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Movie Review: ‘Killing Them Softly,’ With Brad Pitt, From Andrew Dominik

Written By Unknown on Jumat, 30 November 2012 | 16.43

The Weinstein Company

Brad Pitt in "Killing Them Softly."

A mobbed-up poker game has been robbed, and the guys who did it — a twitchy ex-con (Scoot McNairy), his drug-addled Australian partner (Ben Mendelsohn) and the businessman (Vincent Curatola) who is the lame brains of the operation — need to be dealt with. That rough justice, to be carried out by a melancholy hit man after a series of philosophical conversations with various associates, is the main concern of "Killing Them Softly," a grisly little crime movie directed by Andrew Dominik and based on the novel "Cogan's Trade," by George V. Higgins.

In spite of the golden presence of Brad Pitt as the killer, a level-headed professional named Jackie Cogan, the movie has an agreeably scuzzy, small-time feeling. Shot in and around New Orleans but set (as far as can be surmised from accents, geographical references and the source material) in a broken-down Boston, it savors the company of losers, fixers and would-be wiseguys. And they are all guys, with the exception of a briefly encountered prostitute identified in the end credits by profession rather than by name.

Higgins, who died in 1999 and whose book "The Friends of Eddie Coyle" was adapted into a first-rate movie starring Robert Mitchum, was a master of hard-boiled, world-weary macho dialogue. Mr. Dominik, who wrote "Killing Them Softly," carefully transfers the novelist's pungent idiom to the screen.

Mr. Pitt is cool and detached, retreating from his emotionally open recent performances into the studied charisma of "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" (also directed by Mr. Dominik, in 2007) and leaving the emoting to others. His chief foils are an anxious, middle-management gangster played by Richard Jenkins and a sodden fellow hit man incarnated with rancid swagger by James Gandolfini. Ray Liotta, who frequently shows up in movies like this one, shows up as the guy who oversees the ill-starred poker game.

It can be a pleasure to watch them all work, even in what turns out to be a disappointing job. Higgins was a genre magician. Mr. Dominik is a clever hand at genre pastiche, and the result is a movie, like "The Assassination of Jesse James," that is sapped of vitality by its own self-conscious, curatorial fastidiousness. It takes place entirely in a universe of tropes and archetypes, which is a polite way of saying clichés and pretensions.

There is one desperate, misguided attempt to drag the story toward some kind of contemporary relevance. Even though the cars, the attitudes and the overall griminess of the production design evoke a bygone era, "Killing Them Softly" unfolds at a specific moment in the recent past, namely the autumn of 2008, when the American financial system spun into crisis in the climactic weeks of the presidential campaign. The voices of George W. Bush, Henry Paulson and Barack Obama float into the action from televisions and radios, occasionally inspiring comments from the characters.

It's a clumsy device, a feint toward significance that nothing else in the movie earns. Perhaps the bankers and speculators who ruined the economy are linked in some way to the punks and lowlifes who ruin themselves, and maybe Cogan is the allegorical double of Ben Bernanke. Anything is possible, since the movie is more concerned with conjuring an aura of meaningfulness than with actually meaning anything.

In the last scene Mr. Obama's victory speech provokes a cynical tirade from Cogan, who scoffs, in a carefully nonpartisan fashion, at the president-elect's idealism. "America isn't a country; it's a business," this thoughtful killer declares, turning to one of his colleagues. "Now give me my money."

Fair enough. But it's still a free country, and you don't owe this movie anything.

"Killing Them Softly" is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). Bloodshed, swearing, drug use, smoking.

Killing Them Softly

Opens on Friday nationwide.

Written and directed by Andrew Dominik, based on the novel "Cogan's Trade," by George V. Higgins; director of photography, Greig Fraser; edited by Brian A. Kates; production design and costumes by Patricia Norris; produced by Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, Steve Schwartz, Paula Mae Schwartz and Anthony Katagas; released by the Weinstein Company. Running time: 1 hour 37 minutes.

WITH: Brad Pitt (Jackie), Scoot McNairy (Frankie), Ben Mendelsohn (Russell), Richard Jenkins (Driver), James Gandolfini (Mickey), Ray Liotta (Markie Trattman), Vincent Curatola (Johnny Amato), Slaine (Kenny Gill), Max Casella (Barry Caprio), Trevor Long (Steve Caprio) and Sam Shepard (Dillon).

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Theater Review: ‘Dead Accounts’ With Katie Holmes at Music Box Theater

Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

A scene from "Dead Accounts" with, from left, Norbert Leo Butz, Katie Holmes and Jayne Houdyshell.

Any analysis of the chemical makeup of Norbert Leo Butz would surely reveal traces of gunpowder. How else to account for the fireworks that Mr. Butz is conjuring out of thin air at the Music Box Theater, where Theresa Rebeck's "Dead Accounts" opened on Thursday night?

Make that very thin air — even emaciated air, if there is such a thing. This comedy about a prodigal son, returned from the wilds of New York City to his family in Cincinnati, seems to float out of memory even as you're watching it. Ms. Rebeck, the author of "Seminar" and "Mauritius," keeps throwing out weighty subjects — from the ethics of Wall Street to the existence of God — but never cultivates them into anything approaching a solid existence. They all blur into a single jet stream of semisnappy dialogue before changing course a few times and evaporating.

Though the show, directed with an assortment of amiable diversionary tactics by Jack O'Brien, has the form and flavor of a conventional rom-com, you may still leave the theater wondering exactly what it was about; you may then wisely decide that such considerations are not worth the brain power.

Anyway, it's entirely possible that you have gone to "Dead Accounts" just to see Mr. Butz, a two-time Tony winner, practice his pyrotechnics, or to show your support for Our Katie. That's Katie Holmes, the movie star and former Mrs. Tom Cruise, who has of late been the victim of relentless tabloid scrutiny.

Let me assure you that Ms. Holmes, who was a tad unsteady in her Broadway debut four years ago in Arthur Miller's "All My Sons," appears much more at ease playing a worn-down country mouse to the hyped-up city mouse of Mr. Butz. Gamely unkempt and lumpen, Ms. Holmes suggests what might have happened to Joey Potter, the ultimate girl-next-door she once portrayed on TV in "Dawson's Creek," had she never found true love or left town.

For at least its first 15 minutes "Dead Accounts" does manage to command your attention. That's because its first scene is essentially a sustained aria of nervous energy for Mr. Butz, whose inventively modulated intensity brings to mind the young John Malkovich hijacking the stage with his opening monologue in Lanford Wilson's "Burn This" some 25 years ago.

Mr. Butz plays Jack, the black (or golden-fleeced, depending on your interpretation) sheep among six siblings in Roman Catholic family. Jack is the one who went East to live big. As the play begins, he is fresh from Manhattan, wearing an Armani suit and a jangle of urban vibes. Like many self-invented New Yorkers, Jack is a grandstander, and he has an appreciative audience in Lorna (Ms. Holmes), the sister who has stayed home to look after their aging parents.

Pretty much everyone functions as Jack's audience, and not much else, during the first act. That includes Barbara (Jayne Houdyshell), his mother, whose (unseen) husband is upstairs suffering from kidney stones, and Phil (Josh Hamilton), the friend of his youth.

Whether working his way ecstatically through pints of Graeter's ice cream, a local delicacy, or rhapsodizing about the trees in the backyard, Jack is a devourer — of food, of attention, of oxygen and, you might infer from his hyperkinetic pace, of pharmaceuticals. Or is he just overly charged with New York adrenaline? Ms. Rebeck devotes much compare-and-contrast time to Eastern versus Midwestern rhythms and mores. Whatever its source, Jack's atomic heat threatens to warp the linoleum tiles on the kitchen floor. (David Rockwell designed the Norman Rockwell-ish set.)

