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Emmy Award-winning director Tom Hooper (Tom Hooper) teams with screenwriter David Seidler (David Seidler) to tell the story of King George VI. When his older brother abdicates...More

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  • The Awards Line: The Sag of the Oscar Race
    Jan 30, 2012 Comments (0)

    You know that period right after the Oscar nominations? After all the outrage over all the snubs and surprises have subsided, approximately 36 hours after one discovers something like Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close has been nominated? It's called the slow fade to the actual Oscars. Before The Artist even got its 10 nominations, we already knew it won the Producer's Guild Award, which has called the last four Oscar races and 14-of-21 since 1990. A few days after that, we found out that The Artist's helmer, Michel Hazanavicius, won the Directors' Guild Prize. The winning film of that award has corresponded with the Oscar-winning Best Picture, in that same period, 17-of-21 times. The writing is on the wall despite whatever suspense tries to be manufactured by Oscar watchers until Feb. 26. Maybe the Screen Actors Guild could make things interesting amongst the acting races. But not too interesting.

    The evening kicked off Sunday with the presentation of the two Supporting acting categories and it was to no one's surprise that Christopher Plummer (Beginners) and Octavia Spencer (The Help) walked away with "The Actor." They had already won the other two televised award shows from the ethically questionable Golden Globes and the Broadcast Film Critics Association, gave great speeches and appeared to be paving the way on the road to the ultimate gold -- just as in the previous two years when Mo'Nique, Christoph Waltz, Melissa Leo and Christian Bale had to clear shelf space during this same period. Since 1994, the Screen Actors Guild has only matched Oscar in each of the Supporting prizes 58.8% of the time, even if the Actor side has a four-year winning streak.

    Those of you looking for firmer Oscar pool numbers though, rest assured we have them for you. In an effort to reduce the emphasis Hollywood is recently placing on the significance of the BFCA (aside from Houston, they were the only critics group to "predict" Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close as a Best Picture nominee), we shall leave them out of the equation since they do not really change the equations in question anyway. We'll stick with the other devil we have known for too long. The one with the actual network prime-time awards show. Those bribe-tastic Hollywood Foreign Press and their precious Golden Globes.

    Examining Spencer's chances for the Oscar now, we can see that since the advent of the SAGs in 1994, when their choice for Supporting Actress corresponds with the Globes, 8-of-9 times that winner also grabbed the Oscar. That is excluding the year when Kate Winslet won all the Supporting awards for The Reader and went on to win the Lead and - including - the last seven times Globe & SAG has matched. Not since Lauren Bacall (The Mirror Has Two Faces) in 1996 has there been a snub. Over to Christopher Plummer, he can take comfort that 6-of-7 times Globe & SAG have complied - including the last four. Back in 2006 though, Eddie Murphy (collector of both trophies) ended up losing the Oscar to Alan Arkin, who, like Max Von Sydow this year (playing the grandfather of a "special" child)  was not nominated for the Globe or the SAG. Should Plummer worry that he's facing off against another 82 year-old legend who has only ever been nominated once for an Academy Award? Unless he's doing Norbit 2, probably not.

    Best Actress was more or less going to be decided on Sunday night. Viola Davis had won the award from the group that need not be mentioned. Meryl Streep and Michelle Williams split the two genre-labeled categories from the Globes. Streep was up for her fourth SAG award in the last six years and won The Actor in 2008 for Doubt. (She then lost the Oscar to Winslet in the category-switch year.) She appeared to be the slight favorite for The Iron Lady going into Sunday night. 13 of the last 17 years, the Oscar has gone to one of the Globe winners in this category. SAG has matched with Oscar here 12 times in their 17-year history. And then SAG threw the curveball to Viola Davis. Not an underdog or even a giant surprise by any stretch, but kind of throws our whole SAG/Globe statistic out the window. Fine, we'll give you one stat associated with that other group. Then put it out of your memory. Of the 10 times the BFCA have matched with SAG, that Best Actress has won the Oscar 8 times.

