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The ceremony ran a little longer than average, hitting the three-and-a-half hour mark, but it was a remarkably painless evening at the Academy Awards. Ellen Degeneres was a good host, avoiding big production numbers and scripted segments, but doing several running bits with her audience of celebrities that came off very well. The hosting choices of recent years have been a very mixed bag, and I can see the Academy latching on to Ellen for the long term. Her humor's on the gentler side, but she can still land a good "You're all racists" zing once in a while. There were too many random montages and perfunctory appearances, but all the musical performances were pretty strong. Poor Idina Menzel stumbled with "Let it Go," but John Travolta has been getting more flak the morning after for mangling her name.

The awards themselves offered few surprises. Ever since the guild awards became more high profile and the prognosticators ramped up their game, all the suspense is gone. So "Gravity" won all the technical awards, there was a Director and Picture split, and Lupita Nyong'o beat out Jennifer Lawrence for Best Supporting Actress, exactly as everyone predicted. The only remotely surprising outcome came in Documentary Feature, where "20 Feet From Stardom" beat out "The Act of Killing," and it wasn't hard to figure out why in a crowd of entertainment industry insiders. Fortunately we had a good crop of heartfelt, well-delivered acceptance speeches this year. Darlene Love sang. The Lopezes rhymed. Spike Jonze brought imaginary people. Lupita Nyong'o was sobering and eloquent. Matthew McConaughey couldn't have been more charming.

I'm far from convinced that the right people won, but I wasn't too bothered by the ones who did. It actually helped that the choices were pretty much a foregone conclusion by this point and there weren't any major upsets. In spite of "Gravity" getting the lion's share of the trophies, totaling seven, nearly every film I liked came away with something. "12 Years a Slave" got Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay, and Supporting Actress. "Her" got Best Original Screenplay. It bothered me that "American Hustle" racked up so many nominations at the expense of much better films, but it came away the biggest loser last night. Zero for ten, which has got to hurt. There were an awful lot of shutouts last night, including "Nebraska," "The Wolf of Wall Street," "Captain Phillips," and "Philomena." With the expanded Best Picture field, I suppose it as inevitable.

The telecast never runs smoothly, and this year had its share of flubbed intros, weird cutaways, and technical glitches. However, the whole thing looked considerably more modern and well considered this year. The nomination graphics had a decidedly Web 2.0 design sensibility, with the final run of Best Picture hopefuls depicted in a flash animated segment instead of the usual montage of clips. The set design was unobtrusive, the musical cues only stuck out in a few cases, and I didn't catch a single instance of the orchestra drowning out a speech as a winner was played off stage. There were definitely some changes made to streamline the ceremony - no accountants, no prefilmed opening segment, and Ellen Degeneres did most of the intros for presenters instead of a generic announcer, which also gave her a chance to do more schtick - but the event's organizers seemed less worried about the time crunch this year, so everything felt more relaxed.

What I think made the most difference this year was that there was a lot more spontaneous interaction with the celebrities in attendance. Pharrell got Lupita Nyong'o, Amy Adams, and even Meryl Streep to dance with him during his performance of "Happy." Ellen seemed to be in the aisles as much as she was onstage, with her multi-part pizza gag and the epic selfie. Brad Pitt passing out paper plates and Jared Leto racing over to be in the picture are things that you just can't script. Harrison Ford was a lot more entertaining getting pizza in his seat than he was awkwardly reciting bland copy from the teleprompter. It gave the whole event a warmer, more personal, collegiate atmosphere. The appearance of people having fun counted for a lot.

I was glad to see that Sarah Jones was acknowledged, that the performance clips were in, that interpretive dance sequences were out, that Bill Murray got a chance to give a shout-out to Harold Ramis, and that Kevin Spacey brought his Frank Underwood drawl along for presenting duties. I have no idea what that animation "heroes" montage was about and the proliferation of older actresses sporting botox was disheartening, but these are minor quibbles. Yes, the Oscars were a little boring this year, but they were also much more watchable, pleasant, and enjoyable than they've been in some time.

Until next year, award show fans.
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7:01 PM - More Ellen and selfies with the audience. This is great. Meryl's never Tweeted before!

7:03 PM - Here's Michael B. Jordon and Kristin B. Ell. Ah, the Sci-Tech awards rundown.

7:05 PM - Chris Hemsworth and Charlize Theron are here to present the Sound awards. Sound Mixing goes to the "Gravity" team. Annnd Sound Editing goes to "Gravity." They're sweeping the technical awards, as predicted. Gotta speed it up, guys. We're past the halfway point of the ceremony, but only just getting to halfway through the awards to be presented.

7:11 PM - This is very cheery intro music for Christoph Waltz. Ooh, Best Supporting Actress time. Yay, Lupita Nyong'o wins! Quite a field in this category this year too. I haven't seen "August Osage County," but the rest of the nominees were stellar.

7:21 PM - Ellen's bit with the pizza goes on. Brad Pitt is on paper plate duty. They're shaking down Harvey Weinstein to tip the delivery guy.

7:23 PM - Here's the president of the Academy, Cheryl Boon Isaacs. The new museum they want to build looks very shiny.

7:25 PM - Amy Adams and Bill Murray are presenting Best Cinematography. Aw, Murray gives a shout out to Harold Ramis. Emmanuel Lubezki finally lands one for "Gravity." I can already hear the moaning from people who think there was too much special effects work involved for this to qualify. I don't care how many computers helped. That movie didn't shoot itself.

7:29 PM - Gabourey Sidibe and Anna Kendrick present for Best Editing. Cuaron's going home with at least one Oscar tonight! "Gravity" team wins!

7:32 PM - Whoopi Goldberg is presenting the special tribute to "The Wizard of Oz," celebrating its 75th anniversary this year (and because "Gone With the Wind" has too much baggage). Judy Garland's kids have shown up. And here's Pink singing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."

7:42 PM - Ellen's in a Glinda outfit. I love that crown. And the sleeve poofs. Here's Jennifer Garner and Benedict Cumberbatch presenting Best Production Design. Oscar goes to "The Great Gatsby" team. Mrs. Luhrmann just scored her fourth Oscar, and second of the evening.

7:45 PM - Chris Evans (that's two "Avengers" this evening so far) is presenting a montage of "popular heroes." Looks like this is genre movies, and the previous one was for historical and prestige dramas.

7:48 PM - Okay, another break. We're down to the music categories, the big six, and the memoriam. Hold on to your hats.

7:52 PM - Glenn Close is presenting the In Memoriam segment. Here we go. Didn't know about Les Blank or Frederic Back. Couldn't place the music until Richard Matheson's name came up - it's the theme from "Somewhere in Time." I'm glad they held Bette Middler's performance back until after the montage was over. Sorry to friends of Sarah Jones, but there were way too many people that had to be mentioned this year.

8:01 PM - Whoah, almost missed that little popup tribute graphic at the end there. Partial victory?

8:03 PM - They crashed Twitter! The selfie is currently the top post on Reddit. Lupita Nyong'o's brother just kinda snuck right into the middle of that one, didn't he?

8:04 PM - Goldie Hawn is here with the last batch of Best Picture nominees, "Philomena," "Captain Phillips," and "12 Years a Slave."

8:08 PM - And they roll out John Travolta to "Miserlou." He's introducing Idina Menzel to sing "Let it Go" from "Frozen." She didn't quite nail that ending there. Ah, the perils of live performances.

8:12 PM - Jamie Foxx and Jessica Beal present the music categories. Score goes to Steven Price for "Gravity." That's six by my count. Song goes to "Frozen." Robert Lopez has his EGOT. The Lopezes wrote a rhyming speech and they are awesome.

8:22 PM - Ellen's passing Pharrell's hat around for pizza money. Harvey, Spacey, Pitt, and Ejiofor chip in. Lupita Nyong'o adds her lip balm.

8:23 PM - Robert DeNiro and Penelope Cruz are presenting the writing awards. Adapted Screenplay goes to John Ridley for "12 Years a Slave." Hooray! And the steam is coming out of Armond White's ears as we speak.

8:26 PM - Original Screenplay goes to Spike! Go "Her"! His speech is adorable. It really has been a good night for speeches.

8:28 PM - They're running long. Four more to go.

8:30 PM - Has everyone seen the red carpet photo of Benedict Cumberbatch photobombing U2? Go Google it. I'll wait.

8:32 PM - Angelina Jolie and Sidney Poitier get a standing ovation - 50th anniversary of his Best Actor win, remember. They're presenting Best Director. Just want to give a shout out to whoever is doing the nominee graphics this year. They're fabulous. Alfonso Cuaron wins! Considering what it took him to get "Gravity" made, can't begrudge him one bit.

8:38 PM - I have no idea how Ellen keeps here energy up like this. Cute fake-out, but we've got a couple more to go.

8:41 PM - Ooh, Daniel Day-Lewis. Best Actress time. Cate Blanchett wins her second Oscar, and delivers a perfectly polished acceptance speech. Yep, Woody got namechecked. Suck it, haters.

8:47 PM - Jennifer Lawrence is presenting Best Actor. It's a McConaughey night. Alright, alright, alright! The man's career has had a heck of a turnaround these past two years. I'm happy for him.

8:54 PM - Best Picture! Will Smith presenting... which could be a tip off, but let's not get ahead of ourselves... okay these graphics instead of the montage are are lot of fun... Oscar goes to "12 Years a Slave." Oh with the hugging! "Gravity" still takes home seven trophies, remember. Brad Pitt is talking because he had a huge part in getting the film made, guys.

Steve McQueen, stop apologizing. You're a winner.

Now he's bouncing up and down. That's more like it.

Happy Oscar night. Proper dissection tomorrow.
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5:34 PM - Aaargh. I'm late due to a technical glitch. We're already partway through Ellen's monologue. Going well so far. Doesn't look like I missed a production number anywhere.

5:36 PM - The room loves Jennifer Lawrence. Who doesn't?

5:37 PM - Aw. Bruce Dern and Laura Dern are seated next to each other.

5:40 PM - Hi Anne Hathaway. Here comes Best Supporting Actor. Yes, we get performance clips this year! Leto wins, as expected. Good grief, he's not delivering this speech well. You'd think that with the roll he's been on, he'd have this down by now.

5:46 PM - Back to Ellen for a much needed energy boot. And here's Jim Carrey. We still love you!

5:47 PM - And Carrey's here to present the animation award. I don't know what he has to do with animation, but at least he's doing better than last year's presenters. I'm kinda confused by this montage though. It's a really poor sampling of movies. Oh, wait. He's not presenting an award. Just that lousy montage. Huh.

5:51 PM - Moving on, here. Pharrell with "Happy" the first Best Song nominee. Go Lupita!

5:56 PM - Samuel L. Jackson and Naomi Watts are presenting Costume, Hair, and Makeup awards. Costume goes to "Great Gatsby." Good to see this getting some recognition. Baz's "Gatsby" was a bust, it sure looked great. Ah, the winner is Mrs. Luhrmann! As a three-time winner, she's definitely got more Oscars than her husband.

6:00 PM - Makeup and Hairstyling goes to the team from "Dallas Buyers Club." Apparently they had the smallest budget too.