This Jumping Jack Flash is not only a gas but also quite possibly toxic. The tantalizing early hints of danger in Mr. Butz's performance are underscored by Jack's jokey references to murder; by David Weiner's sinister lighting between scenes; and by Mark Bennett's sound design, which blends recordings of cozy standards like "Sentimental Journey" with ominous, horror-movie crackles.

Yep, Jack's got a secret, which — after a lot of cute family quarreling and reminiscing that might have been lifted from an episode of "Everybody Loves Raymond" — is revealed at the end of the first act, when a woman in black, played by Judy Greer, shows up on the doorstep, chic and glowering. This should strike a chord of suspense. But somehow "Dead Accounts" has already turned into a limp chain of anticlimaxes.

This is mostly because Ms. Rebeck doesn't seem to have settled on a tone or, for that matter, a subject. "Dead Accounts" is, I think, meant to be about the inflation of the superficial in a materialistic society, and the attendant, unsatisfied craving for belief. (The title refers to bank accounts that are of no use to anyone; more I cannot reveal.)

But the play never follows through convincingly on any of its ideas. The breezy, family-friction antics that run throughout don't tally with the script's abrupt U-turns into ponderousness. Even Mr. Butz has difficulty pulling off Jack's second-act lament on the emptiness of an existence "where we are nothing and money is the only thing — and we are just reptiles." (Come to think of it, that sounds like something Mr. Butz's character might have said in the short-lived Broadway docudrama "Enron.") Even worse: Lorna's segue from a discussion of "dead accounts" to the angry announcement that "death is coming to this house."

Mr. Hamilton, who is terrific at playing cads, here has the thankless task of being the blandest of good guys. Ms. Greer never transcends her character's function as a visitor-from-another-planet plot device. Ms. Houdyshell ("Well," "Follies") glows with wry maternal warmth, as is her wont, and soaks up most of the audience's good will.

Despite the differences between their characters' metabolisms (as well as their acting styles) Ms. Holmes and Mr. Butz summon an appealingly natural family rapport, especially in their first scene, which turns out to have been the show's high point. You may even forget that Ms. Holmes is Katie Holmes for a moment. Then again, "Dead Accounts" makes you forget a lot of things, like why you've bothered to come to the show to begin with.

Dead Accounts

By Theresa Rebeck; directed by Jack O'Brien; sets by David Rockwell; costumes by Catherine Zuber; lighting by David Weiner; music and sound by Mark Bennett; hair design by Tom Watson; technical supervision by Peter Fulbright/Tech Production Services; production stage manager, Rolt Smith; associate producers, Jamie Kaye-Phillips and Charles Stone; general manager, 101 Productions. Presented by Jeffrey Finn, John N. Hart, Jr., David Mirvish, Amy Nauiokas, Ergo Entertainment, Harriet Newman Leve, Double Gemini Productions, 3toGo Entertainment and the Shubert Organization. At the Music Box Theater, 239 West 45th Street, Manhattan, (212) 239-6200, telecharge.com. Through Feb. 24. Running time: two hours.

WITH: Norbert Leo Butz (Jack), Katie Holmes (Lorna), Judy Greer (Jenny), Josh Hamilton (Phil) and Jayne Houdyshell (Barbara).

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Art Review: Matisse Exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

From Left: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection, 2012 Succession H. Matisse/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Private Collection, 2012 Succession H. Matisse, via Artists Rights Society (ARS); Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 2012 Succession H. Matisse, via Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Three portraits of Laurette (1916-17), a favorite Matisse model, as seen in a new show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. More Photos »

The great French modernist Henri Matisse (1869-1954) was not a joiner. In the early 20th century he led the brief blitz of the Fauves — those "wild beasts" of fiery colors and blunt textures — but otherwise abstained from the signal movements of modern art.

He communed with artists of the distant or not-so-distant past, from Giotto to Cézanne, and periodically brushed shoulders with Cubism and the work of his chief rival, Picasso. But his main desire was, as he put it, to "push further and deeper into true painting." This project was in every sense an excavation, and he achieved it partly by digging into his own work, revisiting certain scenes and subjects again and again and at times also making superficially similar if drastically divergent copies of his paintings.

His rigorous yet unfettered evolution is the subject of "Matisse: In Search of True Painting" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, one of the most thrillingly instructive exhibitions about this painter, or painting in general, that you may ever see. As ravishing as it is succinct, it skims across this French master's long, productive career with a mere 49 paintings, but nearly all are stellar if not pivotal works.

Organized at the Met by Rebecca Rabinow, a curator of modern and contemporary art, this exhibition, which is in previews for members through Sunday and opens to nonmembers on Tuesday, sheds new light on Matisse's penchant for copying and working in series. (It was seen in somewhat different versions at the Pompidou Center in Paris and the National Gallery of Denmark in Copenhagen.) To this end, the paintings proceed in pairs or groups aligned by subject: two still-life arrangements with fruit and compote, from 1899; two versions of a young sailor slouching in a chair, from 1906; four views (1900 to 1914) of Notre Dame seen from Matisse's window across the Seine; three portraits (1916-17) of Laurette, a favorite dark-haired model, seen from various distances in a voluminous green robe from Morocco.

The final gallery offers five paintings from the late 1940s that render Matisse's Vence studio in flat, saturated colors and pulsating patterns of plants and textiles. They are among the last canvases he made before embarking on the great final voyage of his cutouts.

The textbook simplicity of this format is irresistible. The visual self-schooling particular to looking at art kicks in, and almost before you know it your eyes are off and running, darting back and forth, parsing differences in style, brushwork, color, detail and overall effect, the expression of emotion that Matisse said he was always after.

Spread through eight galleries whose spaciousness aids concentration, each pair or group forms its own mini-seminar. Together they show Matisse restlessly roving between extremes, relentlessly rethinking and revising his way to greatness with radical ideas about economy and finish that changed the course of painting. His palette is rarely less than audaciously original. Attention should be paid to his habit of painting dark colors over bright ones to create a subtle underglow and his frequent emphasis on blank canvas as a source of light and texture. Always he sought an implicitly modern directness and rawness that created a brave new intimacy among artist, object and viewer. He claimed to work "toward what I feel; toward a kind of ecstasy."

Matisse's practice of copying grew out of his academic training, which by long tradition involved copying old masters in the Louvre. But he shifted this exercise toward the present, copying far more contemporary works, trying out different, mostly Post-Impressionist styles. The first gallery includes a still life homage to Cézanne (1904) and another work depicting the same arrangement in the Pointillist-based manner of Paul Signac (1904-5). Even more interesting are two 1899 still lifes with compote and fruit. One is richly painted, an encompassing Post-Impressionist tribute (van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne, Vuillard) cast in a honeyed light. The other is spare, almost skeletal: the fruit and vessels are denoted by flat silhouettes of bright color, the cabinet on which they rest by mostly unpainted canvas. Natural light as such is absent, but the seeds of all Matisse's great economies are here.

Which of these two canvases came first is debated by scholars. Did Matisse start with the simpler version and like it so much that he deemed it finished, and so switched to a second canvas to make the richer if more conventional Neo-Impressionist medley he originally intended? Or did he paint the more heavily worked canvas first and then, attempting something more pared down, lose his nerve and leave the second unfinished? Either way, Matisse was already beginning to use copying as a way to take the same motif to different pictorial conclusions, shifting from opulent to austere, or austere to opulent. In the case of two 1906 "Young Sailor" paintings, the first can be read as an overworked farewell to Fauvism, while the second cuts to the chase, conveying its subject with consummate abbreviating ease against a flat pink background as if dispatched in a single work session. (Its simplicity apparently made Matisse a little uneasy; when he showed these canvases to the collector Leo Stein, he dissembled briefly, saying that the second had been painted by a rural letter carrier.) Meanwhile he seems almost to have abandoned the 1909 "Seated Nude," with its patchy color, flurries of pencil and disturbing doll-like face, for its more robust twin of the same year, "Nude With a White Scarf," more conventionally fleshed out in paint and thick black lines.

