorite time of year. Though there is no hard and fast rule, many of our darlings make their way to theaters just in time for an Oscar run from September to December. But whether it is an Academy Awards contender or not, whether it is released in November or (as rare as this may be) January, each year brings us a favorite film.

Every so often, however, a selection leaps beyond the limited scope of “best of the year” into the realm of “that against which all other films will now be measured.” It becomes the golden child to which the competing star pupils are compared.

We typically frame cinema “classes,” as it were, by decade. For me, the straight-A student that ruined the curve for all the others this past decade was Fernando Meirelles’ “City of God.” Though other films carved a space in my heart and mind, “Pan’s Labyrinth” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” among them, I have yet to find a film that was released in that same 10-year span (2000-2009) that hits every single note quite the way that “City of God” does.

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<p>George Clooney at the Los Angeles premiere of &quot;The Descendants.&quot;</p>

George Clooney at the Los Angeles premiere of "The Descendants."

Credit: AP Photo/Chris Pizzello

Oscarweb Round-up: Clooney cheers on the competition

Also: breaking down the screenplay race and Cooper wins the meat market

Ask most awards analysts who the current frontrunners for the Best Actor Oscar are, and you'll probably get some combination of the names George Clooney, Jean Dujardin and Brad Pitt. Clooney probably knows that, which is why it's both magnanimous and, who knows, perhaps slyly strategic for him to name Dujardin and Pitt's performances, in "The Artist" and "Moneyball" respectively, as being among his favorites of the year: I don't for a minute doubt his ingenuousness (or his judgment) when he describes Dujardin's work as "spectacular," but by singling out these performances, he indirectly puts himself in their company. The man's smoothness knows no bounds. [Los Angeles Times]

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Michael Silvers (left) and Randy Thom accept Oscars for Best Sound Editing for "The Incredibles" in 2005.
Michael Silvers (left) and Randy Thom accept Oscars for Best Sound Editing for "The Incredibles" in 2005.
Credit: AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

Potato, potahto, craft, tech, let's call the whole thing off

Setting the record straight on Tech Support

I think our record at In Contention of highlighting the craft categories via the weekly Tech Support column for the last six years speaks for itself. In the wake of our centralized focus throughout said fields, outlets like Variety, The Hollywood Reporter and the Los Angeles Times have stepped up their game, featuring contenders and eventual nominees from those categories with more consistency, while other outlets like Movie City News have actually expanded their coverage to include these areas when they didn't cover them before.

We've kind of prided ourselves, both Gerard Kennedy (who has written the column since its inception) and myself, on including below-the-line efforts in the same breath as higher profile elements like directing and acting because we believe they are vital and should share the attention. And speaking for myself, as someone who attended film school and knows very well what each and every one of these elements entails, it's been kind of a passion.

So with that in mind, I think I'll just give a certain sound mixer the benefit of the doubt regarding a few statements he made in the comments section of a recent edition of Tech Support.

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<p>George Clooney in &quot;Syriana&quot; and the role that brought him an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor</p>
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George Clooney in "Syriana" and the role that brought him an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor

Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

The Lists: Top 10 George Clooney performances

'The Ides of March' and 'The Descendants' give us an excuse to dissect the actor's best work

George Clooney has had yet another busy year. His circuit kicked off back in August at the Venice Film Festival where his fourth directorial effort, "The Ides of March," saw its world premiere on opening night. Then it was off to the Telluride Film Festival later that week for a tribute and another world premiere, this time of Alexander Payne's "The Descendants," which features Clooney in a leading role that many think will bring him an Oscar for Best Actor.

It's not unlike the path he carved in 2005, which saw his critically acclaimed "Good Night, and Good Luck." and Stephen Gaghan's "Syriana" find room in the awards conversation (the latter ultimately bringing him an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor).

But while Clooney's million-dollar smile splashes across magazine covers in moments like these and his magnetic charm wins over whatever group of people the studio might put in front of him, it's worth taking note of the considerable talent that has brought him to a place where this kind of ubiquity is more refreshing than annoying.

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<p>Michael Fassbender and Nicole Beharie in a scene from &quot;Shame&quot;</p>

Michael Fassbender and Nicole Beharie in a scene from "Shame"

Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Is NC-17 an antiquated rating?

Should the MPAA be empowered to make parenting decisions?

This year’s dark horse Oscar contender “Shame” has caused some people to question the purpose and validity of the NC-17 rating. It was no surprise when the MPAA slapped the film with the potentially restrictive scarlet letter as a result of frequent nudity and explicit (depressing) sex. Of course the emotional nature (or lack thereof) of the intercourse depicted is not listed as an official cause for the rating, but it is likely that it played a role (consciously or not) in the association’s decision.

It's easy enough to name a multitude of R-rated films that treat the human body with little to no dignity (topless water skiing was a fun addition to 2009’s “Friday the 13th” – topless water skiing), and though no one is surprised by the decision, “Shame’s” NC-17 does raise questions about the ratings system.

“I mean, it’s sex,” director Steve McQueen said at a recent press conference for the film. “I think it’s what most of the people in this room have done, if not all of us have done. I mean I’ve never held a gun in my hand in my life. So, it’s this whole weird thing where what we do in our daily lives should be censored. It’s very odd. And things that we have no idea of, or have no capability of doing, should be viewed on the masses.”

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<p>Charlize Theron is not impressed by you.</p>

Charlize Theron is not impressed by you.

Credit: Paramount Pictures

Exclusive: Charlize Theron has an attitude in the poster for 'Young Adult'

"She's hoping to score so I can't see her letting him go."

Marketing Jason Reitman's "Young Adult" has been a bit of a unique task for the director and Paramount Pictures. After all, a Reitman/Diablo Cody collaboration immediately conjures expectations of "Juno" (which, again, isn't as light and frothy as it has been considered over the years).

First came the teaser poster for the film, which was a riff on a young adult fiction book cover featuring a passed-out Charlize Theron, bottle in hand (and, I only noticed a few weeks back, a curiously phallic pillow draped across her back -- am I alone on that?). Then came the trailer, David Bowie's "Queen Bitch" bumping on the soundtrack and a bit of a broader shot that played coy with the film's darkest comedy elements.

Now we get the official one-sheet for the film, which has Theron and her attitude front and center and falls somewhere in between the two stabs at boiling the film down for a general audience.

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<p>Woody Harrelson in &quot;Rampart.&quot;</p>

Woody Harrelson in "Rampart."

Credit: Millennium Entertainment

'Rampart' campaign ramps up with qualifying release next week

Woody Harrelson vehicle to have one-week run ahead of January opening

I'm finally seeing Oren Moverman's police drama "Rampart" tomorrow evening, so for now, I'm taking it on Kris' word that Woody Harrelson's lead performance in the fall festival baby is a dark horse to be reckoned with in the Best Actor race. Kris has opined that Harrelson's turn as a volatile cop in 1990s LA is the high-water mark of the two-time Oscar nominee's career, but has voiced concern that his under-the-radar vehicle (distributed by budget outfit Millennium Pictures), may have landed too late in the race to get him in the circle, despite critical support.

"Why not hold it until Sundance next year?" was the question Kris and Anne brought up in last week's edition of Oscar Talk, something one asks every year of several indies that impatiently decide to debut in the cold crush of awards season. Still, Millennium are opting for the best of both worlds: they're releasing the film in late January 2012, when it'll have slightly more commercial breathing room, but holding a one-week, one-screen release next week so as to qualify it for Oscar consideration this year.

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