6:02 PM - Harrison Ford comes out to the "Indiana Jones" theme. He's presenting Best Picture nominees. Looks like they're doing them in batches this year. "American Hustle," "Dallas Buyers Club," and "Wolf of Wall Street" up first. Mr. Ford does not appear impressed by the lines he's been given.

6:05 PM - Channing Tatum is here to talk about an Academy outreach program called "Team Oscar." For all of five seconds.

6:10 PM - Ellen's handing out Lotto scratchers as consolation prizes.

6:11 PM - I've just lost audio, and have no idea what Kim Novak and Matthew McConaughey are saying, but Novak looks a little ill. Oh, they're presenting Animated Short! I haven't seen any of these, but the winner, "Mr. Hublot" looks great. The director is adorably nervous, and thanked his cartoon star, Mr. Hublot.

6:14 PM - Animated feature time. Oscar goes to "Frozen." Much as I'd have liked to see Miyazaki take another one home, it's about damn time Disney got a win in this category.

6:16 PM - Mark humor. I love Ellen. And here's Sally Field, looking gorgeous as ever.

6:19 PM - This "hero" montage is better, but still way too slanted toward modern films.

6:20 PM - Emma Watson and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are presenting Best Visual Effects. Oscar goes to "Gravity," of course. No mention of the picketers outside.

6:23 PM - Zac Efron presenting Karen O., singing "The Moon Song" from "Her."

6:29 PM - So they're not going to explain what Ellen was doing with that guitar? Okay, here's Kate Hudson and Jason Sudiekis with the Best Live Action Short. Oscar goes to "Helium." Good grief, none of these shorts are from the U.S.

6:33 PM - Best Documentary Short goes to "The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life" about Holocaust survivor Alice Herz-Sommer, who just passed away.

6:35 PM - More Ellen. I'm glad she's staying so present during the show instead of disappearing like some of the past hosts.

6:36 PM - Here comes Documentary Feature with Bradley Cooper. I've actually seen most of these this year. Holy moly, "20 Feet From Stardom" won. Over "The Act of Killing." "20 Feet" was a good film, but this is perplexing.

Okay, that's probably the best speech of the night. Nobody's playing her off.

6:40 PM - Kevin Spacey's here to give us the rundown of the Governor's Awards. I love the little Frank Underwood he slipped in there. Honorary awards went to Angela Lansbury, Steve Martin, and costume designer Piero Tosi. As usual, I wish I could have seen that ceremony. Wait, they gave the Hersholt to Angelina Jolie?

6:46 PM - That Google Play commercial officially had the best movie montage of the evening so far.

6:47 PM - Ewan McGregor and Viola Davis presenting Best Foreign Language film. Rooting for "Broker Circle," expecting "The Great Beauty" to take it. Yep, "The Great Beauty" wins. That film completely went over my head.

6:50 PM - Hi Tyler Perry. He's presenting more Best Picture nominees. "Nebraska," "Her," and "Gravity." Amy Adams does not realize the camera is pointed in her direction, making it look like she's as underwhelmed with the award show pablum as the rest of us. But damn, these are all good movies.

6:54 PM - Ellen's wardrobe change gets whistles. Hee. And here comes Brad Pitt to intro U2, performing "Ordinary Love" from the "Mandela" biopic that nobody saw. Ever since "Across the Universe," I have the sneaking suspicion that Bono is always in The Walrus mode.

6:59 PM - To be continued in Part 2 after I get a hummus refill.
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Yes, I heard about Harold Ramis. Terrible news. And yes, I heard about Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Shirley Temple, and Sid Caesar, and Joan Fontaine and Peter O'Toole right at the end of the year. I also heard about the passing of a few names you probably won't recognize, like Miklós Jancsó and Jimmy Murakami. I love all their work, but I've refrained from writing about them on this blog. I only write up full posts for the figures who really meant something to me personally, and by my account that's only happened three times to date, for anime director Satoshi Kon, for Ray Bradbury, and for Roger Ebert. As awful and tragic as losing some of the others were, writing about their deaths wouldn't be the same.

I decided on this policy a long time ago, because to set the bar any lower would mean making judgment calls I'm not particularly inclined to make. Just look at what's happened to the In Memoriam segment at the Oscars, where there's a full-blown battle every year over who gets on the list. Every year someone notable gets left out, leading to lots of grousing. Every year there are calls to just do away with the whole thing because the process has gotten so acrimonious. This year things have even taken on a political dimension, with a petition going around to include Sarah Jones, the second assistant director of "Midnight Rider," who was killed in a terrible accident during the film's production, in this year's montage. Cinematographer Haskell Wexler announced his support a few days ago. I don't think they have much of a shot, considering how jam-packed the list of potential honorees is this year. There's a good chance that Ramis isn't going to make it in this year because his death came so close to the date of the Oscar ceremony.

When the first "In Memoriam" montages started appearing in award shows in the 90s, I found them a highlight. It was a nice break from the awards show banter, and pointedly injected some real gravitas into the Hollywood spectacle. Sadly, all too soon they became criticized and compromised, as inclusion in the montages became a status symbol. Suddenly it was a big deal if a famous name was left out, even if the justification for adding them was iffy. People got emotional and nitpicky. Campaigns and petitions started appearing at the end of every year. For a while there were the complaints over the varying applause levels that different honorees would attract, which lead to requests that all applause be held until the end of the segments. Ironically, cutting the applause often made all the honorees seem less important. I've found the recent practice of inviting famous performers to sing something melancholy during the segment is awfully distracting. A few years ago the Emmys got The Canadian Tenors for theirs, which was pretty dire.

Want to add more names? That usually means that the In Memoriam segment gets stretched out to untenable lengths in an already lengthy awards ceremony, or that individual honorees get less time. The Emmys tried to mitigate this somewhat by specially spotlighting six notable figures, which didn't turn out so well. Cory Monteith got one of the special tribute spots over other beloved TV figures with far longer and more accomplished careers, which predictably brought out the complainers (me included). The Oscars have already posted a hefty list online of every Academy member who died last year to emphasize that they haven't been forgotten - simply that there isn't enough time for everybody in Sunday night's montage. Of course, not every notable or semi-notable figure from the film community who died last year was a member of the Academy.

The basic idea behind the In Memoriam segments and the sentiment that fuels their popularity remain perfectly legitimate. I still get a chill every time I spot someone in the lineup who I didn't realize was gone, or had forgotten had only passed recently. However, the major memorial montages have transmogrified over the years to stand for things that they were never meant to. In the eyes of many they're just another industry recognition to be fought over, bargained for, and dissected for motes of meaning by observers. What will it mean if Sarah Jones gets included in the montage over Maximilian Schell or Richard Matheson? What about if Paul Walker gets more applause than Joan Fontaine? What does that signal? Probably not much except the prevailing sentiments of the hour.

I have my own little list of names in my head of people that I hope the Academy doesn't forget, but honestly enough of a fuss has been made about this. And if I look at my own blog, there's really only one person I cared enough about to try and honor myself - Roger Ebert.

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The ceremony is next weekend and I've seen nearly all the big contenders, so let's get down to predictions and "If I picked the winners" for the major categories. It's been a fun, if overlong season full of drama and controversy, and there's some real ambiguity as to who is going to walk away with the top prize this year. Let's start from the top.

Best Picture - "Gravity" took home the BAFTA a few days ago, and there are still rumblings of a potential "American Hustle" upset, but I think the Academy is going to go with "12 Years a Slave." The narrative is just too good - the fiftieth anniversary of Sidney Poitier's Best Actor win, the first major film about slavery from a black director, and a bumper crop of prestige films about African-American this year that didn't get much attention like "Mandela," "Fruitvale Station," and "The Butler." Who ought to win? The only two nominees I feel strongly about are "12 Years" and Spike Jonze's "Her." I'm going with "12 Years a Slave."

Best Director - Alphonso Cuaron has won most of the early races, and considering what he went through to get "Gravity" made, he's certainly got a lot of points in his favor. Also, last year the Academy gave the award to Ang Lee for "Life of Pi," a similar technical marvel. "Gravity" doesn't have a shot at any of the other non-technical awards, besides Cinematography, so I'm guessing the recognition for "Gravity" will come here. Cuaron's biggest competition would be Steve McQueen, who would be the first black Best Director winner, but I think it's more likely that Best Picture and Director are going to be split this year. McQueen would be my pick if I chose the winners, though, for that hanging sequence if nothing else.

Best Actor - Matthew McConaghey's comeback is a great story, and he's done so well this season that I think the momentum is going to be with him. I could see Chiwetel Ejiofor or Leonardo DiCaprio winning too, but McConaghey has had a great run these past few years that the Academy will probably take into account. Personally, while I think McConaghey was the best thing about "Dallas Buyers Club," I don't think he was as good and Chiwetel Ejiofor or Bruce Dern in "Nebraska." My choice would be Dern.

Best Actress - I don't see anybody but Cate Blanchett going up to the podium to collect the statuette for "Blue Jasmine" and she deserves it. In fact, the conversation seems to have turned to how she should acknowledge Woody Allen in her acceptance speech, considering the controversy surrounding him these past few weeks. Sadly, it's not a very strong field this year, with too many appearances by old regulars like Meryl Street and Judi Dench. Amy Adams is a strong runner up though, in one of her best roles.

Best Supporting Actor - Jared Leto has been winning everything, so I don't see why he wouldn't continue to. The category is, sadly, something of a mess, missing Daniel Bruhl, Sam Worthington, and a couple of others who could have really made the race interesting. While I thought Leto did a perfectly fine job, my pick would be Michael Fassbender from "12 Years a Slave" in one of his most terrifying performances. Oh well, I guess I should be glad he was nominated at all. Really, what is Bradley Cooper doing here?

Best Supporting Actress - It's down to Lupita Nyong'o and Jennifer Lawrence. Lawrence won last year so the Academy will be wary of handing her two in a row, though she was one of the best things about the deeply problematic "American Hustle." Nyong'o has won her share of the preliminary bouts, enough that I'm going to call this in her favor. And I wouldn't be surprised if this is the only acting trophy "12 Years a Slave" ends up winning. My pick? June Squibb for "Nebraska," who totally knocked my socks off.

Best Original Screenplay - I haven't been keeping up with the writing races, so I'm going to take a shot in the dark here. I think we can rule out "Dallas Buyers Club," which is a pretty standard social issue film, and "American Hustle," where the screenplay seems to have been mostly ignored. That leaves "Blue Jasmine," "Her," and "Nebraska." I think there's too much heat on Woody Allen this year, so "Blue Jasmine" is out. Between "Her" and "Nebraska" I preferred "Her." I think the Academy voters will too.

Best Adapted Screenplay - "12 Years a Slave" is going to be the frontrunner here simply because the film is a frontrunner for Best Picture. I think its only real competition is "Wolf of Wall Street," as "Captain Phillips" and "Philomena" were much more performance-driven films, and "Before Midnight" is a dark horse. If I had my way though, I'd love to see an upset here with "Before Midnight" taking home the prize. The film was one of the best of the year and it deserves all the recognition it can get.