"Matisse: In Search of True Painting" opens Tuesday and runs through March 17 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; (212) 535-7710, metmuseum.org.

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Art Review: ‘Fore’ at Studio Museum in Harlem

In 2001 the Studio Museum in Harlem opened a group exhibition called "Freestyle," the first in what would be a series intended to introduce freshly minted African-American talent. And in the catalog for that show the curator, Thelma Golden, dropped a neat little cultural bomb. She referred to the group of artists she'd chosen, most of them then in their 20s, as "post-black."

Courtesy of the artist

Fore This survey exhibition of new-generation artists at the Studio Museum in Harlem includes "The Uninvited," by Kenyatta A. C. Hinkle. More Photos »

 Heads spun, and are still spinning. Artists of an older generation, particularly those deeply invested in lifelong issues of black pride, were angry. The handle-hungry art market was flummoxed, unsure of how to capitalize on the label.

Even some young artists to whom it was applied weren't quite clear about what to do with it. Overnight the dynamics of contemporary art changed.

Although little noted in the midst of the uproar at the time, Ms. Golden herself held the term "post-black" at a critical distance, floating it out as a proposition rather than advancing it as a polemic. For her it meant artists who were adamant about not being confined to the category of "black," though, as she wrote, "their work was deeply interested in redefining complex notions of blackness. Post-black," she added with a wry twist, "was the new black."

More than a decade later it still is, to judge by the fourth and latest of the museum's new-generation shows, this one titled "Fore," organized by three young staff curators, Lauren Haynes, Naima J. Keith and Thomas J. Lax. Like its predecessors it keeps racial politics alive but discreet and covers the waterfront in terms of mediums, which it samples and mixes with turntablist flair.

In line with current New York trends, painting gets major attention. Three smallish portraits by Jennifer Packer (born 1985; Yale M.F.A. 2012) of art-school friends kick things off. They're traditional looking and beautiful, their suave brushwork finessed with a palette knife. Portraits by another artist, Toyin Odutola, who was born in Nigeria and now lives in Los Angeles, are more offbeat and generate interesting ideas. Ms. Odutola makes her sitters so black that their forms read like solid, featureless silhouettes from across a room. Only up close do you see that their eyes are wide open, and their skin is a porous weave of ropy ink lines, with rainbow color glinting through like light from behind.

Another Los Angeles artist, Kenyatta A. C. Hinkle, uses images from colonial-era postcards, made for European eyes, to make a point about the vulnerability of the body when seen through a racial lens. In her paint-altered version of the original cards, nude and seminude "native" women from West Africa are under assault from swarming lines of white pigment that bring to mind flames, microbes and spermatozoa.

Then the figure vanishes. It's just a shadowy smudge on an abstract gold field in a diptych by Noah Davis, and absent altogether in abstract paintings by Kianja Strobert, Sienna Shields and Brenna Youngblood.

Ms. Youngblood looks particularly impressive here. She has, however temporarily, exchanged her complicated, object-laden painting mode of a few years ago for a near-Minimalist austerity. But nothing she does is simple. One 2012 picture in the show consists primarily of a plain white unmarked panel, yet the addition of a small scrap of stuck-on signage keeps her art in painting-plus-something-else terrain.

And "something else" in this show covers a lot of ground. What conventional formal category, or categories, can describe Harold Mendez's filmy, soot-black Veronica veils made from dryer sheets, ink and fabric softener? Or Cullen Washington Jr.'s "Caped Crusader," with its collaged black baby superhero anchored to the floor by a T-Mobile sign? Or Eric Nathaniel Mack's "Honey Hollow," consisting of nothing more than a paint-brushed blanket hanging loose on the wall and stirred by the breeze from a nearby fan?

Unprepossessing to the eye, it does a lot of conceptual hard work, mashing together the essences of painting, sculpture and kinetic installation. Depending on who's looking, the piece is either barely there, or a sly celebration of material movement in space, of performance art without bodies.

"Fore" continues through March 10 at the Studio Museum in Harlem, 144 West 125th Street; (212) 864-4500, studiomuseum.org.

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The Carpetbagger: From Sundance, a Competition Slate That Could Be Called Accessible

Written By Unknown on Kamis, 29 November 2012 | 16.43

LOS ANGELES — Sundance, known for championing dark and inscrutable films, has unveiled an unusually accessible — and sellable — competition lineup.

On Wednesday programmers for the 2013 Sundance Film Festival released the list of features and documentaries that will compete for grand jury and audience prizes in Park City, Utah, in January. And in the esoteric department there are a few doozies, including Shane Carruth's "Upstream Color," a metaphorical drama described as the story of a man and woman "entangled in the life cycle of an ageless organism."

But the competition lineup also brims with comedy: "Austenland," from a writer of "Napoleon Dynamite," pokes fun at Jane Austen fans, while "C.O.G." adapts a David Sedaris work. And the selections are packed with familiar movie and TV stars. Jessica Biel, Daniel Radcliffe, Rooney Mara, Jane Lynch, Jennifer Coolidge, Casey Affleck, Kristen Bell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Ellen Page and Octavia Spencer (among others) all perform in competition films.

In a joint interview John Cooper, Sundance's director, and Trevor Groth, the festival's programming chief, cautioned against scrutinizing their lineup too carefully for trends, noting that they are at mercy of what gets submitted. And "accessible" is a relative concept, they noted; these selections are aimed squarely at an art house crowd and not a broad multiplex audience. A big hit in Sundance's world means movies like "Beasts of the Southern Wild," which played in competition last year and took in $11.2 million at the box office.

"Over all, the quality of independent film is getting better and better each year," Mr. Cooper said. "The industry is healthy enough for people — actors, directors, producers, casting directors — to sustain themselves in careers."

Both men pointed to forces inside and outside the festival that are contributing to competition films that are more audience friendly, starting with the creation in 2010 of a Sundance category called Next. Devoted to more experimental, low-budget fare, Next has absorbed some pictures that would have previously been slotted in the competition. This year Next includes unusual movies like "Escape From Tomorrow," a hallucinogenic drama about a father's mental breakdown.

Changing distribution models also play a role. In the past a theatrical and DVD release was the only real option for Sundance films to get seen beyond the festival. But the rise of video on demand, both on television and online, has provided additional exposure for the films and made stars more willing to participate. At the same time filmmakers have adapted by embracing stories that are more palatable — more clearly defined stories, lighter topics — to a V.O.D. audience.

"Sundance seems to have smartly focused more intently on programming not only for artistic quality but also for consumer accessibility," said Kevin Iwashina, managing partner of Preferred Content, a movie production, sales and advisory company. "That in turn guarantees that the festival will impact culture beyond its 10-day run."

The jackpot for filmmakers, of course, remains finding theatrical distribution, and so Sundance is typically judged — to the chagrin of its founder, Robert Redford — by how much money distributors like Fox Searchlight are willing to spend on selections that are for sale, which is almost all of them.

This year two competition films in particular are generating advance buzz. David Lowery's cinematic "Ain't Them Bodies Saints" is a potential critical darling. Telling the story of a Texas outlaw and his wife, it stars Ms. Mara, Mr. Affleck, Keith Carradine and Ben Foster ("3:10 to Yuma").

"Kill Your Darlings," from the producer Christine Vachon ("Boys Don't Cry") and first-time director John Krokidas, stars Mr. Radcliffe, Mr. Foster and Elizabeth Olsen ("Martha Marcy May Marlene"). This movie looks at a murder that brought together a young Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs.

