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One of the reasons we keep returning to 1976 is that it’s supposedly the one year that many people in the Oscar game point to as one of the worst Best Picture wins in Academy history, when a scrappy little movie called Rocky bested films as impressive as All the President’s Men, Network, Taxi Driver, and Bound for Glory. The more I’ve learned about the Oscars in the years I’ve been covering them, the more I’ve understood why that Rocky win represents a valuable a lesson: it was an inclusive, not an exclusive win. In that the Oscars are better, I think, when they take into account the public at large and do not turn too much inward — as they did pointedly last year, with Birdman — thus very nearly exiling themselves onto Oscar Island. Movies are made for everyday people in the real world. The further the Oscars get away from that, I think, the more they lose their value in terms of defining a snapshot in time of our cinematic culture overall.

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At last, the glamour categories. A lot of tricky maneuverings happening here as our voters cast ballots to decide which performances are Lead and which are Supporting. Mathematics brings down the gavel to make the final judgement. Dr Rob will be here to explain how it all happened – and how it may play out tomorrow morning when the real Oscar ballot results are revealed. How do actual Oscar voters differ from you and me? To quote Fitzgerald and Hemingway:

F. Scott: “The rich are different from you and me.”
Ernest: “Yes, they have more money.”

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It’s 2010 and we open in the bathroom of a modest, suburban home. Reflected in the mirror is a leg hanging over the bathtub’s edge and blood splattered on the wall. A camera pan gives us a brief, but shocking glimpse of a dead man’s body before the camera tightly focuses its grip on real estate agent Rick Carver who seems un-scarred by the scene and all business. In this single, beautifully unedited shot the world of 99 Homes is established and you’d be hard pressed to not remember this world. It is a world just after the housing bubble burst in which horror scene after horror scene was not uncommon and the government bailed out the big banks with little thought for the individual families affected by adjustable rate loans and easy-to-get second mortgages who were dumped onto the streets or into seedy motels with little monetary resources.

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While on a suddenly aborted podcast with Erik Anderson and Jeff Wells, we began talking about Best Supporting actor. “There are about ten,” Anderson said, before agreeing that this was a nearly impossible year to predict. Indeed, there is much confusion in the category overall. There are several narratives that could play out and no one really knows what those narratives will be or who will get in.

Here are a couple of things to know.

  1. The SAG Awards trumps the Globes overall. There have only been two years in all of SAG Awards/Oscar history where there were more than two names, three at the most, that received Supporting Actor nominations from SAG-AFTRA and didn’t get corresponding nominations at the Oscars. The norm is only one mismatch, sometimes two, hardly ever three.
  2. It sometimes happens that a stray name may get in without a SAG Awards or a Globe nomination either one, as seen with Jonah Hill for Wolf of Wall Street, Michael Shannon for Revolutionary Road, Max Von Sydow for Extremely Loud, Incredibly Close, Alan Alda for The Aviator, William Hurt for A History of Violence, Djimon Hounsou, In America. But never more than two.
  3. It’s very rare (only once since 2002) that a supporting actor can be nominated by both SAG-AFTRA and the HFPA and then fail to get an Oscar nomination.
  4. Being featured in a Best Picture winner does not help get you from a SAG Awards nomination to a Supporting Actor Oscar: Four times since 2002 a nominee from a Best Picture winner did not go on to get an Oscar nomination even though their film won Best Picture: Dev Patel for Slumdog Millionaire, Tommy Lee Jones for No Country for Old Men, Leonardo DiCaprio for The Departed (although he did get a Best Actor nod), Don Cheadle, Crash.
  5. Folding in the Critic Choice does not help us figure out which actor might get in without either a Globe or SAG Awards nomination.
  6. The most important rule of all: in all of SAG Awards/Oscar history no contender has ever won the Oscar without a SAG Awards or a Globe nomination (but usually SAG Awards) in the Supporting Actor category. <—this is what I call the biggest bummer of all because it closes a lot of doors.