As a final caveat, I have proven to be notoriously bad at these predictions in the past. We'll see how I did on Oscar night.
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It's that time again. The nominations for the 2014 Oscars were announced this morning, and boy do I have a lot to say about them. Let's jump right in with the Best Picture nominees. No big out-of-left-field "Amour" level surprises, but "Philomena" and "Dallas Buyers Club" were relative long shots that I'm glad to see made it into contention. Meanwhile, "Saving Mr. Banks" and "Inside Llewyn Davis" not only didn't make the list, but failed to secure any major nominations. "Blue is the Warmest Color," "The Butler," "Rush," and "Fruitvale Station" were totally shut out.

Going by the Best Director nominations, the frontrunners here are "12 Years a Slave," "American Hustle," "Gravity," "Nebraska," and "The Wolf of Wall Street." That means that in spite of the controversy, Martin Scorsese's picture still won over a good chunk of the Academy, and "Captain Phillips" has lost most of its steam since October. "Nebraska" seems like a bit of an oddball because of its low profile, but the Academy has been very receptive to Alexander Payne's work, and we have to remember the older skewing age of the voters here. "12 Years a Slave" looks like the leader of the pack at the moment, and "American Hustle" is probably due for some backlash.

On to the acting categories, and what on earth is Christian Bale doing in the Best Actor category over Tom Hanks in "Captain Phillips" and Robert Redford in "All is Lost"? Or Oscar Isaac for "Inside Llewyn Davis" or Joaquin Phoenix for "Her"? Considering how competitive the category is this year, Bale's nod is a weird one. It feels like a coattail nomination that only happened because of the outsized support for "American Hustle." In Best Actress, there is a lamentable lack of Emma Thompson, and honestly a few too many of the same faces. I was hoping to see Brie Larson, Greta Gerwig, Julie Delpy, or Adèle Exarchopoulos steal away a slot from Meryl Streep or Sandra Bullock.

In supporting, I think I'd find Jonah Hill's second Academy Award nomination a more palatable prospect if it weren't for the fact that he probably bumped out Daniel Brühl for "Rush." Bradley Cooper also didn't add much to "American Hustle," making this an oddly weak category this year. On the Supporting Actress side, I can't say I'm too upset about the Oprah snub. Sally Hawkins in "Blue Jasmine," the underdog, gave the better performance. The weak link here is Julia Roberts, who was perfectly fine in "August: Osage County," but there were lots of more interesting work to choose from - Sarah Paulson, Lea Seydoux, Margot Robbie, and Scarlett Johanssen, for instance.

The writing categories reveal some interesting alternates. There's "Before Midnight" in Adapted Screenplay and "Blue Jasmine" in Original Screenplay, with "Gravity" the odd one out. And then there's Editing, which is usually one of the major predictors of awards glory. Of the five frontrunners, "The Wolf of Wall Street" was called out for some dodgy editing choices and doesn't appear here. Neither does "Nebraska." Instead, "Captain Phillips" and "Dallas Buyers Club" got the nods. The Cinematography category features a lot of interesting choices: "Inside Llewyn Davis," "The Grandmaster," and "Prisoners" join frontrunners "Nebraska" and "Gravity," though I think you could have made a good case for "12 Years a Slave" and "Captain Phillips" too.

On to the smaller categories. The nominations for Best Animated Feature aren't a surprise to anyone who's been following the race for a while, but I think "Monster University" should have gotten a spot over "Despicable Me 2" and "The Croods." And despite being the most talked-about documentary of the year, "Blackfish" didn't show up this morning in Best Documentary Feature. The Foreign Language Film category came out looking pretty toothless - what happened to "The Grandmaster"? How did "Wadjda" and "The Past" not even make the shortlist? "Blue is the Warmest Color" and "Like Father Like Son" really should have been in the running, and it's a shame they weren't submitted.

Finally some odds and ends. "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" picked up three nods in the Sound and Visual Effects categories. The much maligned "The Lone Ranger" picked up two for Makeup and Hairstyling and Visual Effects. "The Great Gatsby" got two for Production Design and Costume Design. Current box office champ "Lone Survivor" appears in both of the Sound categories. "Inside Llewyn Davis" is oddly missing from Best Song, despite getting so much love for its soundtrack, though it did pick up a nomination for Sound Mixing. I had to look up one of the other Song nominees, "Alone Yet Not Alone," which is is a super obscure Christian evangelist indie.

And scoring one nomination apiece are "Saving Mr. Banks," (Score) "All is Lost," (Sound Editing) "The Invisible Woman," (Costume) "The Book Thief," (Score) "Mandela Long Walk to Freedom," (Song), "Iron Man 3," (Effects) "Star Trek Into Darkness (Effects)

... and "Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa" for Makeup and Hairstyling. Heh.
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The Golden Globe nominations came out this morning, and something that I can't ever remember happening before has occurred. Ever since I started paying attention to awards season and seriously weighing the contenders against each other, the Golden Globes could be counted on to deliver a couple of nominations that felt like they came totally out of left field, and could only be explained by their wacky categorization rules (film nominees are split between Drama and Comedy or Musical categories) or their infamous reputation for being easily persuaded by aggressive campaigners.

Well, this year that didn't happen. Every single nominee in the film categories looks like an actual contender for the Oscars in a few months. The Comedy or Musical categories usually feature much slimmer pickings and often outright laughable choices like "The Tourist" and "Alice in Wonderland," but this year we've got "Amervian Hustle," "Her," "Inside Llewyn Davis," "Nebraska," and "The Wolf of Wall Street" in the Best Picture mix, the strongest group of nominees I've ever seen here. Even if you argue that some of the picks are dark horses, like "Philomena" or "Rush," these are pictures that have their supporters this season. Going through the acting categories, I couldn't find a single name that didn't deserve to be there, and quite a few I'm happy to see weren't overlooked, like Daniel Bruhl for "Rush." The "Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Comedy or Musical" is often a mess, but this year it's full of great work from smaller films: Julie Delpy in "Before Midnight," Greta Gerwig in "Frances Ha," and Julia Loius-Dreyfuss in "Enough Said."

The Golden Globes have definitely been getting more discerning and more serious about their choices in recent years, but it has to be said that we're look at a very good year for motion pictures. It's hard to feel bad that "Fruitvale Station" or "Blue is the Warmest Color" got shut out when you're looking at so many, many more good movies that did get recognition. Obvious studio awards bait like "the Butler," "Saving Mr. Banks," "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" have been losing traction as the season progresses, though they're still in the conversation. A recent Variety article estimated that there are at least twenty films with possible Best Picture Oscar chances this year, and the Best Actor race is the strongest in years. It's been a running joke that Leonardo DiCaprio is overdue for an Oscar win, but it's not clear if he's even getting a nomination this year. The various Critics Circle awards have started coming out, and there's been a wonderful variety in the top picks. Boston and Washington D.C. picked "12 Years a Slave." New York picked "American Hustle." Los Angeles declared a tie between "Her" and "Gravity."

2013 has come up with such a bumper crop of good choices, it's difficult to make a bad one. The AFI Award nominations usually have one or two obvious older-skewing legacy picks that have no Oscar chances whatsoever. This year, the only weak link on their Top Ten list is "Saving Mr. Banks," which can be assured an Oscar nomination for Emma Thompson for Best Actress, and is very much in the running for a Best Picture nomination, considering the Academy's usual penchant for films about filmmaking and populist crowd-pleasers. And though there are certainly frontrunners this year, notably "12 Years a Slave" and "American Hustle," there's a nice lack of consensus that's making it difficult to tell who's likely to end up with a spot - especially since the Academy pulled out five nominees for "Amour" last year. We're going to end up with longer lists of snubs than nominees this time for sure.

This year I'm way, way behind on the contenders, so I'm not really invested in who wins and who loses. I'm just enjoying the ride, and looking forward to lots and lots of good movies coming my way very soon. I love award seasons like this because none of the films feel like obligations. Even titles like "The Butler," which look like such by-the-book prestige projects to the cynical eye, are firmly on my to-see list. Lee Daniels of "Precious" directed this one, remember, and Forest Whitaker just snagged himself a Screen Actors Guild nomination. Mediocre movies like "Diana" and "Jobs," which might have elbowed their way into the conversation with some good campaigning in previous years had their hopes dashed months ago. It's no wonder less visible prestige pics like "Grace of Monaco" and "Monuments Men" opted to delay their release dates and get out of the way of the scrum.

A competitive year also tends to make the awards themselves more fun too. At least, they're more fun for a movie geek like me who does still care about who wins and loses.
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Many "Lord of the Rings" fans have long championed the notion that Andy Serkis, the actor who provides the motion capture performance and voice of Gollum, should have been seriously considered for Academy Awards and other honors for his work on the Tolkein trilogy. However, the Academy has traditionally avoided recognizing anything short of a full onscreen performance by an actor, though plenty of other smaller awards have. The Emmy Awards and the Annies, the animation industry's own awards, have categories recognizing voice-over performances. However, the only time I've heard of a voice-only performance being seriously considered for honors alongside a traditional one was the time Eddie Murphy was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor BAFTA Award for playing Donkey in the first "Shrek" movie. BAFTA is the British Academy of Film and Television Arts.

This year the controversy has arisen again, thanks to the well-received performance of Scarlett Johansson in Spike Jonze's "Her," where she voices a Siri-like computer operating system that they film's hapless hero falls in love with. Johnasson never appears on screen, but her character is fully formed, entirely through her vocal performance. The Academy hasn't said anything definitive one way or another about whether Johansson is eligible for a nomination, but the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, who put on the Golden Globes, have ruled that she's out of contention. The "Her" team has appealed the decision on her behalf, still pending at the time of writing. However, her prospects don't look very good. Even if she did secure nominations, she would surely be at a disadvantage with only a vocal performance being measured up against traditional performances from the other actresses.

My stance is that voice-only performances should be eligible, even if it's highly unlikely that they'd ever be able to be truly competitive. Others awards commentators have pointed out that nobody has any problems recognizing performances from silent films, or mute performances, or performances in different languages. A vocal performance is undeniably a performance that requires skill and talent, and should be recognized as such. A separate category for voice-only performances would be ideal, but it's not feasible for the bigger award shows, so they should be covered by the existing performance categories. Out of all the different types of specialized performances and artistry people have argued ought to get their own Oscar categories - motion capture, stunt work, performances by animals and children, animators, and puppeteers - voice-over work is one of the easiest to parse.

It's not so easy, for instance, to figure out how best to recognize Andy Serkis for his work as Gollum. Scarlett Johansson was entirely responsible for her own performance in "Her," but Gollum was the product not just of Serkis, but of hundreds of unseen animators and VFX artists and technicians behind the scenes who helped to turn that motion-capture performance into the digital character who appeared onscreen. Motion-capture technology hasn't developed to the point where an actor can simply put on the ping-pong ball sensors, and a fully finished, movie-ready performance is generated. These performances have to be "tweaked" and "plussed" endlessly. In some cases, the motion capture is really just a guide for animators who have to deviate considerably from the actor's performance to get something that looks right.