    George Clooney had also taken a slight edge in the Best Actor race over Jean Dujardin, besting The Artist star 2-1 in the TV Awards up until Sunday night. Now the match is all even. Each with a Globe, Clooney with a Voldemort prize and Dujardin now with a SAG. What does it all mean? 11-of-16 BFCA winners won the Oscar, including the last eight. Nice predictions, gang. SAG meanwhile boasts the best record in any acting category from any of the TV awards mentioned for Best Actor. Taking into account the Globes need two choices to produce their winning stat, the SAGs with only one have matched Oscar 13-of-17 times (including the last seven.) Dujardin may have regained the edge, but this is certainly going to be the most interesting race of the night.

    That is because The Artist has all but won Best Picture at this point. It didn't take long for the suspense-seekers to start wondering about The Help as a serious challenger now. Why? Because it won as many SAG trophies as American Beauty and Chicago? Neither of their leading actresses went on to win the Oscar. So does that mean Viola Davis is doomed now too? The SAG ensemble award, which The Help won, is the most overrated Best Picture precursor out there.

    For 16 years it has been a 50/50 proposition that has seen Little Miss Sunshine, The Full Monty and The Birdcage. Heck, Bridesmaids had a better shot at picking up the prize than The Artist, which is barely more an ensemble piece than Oleanna. Any of the other four nominees, including both The Descendants and Midnight In Paris would have been better choices for an ensemble award than the Oscar frontrunner, which The Artist still is despite whatever perceived help Tate Taylor's film received from SAG.

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  • The Conversation: Is 'The Artist" the Frontrunner for Best Picture? Does It Deserve to Be?
    Dec 13, 2011 Comments (0)

    I'm not a big fan of The Artist, but I'm also not a big fan of the Academy Awards. The two are probably meant to be together. And after winning an unspeakable amount of critic awards over the weekend (Peter Martin mentioned some yesterday) and nominations for Critics' Choice Awards today, Michel Hazanavicius' homage to Hollywood's golden age (not just the silent era) is on fire as the apparent frontrunner for the Best Picture Oscar. It's closest competition seems to be from Hugo and The Descendants, though War Horse could also race into the lead. 

    Of course, there's been a backlash against the film for a while from those of us who think The Artist is just okay, not the best of the year. Still, backlash hasn't kept a whole lot of hated films from taking the top honor. Right now, and I doubt this will change, I anticipate the French film to be the first silent Best Picture winner since the very first Academy Awards. It will be a fitting bookend just before the world ends next year, won't it?


    What are people saying about The Artist as the Best Picture frontrunner? Here's The Conversation heard around the blogosphere and Twitter: 

    It's looking like we may be in for a best picture Oscar battle between the movies about the movies, The Artist and Hugo, which have looked like two of the strongest contenders for weeks (along with The Descendants), and solidified that standing with a field-leading eleven nominations each this morning. Neither film was built to win Oscars in the way that, say, The King's Speech was last year -- indeed, the former is a silent black-and-white film and the latter is a kids' movie -- but if even jaded critics and pundits are susceptible to their emotional wiles, then it's hard to imagine that Academy members won't be. - Scott Feinberg, The Race (The Hollywood Reporter)

    The Artist and Hugo have dominated the early critics prizes so far — the question in my mind at this point is, Can Hugo actually win? It certainly has a lot going for it: a prestige director, a lovely screenplay, gorgeous technical attributes. But will it have enough support from the actors’ branch, the largest unit in the Academy? No film in the last 15 years has won Best Picture without at least scoring a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination for Best Cast, so I’ll be looking closely at tomorrow’s SAG Award announcement. If Hugo makes the cut, then it’s within striking distance for the win. - Dave Karger, Inside Movies (Entertainment Weekly)

    At this point in the Best Picture contest, The Artist’s biggest problem is Hugo, Hugo’s biggest problem is The Artist, and Midnight in Paris' biggest problem is that these two newer, higher-profile movies are now vying for the “let’s go on a magical journey to a more inspirational time” voting demographic that Allen has had to himself for most of 2011. A lot of advertising dollars are being spent on the proposition that this mood, which propelled The King’s Speech to a very 1980s-ish win over The Social Network last year, still prevails. - Mark Harris, Hollywood-Prospectus (Grantland)