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I was in Starbucks the other day and Good Vibrations came on. It sent me back to that great movie about Brian Wilson with Paul Dano, John Cusack and Elizabeth Banks’ great performances. It occurred to me, not just reading Anne Thompson’s latest predictions. Nor reading this tweet by Kris Tapley:

While I absolutely do not agree with him that awards season seems thin — I loved a lot of the films he didn’t — for instance, he’s dead on about Love & Mercy (I think, I hope) that it can sustain through the difficult season with maybe three noms at least: Dano, Banks and Wilson (for song).

The reviews were great but more than that, it was a moment to look at Brian Wilson’s life and get an intimate look at how creativity works. Hopefully there will be awards to help it along the way.


Glenn Kenny started a bit of trouble (I’m told) online after writing a piece about how wrong The End of the Tour got David Foster Wallace. Kenny then writes a nice tribute to Wallace, with whom he had a friendship ongoing for many years. AO Scott writes:

Some of the people closest to Wallace, who committed suicide in 2008, have condemned the movie sight unseen, and friends of his who did see it (one of them also a friend of mine) have found fault with both its details and its overall design. As an ardentambivalent reader of Wallace’s prose and a complete stranger to him personally, I can only respect such objections. But the movie, in my view, disarms them — not because it offers an especially loving or lifelike picture of its subject but rather because David Foster Wallace is not really its subject at all. “The End of the Tour” is at once an exercise in post-postmodern literary mythmaking and an unsparing demolition of the contemporary mythology of the writer. It’s ultimately a movie — one of the most rigorous and thoughtful I’ve seen — about the ethical and existential traps our fame-crazed culture sets for the talented and the mediocre alike.

The film’s best hope for Oscar is a supporting nod for Jason Segal – because Jesse Eisenberg is the lead and the Best Actor race is impossibly packed with little wiggle room. Scott writes of Segal (who got dressed down by Kenny):

Mr. Segel’s performance, whether it captures the true Wallace or not, is sharp and sensitive, in no small part because it’s modest and appropriately evasive. The essential David Wallace is precisely what the film reminds us we can’t see, even as David Lipsky wants desperately to track him down and display him to the readers of Rolling Stone. Wallace is caught in a familiar set of contradictions. He wants attention but craves solitude. He’s willing to collaborate with the machinery of publicity even as he worries about the phoniness of it all. He’s ambitious and eager to protect himself from the consequences of his ambition. In short, he’s a famous writer.

As such he is, for his short-term companion, both alpha dog and prey, an object of envy as well as admiration, a meal ticket and an imaginary friend. The film poses the question “Who is the real David Foster Wallace?” as a feint. He is its premise, its axiom, its great white whale. The more relevant question, the moral problem on which the movie turns, is “who is David Lipsky?”

Scott finishes his review this way:

You may find yourself wishing that he didn’t have to, which is to say wishing that “The End of the Tour” didn’t exist even as you hang on its every word and revel in its rough, vernacular beauty. In an ideal world, we would all sit at home reading “Infinite Jest” and then go out to eat hamburgers, argue about philosophy and watch cheesy action blockbusters. There would be no pseudo-authoritative biographies or prying, preening magazine profiles to complicate our pleasures, and ambitious actors would not dare to impersonate beloved novelists. But the world we live in is plagued by all of those things. There will always be films about writers and writing, and this one is just about as good as it gets.

I might have hated the movie as much as Glenn Kenny did if I’d been lucky enough to have known DFW. But alas. I suppose that AO Scott just made it okay to like the movie — and appreciate the performance–anyway.

redmayne moore

Lead Actor: Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything
Lead Actress: Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Supporting Actor: J.K. Simmons, Whiplash
Supporting Actress: Patricia Arquette, Boyhood

These four actors have championed prizes in their respective categories from the three award shows—SAG, BAFTA, and Golden Globes—that are instrumental for a success at the Academy Awards. There should be no hysterical dramatics and edge-of-your-seat anxiety during the Oscars for a nominee when they have swept the category clean at all of the preceding award shows. The absence of those hysterical dramatics in the race can lead to people who spend a superfluous amount of time thinking about the outcome of these awards to speculate who would win if the frontrunner were not nominated in the category.

