BEST ACTRESS

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The Santa Barbara International Film Festival will honor Nicole Kidman with its Cinema Vanguard award on Feb. 5.

“Honoring Nicole Kidman is so exciting for us here at SBIFF,” executive director Roger Durling said in today’s announcement. “Her work is immensely diverse and with this year’s heart-wrenching and brilliant performance in Rabbit Hole — a project she helped develop as well — it is exactly who we should be celebrating with the 2011 Cinema Vanguard Award.” (THR)

The Santa Barbara Fest runs from Jan. 27 through Feb. 6, commencing just after the Oscar nominations are announced (on Jan. 25). The Cinema Vanguard Award recognizes filmmakers taking artistic risks and making a significant contribution to motion pictures, and has recently been awarded to Christoph Waltz, Stanley Tucci and Kristin Scott Thomas.

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My Oscar Poker partner, Jeff Wells, is worried that Lesley Manville won’t make the cut if they run her as Best Actress. He thinks she has a better chance of getting in in the Supporting Actress category. It probably isn’t going to matter what bloggers think about it – if the AMPAS wants her in lead, they will nominate her in lead. Although we keep talking up actresses, here is how I envision a scenario with Manville in:

Natalie Portman
Annette Bening
Jennifer Lawrence
Nicole Kidman
Lesley Manville

And then, you’d go:
Michelle Williams (all of this NC-17 business is great for her, actually, publicity-wise)
Naomi Watts
Julianne Moore
Sally Hawkins

The bottom line is that there IS room for Manville in the lead actress race simply because they will make room. Hers is, without question, one of the best of the year. She plays a character who is coming apart but was only barely there to begin with. Completely self-centered, unrealistic and neurotic, Manville’s portrayal could have slipped into caricature. But somehow, she keeps it grounded. The truth is, you can’t take your eyes off her. So, though it’s appreciated, I don’t see the need for a “Save Lesley Manville” campaign.

Very close to the same trailer we saw in August — a few new scenes to tease out the themes more explicitly, and of course the UK review quotes are here replaced with raves from familiar US critics.

Natalie Portman and Colin Firth have been announced as winners of the Desert Palm Achievement Awards for Acting by the Palm Springs Film Festival. They will join previously announced honorees Javier Bardem, Jennifer Lawrence and Carey Mulligan. The Festival runs Jan. 6-17.

“We are honoring two of the finest actors to grace the screen, both of whom deliver Oscar-quality performances in their most recent films,” said Palm Springs International Film Festival chairman Harold Matzner. “Colin Firth brings a regal versatility to each of his roles, but his portrayal of King George VI in his latest film, The King’s Speech, is extraordinary. Natalie Portman, who started dancing at age four and acting at age 11, tests the full range of her significant talent with a powerhouse performance as the obsessed ballerina in Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan.”

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Later today or tonight, our Moveiegasm podcast will go up. But here is the 8th episode of Oscar Poker. Jeff Wells, Phil Contrino, Scott Feinberg and I discuss many things. Our podcasts, both of them, keep going up in length of time.¬† But there isn’t any point in cutting in. If you get bored, just stop listening. We talk the sex in Tilda Swinton’s I Am Love as being more explicit than the sex in Blue Valentine (hence the head-scratcher about the MPAA rating). Jeff and Scott talk about how much they both loved The Fighter and why they feel it is definitely one of the ten Best Picture contenders of the year (I still haven’t seen it because I am the Queen of Lame). They compare it to The Town. Phil Contrino and I are both fans of The Town and feel it is also deserving of Best Pic consideration. We touch a bit on Christian Bale’s performance, though, and whether we think he can still win the thing, even with his reputation. So, give it a listen if you care to.