    As far as the movies up for Best Picture, it's certainly looking like the big race is being led by two relatively small movies, Michel Hazanavicius' silent movie The Artist and Alexander Payne's touching dramedy The Descendants. Steven Spielberg's War Horse and Martin Scorsese's Hugo has gained quite a bit of support, and crowdpleasers like Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris and The Help are sure to get in, but none of these have the sort of overwhelming support to pull out a victory. - Edward Douglas,

    It's a three-horse race for Best Picture, with "The Artist" still leading the pack, more contemporary voters leaning towards "The Descendants" and a small, cultish following developing for "Tree Of Life." The absence of "The Help" and "War Horse" in any major categories could spell doom for those once-frontrunners. - Gabe Toro, The Playlist

    People voting to support the latest by dear, beloved Martin Scorsese -- keeper of the cineaste flame -- is understandable despite 75% of Hugo being a mostly tedious sit. But support for The Artist is pure Zelig thinking -- a vote for pleasantness and taking the easy schmoozy way out and sparkling, silver-toned good vibes. - Jeffrey Wells, Hollywood Elsewhere

    The fact that this movie is being proclaimed the Best Film of 2011 by various critics' groups is literally—there's no other word for it—insane. One could make a snide remark or two about the various members of said groups perhaps strongly identifying with the film's title character's entitled indignance at his imposed obselescence, but that would just be mean. However, I will say that any expectation that these proclamations will effect some kind of populist wellspringing on the film's behalf is even more insane. We shall see. - Glenn Kenney, Some Came Running

    I've spoken to several film-buff friends who came away from the film feeling disappointed. I can understand why: at this point it's been praised to the skies, and people--especially old-movie aficionados--are going to see it with outsized expectations. "The Artist" isn't the Second Coming, or a reinvention of silent-film techniques: it's a charming story that successfully emulates the look and feel of the late 1920s. I don't think filmmaker Michel Hazanavicius has any pretensions about his work: he just wanted to make an entertaining movie that paid homage to the silent era. In the same vein, I've talked to other savvy moviegoers who haven't been won over by "Hugo" and "The Descendants." They're perfectly entitled to their opinions, but I fear they have gone to see these films all too aware of the awards and lavish praise they've received. - Leonard Maltin, Leonard Maltin's Movie Crazy (Indiewire)

    The Artist is so clearly the Oscar frontrunner that it could face backlash and ultimately lose its grip on the lead spot. [...] The Artist is out there in front, the most powerful position but also the most vulnerable. Any narrative shift would certainly shift away from The Artist. However, the interesting thing about this season: there is no diametric opposite to wrangle votes away from the presumed favorite. - Jason McKiernan, Next Projection

    Long pegged as an awards frontrunner by the critics who saw it and loved it at festivals, this French-made love letter to silent movies made good on its potential last week in a big way, winning the top prize from the New York Film Critics Circle, scoring a handful of Independent Spirit Nominations, and opening to strong box office in limited release to boot. It's still a smallish movie, which might make it hard for the Best Picture win to happen, but at this point it would take something very, very strange for The Artist to miss out on Best Picture. - Katey Rich, Cinema Blend

    I guess it’ll be interesting to see how the guilds swing this year, though last year it didn’t matter. The Social Network snapped up just about every award in sight, but Oscar didn’t listen. Regardless of how the guilds pan out, I still think its The Artist’s to lose. - Craig Kennedy, Living in Cinema


    @metacritic: The Best Picture race so far: 1. The Artist 2. Tree of Life 3. The Descendants; more at our Awards Scorecard ->

    @BretEastonEllis: The Artist will win best picture, best director and best actor at the Oscars next year. Good night.

    @suzanneellis: Love seeing all this Oscar buzz surrounding The Artist -- such a wonderful film, here's hoping it wins big!! #favefilmof2011

    @joezorry: People over at #OscarBuzz does not seem to have an idea what makes a good movie, or seen one. Calling it now "The Artist" for Best Picture.

    @Matthew_Lucas: Watch it pull a SOCIAL NETWORK. I still think Daldry is in it to win it.