So, who would in each category win if the frontrunner didn’t exist? With little evidence and much confusion over the past few months of this year’s Oscar race, it’s not something easily calculated.


Despite early distress about the strength of contenders in this field, the Academy ended up producing an array of impressive performances in its lead actress field. If Julianne Moore would have won for Far from Heaven, The Hours or Boogie Nights, this would be the biggest prediction gamble of Oscar night.

Once you take the projected winner, Moore, out of the lineup, the list of nominees divides into two subgroups: 1) Felicity Jones and Marion Cotillard, 2) Rosamund Pike and Reese Witherspoon.

Particularly when picking predictions for the BAFTA awards, many pundits and award season followers pitted Jones in the runner-up position for The Theory of Everything. Yes, she is a co-lead in a popular film with the older Academy members, but the performance itself has never been the distinctive focal point of the film’s praise. Her role is not as dramatically heavy as her fellow nominees, and the industry’s good will for the Stephen Hawking biopic is being dosed over Eddie Redmayne’s work.

The numerous awards Cotillard won from critic associations is probably what kept her alive enough to hop into the last Best Actress spot, despite being excluded from the Golden Globe, SAG, and BAFTA nominations. The performance itself, though considered brilliant by many, is quite subdued, lacking the overt fireworks of Witherspoon and Pike’s towering performances. And the last foreign language performance to win was Cotillard herself in 2007, and whether we like it or not, to win an Oscar for a non-English-speaking role is not common. In addition, Cotillard has a history of being unpopular with the Academy since her win for La Vie en Rose. Many regard her missing the Academy’s lineup for Rust and Bone and Nine to be egregious snubs.

If Moore weren’t in the race, it would most likely come down to Pike and Witherspoon.

After Wild’s premiere at Telluride this past summer, Witherspoon’s buzz was moving at an accelerated level. But whenever the film was released widely, the critical acclaim was there…the support just never felt as passionate as we were led to believe. But still, Witherspoon received the best reviews of her career for her portrayal as Cheryl Strayed, she has been working the campaign trail harder than anyone and had a “comeback” year after a decade of flops and tabloid treachery. Taking the role itself was a drastic change of pace for Witherspoon, and the fact that she pulled it off terrifically could have won her a second Oscar, had Moore not been in the race.

The major problem that would have prevented Pike from going all the way is the distance the Academy put between itself and Gone Girl in every category but Best Actress. (Many are still waiting to wake up from the terrible dream and learn Gillian Flynn’s snub in Adapted Screenplay was a bad dream.) But everything else is in Pike’s favor. Playing a character as memorable and iconic as Amazing Amy holds more weight than most are giving it credit for. Pike disappears into a role that is bound to ignite some form of strong reaction from just about everyone who watches the Gone Girl. And besides starring in an R-rated film that grossed over $165 million domestically, she was named as the best actress preference by over a dozen critic associations.

Projected Outcome without Julianne Moore
1. Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
2. Reese Witherspoon, Wild
3. Marion Cotillard, Two Days, One Night
4. Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything


This category is not as securely fastened as the others, because Birdman has won the major guild awards in spades, and before Redmayne won the SAG, most were predicting Michael Keaton to soar to Oscars. Keaton was the critics’ darling of this category and the Golden Globe winner in the musical/comedy category. To bet against Redmayne and his winning streak would be imprudent, but Keaton is still viable option for a Best Actor win if his film scores the Best Picture trophy. If Redmayne wouldn’t win, it would (and could) be Keaton.

The wild card of the group this year is Bradley Cooper for American Sniper, because he has not competed in any other award show until the AMPAS. His movie has surged at the box office, making inconceivable amounts of money, and the Academy proved their admiration for Eastwood’s war on terror effort by nominating it six times this year. This is Cooper’s third consecutive acting nomination from the Academy, and it stands to reason that the politics of playing a United States veteran could finally put him in a more “winner-friendly” stature. If American Sniper performs better at the ceremony than many pundits surmise, it would not be too surprising to see Cooper upstage the two other frontrunners.