The competition lineup includes 56 feature and documentary films, culled from 4,044 submissions, an increase of only two over last year. (The year before, submissions surged 6 percent.)

The festival will slowly dole out its out-of-competition lineups over the next week. These programs include the more star-driven Premieres section; midnight thrillers and comedies; "spotlight" movies that have already played other festivals; and experimental films. Sundance will run Jan. 17 to 27.

The pre-eminent showcase for American independent cinema, Sundance has long prided itself on championing female directors — in sharp contrast to Hollywood — and about a third of next year's competition films were directed or co-directed by women. Francesca Gregorini, a second-time filmmaker (and Ringo Starr's stepdaughter), will be there with "Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes," about a troubled girl who becomes obsessed with her neighbor. "Touchy Feely," a drama about a massage therapist stricken with an aversion to bodily contact, is from the writer-director Lynn Shelton, known for the 2009 comedy "Humpday."

The festival's high-profile opening slot went to "May in the Summer," a drama about a bride-to-be who re-evaluates life after reuniting with her family in Jordan; it was written and directed by Cherien Dabis ("Amreeka"), who also stars in the leading role. Morgan Neville's heartfelt documentary about the lives of backup singers, "Twenty Feet From Stardom," will also play opening night, along with a still-to-be announced shorts program.

Documentaries are one of Sundance's strengths, and the competition crop focuses on the usual topics: abortion, AIDS, war, drug cartels, economic inequality. But selections also include lighter documentaries, like Zachary Heinzerling's "Cutie and the Boxer," a look at the 40-year marriage of the painter Ushio Shinohara and his wife, Noriko.

An unusual number of movies in the 2013 competition were made by people who cut their teeth in television. "Afternoon Delight," a dark comedy about a Los Angeles housewife who tries to rescue a stripper by hiring her as a nanny, was written and directed by Jill Soloway, a producer of shows like "Grey's Anatomy" and "United States of Tara." Liz W. Garcia ("Cold Case," "Memphis Beat") arrives with her first movie, "The Lifeguard," starring Kristen Bell as a lifeguard who starts a dangerous relationship with a troubled teenage boy.

"I love that filmmakers are taking stories that we've seen before and finding entirely new ways to tell them," Mr. Groth said.


Afternoon Delight (Director and screenwriter: Jill Soloway) — In this sexy, dark comedy, a lost Los Angeles housewife puts her idyllic hipster life in jeopardy when she tries to rescue a stripper by taking her in as a live-in nanny. Cast: Kathryn Hahn, Juno Temple, Josh Radnor, Jane Lynch.

Ain't Them Bodies Saints (Director and screenwriter: David Lowery) — The tale of an outlaw who escapes from prison and sets out across the Texas hills to reunite with his wife and the daughter he has never met. Cast: Rooney Mara, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster, Nate Parker, Keith Carradine.

Austenland (Director: Jerusha Hess, Screenwriters: Jerusha Hess, Shannon Hale) — Thirtysomething, single Jane is obsessed with Mr. Darcy, as played by Colin Firth in "Pride and Prejudice." On a trip to an English resort, her fantasies of meeting the perfect Regency-era gentleman become more real than she ever imagined. Cast: Keri Russell, JJ Feild, Bret McKenzie, Jennifer Coolidge, Georgia King, James Callis.

C.O.G. (Director and screenwriter: Kyle Patrick Alvarez) — In the first film adaptation of David Sedaris's work, a cocky young man travels to Oregon to work on an apple farm. Out of his element, he finds his lifestyle and notions being picked apart by everyone who crosses his path. Cast: Jonathan Groff, Denis O'Hare, Corey Stoll, Dean Stockwell, Casey Wilson, Troian Bellisario.

Concussion (Director and screenwriter: Stacie Passon) — After a blow to the head, Abby decides she can't do it anymore. Her life just can't be only about the house, the kids and the wife. She needs more: she needs to be Eleanor. Cast: Robin Weigert, Maggie Siff, Johnathan Tchaikovsky, Julie Fain Lawrence, Emily Kinney, Laila Robins.

Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes (Director and screenwriter: Francesca Gregorini) — Emanuel, a troubled girl, becomes preoccupied with her mysterious new neighbor, who bears a striking resemblance to her dead mother. In offering to babysit her newborn, Emanuel unwittingly enters a fragile fictional world, of which she becomes the gatekeeper. Cast: Kaya Scodelario, Jessica Biel, Alfred Molina, Frances O'Connor, Jimmi Simpson, Aneurin Barnard.

Fruitvale (Director and screenwriter: Ryan Coogler) — The true story of Oscar, a 22-year-old Bay Area resident who crosses paths with friends, enemies, family and strangers on the last day of 2008. Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Octavia Spencer, Melonie Diaz, Ahna O'Reilly, Kevin Durand, Chad Michael Murray.

In a World… (Director and screenwriter: Lake Bell) — An underachieving vocal coach is motivated by her father, the king of movie-trailer voice-overs, to pursue her aspirations of becoming a voiceover star. Amid pride, sexism and family dysfunction, she sets out to change the voice of a generation. Cast: Lake Bell, Demetri Martin, Rob Corddry, Michaela Watkins, Ken Marino, Fred Melamed.

Kill Your Darlings (Director: John Krokidas, Screenwriters: Austin Bunn, John Krokidas) — A story of murder that brought together a young Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs at Columbia University in 1944, providing the spark that led to the birth of an entire generation – their Beat revolution. Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Dane DeHann, Ben Foster, Michael C. Hall, Jack Huston, Elizabeth Olsen.

The Lifeguard (Director and screenwriter: Liz W. Garcia) — A former valedictorian quits her job as a reporter in New York and returns to the place she last felt happy: her childhood home in Connecticut. She gets work as a lifeguard and starts a dangerous relationship with a troubled teenager. Cast: Kristen Bell, Mamie Gummer, Martin Starr, Alex Shaffer, Amy Madigan, David Lambert.

May in the Summer (Director and screenwriter: Cherien Dabis) — A bride-to-be is forced to re-evaluate her life when she reunites with her family in Jordan and finds herself confronted with the aftermath of her parents' divorce. Cast: Cherien Dabis, Hiam Abbass, Bill Pullman, Alia Shawkat, Nadine Malouf, Alexander Siddig.

Mother of George (Director: Andrew Dosunmu, Screenwriter: Darci Picoult) — A story about a woman willing to do anything and risk everything for her marriage. Cast: Isaach De Bankolé, Danai Gurira, Anthony Okungbowa, Yaya Alafia, Bukky Ajayi.

The Spectacular Now (Director: James Ponsoldt, Screenwriters: Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber) — Sutter is a high school senior who lives for the moment; Aimee is the introvert he tries to "save." As their relationship deepens, the lines between right and wrong, friendship and love, and "saving" and corrupting become inextricably blurred. Cast: Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley, Brie Larson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kyle Chandler.

Touchy Feely (Director and screenwriter: Lynn Shelton) — A massage therapist is unable to do her job when stricken with a mysterious and sudden aversion to bodily contact. Meanwhile, her uptight brother's foundering dental practice receives new life when clients seek out his "healing touch." Cast: Rosemarie DeWitt, Allison Janney, Ron Livingston, Scoot McNairy, Ellen Page, Josh Pais.

Toy's House (Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts, Screenwriter: Chris Galletta) — Three unhappy teenage boys flee to the wilderness, where they build a makeshift house and live off the land as masters of their own destiny. Or at least that's the plan. Cast: Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso, Moises Arias, Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally, Alison Brie.