So do we credit the people who worked behind the scenes alongside the motion capture performer? Do we try to somehow separate out the performance from all the effects work that enhanced it? If so, how do you compare that to a traditional performance by a non-enhanced actor? And is it really fair to single out the actor when he was part of a team of people who all contributed to the performance? These kinds of basic categorization issues are probably why recognizing motion capture performances is so hard, and mostly hasn't caught on. Notably the Broadcast Film Critics Association Award has a Best Digital Acting Performance, and the MTV Movie Awards have Best Virtual Performance, both of which Serkis has won, but others seem content putting Serkis's performances in the usual acting categories.

It's also important to remember that the Academy does go out of its way at times to recognize individuals that it feels are deserving of kudos, but don't fit into its rigid categories. Special Oscars and Honorary Oscars have gone to all kinds of different artists, including puppeteers, stunt men, choreographers, animators, makeup artists (before their category was instituted), historian Kevin Brownlow, and scholckmeister Roger Corman. I'm willing to bet that if Andy Serkis keeps up the good work and remains popular, the Academy isn't going to let him go unrecognized in the long run, especially if motion capture performances become more important and prominent in the years to come.

As for Scarlett Johansson, I don't think this is her year, but she'll have plenty of chances at a statuette in the future, and those chances will undeniably be better if she appears onscreen.
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I had a lot of fun doing this last year, so we're back again. Who would the nominees and winners of the Oscars be if the voters were limited to choosing films that were only released during the first half of the year? I'm putting down my picks for the major categories, combining the Screenplay categories into a single one, because the logic of the Adapted/Original distinctions is just impenetrable. This year was more difficult to scrounge up possible nominees for than last year, because spring was really pretty dead, and most of the major summer contenders came later in the season. I'd be surprised if any of these films made a showing at Oscar time - which is the whole point of this little exercise.

Best Picture

Before Midnight
Frances Ha
The Great Gatsby
The Iceman
The Place Beyond the Pines
Side Effects
What Maisie Knew

I'm going to leave this at nine nominations, which is what the Academy had last year, because I've simply run out of likely contenders. I also considered Dannny Boyle's "Trance," which is too much of a genre picture, Terrence Malick's "To the Wonder," which is too esoteric and wasn't very well received by critics, and "Upstream Color," which is too far removed from the mainstream for most Academy viewers to deal with. "Upstream" is currently my favorite film of the year. Other possibilities like "The Kings of Summer" or "Disconnect" are too obscure to garner much support. Out of this bunch, the real contenders are probably "Place Beyond the Pines," "Side Effects" and "Before Midnight." "Before Midnight" would win, being the only picture with any buzz left this season, and because it would be a chance to recognize the other "Before" films at the same time.

Best Director

Brian Hegeland - 42
Richard Linklater - Before Midnight
Jeff Nichols - Mud
Derek Cianfrance - The Place Beyond the Pines
Stephen Soderbergh - Side Effects

I really wanted to put Noah Baumbach here for "Frances Ha," but the Best Director Nominees traditionally mirror the frontrunners for Best Picture, and crowdpleaser "42" would have a much better shot than "Frances." Besides, Hegeland is a Hollywood veteran and has a significant body of work, though mostly as a screenwriter. The other open slot goes to Jeff Nichols, becuase "Mud" was great, though not the kind of film the Academy usually goes for. The trophy would still go to Linklater for "Before Midnight."

Best Screenplay

Richard Linklater - Before Midnight
Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig - Frances Ha
Jeff Nichols - Mud
Derek Cianfrance - The Place Beyond the Pines
Scott Z. Burns - Side Effects

This is where I would put "Frances Ha," where I think it has the best chance for recognition. Aside from Baumbach and Gerwig for "Frances," and Scott Z. Burns for "Side Effects," this is nearly the same bunch as the Best Director group, underlining how important writer/directors have become in recent years. I don't think there's a clear favorite in this category, but my choice would be Baumbach and Gerwig for "Frances Ha," so let's go with that.

Best Actor

Chadwick Boseman - 42
Leonardo DiCaprio - The Great Gatsby
Matthew McConaughey - Mud
Michael Shannon - The Iceman
Ryan Gosling - The Place Beyond the Pines

Sorry Ethan Hawke fans. As much as I like him in "Before Midnight," he's never been the most memorable part of any of the "Before" movies, and the competition's pretty stiff. We can argue about whether McConaughey and Gosling should be counted as Lead or Supporting for their roles, but they were the headliners and made their time onscreen count. "The Iceman" didn't live up to Michael Shannon's performance, but wasn't able to diminish it either. Boseman played Jackie Robinson, which speaks for itself. Finally, Leo practically single-handedly made "Gatsby" work, and the Academy would likely give him the statuette for it.

Best Actress

Julie Delpy - Before Midnight
Greta Gerwig - Frances Ha
Rooney Mara - Side Effects
Amy Seimetz - Upstream Color
Onata Aprile - What Maisie Knew

Most of the major contenders didn't feature particularly memorable lead performances from actresses. So I had to dig into some of the less well-known titles. Delpy, Gerwig, and Mara have all been well recognized as being a big part of why their respective films worked. Delpy would probably go home with the Oscar. However, the most unique and interesting performance I've seen from an actress this year was Amy Seimetz's work in "Upstream Color," and if the movie would be honored by the Academy for anything it would be for that. Also, it's worth remembering that much of the buzz around "What Maisie Knew," was for the work of its excellent child star.

Best Supporting Actor

Harrison Ford - 42
Jude Law - Side Effects
James Franco - Spring Breakers
Nick Offerman - The Kings of Summer
Ben Mendelsohn - The Place Beyond the Pines

James Franco would be a long shot in the current race, but not here. Alien in "Spring Breakers" was one of the best supporting performances we got this spring. Harrison Ford's been having a nice, quite comback year, and "42" was one of the highlights. Jude Law was just as important in the chemistry of "Side Effects" as Rooney Mara. Nick Offerman completely surprised me in "Kings of Summer," and Mendelsohn has been sadly overlooked, despite contributing so much to the "Place Beyond the Pines" ensemble. No clear winner here, so I declare this a five-way tie. I also considered Jake Gyllenhaal and Joel Edgerton for "The Great Gatsby," but I just like the others more.

Best Supporting Actress

Gemma Arterton - Byzantium
Nicole Kidman - Stoker
Carey Mulligan - The Great Gatsby
Eva Mendes - The Place Beyond the Pines
Julianne Moore - What Maisie Knew

I'm the first to admit this is not a great list of performances, but again, most of the major films in contention were pretty male-centric this time. I specifically scoured my lists for older and obscure actresses, and came up almost empty. So, it's the usual favorites like Julianne Moore, Carey Mulligan, and Nicole Kidman who are back. Kidman was the most interesting thing about "Stoker," and the same goes for Gemma Arterton in "Byzantium." Eva Mendes managed to stand out in "The Place Beyond the Pines," quite a feat considering the cast. Mulligan gave the difficult role of Daisy Buchanan in "Gatsby" some life, and Moore was lovably hateable in "Maisie."

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As awards season barrels toward us, there have been several last minute scheduling changes, and there will probably be a few more to come. "Monuments Men," the George Clooney film about a group of art historians and preservationists trying to save important cultural works during WWII, has been delayed to next year. The stated reason is that there wasn't enough time to finish the special effects. It follows on the heels of other delayed films like Bennett Miller's "Foxcatcher" crime drama, and "Grace of Monaco," currently the subject of a very public spat between its director and the Harvey Weinstein, who wants to make some edits, as Harvey is wont to do.

These are only the most high profile titles that have exited the Oscar race, though. The Weinsteins are also holding back "The Railway Man" with Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman and James Gray's "The Immigrant" with Joaquin Phoenix and Marion Cotillard. Lionsgate is doing the same with the star-studded "A Most Wanted Man," based on the John le Carré nevel. Depression-era thriller "Serena" with Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper is in limbo, without a North American distributor, and it almost certainly won't be making it to screens this year. The much-debated and much-edited Weinstein version of Bong Joon-ho's "Snowpiercer" doesn't look like it's getting a 2013 U.S. release either.

To a certain extent this happens every year. The distributors strategize to maximize their award season chances, banishing weaker titles to the post-Oscar season. This time the race is particularly competitive. The Weinstein Company is handling multiple contenders including "Fruitvale Station," "Lee Daniels's The Butler," "August: Osage County," "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom," and "Philomena." They're in for a hard fight against early favorites like "12 Years a Slave," "Gravity," and "Captain Phillips." Other big upcoming titles include Alexander Payne's "Nebraska," the Coen Brothers' "Inside Llewyn Davis," David O'Russell's "American Hustle," Martin Scorsese's "The Wolf of Wall Street." And there are all kinds of potential spoilers like "Her," "Dallas Buyers' Club," "Saving Mr. Banks," "All is Lost," "Rush," and "Blue Jasmine."

The end-of-the-year deadline can also be daunting for filmmakers trying to finish complicated projects while maintaining artistic integrity. "Monuments Men" was originally slated for a December 18th release date, a very late premiere date for a major contender when early critics' awards are handed out at the beginning of that month. Most of the other titles hitting theaters around the same time, like "August: Osage County" and "Inside Llewyn Davis" had fall festival premieres much earlier in the season. The big exception is "The Wolf of Wall Street," which was delayed for a month, and there was significant speculation over whether it would pull out of the race entirely. Now it's slotted for Christmas Day, and everyone's crossing their fingers.

Now a film exiting the Oscar race doesn't necessarily spell doom and gloom. Last year "The Great Gatsby" was pushed from December to May, and it did quite well financially in summer blockbuster season. However, it is completely out of the running for serious awards contention this year, and if Leonardo DiCaprio is getting another chance at a Best Actor trophy, it'll be for "Wolf of Wall Street" and not "Gatsby." Since prestige films depend so heavily on awards buzz to fuel their marketing, more often than not the delayed films end up with much smaller releases and lower profiles, like "Girl Most Likely" or the most recent version of "Great Expectations."

Though there are always a few exceptions to the rule, but films that come out earlier in the year have worse chances at being remembered at Oscar time, and a distributor that releases a film too early is sending the signal that they don't have a real contender. "Monuments Men" has a new release date in February, 2014, which makes it very unlikely that it'll have any buzz left by the following December. The same holds true for "Grace of Monaco," which has been reshuffled to early March. Holding a film until the next awards season, like Warner Bros. did with "Gravity," is possible if they commit to it early enough, and makes for a bigger vote of confidence.

All in all, it looks like we're in for a great season. The slate is absolutely stuffed with good movies, and we're bound to have a few out-of-left field nominations like last year's "Amour." Plus, there have been some pretty resounding K.O.s already, ending the chances of "Diana," "The Fifth Estate" and "Jobs." Who knows who's going down next? And who's going to bow out before they're pushed? And is anybody going to be real competition for Cate Blanchett? I guess we can't count out Julia and Meryl, but time is running short, even though it's not even November yet.

It's a good time to love the movies.
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The latest "Breaking Bad" post is coming up tomorrow. But first, some thoughts on last night's Emmy-cast.

First, let me put forth the caveat that I didn't watch the show in ideal circumstances. My reception was crummy, so the sound kept cutting out, particularly in the last half of the show. Also, there were various other distractions that I won't detail here, except to say that I was rooting for the show to be over as quickly as possible.