Steve Carell launched the season with glowing reviews out of the Cannes Film Festival for Foxcatcher, but his buzz began to wilt as the year progressed and other performances joined the sprint to the finish line. Benedict Cumberbatch, currently an “it” man in pop culture, acquired raves for playing Alan Turing, but so far this season The Imitation Game has a barren record despite piles of nominations.

Projected Outcome without Eddie Redmayne
1. Michael Keaton, Birdman
2. Bradley Cooper, American Sniper
3. Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
4. Steve Carell, Foxcatcher


Patricia Arquette has been invincible the past few months for her moving work in Boyhood. Because of her popularity with the critic association awards and the televised award shows, we do not have the smallest indication to even suggest an alternate frontrunner. The only contender that began to build a case against Arquette was Jessica Chastain for A Most Violent Year, but she ended the season with a snub from the Academy. Any one of the other nominees could rise to the occasion if Arquette would not have been nominated.

Meryl Streep’s nomination always felt secure for her creative turn in Into the Woods, but it seems as if people are not taking her film seriously enough to reward it in a substantial way. Laura Dern’s nomination was an inspired one considering her role in Wild is limited to flashbacks–which means a smaller amount of screentime–and the fact that she was largely ignored before her nomination from the Academy.

Keira Knightley rode The Imitation Game’s buzz to all of the crucial award shows this year. In playing Joan Clarke, Knightley does her usual melodramatic, aggressive British act and she has Harvey Weinstein’s heavy promotion in her favor, but I hesitate about relying on her rank in the race too heavily. Knightley’s role, in a similar way to Jones in Lead Actress, does not feel vigorous enough to take down her co-nominees.

Birdman reminds me of American Hustle in the Oscar race last year. The ensemble was among the most heralded aspects of the film and several of the actors were nominated, yet none of them were unable surmount the frontrunner and most likely took second place. Like American Hustle, Birdman lacks an acting frontrunner despite having various performances nominated.

To compare Emma Stone’s standing to Jennifer Lawrence’s position last year would be unfair because the Lawrence had more going for her, but Stone relates to her in another way: She holds a position in pop culture that could have been an entry into frontrunner status had it not been for Arquette. Also, Stone benefits from starring in a Best Picture frontrunner, having an uproar of an “Oscar clip” and losing a significant amount of weight to portray her character more accurately. She makes the most sense of the non-Arquette contenders.

Projected Outcome without Patricia Arquette
1. Emma Stone, Birdman
2. Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game
3. Meryl Streep, Into the Woods
4. Laura Dern, Wild


Like Best Actress, a race without J.K. Simmons for Whiplash in Best Supporting Actor would divide the other nominees into two groups: 1) Mark Ruffalo and Robert Duvall, 2) Ethan Hawke and Edward Norton.

Duvall was one of the better attributes of The Judge, but his nomination feels like a gesture of reverence from his peers, showing their appreciation for all his years of hard work in the business. Mark Ruffalo has settled into a place in the film industry as a character actor, like his work in Foxcatcher exemplifies. His respect may be growing in the industry, but it’s not enough to climb over the other, more emphatic performances in his company.

In a world where Simmons was not orchestrating another Supporting Actor sweep (like we saw in previous years with Jared Leto, Christopher Plummer, Christian Bale, Christoph Waltz, Heath Ledger, Javier Bardem, ect.), the hypothetical winner would most likely be either Ethan Hawke in Boyhood or Edward Norton in Birdman.

After winning a fair amount of critics association awards, Norton’s loud, grabbing, memorable turn would probably be named the best of the year, especially when the industry’s support of his film is taken into consideration. I do have my reservations because of Hawke and the general question surrounding which film the Academy will support more: Birdman or Boyhood? Hawke gives a more flavorful performance in Boyhood than his co-star Patricia Arquette, and yet she is the undivided frontrunner for Supporting Actress. In addition, he has paid his dues and collected several nominations over the years from the Academy between acting and writing.