Upstream Color (Director and screenwriter: Shane Carruth) — A man and woman are drawn together, entangled in the life cycle of an ageless organism. Identity becomes an illusion as they struggle to assemble the loose fragments of wrecked lives. Cast: Amy Seimetz, Shane Carruth, Andrew Sensenig, Thiago Martins.


99% — The Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film (Directors: Audrey Ewell, Aaron Aites, Lucian Read, Nina Kristic) — The Occupy movement erupted in September 2011, propelling economic inequality into the spotlight. In an unprecedented collaboration, filmmakers across America tell its story, digging into issues as organizers, analysts, participants and critics reveal how it happened and why.

After Tiller (Directors: Martha Shane, Lana Wilson) — Since the assassination of Dr. George Tiller in 2009, only four doctors in the country provide late-term abortions. With unprecedented access, "After Tiller" goes inside the lives of these physicians working at the center of the storm.

American Promise (Directors: Joe Brewster, Michèle Stephenson) — This intimate documentary follows the 12-year journey of two African-American families pursuing the promise of opportunity through the education of their sons.

Blackfish (Director: Gabriela Cowperthwaite) — Notorious killer whale Tilikum is responsible for the deaths of three individuals, including a top animal trainer. "Blackfish" shows the sometimes devastating consequences of keeping such intelligent creatures in captivity.

Blood Brother (Director: Steve Hoover) — Rocky went to India as a disillusioned tourist. When he met a group of children with HIV, he decided to stay. He never could have imagined the obstacles he would face, or the love he would find.

Citizen Koch (Directors: Carl Deal, Tia Lessin) — Wisconsin – home of government unions, "cheeseheads" and Paul Ryan – becomes ground zero in the battle for the future of the Republican Party.

Cutie and the Boxer (Director: Zachary Heinzerling) — This candid New York love story explores the chaotic 40-year marriage of boxing painter Ushio Shinohara and his wife, Noriko. Anxious to shed her role as her overbearing husband's assistant, Noriko finds an identity of her own.

Dirty Wars (Director: Richard Rowley) — Investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill chases down the truth behind America's covert wars.

Gideon's Army (Director: Dawn Porter) — This follows three young, committed public defenders who are dedicated to working for the people society would rather forget. Long hours, low pay and staggering caseloads are so common that even the most committed often give up.

God Loves Uganda (Director: Roger Ross Williams) — A powerful exploration of the evangelical campaign to infuse African culture with values imported from America's Christian right. The film follows American and Ugandan religious leaders fighting "sexual immorality" and missionaries trying to convince Ugandans to follow biblical law.

The Good Life (Directors: Sean Fine, Andrea Nix Fine) — Dr. Leslie Gordon and Dr. Scott Berns fight to save their only son from progeria, a rare and fatal disease for which there is no treatment. In less than a decade, their work has led to significant advances.

Inequality for All (Director: Jacob Kornbluth) — In this timely and entertaining documentary, economic-policy expert Robert Reich distills the topic of widening income inequality, and addresses the question of what effects this increasing gap has on our economy and our democracy.

Manhunt (Director: Greg Barker) — This espionage tale goes inside the CIA's long conflict against al Qaeda, as revealed by the remarkable women and men whose secret war against Osama bin Laden started nearly a decade before most of us even knew his name.

Narco Cultura (Director: Shaul Schwarz) — An examination of Mexican drug cartels' influence in pop culture on both sides of the border as experienced by a Los Angeles narcocorrido singer dreaming of stardom and a Juarez crime scene investigator on the front line of Mexico's drug war.

Twenty Feet From Stardom (Director: Morgan Neville) — Backup singers live in a world that lies just beyond the spotlight. Their voices bring harmony to the biggest bands in popular music, but we've had no idea who these singers are or what lives they lead – until now.

Valentine Road (Director: Marta Cunningham) — In 2008, eighth-grader Brandon McInerney shot classmate Larry King at point-blank range. Unraveling this tragedy, the film reveals the heartbreaking circumstances that led to the shocking crime as well as its startling aftermath.


Circles/Serbia, Germany, France, Croatia, Slovenia (Director: Srdan Golubovic, Screenwriters: Srdjan Koljevic, Melina Pota Koljevic) — Five people are affected by a tragic heroic act. Twenty years later, all of them will confront the past through their own crises. Will they overcome guilt, frustration and their urge for revenge? Will they do the right thing? Cast: Aleksandar Bercek, Leon Lucev, Nebojsa Glogovac, Hristina Popovic, Nikola Rakocevic, Vuk Kostic.

Crystal Fairy/Chile (Director and screenwriter: Sebastián Silva) — Jamie invites a stranger to join a road trip to Chile. The woman's free and esoteric nature clashes with Jamie's acidic, self-absorbed personality as they head into the desert for a mescaline-fueled psychedelic trip. Cast: Michael Cera, Gabby Hoffmann, Juan Andrés Silva, José Miguel Silva, Agustín Silva.

The Future/Chile, Germany, Italy, Spain (Director and screenwriter: Alicia Scherson) — When their parents die, Bianca starts to smoke and Tomas is still a virgin. The orphans explore the dangerous streets of adulthood until Bianca finds Maciste, a retired Mr. Universe, and enters his dark mansion in search of a future. Cast: Manuela Martelli, Rutger Hauer, Luigi Ciardo, Nicolas Vaporidis, Alessandro Giallocosta.

Houston/Germany (Director and screenwriter: Bastian Günther) — Clemens Trunschka is a corporate headhunter and an alcoholic. Drinking increasingly isolates him and leads him away from reality. While searching for a chief executive candidate in Houston, his addiction submerges him in darkness. Cast: Ulrich Tukur, Garret Dillahunt, Wolfram Koch, Jenny Schily, Jason Douglas, Jens Münchow.

Jiseul/South Korea (Director and screenwriter: Muel O) — In 1948, as the Korean government ordered the Communists' eviction to Jeju Island, the military invaded a peaceful village. Townsfolk took sanctuary in a cave and debated moving to a higher mountain. Cast: Min-chul Sung, Jung-won Yang, Young-soon Oh, Soon-dong Park, Suk-bum Moon, Kyung-sub Jang.

Lasting/Poland, Spain (Director and screenwriter: Jacek Borcuch) — An emotional love story about two Polish students who fall in love with each other while working summer jobs in Spain. An unexpected nightmare interrupts their carefree time in the heavenly landscape and throws their lives into chaos. Cast: Jakub Gierszal, Magdalena Berus, Angela Molina.

Metro Manila/United Kingdom, Philippines (Director: Sean Ellis, Screenwriters: Sean Ellis, Frank E. Flowers) — Seeking a better life, Oscar and his family move from the poverty-stricken rice fields to the big city of Manila, where they fall victim to various inhabitants whose manipulative ways are a daily part of city survival. Cast: Jake Macapagal, John Arcilla, Althea Vega.

Shopping/New Zealand (Directors: Mark Albiston, Louis Sutherland, Screenwriters: Louis Sutherland, Mark Albiston) — New Zealand, 1981: Seduced by a charismatic career criminal, teenager Willie must choose where his loyalty lies – with a family of shoplifters or his own blood. Cast: Kevin Paulo, Julian Dennison, Jacek Koman, Alistair Browning.

Soldate Jeannette/Austria (Director: Daniel Hoesl) — Fanni has had enough of money and leaves to buy a tent. Anna has had enough of pigs and leaves a needle in the hay. Cars crash and money burns to shape their mutual journey toward a rising liberty. Cast: Johanna Orsini-Rosenberg, Christina Reichsthaler, Josef Kleindienst, Aurelia Burckhardt, Julia Schranz, Ines Rössl.

There Will Come a Day/Italy, France (Director: Giorgio Diritti, Screenwriters: Giorgio Diritti, Fredo Valla, Tania Pedroni) — Painful issues push Augusta, a young Italian woman, to doubt the certainties on which she has built her existence. On a small boat in the Amazon rain forest, she faces the adventure of searching for herself. Cast: Jasmine Trinca, Anne Alvaro, Pia Engleberth.