    @Jeffrey_Archer: Went to a screening of War Horse yesterday - if it doesn't win the Oscar for best picture, I'll be fascinated to see the film that beats it



    Follow Christopher Campbell on Twitter (@thefilmcynic) to join The Conversation.

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  • The Conversation: Do Andy Serkis and Uggie the Dog Deserve Oscar Recognition?
    Nov 30, 2011 Comments (0)

    It's a great year for animal characters in movies, as I've noted elsewhere recently. And now two of the most notable performances are being talked about for Academy Awards. One is an actual beast, while the other is a man who plays a beast. 

    First, there's Uggie, the Jack Russell terrier who plays an Asta-like pup in The Artist (also seen this year in Water for Elephants). Begun by Movieline's S.T. VanAirsdale, the cute little canine already has a Facebook campaign and Twitter hashtag (not to mention he's skateboarding on TV for promotion) in the hopes that he'll be recognized in some capacity. Maybe the Academy can quickly devise a new animal-based category (competition could be animals in BeginnersWar HorseThe Turin Horse and Le Havre), similar to the Cannes Palm Dog Award (which Uggie won this year). I think there's too many great animal performances to just honor him with a special trophy. Besides, as Awards Daily's Sasha Stone points out, Uggie wasn't even the only dog in the role (of course, it can also be said that many actors share roles with stuntmen and doubles, too). At the very least, I think the Oscars ceremony should feature an animal montage.

    Then there's Andy Serkis, go-to-guy for excellent motion-capture performances, including this year's acclaimed gig as Caesar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Talk of giving Serkis consideration for an Oscar has been going on since the film's release -- not to mention in the past for playing Gollum and King Kong -- and I wrote about it in depth at the time (also elsewhere), stating that he deserves a special award, but so does veteran primate performer Peter Elliott (most recently seen in Project Nim reenactments). However, Fox is now pushing him for Best Supporting Actor in ads and trade articles, which is far less likely. One question I always ask people regarding Serkis's skills is, why doesn't anyone praise his non-mo-cap work (I loved him this year in both Burke and Hare and Brighton Rock, neither of which were great films overall). Anyway, a special award could recognize his work for The Adventures of Tintin, which he's also awesome in.

    I suspect that the campaign for Serkis, which also has its own Twitter and hashtag support, is primarily to market the film's DVD/Blu-ray release in a couple weeks. Yet the debate rages on, with many upset that Serkis should even be considered alone for a performance that also required a lot of effects artists. 


    What are people saying about Oscar consideration for Uggie and Andy? Here's The Conversation heard around the blogosphere and Twitter: 

    The Artist’s wonder dog — confidant, co-star and lifesaving sidekick of the film’s exiled silent-film icon George Valentin — delivers as nuanced a performance as either leading man Jean Dujardin or leading lady Bérénice Bejo, and all while adhering most strictly to the covenants of silent-cinema storytelling. Intertitles schmintertites! From his connection to his master to his lingering close-ups and beyond, Uggie is director Michel Hazanavicius’s purest model of physical expression. That he and his trainers have yet to receive so much as an honorary nod beyond the Palm Dog prize praising the year’s most noteworthy Cannes-ine (ahem) performance is an oversight worth correcting. - S.T. VanAirsdale, Movieline

    For real, guys. Join the Consider Uggie Facebook page and promote the Twitter hashtag #Consider Uggie. And who knows, if the movement is successful, Uggie may actually have some competition. There’s a dog in “Beginners” too, another Jack Russell terrier, Cosmo. And he does speak – in subtitles, no less. - Melena Ryzik, The Carpetbagger (New York Times)

    Uggie might not win an Oscar, but that doesn't mean he can't receive some critical love. There just needs to be one critics group man (and woman) enough to stand up for a dog. - Christopher Rosen, Moviefone

    @LouLeminick: Biggest #NYFCC disappointment: no special award for best performance of 2011, Jack Russell terrier in "The Artist.''

    @WeinsteinFilms: Consider UGGIE, the wonder dog! Spread the word! Help the lovable co-star of #TheArtist get recognized!

    @Phil_on_Film: Be brave, Oscar voters! Every dog should have its day! 