As telecasts go, this one was certainly exciting, though things got off to a slow start. There was no opening dance number, no monologue, and no clever segment with host Neil Patrick Harris inserting himself into the nominated shows like we've seen in years past. Instead, we got an assortment of existing clips edited to make it look like various TV characters were conversing with Harris and each other. It didn't really work. Then Harris had some brief interactions with former hosts Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon, Jane Lynch, and Conan O'Brien, where everyone pretended thy didn't know that the Emmy's rotate among the four big networks, so they always pick Emmy hosts from their roster of available talent. Fortunately, Kevin Spacey saved the bit with a "House of Cards" aside, and then Tina Fey and Amy Poehler started catcalling Harris from the front row.

Things went more smoothly as the awards started being handed out. Harris kept his head and did a commendable job. A pre-taped segment with the cast of "How I Met Your Mother" landed better. Dance numbers did appear, but much later in the show - one at the midpoint, which seemed hurried and perfunctory, and one around the two-and-a-half hour mark, showcasing the cinematography nominees, who got their award elevated to the main ceremony for the evening. That one was more fun, giving us interpretive dance segments for some of the major nominees, including nuns and gimps for "American Horror Story" and haz-mat suits for "Breaking Bad." It provided a much needed energy boost when the show started slowing down during the Movies and Miniseries categories.

However, what really quashed a lot of the momentum this year was the decision to pay special tribute to Gary David Goldberg, Cory Monteith, James Gandolfini, Jean Stapleton, and Jonathan Winters in individual memorial segments. Who got singled out for the honor seemed to be a matter of whether they could get a major star to come up on stage and deliver a heartfelt remembrance. Will anyone remember Cory Monteith in twenty years the way people remember Larry Hagman and Jack Klugman? The big In Memoriam segment itself felt really slapdash this year, with a cellist grinding out Bach while a string of increasingly unflattering black and white headshots of the deceased paraded by.

And then there was the 50th anniversary bit for the Kennedy assassination and the appearance of the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show - which came across as an excuse to let Carrie Underwood murder a Beatles song onstage. The Elton John appearance was better, but it also felt a little out of place. I'm sure it was a major coup to land his appearance, but the tenuous ties to Liberace weren't enough to make the performance feel like anything more than a quick plug for his latest work. The show ran ten minutes long this year, and if they could have scaled back the memorials and the musical numbers, it would have made a big difference.

Because when you take a look at the actual awards this year, they were great. Lots of surprises and upsets. Lots of good winners and moments of suspense. Sure, "Modern Family" and Jim Parsons and Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Claire Danes won again, and "Beyond the Candelabra" cleaned up in most of the categories it was nominated for, but Tony Hale! And Merritt Weaver! And Bobby Cannavale! And Anna Gunn! And "The Colbert Report"! And "The Colbert Report" again! It was a big changing of the guard with "Colbert" breaking the ten streak of "The Daily Show" and "Breaking Bad" winning Outstanding Drama Series at last.

Many of the evening's best moments came from the winners themselves. Tony Hale and Julia Louis-Dreyfus accepting the Outstanding Comedy Actress trophy in character was great. Henry Bromell's widow accepting his award for Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series was touching. Michael Douglas, Ellen Burstyn, and James Cromwell lent some good star power. Abi Mogan was adorable. And after its absence last year, I was so glad to have the Outstanding Writing for a Variety Series nominee reel back.

There were some winners that felt out of the blue. "The Voice"? And Jeff Daniels for "The Newsroom"? Doesn't everyone hate that show? It did make the races exciting though. The drama categories felt like voters were purposefully trying to avoid past winners and spread the wealth around. I was disappointed that David Fincher didn't show up to collect his Outstanding Director for a Drama Series award, as it was the only chance for any winner to say anything about Netflix, the big elephant in the room.

No matter. "Orange is the New Black" becomes eligible next year, and it's going to make some of the comedy races really interesting. Let's hope the ceremony picks up the slack.

'Til next time.
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I'm not usually one to delve into the particulars of the Emmy race, since I don't know the television landscape nearly as well as I know the movies. There's also an institutional inertia about the Emmys that results in the same crop of nominees year after year after year. The narrative can get a little tedious and maddening. However, television has been producing so much quality media in recent years and the whole industry has been changing rapidly. This year's crop of nominees, though they do contain a lot of familiar names and faces, are a good reflection of that.

The biggest story is the arrival of the Netflix series. After months of serious campaigning, they've netted themselves fourteen nominations: nine for "House of Cards" and three for "Arrested Development," plus one for the title sequence of "Hemlock Grove." They're not pulling in nearly the numbers of the network or cable channels, but they've definitely arrived as a contender. Whatever you want to say about Netflix as a viable alternative to tradition forms of television, the Emmys have taken the stand that they're willing to recognize good work no matter where it originates from. "House of Cards" is in the running for Outstanding Drama Series, and Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright are going to be making the Lead Actor and Lead Actress races more interesting. Also making their debut is The Sundance Channel, with ten nominations for their miniseries, "Top of the Lake" and "Restless."

Aside from "House of Cards," the Outstanding Drama Series list looks about the same. Over in Outstanding Comedy Series, "30 Rock" is the mostly likely winner since it's their last season, but it's nice to see "Louie" finally breaking into the category. The returning "Arrested Development," sadly, did not. The lead acting categories have some new faces. In addition to Spacey and Wright, we have Jeff Daniels for "The Newsroom," Vera Farmiga for "Bates Motel," "Connie Britton for "Nashvile," Kerry Washington for "Scandal," and Laura Dern for "Enlightened." And Jason Bateman was nominated for the second time for "Arrested Development" after a gap of eight years. Over in the supporting categories, new nominees include Jonathan Banks for "Breaking Bad," Bobby Cannavale for "Boardwalk Empire," Mandy Patinkin and Morena Baccarin for "Homeland," Emilia Clarke for "Game of Thrones (Go Daenerys!), Anna Chlumsky and Tony Hale for "Veep," and Adam Driver for "Girls."

Miniseries are Movies are still one big unhappy consolidated mass for the time being, but the acting categories won't be next year, and some of the others may follow. As we've seen a resurgence in entries, there's been more competition for slots and there will be some un-merging going on soon. This year, the one to beat will be Steven Soderbergh's "Behind the Candelabra," which has landed Michael Douglas and Matt Damon in the Outstanding Lead Actor Category together (along with Al Pacino as Phil Spector) and brought renewed attention to television movies. "American Horror Story: Asylum" didn't get an Outstanding Miniseries/Movie nod, but it still racked up an impressive seventeen nominations, more than any other program this year. Also note that Laura Linney got her nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress of "The Big C: Hereafter," the truncated fourth season of the Showtime dramedy that was submitted as a mini-series.

So who got squeezed out? "Boardwalk Empire" seems to have been the biggest casualty, getting ten nominations, but mostly in technical categories. CBS's "The Good Wife" is also missing from the Outstanding Drama Series, and Julianna Marguilies from Outstanding Lead Actress. "The Newsroom" managed one acting nod, but little else. "Dexter" has been shut out completely. Jon Cryer won last year for "Two and a Half Men," and this year he hasn't even been nominated. Ditto past winner Melissa McCarthy for "Mike & Molly." Meanwhile, no love for newcomers "The Americans" or "Hannibal" despite all the good press. FX's "Justified," "Sons of Anarchy," and "The Walking Dead" are still on the outs. Still, it's hard to really call any of these snubs because the bar has been raised very quickly, and there are so many, many good shows in the running now.

Finally, because this is something I've been keeping track of for a while now, I'll note that this is an absolutely spectacular year for women directors - three nominations in Comedy (Lena Dunham, Gail Mancuso, Beth McCarthy-Miller), two in Drama (Michelle MacLaren, Leslie Linka-Glatter), and two in Movies/Miniseries (Allison Anders, Jane Campion).

The 2013 Primetime Emmy Awards Ceremony is scheduled for Sunday, September 22. I have no idea who is going to win anything, but I'm sure it'll still be a lot of fun, especially since Neil Patrick Harris will be back hosting the show. Speaking of which, where on earth did the Outstanding Performance in a Variety Show/Special go, I wonder?
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It's well past the three hour mark of the 85th Academy Awards Ceremony, and host Seth McFarland goes out on stage to grandly pronounce that the next presenter, Meryl Streep, needs no introduction - and then promptly leaves without another word. That pretty much encapsulates how McFarland's whole stint as Oscar host went last night. Yes, it was a little ruder and cruder than the awards circuit was used to, but at the same time the humor was so clever and self-reflective in an entertaining way, you had to give him credit.

After years of mediocre hosts, this time the most unlikely choice turned out to be the right one. Seth McFarland proved to be a great emcee, singing and dancing and calling himself out on his own bad jokes all night. He even interrupted his own monologue with a surprise appearance by William Shatner as Captain Kirk, who claimed he had come back from the future to save the Oscars from McFarland's poor hosting. While I don't think every joke landed and there were a few in pretty poor taste, at least McFarland managed to keep things exciting, and he was a real asset every time he appeared. At least the really egregious material, like the "We Saw Your Boobs" song number, and the Kardashian burn were framed in such a way that it was clear McFarland understood exactly what he was doing. And he was charming and engaging enough to get away with it. It wasn't all snark, though. McFarland pulled off an extended "The Sound of Music" joke in his intro for Christopher Plummer that was oddly sweet.

This wasn't one of the longer ceremonies, but it was still a pretty hefty one. The theme of this year's awards was to salute movie music, so not only were three of the Best Song nominees performed, but we also got a medley of musical numbers from Oscar favorites of the last decade, plus Barbara Streisand singing "The Way We Were" as an extra tribute to Marvin Hamlisch after the In Memoriam segment. You could have also spent all evening playing Name That Tune with the various movie tunes that were played throughout the evening, like "Cinema Paradiso" for the Best Foreign Film category or the orchestra cutting off the poor VFX winners with the "Jaws" theme. And the In Memoriam was backed by John Barry's "Out of Africa" score. That was a nice touch, as we lost Barry last year, but his music was noticeably missing from the prior ceremony. Unfortunately, in a questionable first, the live orchestra was revealed to be playing from a different building up the street.

Speaking of the VFX winners, one of the biggest stories of the night was that there was hardly any mention of the more than 400 visual effects artists who were protesting at this year's Oscar ceremony. "Life of Pi" has made over half a million dollars at the box office, but the primary effects house responsible, Rhythm and Hues, has just declared bankruptcy in part due to the industry's cutthroat business practices. So when "Life of Pi" won Best Visual Effects and the team was cut off while trying to give their fellow artists a supportive shout-out, it became a pretty sinister moment. Hopefully it'll get the issue more coverage.

As for the awards themselves, the early win of Christoph Waltz for Best Supporting Actor got my hopes up that there would be more surprises this year. Alas, that didn't happen. The rest of the expected actors won, and "Argo" took home best picture. However, there were a few upsets, the biggest being Ang Lee snagging Best Director for "Life of Pi." There was also a very unusual tie, in Best Sound Editing, between "Skyfall" and "Zero Dark Thirty." The awards were also spread out pretty evenly among the various big contenders, so there was at least a little suspense about who would go home with the Best Picture win.

