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OSCARS DEATH RACE: A SEPARATION

"A Separation" opens with an argument in front of a judge. Simin (Leila Hatami) wants a divorce from Nader (Peyman Maadi), which he will grant, albeit reluctantly, and custody of their sixth-grade daughter Termeh (Sarina Farhadi, writer/director Asghar Farhadi's daughter), which he won't. Simin wants to take Termeh out of Iran (she doesn't say why, but we're to assume the reason is…Iran), but Nader won't leave his elderly father (Ali-Asghar Shahbazi), who has Alzheimer's and needs constant care. Simin doesn't really want to divorce Nader, we sense, but when the bluff is called, she doesn't blink, and moves to her mother's house; Termeh, invited to go with her, elects to stay with her father.
  • By Sarah D. Bunting
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  • February 25, 2012 10:43 AM
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OSCARS DEATH RACE: Surveying the Race for Best Live-Action Short

Pentecost. I feel like we get one of these every year, a mini roman a clef about a grade-school kid in which the central gag doesn't quite merit the attention, and Pentecost is this year's. The pep talk by the priest is cute, in theory, but the whole thing needs to move much faster, not least the climactic scene (it would still fall flat, but less so).
  • By Sarah D. Bunting
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  • February 25, 2012 9:36 AM
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VIDEO ESSAY: AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN HOLLYWOOD: HORROR, MAKEUP AND THE OSCARS

The practitioners of visual effects have a favorite phrase for what they do: the Invisible Art – effects that are imaginative, even astonishing, but that are ultimately there to sell a world, a character or a moment. Special makeup might be the best illustration of this principle. One of makeup's greatest triumphs is An American Werewolf in London, which in 1982 became the first film to win an Oscar for makeup in regular competition. Overseen by Rick Baker, who supervised all of the film's makeup effects, it shows a man changing into a werewolf in real time…right in front of your eyes. This sequence was the culmination of eight decades of movie makeup. And the film's Oscar represented a coming-out for a once-neglected aspect of filmmaking.
  • By Aaron Aradillas, Matt Zoller Seitz & Ken Cancelosi
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  • February 24, 2012 1:15 PM
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OSCARS DEATH RACE: TREE OF LIFE

It's it fair to review a work that functions, as Roger Ebert said in his piece on "The Tree of Life," as more of a prayer than a story? Can we measure this intensely personal, individual film with traditional yardsticks? I believe it is; I believe we can. Some of the positive reviews of "The Tree of Life" seem defensive to the point of stridency, meeting charges of "but there's no narrative!" with a carpet-bombing of superlatives, and implying between salvos that such an unconventional and daring form of filmic storytelling has no use for bourgeois adjectives like "linear" and "coherent." Well…actually, on the one hand, I agree, in the sense that Malick has his ways of doing things and thinking about stories and connecting (or shuffling) dots, and that peculiar Malickian blend of compulsive control and sticky viscera either hits you or it doesn't, so no review per se is going to change your mind.
  • By Sarah D. Bunting
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  • February 24, 2012 12:35 PM
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VIDEO ESSAY: Outstanding Collaborative Performance - Yoda, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK

Muppets creator Jim Henson once said, “When Frank Oz does Grover, I think he is a better actor than Lawrence Olivier.” That’s not really an exaggeration. Puppeteering is not just a clever way to entertain children. It’s an ancient art, common to cultures all over the world. And it’s another kind of performance -- sort of a merger of acting, gesture and dance. It combines vocal performance with hand movements that approximate the movements of a human, an animal, or a non-human character.
  • By Matt Zoller Seitz & Matthias Stork
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  • February 24, 2012 12:00 PM
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OSCARS DEATH RACE: BULLHEAD

"Bullhead" isn't about what you think it's about at first. You start out with a voice-over about things from the past coming back; then you move into a plot about the Flemish "hormone mafia," and whether cattle farmer Jacky Vanmarsenille (Matthias Schoenaerts) is going to involve himself in a deal to improve the weight of his cows. Or so you think. You also see a series of moody shots of Jacky in his bathroom, staring, sitting immobile in the shower, then injecting himself with testosterone, so then you think the movie is about that -- that perhaps he's preparing for a fight of some kind? Then Jacky attends a meeting set up by a smarmy vet (Frank Lamers), and recognizes the boss's flunky Diederik (Jeroen Perceval), although both men play it like they've never met. There is A Vibe between them, and you think, "Ohhh, okay. It's about that." And it is. And…it isn't.
  • By Sarah D. Bunting
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  • February 24, 2012 4:00 AM
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VIDEO ESSAY: Outstanding Collaborative Performance - E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial

For a pretty long time, Steven Spielberg’s "E.T. The Extraterrestrial" was the top grossing film ever made, and it’s still one of the most beloved. The title character is a space alien. Who plays him? It’s hard to even begin to answer that question. There were so many people involved, and they all contributed something. But it you rule out the obvious suspects – Spielberg, who directed the movie, and Melissa Mathison, who wrote it – it’s still a pretty long list.
  • By Matt Zoller Seitz and Steven Boone
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  • February 23, 2012 9:25 AM
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VIDEO: HUGO and the First Movie Magicians

The 84th Annual Academy Awards will be announced this Sunday, with Martin Scorsese’s Hugo leading the pack with 11 Oscar nominations. Along with the 10 nominations for fellow front-runner The Artist, silent cinema will occupy center stage at the ceremony in a way it hasn’t since the dawn of the sound era. To commemorate the occasion, this video links Hugo to several films by the early pioneers of cinema.
  • By Kevin B. Lee
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  • February 23, 2012 8:50 AM
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SIMON SAYS: The Weird World of Unseen Marvel Comics Movies

I want a comic book film that doesn’t pander to first-time audiences and also doesn’t deny the fact that these characters live in worlds where death rays and super-powers are commonplace. Is that so much to ask? I guess so. In my recent search for comic book movies that are out there and exciting and yes, maybe consistently engaging enough to be worth seeking out, I focused primarily on the Marvel Comics movies that time forgot, by which I mean that I sought out made-for-TV projects that have been buried by Marvel and have yet to surface on DVD or Blu-ray.
  • By Simon Abrams
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  • February 23, 2012 8:00 AM
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  • 1 Comment

OSCARS DEATH RACE: Surveying the race for Best Animated Short

Dimanche/Sunday. It seemed promising despite the crude animation; the sound design is witty, and it started out as a sort of fantasia on how children perceive things. But it keeps killing animals off horribly for no reason, and the surrealism comes and goes when it's convenient. A clearer visual style might have helped, but I don't think it knows what it's trying to say.
  • By Sarah D. Bunting
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  • February 23, 2012 7:48 AM
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  • 0 Comments

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