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It’s been said before, but let it be said again, 2010 is marked by an uncharacteristic tsunami of women. Sure, there are still some male-driven films that have risen to the top of the pile, namely Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush in The King’s Speech, Jessie Eisenberg/Andrew Garfield/Justin Timberlake in The Social Network, the brilliant James Franco in 127 Hours, (though I haven’t yet seen it) Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale in The Fighter, and the upcoming True Grit with Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and Josh Brolin. But let’s face it, this year it’s raining women.

The Oscar for lead actress is going to be competitive this year, which always makes for an exciting Oscar run. Even before I’d seen Black Swan, I felt like three women had a real shot at taking it: Natalie Portman, course, Annette Bening and Jennifer Lawrence.

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Black Swan, Darren Aronofsky’s unflinching swan dive into the world of artistic expression, is a mirror with multiple foldings. It is about a dancer who strives to be perfect, haunted by her own reflection, which emerges at the worst times. It is about a daughter who is a reflection of her terrified mother who looks at her and sees her young self, but also sees her daughter as something she created, and therefore owns. It is about a student who yearns to fulfill the expectations of her teacher because she is a reflection of his own creative ability. It is about an actress who is fulfilling the demands of her director who requires nothing less than everything. It is about a film that reflects a play-within-a-play — it IS Swan Lake as they DO Swan Lake. And finally, it is about a film that strives to fulfill the critical, judgmental eye of its audience. It is all of those things at once and more. Black Swan may be the best film of 2010.

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We hear a lot about how hard-going the movie is, but here is a clip where the mood becomes lighter. Who doesn’t love Dianne Wiest, that’s what I want to know.

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It took me a while to finally see The Kids Are All Right. I knew the movie would be good, and I followed the trail of buzz that has it continually landing on lists of films that might make the cut for the Oscars. Some have asked why the film is always there when it doesn’t have any so-called buzz. The simple reason is that the film stands out not just because of the tuned and harmonious cast, but because the subject matter is daring, confrontational, and dare I say it, groundbreaking.

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The SBIFF already has a star-packed lineup slated for their fest, which takes flight January 27, through February 6. Just announced, Annette Bening will be the recipient of the American Riviera Award, which was “established to recognize an actor who has had a strong influence on American Cinema. Bening will join an illustrious group of past recipients: Sandra Bullock (10), Mickey Rourke (09), Tommy Lee Jones (08), Forest Whitaker (07), Philip Seymour Hoffman (06), Kevin Bacon (05) and Diane Lane (04).”

And thus, Bening’s year begins in earnest.

Other already announced honorees include James Franco honored for his difficult but effecting work in 127 Hours, and Christopher Nolan will be honored with the Modern Masters award.

Here is the first installment, but click over to the site to see the rest of the interviews. Participants include Helena Bonham Carter, Annette Bening, Natalie Portman, Nicole Kidman, Hilary Swank, and Amy Adams.

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First stills from The Help, Dreamworks promising adaptation of one of last year’s most significant literary events. Kathryn Stockett’s novel chronicling small town America in the throes of the Civil Rights Movement rose to top bestseller charts and capped off its popular success with appearances on many year-end best lists. Observing the turbulent ’60’s alternately through the eyes of naive Southern ingenues and the maids who cooked and cleaned for them, the book navigated touchy territory with impressive finesse and generous sensitivity.

(EW) What women Stockett has conjured up. In a shrewd move, one of her characters is like the author’s ’60s-era doppelg√§nger. Skeeter, a white Ole Miss graduate whose mother frets over her daughter’s frizzy hair and ringless wedding finger, wants to write something with more substance than her piddly housecleaning-advice column ‚Ä®at the Jackson Journal. Buoyed by a chance conversation with a steely New York book editor, she decides to ‚Ä®anonymously record the experiences of black maids, paid to raise and nurture other people’s children while ‚Ä®their employers insist they use a separate bathroom ‚Äî preferably one outside the house. ”Everyone knows ‚Ä® how we white people feel [about] the glorified Mammy figure who dedicates her whole life to a white family,” Skeeter tells her editor. ”But no one ever asked Mammy how she felt about it.”