In the end it was a night of many little disappointments and nice surprises. The much promoted tribute to 50 years of James Bond turned out to be just a clip montage followed by a performance of "Goldfinger" by Shirley Bassey. But then we got Seth McFarland and Kristen Chenowith singing a biting tribute to the Oscar losers to close out the ceremony as the credits rolled. Best Animated Short and Feature got saddled with the worst presenters of the night, Melissa McCarthy and Paul Rudd. However, the hysterical segments with Mark Wahlberg and Ted later on in the evening restored the good name of animation.

And someone had Russell Crowe's microphone turned up a little too high, but Crowe was a acquitting himself pretty well in the vocal department last night. And Jennifer Lawrence beat out everyone who I'd have preferred to see win a Best Actress Oscar, but she gave one of the most level headed Oscar speeches I've ever heard out of an actress, and even told everyone to sit down, insisting they were only giving her a standing ovation because she'd tripped on the stairs. And it was nice to see Streisand and Bassey and Catherine Zeta Jones and Jennifer Hudson.

And the appearance of Michelle Obama was a very nice surprise.

So all in all, not the best Oscars, but far from the worst. Better than the last two years at least, I'd say. And I'd be happy to have Seth McFarland back for another round in 2014.
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I've seen nearly all of this year's Oscar nominees. I'm missing most of the shorts, most of the documentaries, and most of the foreign films. However, I've actually seen just about all the movies in all the big categories this year, including every last Best Picture contender and all the acting performances. That's pretty big for me. Last year at this point in time I couldn't bring myself to plunk down the ticket money for "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" or "War Horse" (a wise decision in retrospect), and I was missing a bunch of performances from smaller films like "My Week With Marilyn." This year, the extra voting time for Academy members meant more time to hunt down the titles already released on DVD, and I did pretty well seeking out the likeliest nominees earlier in the season.

So the Oscars are this Sunday. Who's going to win?

If you've been following the awards race, it hasn't been difficult to work out the major frontrunners: "Argo" for Best Picture, Daniel Day-Lewis, Jennifer Lawrence, Anne Hathaway, and Tommy Lee Jones for the acting awards, and since Ben Affleck wasn't nominated for Best Director, it'll probably be Steven Spielberg who ends up with the trophy. Upsets are certainly possible, as the expectation was that "Lincoln" was going to sweep everything a few weeks ago, but now "Argo" has worked up a head of steam from the various guild awards and may walk away with most of the gold. Are these the most deserving possible recipients of Academy Awards? Well, no. Probably not. A lot of my favorites from 2012 weren't even nominated, but that's not unusual in the least. Watching the Oscars and hoping for quality to win out over popularity is an exercise in futility and masochism.

So why follow the race at all? As a long-time Oscar watcher, for me it stopped really being about the movies a while ago. Now it's all about the game. It's about the timing and the volume of the controversy around "Zero Dark Thirty," positioned as a major early contender at the beginning of December. It's about comparing the acceptance speeches of Jennifer Lawrence and Jessica Chastain at the Golden Globes to see which of them was going to get a boost from her appearance. It's about the "Argo" backlash and anti-backlash. It's about the Roger Ebert factor. Remember, he picked "Argo" as the likely Best Picture way back last fall, when "The Master" was still in the race. It's about watching the studios rush to create narratives around their nominees, to build ad campaigns, and to come up with new ways of attracting attention. Some cineastes bemoan the politicking and the showboating of the Oscar race, but I think that if you're in the right mindset it can be a lot of fun.

It's important to remember that the Oscars, and all of these big, nationally televised media award ceremonies, are about marketing. It's about being able to label a movie an Oscar winner or Oscar nominee to drum up more hype and discussion about them, and drive up ticket sales, DVD rentals, and Blu-Ray purchases. The Oscars have been one big marketing gimmick since the very beginning, and Oscar night is the biggest ad of all, full of stunts and celebrities that make the event an enjoyable watch. Sure, there's no guarantee who will take home the statuettes every year, but it's understood that to participate in the Oscars is to participate in a pretty cynical popularity contest, with Academy members, who are all industry professionals, the final arbiters of who is deserving and who isn't. That means that we're always going to get very mainstream, very marketable choices, though occasionally there will be something like "The Artist" or "American Beauty" that will sneak through.

However, it's also important to realize that the Oscars are a necessary evil, especially if you enjoy these higher quality prestige pictures. Being able to sell a movie as an awards contender is an important consideration in getting some of these movies getting financed and produced. The Oscar bump, where films see an increase in box office sales after nominations are announced, is a very real thing. Maybe "Les Misérables" and "Django Unchained" would have been able to get off the ground without the help of awards buzz, but what about Ang Li's risky "Life of Pi"? Or "Zero Dark Thirty"? And though I'm little mystified by the amount of buzz around "Amour" and "Beasts of the Southern Wild," I'm very happy that the awards race has brought more attention to both of them too.

It's no surprise that some filmmakers have denounced the whole affair, and there are regularly rebels who just won't play along. However, sometimes it's to the Academy's benefit to recognize those who want nothing to do with them, which is why Jean-Luc Godard got an honorary Oscar a few years back, and why Joaquin Phoenix got a Best Actor nomination this year in spite of ragging on the awards a few months ago. The Academy Awards does have to maintain some credibility to keep their reputation intact, and frankly leaving out Phoenix, who delivered one of the most talked-about performances this year, would have been a mark against them. Phoenix might even win, giving us another potential Brando moment.

So sometimes quality does trump popularity. And some of those Academy voters actually do take the task seriously. But how many, and to what degree? We'll have to wait until Oscar night to find out.
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First things first. The full list of nominees, for your perusal, is over here. I'm afraid that I still haven't seen a good chunk of the major contenders so I can't comment too much on how strong or weak I think the nominees are this year. However, I can talk about the politics a bit, and the state of the awards race.

There's probably only one question on every Oscar prognosticator's mind today, and that would be "Amour"? Specifically, how did a emotionally devastating French-language end of life narrative directed by one of Europe's most dedicated cinema sadists end up with five nominations, including "Best Picture"? There was some talk of it picking up acting awards, and Emmanuelle Riva did pop up in the Actress in a Leading Role category, but I don't know anyone that had this as a remotely likely Best Picture contender. If a movie about the travails of senior citizens was going to be in the running, the expectation was that the lighter and funnier "Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" might have a shot. "Amour" also beat out "Moonrise Kingdom," which was building buzz for months, but in the end only came out with a Best Original screenplay nomination. Also absent is "The Master," not a big surprise honestly, since it wasn't nominated in most of the preliminary contests. I'm still puzzled at how weak the support has been though, considering how much the critics love this and how everyone was talking about it back in September.

The directing category brought even bigger surprises though. Usually this category mirrors the top contenders in the Best Picture category, but this time around I'm not so sure that's true. Theres' no Tom Hooper, to the relief of some, who didn't appreciate all the wide-angle close-ups in "Les Misérables." But there's also no Ben Affleck for "Argo" or Katherine Bigelow for "Zero Dark Thirty." Send a sympathy card to Quentin Tarantino, because he's not here either. Instead, we have the expected Steven Spielberg for "Lincoln" and Ang Lee for "Life of Pi," dark horse David O. Russell for "Silver Linings Playbook," even darker horse Benh Zeitlin for "Beasts of the Southern Wild," and dear god, never in a million years would I have predicted Michael Haneke for "Amour," in the running for a Best Director trophy. Where does this leave our Best Picture race? I have no idea. "Lincoln" is the most likely winner because it's the most conservative and popular choice, with the most nominations, but you can't ignore the groundswell of support for "Beasts" and "Amour" either. And I wouldn't count out "Les Misérables" or "Argo" or "Zero Dark Thirty" just yet, which secured plenty of other nominations to potentially offset a missing Best Director nod. Boy, this is going to be an interesting year.

Turning to the acting categories, this is where "The Master" got its only nominations, for Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Amy Adams. Phoenix and Adams were big question marks after they failed to secure SAG Awards nominations, as the SAG Awards are usually considered a strong predictor of the Oscars - but it looks like that wasn't true this year. The Best Actor nominations aside from Phoenix have been pretty much decided for a while now. I'm a little disappointed John Hawkes from "The Sessions" got squeezed out in the end, and I really have to see "Silver Linings Playbook" to figure out what the hell Bradley Cooper pulled off to put himself in this kind of company. Then again, he doesn't have a chance against Daniel Day Lewis, who is most likely going to win again. I'm glad the Best Actress category found room for both Emmanuelle Riva and Quvenzhané Wallis from "Beasts of the Southern Wild," though that meant Marion Cotillard for "Rust and Bone" and Rachel Weisz for "The Deep Blue Sea" were out. I'd happily swap out Naomi Watts for one of them. She was perfectly fine in "The Impossible," but not at the same level. Jessica Chastain for "Zero Dark Thirty" and Jennifer Lawrence for "Silver Linings Playbook" remain the frontrunners.

The Supporting categories can usually be counted on for some interesting, oddball nominations, but they're both pretty boring this year. Alan Arkin in "Argo" and Robert De Niro in "Silver Linings Playbook" in Best Supporting Actor both feel like unfortunate legacy picks, when there was a wealth of more interesting performances to choose from. I'm surprised only Christoph Waltz got recognized for "Django Unchained," when Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson were just as good. Maybe the Academy was a wary of nominating them for playing such vile and terrible villains. And maybe that's why Javier Bardem for "Skyfall" isn't here either. The lack of Matthew McConaughey, however, is deeply disappointing. In Best Supporting Actress, it's good to see Helen Hunt back, especially for a role in "The Sessions" that had so much onscreen nudity. Jacki Weaver's work in "Silver Linings Playbook" hasn't been getting much buzz at all, and I'm not sure what to make of her inclusion here over Ann Dowd for "Compliance" and Nicole Kidman for "The Paperboy." On the other hand, it's a relief to find that Maggie Smith for "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" isn't here, which looked like it was going to be a real possibility a few weeks ago. My guess is that Philip Seymour Hoffman and Anne Hathaway will walk away with the statuettes.

The Best Writing nominees mirror the Best Picture nominees again, except subtract "Les Misérables," which pretty much transcribed the stage musical, and add "Moonrise Kingdom" and "Flight," which cements their positions as runner-ups for the bigger awards. The lack of "The Master" here suggests that Paul Thomas Anderson wasn't even close. Best Cinematography includes Seamus McGarvey for "Anna Karenina" and Roger Deakins for "Skyfall," which both made decent showings in the smaller categories. There's a good chance that Deakins could win this, because he's overdue for the honor, and the Academy is making a special effort to recognize the James Bond franchise this year. That wasn't quite enough to secure the acting nominations that some were predicting, though, so we'll have to wait and see. In Best Editing, "Les Misérables" is missing again, which is not a good sign, because the category is another key predictor of which movies have the most support. "Argo" and "Zero Dark Thirty" appear instead. These two pictures may not have the most nominations, but they have them where it counts.