Projected Outcome without J.K. Simmons
1. Edward Norton, Birdman
2. Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
3. Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
4. Robert Duvall, The Judge


The kind of intensity we feel from J.K. Simmons’ performance is often a magnet for gold. “Whiplash” follows Andrew (Teller), a first-year college student as he begins his quest to become the core drummer of the top jazz orchestra in the country. Under the direction of a prestigious but borderline abusive instructor named Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), Andrew would do anything to become a famous musician. His commitment is put to the ultimate test when the unrelenting and eccentric band professor all but drives him to madness. Fletcher’s extreme teaching methods rattle Andrew’s faith in drumming…and in himself. In the end, the struggle is only worthwhile if Andrew is really the one-in-a-million talent that Fletcher believes him to be.

sup actor feat

Which actors in supporting roles will prevail this year?

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Sure to be Best Supporting Actor nominee Barkhad Abdi talks acting, Tom Hanks and Somalia:

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The acting races this year are overflowing with contenders. From the first half of the year on through, it is going to be competitive and will likely take a while before a consensus emerges, though there are already a few standouts that seem too big to ignore even at this early stage.

From previous Oscar winners to virtual unknowns, the early field of contenders features young and old, black and white, hailing from here in the US and from far reaching countries, 2013 is proving to be a very competitive year.

The film put in the frontrunner’s position right now is Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave, already predicted to win Picture, Director, Actor, Supporting Actress, Screenplay and more. But it’s early yet. The year’s films have not yet been seen. Shifts can still happen — after all, this is just the post-festival buzz. Toronto doesn’t often make the Oscar race, even if 12 years won the Audience Award.
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We are brought up in America to trust voices of authority, especially if they’re wearing a doctor’s coat and have big important government agencies like the FDA behind them. We are taught to trust the medical industry because of course they have our best interests at heart. Our for-profit industry is supposedly the best in the world because it costs the most. That’s what the Republicans keep telling us, anyway, to weasel out of universal health care. The Dallas Buyers Club, a new film by Jean-Marc Vallee, shows what can happen when that system fails.

Dallas Buyers Club tells the story of a redneck homophobe, Ron Woodruff, who contracts HIV presumably from a prostitute. He doesn’t find out about it until he ends up in the ER for something unrelated. He resists the diagnosis because that’s something only “f—-” get. The coke, sex and alcoholic addicted Woodruff is told he has very little options except to wait around until the government does long term studies for AZT’s effectiveness. Oh, and he has around 30 days to live.
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The weird way the awards lined up this year, like someone moving the cat bowl, has set an unpredictability in motion most of us have never experienced.  “I just want unpredictability” people always say. Well, be careful what you wish for because when predictability goes out the window so does your ability to accurately predict the race.

Philip Seymour Hoffman won the Critics Choice award for Best Lead Supporting Actor, Christoph Waltz won the Best Lead Supporting Actor for the Golden Globes and Tommy Lee Jones won the Best Supporting Supporting Actor from the Screen Actors Guild.  Usually, only one wins all three and then wins the Oscar. That makes it a totally wide open race.  Coming on strong, and maybe the only contender who is doing so, is Robert De Niro for Silver Linings Playbook. It had been expected, Silver Linings, with its four acting nominations would have handily won the SAG ensemble, taking De Niro with it.  But Tommy Lee Jones was the surprise winner there.

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Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence are everywhere.  Since it’s basically, or seemingly, a wide open race this has put the campaigns into hard core overdrive. Robert De Niro got his footprints in cement at the Mann’s Chinese theater in Hollywood. They’re having a De Niro tribute at the Aero theater in Santa Monica, a hotbed of Academy activity. They’ll be showing Taxi Driver and Mean Streets.   And the actor also broke down in tears in a moving interview.

For his part, Bradley Cooper too has been everywhere, too.  The idea here is that Silver Linings Playbook is not a romantic comedy but a film about mental illness, about finding a silver lining.  That is up to the audience to decide but a guy I know who works at a hospital told me that the film reminded him of many people he sees coming in and suffering from bi-polarity.  Nonetheless, it’s Oscar season and there are awards to be won. I expect to see much more of this over the coming weeks as Oscar ballots are sent out on February 8th.  The pressure, the pressure!