If Skeeter is one to root for, the muscle and heart of the book belong to the maids Aibileen and Minny, tough, funny, vulnerable, conflicted women who know they are risking everything by sharing their stories with a skinny, naive white woman. Stockett jumps effortlessly between her women’s voices. She has created a world ‚Ä®of memorable supporting characters ‚Äî from the bitch ‚Ä®in the Junior League to Skeeter’s oilman suitor ‚Äî to‚Ä® surround them.

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ICS’ Erik Anderson reviews Rabbit Hole:

Eckhart does very good work, running the gamut from subtle to (sometimes a bit too) explosive. Wiest is gentle here, offering sage advice in the face of her daughter’s nastiness. I was reminded of her character in Edward Scissorhands, a bit hopeful, a bit naïve but always with good intentions. The film really belongs to Kidman though, as she is so fearless in this role. She is icy and steely but appropriately so, as she hasn’t figured out how to manage her grief. We almost always manage to be on her side even at her most vicious, giving her the empathy that she sometimes can’t muster. It’s her best performance since Birth and worthy of Oscar consideration. My only reservation, and I know this will cause groans and rolled eyes, is that sometimes her face appears overworked and it belies her suburban housewife role. It’s a relatively small distraction though.

An incredibly subdued piece in comparison to his two previous films, Rabbit Hole is more Ordinary People than Antichrist in the pantheon of couples with children lost, a confident mainstream effort proving Mitchell is not just a fringe director. It‚Äôs not a great film, but a very good one, showing that Mitchell doesn‚Äôt need the bells and whistles of musical numbers or graphic sex (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but has the strength to work with conventional material and still put his stamp on it.

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Rope of Silicon’s Brad Brevet pinged a few of us useless Oscar bloggers yesterday wondering about Lesley Manville’s chances if she ran in supporting or lead. You can read all of the responses over at Rope of Sil. My main point is that she’s great in the movie so she really ought to be remembered in either category. I think my exact quote was something like “they should follow her to the ends of the earth.”

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Looking back over the year in posters, does it seem to you there’s been a nice spike of imagination at upper end of the quality scale? First-class posters for Inception, 127 Hours, The American, True Grit, and even Inside Job have striking designs that stick in our minds. It should be no surprise that some of the best films of the year are lavished with some of the best creative marketing campaigns — and yet, here I am, being surprised. Because we still see plenty of bland and traditional posters that almost seem to be saying: “Don’t worry. I’m safe. I’m conventional.” So it’s been a real pleasure this season to find designers who’ve been given the freedom to create visually stimulating artwork like this. (The promo posters for Black Swan are so outstanding they deserve special mention, cupped here inside a parenthetical hug.)

[UPDATE: Kicking myself for forgetting to mention Let Me In and these three Grand-Guignol posters.]

Full-sized Rabbit Hole poster after the cut. I never believed that you can’t judge a book by its cover; I do it all the time. It sometimes proves useful to judge a movie based in part on its posters too. What are some of your favorites this year?

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Nathaniel, over at The Film Experience, has done some exhaustive research that proves being younger isn’t always better when it comes to winning. We silly Oscar bloggers have been debating privately whether or not we think Jennifer Lawrence has the stuff to win. This, because Nathaniel sent us the link to his page. Basically his point is that Lawrence, and newcomer Hailee Steinfeld would be in the “probably too young to win” category.

Two of us, Guy Lodge and me, think it’s possible she could win the whole thing. My reasoning for this is as follows: hers is the only truly selfless and heroic contender in the pack. Sure, there are other factors and other contenders – there is Natalie Portman (who may end the year with the most lauded performance) and there is beloved Annette Bening. I don’t think Lawrence is in the same position that Carey Mulligan was last year because Mulligan, though lovable indeed, was not caring for her younger siblings, her sick mother, trying to save their home — all the while delivering a spectacular performance. She’s a big threat. Make no mistake about that.