In the Best Animated Feature category, it looks like this year's foreign import slot will go to "The Pirates! Band of Misfits" instead of something really obscure, like "The Rabbi's Cat." I'm okay with this, since "Pirates!" didn't get much attention Stateside and deserves the acclaim. That also puts three stop-motion features in the running, a nice little move of solidarity behind an animation sub-genre that Boxofficemojo pointed out didn't have a very good year financially. Among the Best Foreign Language Films, it's inevitable that "Amour" is going to win, since it got that Best Picture nod. I haven't seen most of the nominees here, but I am surprised that France's crowd-pleasing "The Intouchables" wasn't nominated after making the shortlist.

Now for some odds and ends. "Chasing Ice" didn't make it into the Best Documentary category, but got a Best Song nomination for "Before My Time." Eiko Ishioka, longtime collaborator of Tarsem Singh, posthumously received a nomination for Costumes in "Mirror, Mirror." She passed away last year of pancreatic cancer. The Best Art Design Category has been renamed Best Production Design, and Best Makeup is now Best Makeup and Hairstyling. One of the contenders in both categories is "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," which only came up with three nominations this time around. The third was for Visual Effects, alongside "The Avengers" and "Prometheus." Meanwhile, Television's "The Simpsons" have their first Oscar nomination, for "Maggie Simpson in 'The Longest Daycare,'" which is up for Best Animated Short Film.

Films completely shut out include "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," "The Dark Knight Rises," "The Promised Land," "Hyde Park on Hudson," "Arbitrage," "Looper," "Rust and Bone," and poor "Cloud Atlas," which I was hoping would at least get a Best Score nod.

Oh, and as a last note, Seth McFarlane is hosting the Oscar telecast this year, and the Academy managed to scrounge up a nomination for him too. He's up for the Best Song category, having written the lyrics to ""Everybody Needs A Best Friend" for "Ted."
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Yesterday the New York Film Critics Circle (NYFCC) officially got awards season off to a start by handing their top kudos to Katherine Bigelow's "Zero Dark Thirty." This is the same organization who got everyone so worked up last year when they announced their winners at the end of November, before several would-be contenders had a chance to screen. However, their choice proved to be prescient. "The Artist" was chosen as best film, and went on to win the Best Picture Oscar a few weeks later.

The NYFCC is considered one of the most important preliminaries to the Oscars, because it's one of the earliest competitive awards given out in the season. The various critics' circles awards may not have much prestige individually, but they are extremely influential, as they reflect the choices of various film critics across the country. Contrary to popular belief, movie reviewers have absolutely no say in the Academy Awards, because the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences is essentially a trade organization. You actually have to be in the movie business as an actor, director, producer, or be in a related movie trade in order to be considered for membership. The biggest percentage of the Academy is composed of actors, which is why one of the strongest predictors of who will prevail at the Oscars is actually the Screen Actors Guild Awards, and to a lesser extent the guild awards for directors and producers and so on.

The critics' groups are far more low key. There are dozens of them, mostly based around geographical areas with membership limited to those writing for certain publications. We've also seen a spate of online critics' groups forming in recent years as the print publications have grown less influential. The more prominent circles include Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, and Washington D.C., mirroring the country's major newspapers. New York is the oldest of them, having given its first prize to John Ford's "The Informer," all the way back in 1936. Their roster has included such iconic names as Bosley Crowther, Pauline Kael, Andrew Sarris, and Judith Crist over the years. However, even in aggregate, the critics' awards hardly register in the consciousness of the general public. Compare the NYFCC with the considerably less celebrated Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), the organization that puts on the Golden Globes. In Hollywood, it's still the spectacle that sells.

And yet, the critics' circles will often have a major impact on the awards race because their awards are coming from people widely recognized as having informed opinions. The job of people in Hollywood is to make movies. The job of the critics is to evaluate them. So the only people at the start of the awards season who have plausibly seen all the movies in contention for the big awards are the critics. They've also proven to be reliably hype-proof, and willing to champion smaller films that might slip under the radar otherwise. 2012 is a pretty crowded year, and there's a wealth of potential nominees, so every little bit of validation helps. The NYFCC choice I'm the most pleased about is Rachel Weisz winning Best Actress for "The Deep Blue Sea," a heavy British drama that came out very early in the year, was extremely underseen, and in significant danger of being overlooked. And then there's the Supporting Actor nod for Matthew McConaughey, for his work in "Magic Mike" and "Bernie," more small films without much buzz behind them so far.

I admit that when you get down to the basic mechanics, the critics' circles appeal to me more than the bigger awards. They're usually just a few dozen film writers who get together once a year to argue and vote on their favorite movies. Poke around online and it's easy to find casual write-ups on how the winners were chosen in certain groups. There's plenty of open discussion on the balloting procedures and the close-calls and the surprises. A couple of NYFCC members even provided Twitter updates as they voted this year (Hi Dana Stevens!) You never get this kind of transparency from the Academy, who are all serious business and have their ballots sent to an accounting firm to be tabulated. Of course, due to the nature of the Oscars the formality is a necessity, but reading over the NYFCC post-mortems this morning (Hi J. Hoberman!), the critics take themselves just as seriously, but still seem to have more fun.

No indication yet as to whether the NYFCC's choices are going to be reflected by the Academy, but as for me, "Zero Dark Thirty" is getting priority as Christmas viewing this year over "Django Unchained" and "Les Misérables." I have serious doubts that "Zero Dark Thirty" has cinematography comparable to "Life of Pi" or "The Master," so I'll have to take a look and see for myself.
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I've never really understood the point of mid-year movie best-of lists, because we all know that a significant majority of quality films show up in the final three months of the year. However, I suppose they do help to spur awareness of smaller titles that were released earlier in the year, that are too often overlooked at awards time. But then, why release those lists at the beginning of July, in the middle of the blockbuster season, when the only thing anybody's interested in is counting up the returns at the summer box office? Nope. By my reckoning, a mid-year list makes the most sense closer to the end of it. I'm traditionally months and months late with all my other best-of lists anyway. So here are my picks for Academy Award nominees, based solely on films released during the first six months of 2012.

Best Picture

Damsels in Distress
The Deep Blue Sea
Moonrise Kingdom
Safety Not Guaranteed
Your Sister's Sister
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Magic Mike
Take This Waltz

This is still weighted heavily toward May and June releases because I disqualified all the titles that qualified for the previous year's Oscars. That means "Coriolanus," "We Need to Talk About Kevin," "Rampart," "The Kid With the Bike," and "Once Upon a Time in Anatolia" have to sit this out, even though they didn't get proper releases until January and February. "Beasts of the Southern Wild" and "Moonrise Kingdom" would be the favorites, simply based on the fact that they're the only films that still have awards buzz six months later. I expect "Moonrise Kingdom" would win based on the fact that it's more accessible. I feel this is a pretty good mix of innovative mainstream crowd-pleasers like "Chronicle," "Magic Mike," and "Ted," with auteur-driven projects like "Moonrise," "Beasts," and Whit Stilman's "Damsels in Distress," plus a couple of ensemble-driven pieces, "The Deep Blue Sea," "Take This Waltz," "Your Sister's Sister," and a scrappy underdog in "Safety Not Guaranteed." Other potential contenders I thought about were "Jeff, Who Lives at Home" and "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen."

Best Director

Whit Stillman - Damsels in Distress
Terence Davies - The Deep Blue Sea
Wes Anderson - Moonrise Kingdom
Benh Zeitlin - Beasts of the Southern Wild
Steven Soderbergh - Magic Mike

This is really just whittling things down to reflect the most likely winners among the Best Picture contenders. Wes Anderson would take it, of course. These would also be the films I'd pick for any Best Writing category, which I decided to leave out of this post because I'm not keen on dealing with the complicated Adapted/Original distinctions.

Best Actor

Channing Tatum - Magic Mike
Denzel Washington - Safe House
Liam Neeson - The Grey
Aksel Hennie - Headhunters
Mark Wahlberg - Ted

This was the toughest category to come up with nominees for, because there was a serious dearth of good, male-driven dramas. I had to fudge things a little and categorize Denzel as a lead actor instead of supporting, and I nearly put Seann William Scott for "Goon" in here until I looked at the foreign options and remembered how much I liked Aksel Hennie. I think Liam Neeson would end up taking it because of the challenging nature of the role and the fact that he was the only thing in "The Grey" worth remembering.

Best Actress

Rachel Weisz - The Deep Blue Sea
Michelle Williams - Take This Waltz
Aubrey Plaza - Safety Not Guaranteed
Greta Gerwig - Damsels in Distress
Quvenzhané Wallis - Beasts of the Southern Wild

A much stronger field to work with here. Emily Blunt would also be a strong possibility based on her work in "Your Sister's Sister" or "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen." Based on the ones I picked, I think Rachel Weisz would take the statuette easily as the driving force behind "The Deep Blue Sea," which was sadly overlooked during its brief run in March. I don't think she has enough buzz behind her to get the Oscar-watchers' attention this season. Quvenzhané Wallis delivered a real knockout child performance though, so I wouldn't count her out yet.

Best Supporting Actor

Tom Hiddleston - The Deep Blue Sea
Simon Russell Beale - The Deep Blue Sea
Amr Waked - Salmon Fishing in the Yemen
Michael Fassbender - Prometheus
Edward Norton - Moonrise Kingdom

Not sure how both Mark Duplass and Jake Johnson from "Safety Not Guaranteed" failed to make the grade, but there was a wealth of possible choices here. Also thought about Live Schreiber from "Goon," Dwight Henry from "Beasts of the Southern Wild," and Matthew McConaughey for "Magic Mike," but Fassbender's performance in "Prometheus" was so much better than the film it appeared in, I had to give him the nod. I don't have a favorite here, so let's call it a toss-up.

Best Supporting Actress

Rosemarie DeWitt - Your Sister's Sister
Judy Greer - Jeff Who Lives at Home
Mila Kunis - Ted
Sarah Silverman - Take This Waltz
Maggie Smith - The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

I wasn't too taken with "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," but the movie was so popular that Maggie Smith's appearance in this category would be inevitable. Briefly considered Eva Green from "Dark Shadows," Susan Sarandon from "Jeff, Who Lives a Home," and a few of the ladies from "Damsels in Distress," but this feels about right. I'd hand the statuette to the terribly overlooked Judy Greer, though I think Mila Kunis would be able to work up a lot of momentum behind her.
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I decided not to liveblog last night's ceremony, though at certain points I wish I had, because there were some really slow points this year. It is not nearly as much fun watching award shows when you haven't watched any of shows that win the awards. "Modern Family" continues to be on that giant list of shows that I'm interested in, but isn't a priority. Meanwhile, I watched the first episode of "Homeland" a while back and was so unimpressed with it, I didn't even bother writing a review. Apparently it got better, because the show nabbed several of the major awards, including Outstanding Drama Series, leaving the contenders that I had been following this year, "Mad Men," "Breaking Bad," and "Game of Thrones" in the dust, along with "Downton Abbey." I really can't complain, because I haven't seen enough of "Homeland" to have a decent basis of comparison, and I'm not in a hurry to remedy this. However, I'm highly incredulous since "Mad Men" and "Breaking Bad" both had incredibly strong seasons. Maybe they cancelled each other out.