    @nia_loves_films: however wonderful that would be, I'm not holding out much hope for such diversity #Interrupersgate #Sennagate

    @Maimaimaiii: I love dogs so I'll have to be a part of #ConsiderUggie

    @cinemablogrpher: Best Performance by a Domestic Animal? Joining Uggie in Oscar's new category should be Arthur, Paw Paw, Inca, & Freida Pinto. 

    @AwardsDaily: You know it's a fairly lackluster Oscar year when the only excitement anyone's had has been the #muppetoscars and the #uggie campaign.


    What he does when he’s wearing those green dots is magic. Other, more renowned conventional thesps have proved underwhelming when handed the same motion-capture opportunities. But if it was Daniel Day-Lewis who had created Caesar to such acclaim  — mind you, I’m not certain Day-Lewis, or anyone, could equal what Serkis accomplished — I suspect that the debate about whether motion-capture performances deserve a fair shake at the Oscars might be very different. - Jeff Labrecque, PopWatch Entertainment Weekly

    Of course, this isn’t an idle thing for Fox, since an Oscar nod for Serkis would be a newsworthy, groundbreaking thing, and consequently great publicity for a film that has already done much better business than many expected. - Russ Fischer, /Film

    But the question must be asked: Why not go for best actor rather than supporting? Without Caesar, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is nothing.  - Scott Collura, IGN

    It's tough, while agree that Serkis was phenomenal as the ape, I think the statue should be as much his as it was the dozens and hundreds of animators at WETA who made Caesar come to life. It's that sort of complication that will probably make him not win, but it would be cool to see him nominated. - Paul Tassi,

    Serkis provides the movement for Caesar; he brings the character to life, that's for sure. There's even a certain degree of nuance there, arguably. But, BUT: to suggest that Andy Serkis and Andy Serkis alone should be rewarded for that character is to do a gigantic disservice to everyone at Weta who covered him in pixels and made him swing. - Ali, The Shiznit

    What I’d really like to see is the day when Hollywood’s beautiful people, the Paul Walkers, the Jessica Albas, the Keanus Reeve, are digitized, so that they can never age, or even have to show up to the set, while homely, classically-trained Englishmen work tirelessly behind the scenes to emote for them. We’d still get to see Paul Walker onscreen, but through the magic of performance capture, it’d be Paul Walker infused with the performance of an actor. - Vince Mancini, FilmDrunk

    @filmnerdjamie: I DO hope Serkis gets a nod...just not holding my breath given Academy's snobby track-record against him.

    @TheMcphailure: Yeah, I would love it of Andy Serkis got an award. I'm totally for it

    @AlexJCaesar: I agree with the push to get Andy Serkis nominated for an Oscar. After seeing Rise of the Planet of the Apes twice, he deserves it.

    @Majiesto: The man definitely deserves it!

    @ONoesUDidnt: He at least deserves consideration. 

    @thewetnoodle: How great would it be if Andy Serkis finally got some Academy recognition for the brilliant work he's done on a number of films?

    @ScottEWeinberg: Perhaps the talent that Andy Serkis possesses is beyond the skill of the Academy to recognize.

    @chas_n: Serkis' performance lacked a physical aesthetic that is inherent to "Best Actor". It's not called "Best Performance"

    @davidstripinis: You can't have Andy Serkis get nominated for best actor AND call Tintin animation.


    Follow Christopher Campbell on Twitter (@thefilmcynic) to join The Conversation.

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  • The Awards Line: The Write Stuff
    Nov 23, 2011 Comments (0)


    So here we are on the precipice of awards season and things are about to kick into high gear. New York critics will soon speak up, as will the "please-come-to-our-party" invitation winners from the National Board of Review. And we have one more category to speculate upon before we start officially locking in nominees and declaring others in real trouble of being overlooked. There has been a chicken-and-egg factor to the screenplay race over the years.  From 1999 to 2008, only four Best Picture nominees (Moulin Rouge, LOTR: The Two Towers, Master & Commander, and Ray) failed to pick up a Screenplay nomination as well. Since the Academy moved to 10 nominees in '09, there have been three (Avatar, The Blind Side, Black Swan) that were not deemed script-worthy. For 2011 we might have ten nominees or we may only have seven Best Picture candidates. Who knows? But we can look at what films could have an extra power boost in their corner.  