John Goodman turns in two movie-stealing performances this year, one in Argo (“Argofuckyourself”) and one in Flight. In this interview he talks about New Orleans, alcoholism and Denzel Washington’s character in Flight hitting close to home. It’s an uncharacteristically revealing interview with the great Goodman (aka Walter for all time):

I’m keeping track over on the Contender Tracker (work in progress) but I thought you might like to chew around supporting actor and actress for a spell.

Most of the films with the heat in these categories haven’t yet opened. How can that be, you might ask, if no one’s ever seen them. Well, you know how the internet works. Act now, explain later. But there are some that seem more likely that others.

Starting with Actor:

Most Likely so far:

Dwight Henry, Beasts of the Southern Wild


Nate Parker, Arbitrage
Guy Pierce, Lawless
Bill Nighy, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Most Likely Sight Unseen:

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Over at the Daily Beast, Marlow Stern wonders about Andy Serkis’ chances at a nod for his wonderful turn in Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

There are so many would-be, might-be, could-bes this year – from Bridesmaids to Harry Potter to Drive to Rise of the Planet of the Apes. And probably the one at the top of that list is Andy Serkis — whose Caeser really was one of the most memorable characters of the year. But there is still a long way to go for actors to think of performance capture as acting. It’s a slippery slope for them; their face is their business.  It is one of the most threatening things for actors, I feel certain.  Nonetheless, it is always a great debate to put forth – what is acting and who decided what acting is?  The Academy will decide on their awards, of course, and unless they create a separate category for performance capture and voice over that shit ain’t gonna fly. Here’s Marlow:

Serkis’ performance capture—as it’s called now—turn as Caesar is so captivating it’s left many awards pundits debating whether Serkis should receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Twentieth Century Fox, the studio behind Apes, has revved up an aggressive Oscar campaign on behalf of Serkis’s performance, taking out ‘For Your Consideration’ ads in the major Hollywood trades. So far, it’s proven mildly successful—Serkis received a Critic’s Choice award nomination for Best Supporting Actor, though he was shunned by the more prestigious SAG and Golden Globe awards. But the award everyone really cares about is the Oscar, so should Serkis, for his performance capture accomplishment, be nominated for an Academy Award? And, as Ebert asked, where does the human end and the effects begin?

Jonah Hill, Dave Karger, Brad Pitt

Photo posted on JustJared

I was invited to a special screening for Moneyball on the Sony lot.  If you’ve never been there, or don’t live on the Westside, it’s quite a trek out to Culver City.  I’m almost always late, and I can’t find the right driveway, not ever.  Once on the lot, I often get lost trying to find the right theater, and then get lost again trying to find my car.  It’s never my favorite place to see a movie (that would be the Academy’s theater on Wilshire in Beverly Hills — it’s the place movie lovers call Heaven) because I hate driving those freeways — the 405, the 10, Overland exit, Motor Avenue and then finally, there’s Sony.  But it was worth it this time because I was getting to see one of the best films of 2011: Moneyball.

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Scene stealer Corey Stoll currently put forth as the best chance for any of the marvelous actors in Midnight in Paris to get recognition.  I rather liked Kathy Bates as Gertrude Stein — but, like Stoll, her role is fairly small for Oscar.

Actor Corey Stoll, recently nominated for Best Supporting Actor by the Independent Spirit Awards for his portrayal of Ernest Hemingway in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris will participate in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum’s forum “Hemingway’s Letters: From Childhood to Paris” on December 11, 2011.  The afternoon will consist of a discussion of The Letters of Ernest Hemingway: Volume 1, 1907-1922 with Sandra Spanier, the book’s editor, and novelist Ward JustScott Simon, host of NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday, will moderate, and Stoll will read selections.  The Kennedy Library is the major repository of Ernest Hemingway’s papers. A screening of Sony Pictures Classics’ Midnight in Paris will be shown following the forum.

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