The "Homeland" wins at least made this year less predictable. There were still some winners that had me rolling my eyes, like "The Amazing Race" winning for Outstanding Reality Program and all the supporting acting awards in the comedy categories going to "Modern Family" cast members again. However, Julia Louis-Dreyfus picked up a statuette for "Veep," and performed a great bit with Amy Poehler during her acceptance speech that echoed last year's impromptu beauty pageant in the category, and Louis C.K. won for writing on "Louie" and for his stand-up special later on in the evening. I have no idea how John Cryer walked away with Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series, but who can begrudge the man after what he and "Two and a Half Men" have been through lately? And then there were the repeat performers that you couldn't really argue with, like "The Daily Show" nabbing its tenth trophy in a row. Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Fallon tackling Jon Stewart as he tried to make his way onstage to collect was a high point of the evening.

Easily the most awkward stretch was the Movies and Miniseries categories, where I don't think anybody had really seen the nominees, and trophies were being handed out to actors we knew better from their films, like Julianne Moore and Kevin Costner. I was momentarily mortified that Benedict Cumberbatch and Idris Elba both showed up to lose the Outstanding Lead Actor trophy to Costner. Didn't anyone tell them that "Sherlock" and "Luther" were only in the mix to shore up the faltering number of domestic long form programs, and there was no way in hell an import would win anything against American-made products like "Game Change" and "Hatfields & McCoys"? This ain't the Golden Globes. Also, the shuffling of different categories around with the Creative Arts Emmys was very noticeable this year. We had the Outstanding Writing for a Variety, Music, or Comedy Special winner announced, but not the Outstanding Writing for a Variety, Music, or Comedy Series winners, which always has the bit with the long lists of writers from various late night programs. I always looked forward to their finding new ways to picture all the nominees (As chimps! As politicians!) but this year it was not to be.

The presentation itself was fine. Kimmel was a decent host, if not particularly memorable. The opening sequence was weird, but a good kind of weird. Even though I'm not sure what bits like the Tracy Morgan fake-out were supposed to accomplish, none of the scripted sketches or comedic moments elicited any cringing. However, I wish they wouldn't front-load them in the Comedy section so much, especially as some of the categories later in the evening could have really used their energy. Also, I wish they had saved Josh Groban for the actual In Memoriam segment instead of the fake In Memoriam devoted to Kimmel. This year I think the audience was ordered not to clap until the very end, which was a good idea in theory, but the segment felt weirdly muted as a result. Still, the presenters were lively, the winners were mostly articulate, and the cameos were appropriate. The Q&A format for the writing and directing nominees worked great, and I hope they keep it the next time around.

There's always room for improvement though. Maybe John Hodgman's announcing turn was too heady, but whoever wrote this year's stuff was just awful. Why do we care where the winners were born? Also, I was severely irked by some of the montage segments, particularly for the Drama category. They decided to highlight specific shows this year, but only had room for a handful - so of course they used up two slots with clips from "Once Upon a Time," and "NCIS" instead of, oh, "Justified" and "Treme." This may seem like a small thing, but the montages are really the only place where less high-profile shows get any recognition at all during the evening, and there are so many, many good ones out there now, it's very obvious and aggravating when they pander to more popular tastes.

But there's always next year.
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Hello! If you don't know the drill by now, what follows are links to previous blog posts I've written, along with updates and further thoughts that I wanted to put down, but I didn't feel warranted an entire new post by themselves. Lots of television and superhero related stuff this time. Here we go.

Can We Talk About the Justice League? - After the success of "The Avengers," there's been a lot of chatter about an upcoming "Justice League" film that would skip the individual introductory films and just go straight into a big team adventure. Will Beall was hired for scripting duties, release dates have been rumored, and Ben Affleck was offered the chance to direct, which he declined. The most interesting wrinkle here is that it Warners is going to fast track this movie, they're not going to wait for a Batman reboot, opting instead to introduce the new version of the character in the "Justice League." Also, it's not clear if the film will have any direct connection to "Green Lantern" or the upcoming Zack Snyder "Superman."

Where Are the Female Directors? In Television! - Alas, only one Emmy nominee to add to the list this year, Lena Dunham for "Girls" in the Direction for a Comedy Series category. Good luck Lena!

Keeping Up the Theatrical Habit and The New Dominant Media - As we're slogging through the post-summer doldrums, financial analysts keep charting further declines in the fortunes of the movie studios. This past weekend, theaters had the lowest attendance numbers in over a decade, and there appears to be no relief in sight. There has been another round of studio soul-searching as a result. Gavin Polone wrote this great piece about the comparative quality of current television and the movies, detailing the dysfunctional movie development process that that favors unoriginal concepts and franchise properties. This is the reason why it feels like you've seen everything playing at your local multiplex already.

My Second Annual Holiday Wishlist - I've been pretty happy so far. "Akira" has been put on the back burner at Warners. "Twilight" is giving way to "The Hunger Games." Nobody spoiled anything too important about "The Dark Knight Rises" or "The Avenger" for me, and Josh Larsen is doing a pretty good job so far at filling the shoes of Matty Robinson on the Filmspotting podcast. On the other hand, that last "Doctor Who" Christmas special was only so-so and the fourth season of "Community" remains a giant question mark.

A "Munsters" Reboot? Really? - Bryan Fuller's "Munsters" reboot is now "Mockingbird Lane," starring Portia de Rossi and Jerry O'Conell as Lily and Herman, with Eddie Izzard as Grandpa. A four minute trailer for the pilot was shown at Comic-Con over the summer. There was some talk of the series being a prequel focusing on the courtship of Lily and Herman in their younger days, but the current version has newcomers Mason Grant and Charity Wakefield in the roles of Eddie and Marilyn, so it looks to be a pretty straightforward update of the original series.

Evil Queen Ascendant - After seeing all of their movies, I wasn't too impressed with most of the villainesses I discussed. Julia Roberts in "Mirror, Mirror" was pretty mediocre. Charlize Theron's role as Meredith Vickers in "Prometheus" showed some potential, but it was completely squandered. Her nasty evil queen in "Show White and the Huntsman" was much more fun, but the movie was pretty blah. As for Catwoman, I have no complaints about the Anne Hathaway performance, but I wasn't all that enamored with her either. To date, my favorite villainess of the year is Marge Nugent from "Bernie," played by Shirley MacLaine.

Thundercats" Ho! - After twenty-six episodes on the Cartoon Network, it does not appear likely that the new "Thundercats" reboot is going to get a chance to come back and finish its story, which ended on a cliffhanger. The ratings sank after the premiere, and the show's creators are starting to scatter to other projects. It's a real shame, because I've recently caught up with some of the later episodes, and the quality of the animation and the worldbuilding and character development stayed pretty stellar throughout the whole run. The worst part is that this will probably discourage studios from doing similarly ambitious shows in the future. Oh well. At least I've still got "Korra."

I Gotta Talk About "Wonder Woman" - Finally, last week Vulture reported that the CW is going to try and crack the "Wonder Woman" reboot after David E. Kelley's version went down in flames last year. It's currently only in the earliest scripting stages, with the working title "Amazon," and will likely be an origin story skewing to a much younger audience than the last one. Note that there's also supposed to be a "Wonder Woman" feature film in development, which might complicate things.
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So, we're four months from the end of the year, and there are already "Best of 2012" compilations and lists starting to float around. The Venice Film Festival is currently in full swing, and the Toronto International Film Festival is just around the corner, meaning that we're at the beginning of awards season, but it doesn't mean that we know who all the contenders are yet. Anybody trying to make predictions now based on the existing film slate is jumping the gun because there are still anticipated several titles that aren't on any release schedules yet. A couple of the big ones to keep an eye out for below:

"To the Wonder" – Terrence Malick's latest film debuted yesterday at Venice to divisive reviews, and most of the news coverage has focused has focused on how most of the marquee names associated with the production have seen their roles drastically reduced or cut out completely. In the wake of complaints that "To the Wonder" is too esoteric, it is clearly not going to be the crowd pleaser that "The Tree of Life" was, to the degree that you could call "Tree of Life" a crowd pleaser. The chances of it finding a US distributor are likely, but a big Oscar push doesn't seem to be in the cards.

"The Sapphires" – The Weinstein Company picked up "The Sapphires," about an Australian singing group of indigenous women who performed for the troops in Vietnam, after its debut at Cannes. It has all the earmarks of a feel-good foreign comedy that's not too foreign for American audiences. It's been scheduled to screen at Telluride and Toronto, but there's no release date yet. There's every reason to expect that "The Sapphires" will show up sometime in the fall, but then the Weinsteins do have the frustrating habit of sitting on some of their acquisitions if their chances at awards time don't look good.

"The Place Beyond the Pines" – Derek Cianfrance's action film follow-up to "Blue Valentine" will also star Ryan Gosling, and is set to premiere at Toronto. Open Road films will distribute, but hasn't landed a release date yet, and the film has been largely staying under the radar so far. However, this is the only film Ryan Gosling potentially has in the race, since "Gangster Squad" was delayed and Nicolas Winding Refn's "Only God Forgives" has been moved to next year. Open Road may want to take advantage of the opportunity and push for a Best Actor nod, though it's a pretty crowded field this year.

"The Company You Keep" – Robert Redford's latest political thriller will be premiering at Venice, with a cast full of heavy hitters including Susan Sarandon and Julie Christie. Redford himself will be in the lead role, as a former Weather Underground member on the run from the FBI. It will be his first appearance on screen in five years. Sony Pictures Classics has the US distribution, but a release date will probably depend on how the film's awards chances are perceived. Redford keeps attracting amazing talent to his projects, but his track record hasn't been great over the past few years.

"Great Expectations" – You'd think that a new adaptation of "Great Expectations" directed by Mike Newell, starring Ralph Fiennes and Helena Bonham Carter would have attracted more attention. Lionsgate is releasing the film in the UK in November, but no deal for US distribution has been announced yet. Then again, this year is going to be crowded with costume dramas like "Les Miserables" and "Anna Karenina" so getting lost in the holiday rush may be a concern. There's not much information available yet, but we'll probably hear more after it screens in Toronto.

"Mr. Pip" – We go from "Great Expectations" to a longshot entry, about a white schoolteacher living in Papa New Guinea who bonds with one of his students over the work of Charles Dickens during the country's civil war in the early 90s. No distribution and no release dates yet, but "Mr. Pip" does have the benefit of being based on an award winning novel by Lloyd Jones, and will star Hugh Laurie.

"Imogene" – Kristin Wiig stars in a comedy about a woman whose fake suicide leads to unintended consequences, directed by Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman. Not too many major comedic contenders this year amid all the prestige pictures, so this one may get snatched up to fill the niche. Female led films are always stealth contenders, and I wouldn't be surprised if this grabs some acting nods.

And finally, we can clear a few names off the list of contenders, who have all been delayed until at least next year: The Coen Brothers' "Inside Llewelyn Davies," Baz Luhrmann's "The Great Gatsby," Brian DePalma's "Passion," Nicolas Winding Refn's "Only God Forgives," Ruben Fleischer's "Gangster Squad," Michael Hoffman's "Gambit," and Park Chan-Wook's "Stoker."


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