It seems to me that the Oscar run that wasn’t going to be may now be on track. Pond writes that, despite a gotcha catch by InContention‘s Guy Lodge that the film was on last year’s reminder list — not for nothing, Steve Pond is a good man to know this time of year. He is great at always getting the official word from the AMPAS:

The reminder list is compiled before the end of the year, and does not always accurately reflect the films that end up qualifying.

TheWrap has obtained email exchanges between the Academy and production company Cinesavvy Inc. from November and December 2009. In November Cinesavvy asked for details about the submission process, but the following month – after the reminder list had been compiled – it informed the Academy that the film would not be opening in 2009 after all.

In those emails, the Academy told Cinesavvy that that the film could be resubmitted in 2010 without eligibility problems.

On Tuesday, an Academy spokesperson confirmed to theWrap that “Frankie & Alice” was not eligible in 2009, and that it would qualify this year if it has its week-long Los Angeles run and meets other AMPAS requirements.

Berry does make an impression, considering we are looking at an all-white cast so far for this year’s Oscars. It has to be one of the least diverse lineups in recent years, with not one African American contender to be found. The only slight chance for one might come from Tyler Perry’s For Colored Girls.

Either way, welcome to the jungle, Ms. Berry.

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Jeff Wells and Kris Tapley sit on opposite ends of the teeter-totter with their opinion on Ed Zwick’s Love and Other Drugs. Jeff lays into Kris and his ilk pretty hard, writing, “In my initial 10.20 review of Love and Other Drugs, I predicted that it would run into trouble from “the Eric Kohn-Guy Lodge nitpick crowd.” Neither of these two have run a review yet, but In Contention‘s Kris Tapley, whom Lodge writes for, gave Ed Zwick’s film a little slapdown today, so my prediction was…well, vaguely accurate.” Meanwhile, Tapley posted a video of the infamous LexG, commenter extraordinaire at HE and MCN.

In Scott Rudin news, Deadline’s Mike Flemming reports that Rudin has picked up Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares and has chosen Tiny Furniture’s Lena Dunham to write and direct.¬† Got to love that Scott Rudin, making the world a better place one great movie after the next.

Much chatter about Tilda Swinton and whether she can make it in the Oscar race or not, thanks in part to Jeff Wells asking the question in the first place. Anne Thompson calls her performance “simply superb.”

My new favorite Oscar bloggers on the scene this year include Cinemablend’s Katy Rich, who is doing The Oscar Eye, and John Lopez at Vanity Fair’s Little Gold Men. Don’t miss his column on the Best Actress race, putting it down to Bening v. Portman.

Jennifer Lawrence has been quietly accumulating an array of¬†festival honors for her strong performance as Ree Dolly in Winter’s Bone.¬†Now she is¬†tapped¬†to receive the Rising Star Award at the Palm Springs International Film Festival’s 2011 awards gala.¬†Last year this¬†award went to Anna Kendrick for Up in the Air.

“Call it a gift for us all when a young performer comes along, demonstrating such natural theatrical instinct,” said Harold Matzner, chairman of the Palm Springs International Film Society board. “Jennifer Lawrence has delivered an Oscar-quality performance in her latest role, in the jarring, critically-acclaimed ‘Winter’s Bone.’”

Prior to this latest honor, Lawrence¬†received kudos as Best Actress¬†at the Seattle International Film Festival,¬†as well as the¬†New Hollywood Award from the Hollywood Film Fest and a nomination for Best Breakthrough¬†Actor from the Gotham Awards.¬†Meanwhile, Winter’s Bone has racked up an impressive list of its own: Sundance Grand Jury, Screenwriting and Humanitas Prizes, CICAE and Readers’ Prizes at the Berlinale, Jury Prize at Deauville, a Best Director win for Debra Granik in Seattle and two additional Gotham nominations, for Best Feature and Best Ensemble, among others… and the season is still young!

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