Wajma (An Afghan Love Story)/Afghanistan (Director and screenwriter: Barmak Akram) — A young man in Kabul seduces a girl. When she tells him she's pregnant, he questions having taken her virginity. Then her father arrives, and a timeless, archaic violence erupts – possibly leading to a crime, and even a sacrifice. Cast: Wajma Bahar, Mustafa Abdulsatar, Haji Gul, Breshna Bahar.

What They Don't Talk About When They Talk About Love/Indonesia (Director and screenwriter: Mouly Surya) — This film explores the odds of love and deception among the blind, the deaf and the unlucky sighted people at a high school for the visually impaired. Cast: Nicholas Saputra, Ayushita Nugraha, Karina Salim, Anggun Priambodo, Lupita Jennifer.


Fallen City/China (Director: Qi Zhao) — This spans four years to reveal how three families who survived the 2008 Sichuan earthquake embark on a journey in search of hope, purpose, identity and new lives in a China torn between tradition and modernity.

Fire in the Blood/India (Director: Dylan Mohan Gray) — In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Western governments and pharmaceutical companies blocked low-cost antiretroviral drugs from reaching AIDS-stricken Africa, leading to 10 million or more unnecessary deaths. An improbable group of people decided to fight back.

Google and the World Brain/Spain, United Kingdom (Director: Ben Lewis) — In the most ambitious project ever conceived on the Internet, Google has been scanning the world's books for 10 years. It said the intention was to build a giant digital library, but that involved scanning millions of copyrighted works.

The Machine Which Makes Everything Disappear/Georgia, Germany (Director: Tinatin Gurchiani) — A film director casting a 15-to-23-year-old protagonist visits villages and cities to meet people who answer her call. She follows those who prove to be interesting enough through various dramatic and funny situations.

The Moo Man/United Kingdom (Directors: Andy Heathcote, Heike Bachelier) — A year in the life of heroic farmer Steve, scene-stealing Ida (queen of the herd) and a supporting cast of 55 cows. When Ida falls ill, Steve's optimism is challenged and their way of life is at stake.

Pussy Riot – A Punk Prayer/Russian Federation, United Kingdom (Directors: Mike Lerner, Maxim Pozdorovkin) — Three young women face seven years in a Russian prison for a satirical performance in a Moscow cathedral. But who is really on trial: the three young artists or the society they live in?

A River Changes Course/Cambodia, U.S.A. (Director: Kalyanee Mam) — Three young Cambodians struggle to overcome the crushing effects of deforestation, overfishing and overwhelming debt in this devastatingly beautiful story of a country reeling from the tragedies of war and rushing to keep pace with a rapidly expanding world.

Salma/United Kingdom, India (Director: Kim Longinotto) — When Salma, a young girl in South India, reached puberty, her parents locked her away. Millions of girls all over the world share the same fate. Twenty-five years later, Salma has fought her way back to the outside world.

The Square (El Midan)/Egypt, U.S.A. (Director: Jehane Noujaim) — What does it mean to risk your life for your ideals? How far will five revolutionaries go in defending their beliefs in the fight for their nation?

The Stuart Hall Project/United Kingdom (Director: John Akomfrah) — Antinuclear campaigner, New Left activist and founding father of cultural studies. This documentary interweaves 70 years of Stuart Hall's film, radio and television appearances, and material from his private archive to document a memorable life and construct a portrait of Britain's foremost radical intellectual.

The Summit/Ireland, United Kingdom (Director: Nick Ryan) — 24 climbers converged at the last stop before summiting the most dangerous mountain on Earth. Forty-eight hours later, 11 had been killed or simply vanished. Had one, Ger McDonnell, stuck to the climbers' code, he might still be alive.

Who Is Dayani Cristal?/United Kingdom (Director: Marc Silver) — An anonymous body in the Arizona desert sparks the beginning of a real-life human drama. The search for its identity leads us across a continent to seek out the people left behind and the meaning of a mysterious tattoo.


Blue Caprice (Director: Alexandre Moors, Screenwriters: R.F.I Porto, Alexandre Moors) — An abandoned boy is lured to America and drawn into the shadow of a dangerous father figure in this film inspired by the real-life events that led to the 2002 Beltway sniper attacks. Cast: Isaiah Washington, Tequan Richmond, Joey Lauren Adams, Tim Blake Nelson, Cassandra Freeman, Leo Fitzpatrick.

Computer Chess (Director and screenwriter: Andrew Bujalski) — An existential comedy about the brilliant men who taught machines to play chess, back when the machines seemed clumsy and we seemed smart. Cast: Patrick Riester, Myles Paige, James Curry, Robin Schwartz, Gerald Peary, Wiley Wiggins.

Escape From Tomorrow (Director and screenwriter: Randy Moore) — A postmodern, surreal voyage into the bowels of "family" entertainment. An epic battle begins when an unemployed, middle-aged father loses his sanity during a close encounter with two teenage girls on holiday. Cast: Roy Abramsohn, Elena Schuber, Katelynn Rodriguez, Annet Mahendru, Danielle Safady, Alison Lees-Taylor.

I Used to Be Darker (Director: Matthew Porterfield, Screenwriters: Amy Belk, Matthew Porterfield) — A runaway seeks refuge with her aunt and uncle in Baltimore, only to find their marriage ending and her cousin in crisis. In the days that follow, the family struggles to let go while searching for things to sustain them. Cast: Deragh Campbell, Hannah Gross, Kim Taylor, Ned Oldham, Geoff Grace, Nick Petr.

It Felt Like Love (Director and screenwriter: Eliza Hittman) — On the outskirts of Brooklyn, a 14-year-old girl's sexual quest takes a dangerous turn when she pursues an older guy and tests the boundaries between obsession and love. Cast: Gina Piersanti, Giovanna Salimeni, Ronen Rubinstein, Jesse Cordasco, Nick Rosen, Case Prime.

Milkshake (Director: David Andalman, Screenwriters: David Andalman, Mariko Munro) — In mid-1990s America, we follow the tragic sex life of Jolie Jolson, a wannabe thug (and great-great-grandson of legendary vaudevillian Al Jolson) in suburban Washington as he strives to become something he can never be – black. Cast: Tyler Ross, Shareeka Epps, Georgia Ford, Eshan Bay, Leo Fitzpatrick, Danny Burstein.

Newlyweeds (Director and screenwriter: Shaka King) — A Brooklyn repo man and his globetrotting girlfriend forge an unlikely romance. But what should be a match made in stoner heaven turns into a love triangle gone awry in this dark coming-of-age comedy about dependency. Cast: Amari Cheatom, Trae Harris, Tone Tank, Colman Domingo, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Adrian Martinez.

Pit Stop (Director: Yen Tan, Screenwriters: Yen Tan, David Lowery) — Two working-class gay men in a small Texas town and a love that isn't quite out of reach. Cast: Bill Heck, Marcus DeAnda, Amy Seimetz, John Merriman, Alfredo Maduro, Corby Sullivan.

A Teacher (Director and screenwriter: Hannah Fidell) — A popular young teacher in a wealthy suburban Texas high school has an affair with one of her students. Her life begins to unravel as the relationship comes to an end. Cast: Lindsay Burdge, Will Brittain, Jennifer Prediger, Jonny Mars, Julie Phillips, Chris Dubeck.

This Is Martin Bonner (Director and screenwriter: Chad Hartigan) — Martin Bonner has just moved to Reno for a new job in prison rehabilitation. Starting over at 58, he struggles to adapt until an unlikely friendship with an ex-con blossoms, helping him confront the problems he left behind. Cast: Paul Eenhoorn, Richmond Arquette, Sam Buchanan, Robert Longstreet, Demetrius Grosse.