    If we go back to the first column of the season on the Best Picture race, we should be able to fill in four slots right away; two in each script category. Woody Allen seems certain to grab his 15th writing nomination for Midnight In Paris and be joined by first-time nominee Michel Hazanavicius for his work on The Artist. Do not let the "silent" part fool you into dismissing it. Over on the adaptation side both Tate Taylor (The Help) and the team of Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon & Jim Rash (The Descendants) should have little trouble making the cut. After that, it is anybody's game.

    Sticking with those who got a little headstart with source material, the Adapted Screenplay category is both wide open and nearly closed up. It is hard for anyone to argue that Steven Zaillian & Aaron Sorkin's Moneyball is not a tight contender at this point, leaving room for only two more films that the public has not even seen yet. Steve Kloves has never been honored for his contributions to the Harry Potter series and though his work has been exemplary - especially down the stretch - the field may just be too crowded to give him an honorary nomination at this point for The Deathly Hallows Part 2. It should also be safe to dismiss the plays in the field. Neither The Ides of March nor A Dangerous Method have drawn sufficient raves to keep them around. Could the memoirs brea kthrough? Well, many consider the script for My Week With Marilyn to be its weakest element and unless the one for We Bought A Zoo (sneaking in theaters this weekend) is more Cameron Crowe than Aline "27 Dresses" Brosh "I Don't Know How She Does It" McKenna, it probably does not stand a chance.  

    There is talk about Rampart and We Need To Talk About Kevin, but the awards talk will probably end with Woody Harrelson and Tilda Swinton's potential nominations. What about the other period pieces on the docket? Albert Nobbs is already going to be fighting to get Glenn Close that fifth Actress spot. Can it do the same for her as co-screenwriter? John Logan got nominated for Scorsese's The Aviator, but can he find a place in either category for his work on Hugo or Rango? Peter Straughan's resume is less impressive (The Debt, How To Lose Friends & Alienate People) and even if Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is his best work, look at what is still in the running. If the category is too stuffed for Steven Zaillian to pick up a dual nomination for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, how many want to bet against the potential of War Horse and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close as titles more likely to fit into that chicken-and-egg scenario?

    This may turn out to be one of the most difficult categories of all the majors to call. Unless The Iron Lady or In the Land of Blood and Honey turn out to be stunners, we have likely seen all the original candidates. Aside from the aforementioned Rango, plus Midnight In Paris and The Artist, how much room will be made for comedy this year? Bridesmaids seems to be the most likely contender. (Apatow productions The-40-Year-Old Virgin & Knocked Up, both received Writers Guild nominations.) Which means Crazy Stupid Love will unfortunately be forgotten. There is also the darker and dramatically-laced comedies to flood the field with 50/50, The Beaver, Win Win and Young Adult. That would be one solid list of nominees right there. Of course there is still Lars Von Trier's Melancholia, but he has never received a writing nod, might have a little trouble with his Cannes Nazi comments and is facing a smorgasbord of indie titles (Like Crazy, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Shame, Take Shelter, The Tree of Life) all hoping for a little recognition.  

    Next week we shall begin to analyze how the critic awards and nominations factor into this year's races and make our first shifts to the early percentages that you have seen right here.

    1. Woody Allen (Midnight In Paris) - 75%
    2. Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist) - 75%
    3. Kristen Wiig & Annie Mumolo (Bridesmaids) - 40%
    4. Tom McCarthy (Win Win) - 35%
    5. Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life) - 33%
    6. Diablo Cody (Young Adult) - 30%
    7. Jeff Nichols (Take Shelter) - 25%
    8. Will Reiser (50/50) - 25%
    9. John Logan (Rango) - 25%
    10. Sean Durkin (Martha Marcy May Marlene) - 20%