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Critic’s Notebook: Matching Chain Saws, and Wits, With TV Reality Show Carvers

Two weeks after conducting the most complicated bicoastal experiment involving chain saws ever attempted, I am still scrutinizing the results for lessons and implications, but two things are already clear.

One is that, yes, a man with no chain-saw carving experience can in about four hours turn a tree stump into something that resembles a bear, if he is being tutored by a noted reality-TV chain-saw carver.

The other is that just as on a human, a well-placed hat on a chain-sawed bear can cover a multitude of sins.

But let's back up. This tale begins a few weeks ago when CMT rolled out a new reality show, "Chainsaw Gang," about the somewhat gonzo fellows at Deadwood Tree Sculptures near Malibu, Calif., who use chain saws to make elaborate carvings.

Their most intricate work is as impressive as a Brancusi, but they're the opposite of highbrow artsy types. They drink beer and prank one another and in general project a ragged insouciance. ("I feel like we're in fifth grade again," Matt Clementson, salesman for the business, says during a bit of silliness in Episode 2. "I'm more of a ninth grader.") If you own a chain saw, as I do, you watch these guys as they create their artworks and think, "Heck, I could do that."

Or could I?

Thanks to a carefully cultivated talent for procrastination, when "Chainsaw Gang" made its debut this month, a four-foot stump from a crab apple tree I had cut down over the summer was still standing in the front yard. Seemed like an opportunity.

Stacy Poitras, the owner and main brain of Deadwood Tree Sculptures, agreed to try a high-tech instructional clinic. The idea was that, via Skype, I, in New Jersey, would watch him, in California, execute the necessary cuts on a similar chunk of wood, then try to duplicate the feat and turn the stump into something more respectable than a stump.

Chain-saw carving is apparently having a cultural moment: "American Chainsaw," a series about a chain-saw sculptor named Jesse Green, has its premiere Thursday on the National Geographic Channel. But that doesn't mean any idiot should try this. I've been chain sawing through limbs large and small since I was in high school.

So I can handle a saw, or at least a 14-inch McCulloch, a relatively wimpy version of the tool. But I had never carved with one, which led Mr. Poitras to suggest trying a chain-saw-carving staple: a bear's head, relatively easy to make and also, he said, the sculpture most frequently requested by his customers (second: eagles).

Thus, 2,780 miles apart, we prepared to rev up our respective saws. But there was an immediate problem. The Skype gods were being indecipherable this day. I could see Mr. Poitras, but he couldn't see me, only hear me. After fiddling unsuccessfully with every setting possible, we decided to proceed one eye blind, as it were. Mr. Poitras would be instructing this novice without being able to see whether I was bringing forth a bear or a horrible mutant.

"There's three aspects to this," he said. "There's roughing it out, shaping and then detail. I'd say about 20 minutes of roughing, 20 minutes of shaping and then 5 minutes of detail."

Those numbers apparently were not adjusted for student incompetence. We started at 1:30 Eastern time and quit only when dusk made continuing lethal, both for the bear and the carver. Mr. Poitras instructed me to begin by crosscutting a few inches above a prominent protrusion where a branch used to be (it would become the bear's snout), a cut that went through the knottiest, densest part of the wood and took the overmatched saw about 15 minutes. And that was the easy one.

After that came angular cuts from all different directions, most going only partway through the stump so that a wedge of wood could be dislodged to define cheeks or chin. Notching out the beast's ears proved to require a delicate touch I haven't yet mastered: one is freakishly larger than the other. The area under the jaw looks like a plastic-surgery malpractice case, and my efforts to imitate Mr. Poitras's raking technique to give the bear a furry appearance would later lead my brother to suggest that the sculpture be named Scarface. (Also proposed, of course: Boo Boo.)

We called the experiment on account of darkness after about 20 cuts; Mr. Poitras said the ideal bear's head takes 30. The final step was the most exciting. Since there are black bears in New Jersey, mine needed a little coloring for authenticity, so — as the pros sometimes do on "Chainsaw Gang" — I wiped it down with gasoline and set it on fire. Happily, the flames did not spread to the house, only eight feet away, and when they burned out, there was, if not a black bear, at least a blackened one.

 Several neighbors came by, made the kind of complimentary remarks you dredge up with someone serves you homemade wine, then rushed home to remove me from their holiday-party invitation lists. Mr. Poitras, though, when he saw a photograph of my bear, was generous, kind of.

"Every time I teach someone how to carve a bear's head, it looks a little worse than yours," he said.

In truth, mine looks like a Hanna-Barbera reject, whereas the one Mr. Poitras carved for my benefit looks like something real bears would try to mate with. Mr. Poitras said prices for his sculptures average about $3,000. So what could I get for mine?

"Ah, how much does firewood cost?" he said, but then he threw me a bone. "Seriously, I think you could get 40 bucks."

I could use 40 bucks, but Boo Boo Scarface has started to grow on me. Cover up the mismatched ears with a hat and the lacerated neck with a scarf, and the guy may not look more bearlike, but he does become endearing. Sorry; not for sale.

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The Carpetbagger: The Awards Season Starts for Movies

Christopher Gregory for The New York Times

Quvenzhané Wallis at the Gotham Independent Film Awards.

At 2:30 p.m. on a normal Monday, Quvenzhané Wallis would be in math class, or reading. But this past Monday, Ms. Wallis, the 9-year-old star of "Beasts of the Southern Wild," was in the private dining room of an elegant Upper East Side restaurant, twirling around in her glittery black-bow flats. She'd had a few bites from a plate of plain pasta and then was taken to meet the host of the lunch, the director and artist Julian Schnabel. They posed for a photo: he in his trademark pajamas, she in her party dress.

A few hours later Ms. Wallis was posing again, on a red carpet at the Gotham Independent Film Awards. She worked the press line with Benh Zeitlin, the 30-year-old director of "Beasts," expertly answering questions about the journey of this low-budget movie from the bayou where it was shot to the Sundance Film Festival to the Hollywood big time. Clad in another twirly number Ms. Wallis has adopted some aspects of movie-star professionalism (another film is already in the can), but she doesn't yet have a wardrobe stylist for her dresses. "My mom picks them out," she explained. "I just dance in them."

"Beasts of the Southern Wild," the fantastical story of a little girl, her domineering father and the water-bound community that both protects and endangers them, picked up two prizes at the Gothams, both collected by Mr. Zeitlin, a first-time feature filmmaker based in New Orleans. On Tuesday the film earned more nominations from the Film Independent Spirit Awards, the West Coast answer to the Gothams. In between there were daylong interview sessions followed by evenings of professional hobnobbing masquerading as fun. (Toward the end of a party that Fox Searchlight, the studio distributing "Beasts," gave on Tuesday, Ms. Wallis did pull a publicist away to dance in a corner.)

It's the start of what will be a surreal few months for the tight-knit young "Beasts" crew members, as they traverse a glittery world of handlers, studio bosses and awards-season experts, all eager to translate the love for this handmade indie film into a slew of shiny Academy Awards, to be handed down on Feb. 24.

This year's Oscar race is already setting itself apart with its pronounced best-picture factionalism. There are ardent fans of "Lincoln," like my colleague A. O. Scott, whose review called Steven Spielberg's take "a rough and noble democratic masterpiece"; others call it boring. "Argo," Ben Affleck's rollicking Hollywood-true story of a rescue during the Iranian hostage crisis, has earned good will, but how will it hold up against "Zero Dark Thirty," another factual geopolitical thriller but one that's grittier? That eagerly awaited film, about the hunt for Osama bin Laden, comes courtesy of Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal, who made the Oscar-winning "Hurt Locker." All three films tackle serious subjects with visual savvy and finely wrought performances. (Also, notable facial hair.)