    1. Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon & Jim Rash (The Descendants) - 75%
    2. Tate Taylor (The Help) - 70%
    3. Steven Zaillian & Aaron Sorkin (Moneyball) - 65%
    4. Eric Roth (Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close) - 50%
    5. Richard Curtis & Lee Hall (War Horse) - 50%
    6. Steven Zaillian (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) - 35%
    7. Adrian Hodges (My Week With Marilyn) - 30%
    8. John Banville, Glenn Close & Gabriella Prekop (Albert Nobbs) - 25%
    9. Peter Straughan (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy) - 22%
    10. Steve Kloves (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2) - 20%
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  • 'Pina,' 'Project Nim' and 'Paradise Lost 3' are Finalists for the Best Documentary Oscar
    Nov 18, 2011 Comments (0)

    Earlier this month I made some predictions of and suggestions for the Academy's Documentary Branch Screening Committee, who annually watch more than 100 qualifying nonfiction films and narrow the choices down to 15. Today, this shortlist was announced, and only six of my picks made the cut. They include BuckHell and Back AgainProject NimWe Were Here and Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory, which of course will surely be nominated if only because the Paradise Lost films recently freed three innocent men from prison (it's a good reason -- and I haven't yet seen the doc to agree it's also a deserving film).

    My sixth selection was from the group of titles I was pretty certain would not be shortlisted, let alone nominated, due to their unconventionality: Wim Wenders' 3D dance film, Pina. Considering the committee watched this wonderful movie on a 2D DVD make its inclusion even more astounding. Hopefully the next stage of voters will see it properly, though it's rather unlikely. Of course, it also has a shot at the Foreign Language Oscar, too, since it's Germany's official submission. 

    Also a surprising contender I didn't expec to see: Jane's Journey, an underrated film with a wonderful message, gorgeous cinematography and a great kinship with this year's more successful animal docs, like fellow shortlisters Buck and Project Nim.

    Other docs shortlisted include audience favorites like Undefeated and Bill Cunningham New York as well as award-winning issue docs like Semper Fi: Always FaithfulBattle for Brooklyn and If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front, which was helmed by previous Oscar nominee Marshall Curry (Street Fight). He joins Wenders, a fellow former Oscar nominee in this category (for Buena Vista Social Club) and Project Nim's James Marsh, who won the award for Man on Wire.

    Meanwhile the little-known Under Fire: Journalists in Combat seems a reminder of 2011 nominee Tim Hetherington, the Restrepo co-director who was killed this year while covering events in Libya. Photojournalist Dennis Danfung, recognized for his own embedded-in-Afghanistan doc Hell and Back Again is similarly a reminder. 

    Of course there are always the major snubs, and this year the notables are Senna, which probably didn't resonate for Americans on the committee with no passion for Formula One racing, Werner Herzog's death row doc Into the Abyss and typically excluded legends like Patricio Guzman (Nostalgia for the Light) and Frederick Wiseman (Boxing Gym). Then there's The Interrupters, which just outright shocked me, as it did many others who've seen it. Consider the following is the opening of my review of the film from January, I'm immensely sad and embarrassed, though mostly for the Academy:

    One of the great blunders in Academy Awards history was when Steve James' 'Hoop Dreams,' considered one of the best non-fiction films of all time, was not even nominated for the Best Documentary Feature Oscar. I am hopeful that the Academy won't make the same mistake with his latest, and best since. 'The Interrupters' definitely deserves such recognition and would not in the least be viewed as one of those redemptive honors. Like his 17-year-old classic, this is an incredible and moving film.

    The makers of the film also seemed stunned this afternoon, on Twitter, but now they appear genuinely hopeful The Interrupters will circumvent the documentary "ghetto" and earn an editing nomination, just as Hoop Dreams did 17 years ago. As for the rest of us, we get to just continue enjoying the inspiring work and (please) recommend it to friends. The same goes for any other doc favorites of ours that aren't finalists. Some I've seen mentioned are The ArborGeneral Orders No. 9, and of course Being Elmo. Sorry kids, but this really isn't turning out to be a Muppet Oscars after all. 

    Here is the full list of 15 shortlisted documentaries that could earn an Oscar nomination on January 24, 2012.


    Battle for Brooklyn 

    Bill Cunningham New York


    Hell and Back Again

    If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front

    Jane's Journey

    The Loving Story

    Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory


    Project Nim

    Semper Fi: Always Faithful

    Sing Your Song


    Under Fire: Journalists in Combat

    We Were Here

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