Traditionally, though, some Oscar voters and certainly many moviegoers prefer feel-good stories with a twist, which has made David O. Russell's "Silver Linings Playbook," a sharp comedy about unstable souls finding peace, a favorite. "Life of Pi," Ang Lee's adaptation of the best-selling parable about a boy, a boat and a tiger, could also count in that category. Then there is "Beasts," with its nonprofessional cast and rough-hewed look. At the opposite end of the spectrum is "Les Misérables," a big-budget production with a built-in fan base, a host of big-name stars (Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Russell Crowe), and a director, Tom Hooper, with a gilded track record ("The King's Speech"). Add in wild cards like "The Master," Paul Thomas Anderson's latest auteurism; "Flight," anchored by Denzel Washington's bravura performance as an alcoholic pilot; and "Moonrise Kingdom," Wes Anderson's biggest box-office and sweetest tale yet.

The contenders add up to a stylistic and conceptual mix that for people like me, in the trenches of daily Oscar coverage in my role as the Carpetbagger, makes this season one of the most exciting in recent memory.

As yet there is no "Artist"- or "King's Speech"-style groundswell, no narrative that pits a lean "Hurt Locker" against an ambitious "Avatar." Instead, with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the governing body that hands out the statuettes, allowing as many as 10 best picture nominees, there is a shortlist of at least a half-dozen front-runners — also good news for fans who love to argue the choices, and for theater owners who can program them. As veteran prognosticators put it — with a sadly cynical note of surprise — there are just a lot of good movies this year.

The Academy has also decided to keep things interesting by, yet again, changing the procedure on its nearly 6,000 voting members. It has moved up the nominations process by two weeks, resulting in a pileup of screening parties and Q.-and-A. sessions, as studios rush to get their films and stars in front of potential voters.

For Oscar hopefuls this means a breakneck schedule of appearances. Ms. Wallis, Mr. Zeitlin and other Beasties were off to Los Angeles by midweek to repeat the circuit of red carpets and earnest congratulations. So far they are still keeping things real.

"They didn't really give us the same sort of handling that you probably normally get," Mr. Zeitlin said, over a drink — a free drink, he noted gleefully — at the Fox party on Tuesday. "Because I think the strength of what people like about the movie is that it is from this other place, and it is different."

"We were never able to pitch the film or spin it in any way," he added. "When we financed the film and when we made it, we said, 'We're going to be ourselves, and we're going to bet on the movie.' "

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ArtsBeat: Alan Moore Tries His Hand at an On-Screen Original

Written By Unknown on Rabu, 28 November 2012 | 16.43

Alan Moore has been a big cheese in the comics world for 30 years, going back to his work on "Swamp Thing" and his creation of "V for Vendetta" in the early 1980s. But recently he's been known less for his writing than for his carping: to the moviegoing public, at least, he's the guy who's never happy with the films made from his books. (Of James McTeigue's "V for Vendetta": "It's a thwarted and frustrated and largely impotent American liberal fantasy." Of Zack Snyder's "Watchmen": "The 'Watchmen' film sounds like more regurgitated worms.")

Now Mr. McTeigue and Mr. Snyder, along with Stephen Norrington ("The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen") and the Hughes brothers ("From Hell"), have their own chance to sit in judgment. The first film Mr. Moore has written directly for the screen, a 32-minute metaphysical mystery called "Jimmy's End," made its debut on Monday on the tech-oriented YouTube channel Motherboard. (The film is the first in a projected series of shorts for Motherboard, which is part of Vice Media, but no further titles have been announced.) It's time for the rest of the world to watch the Watchman.

On the positive side, "Jimmy's End," directed by Mitch Jenkins, has high ambitions for an online original. Mr. Moore's script, which sends a silver-haired, well-dressed burnout named Jimmy (Darrell D'Silva) into a nightmarish underground lounge, is elliptical and high on languid menace. And the music, hypnotic reimaginings of 1950s and '60s British pop by Mr. Moore's collaborators Andrew Broder and Adam Drucker, is excellent — it's the real reason to stick with the film.

"Jimmy's End" as a whole doesn't cast the same spell as those songs, however. The midcentury music hall surrealism, including smeary, victimized women and a spooky vaudeville act called Metterton and Matchbright (Mr. Moore and Robert Goodman), is so derivative of Dennis Potter and David Lynch that it's hard to take quite seriously — you keep waiting for the dancing dwarf to pop out.

And Mr. Moore's screenplay, meant to be suggestive and scary in a noir sort of way, is mainly just pretentious, simultaneously obscure and heavy-handed. The death metaphors suggested by the title really start to pile up.

A lot of Mr. Moore's comics writing suffers from a similar affectation, but his tremendous storytelling skills can take hold over the course of a graphic novel, and brilliant artists like David Lloyd and Stephen R. Bissette give life and shape to his rhetorical excesses. Mr. Jenkins, a director of music videos, gives the film an attractive sheen but not much else.

Mr. Moore doesn't just write action comics or dystopian thrillers; he has a large body of work that includes erotica and occult mystery, as well as short stories and novels. Watching "Jimmy's End," though, you can see the wisdom of those benighted filmmakers who have chosen to adapt Mr. Moore's more mainstream works: he's really best at putting intelligent dialogue into the mouths of superheroes.

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Television Review: ‘The Hour,’ With Dominic West, on BBC America

Laurence Cendrowicz/Kudos

The Hour From left, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Dominic West, Hannah Tointon and Vincent Riotta in Season 2 of this BBC America series about a TV news show, Wednesday nights at 9, Eastern and Pacific times; 8, Central time.

In the first season of "The Hour," Ben Whishaw, playing the dogged young reporter Freddie Lyon, tells an interview subject, "I'm not here to hurt you — I'm from the BBC."

Presumably, any lines that might seem similarly risible now, in light of the Jimmy Savile pedophilia scandal that has engulfed Britain's once august public broadcasting service, will have been scrubbed from Season 2 of "The Hour," which begins on Wednesday night on BBC America.

It can't be easy promoting a show that glamorizes a television network and makes heroes out of its hard-charging young journalists when that network's reputation is at its lowest ebb. To make things worse, "The Hour" is about a fictional hourlong current-affairs program at the very moment when the hourlong BBC current-affairs program "Newsnight" is in the middle of the Savile mess.

Perhaps in future seasons "The Hour" can take on Mr. Savile, whose first "Top of the Pops" broadcast for the BBC was in 1964. After using the Suez Canal crisis as the backdrop for its first six-episode season, "The Hour" moves ahead a year for Season 2, to 1957 and the launching of Sputnik 2. Nuclear anxiety is in the air, along with a rising crime rate and a rekindling of domestic fascism.

The romantic triangle at the heart of the show, out of "His Girl Friday," by way of "Broadcast News," is intact but in remission. Bel the producer (Romola Garai) goes home to a good book, while Hector the anchorman (Dominic West), her married lover in Season 1, philanders and drinks with increasing abandon.

Freddie, fired in Season 1, makes a triumphant return before the end of the premiere, bringing with him a surprise that won't be given away here, other than to note that it has a French accent.

There is also, as there was in the first season, a young blond woman in some sort of danger, this time a showgirl (Hannah Tointon) who's involved with Hector. Once again, the show will try to juggle the romance of journalism, which it handles creditably if formulaically, with crime and mystery, which, based on past performance and the evidence of early episodes, will be underplotted and a bit plodding.

In addition to Ms. Tointon, new cast members include Peter Capaldi as a cadaverous news executive, replacing the one exposed as a Communist spy in Season 1; Robert Whitelock as a detective; and Tom Burke as a rival producer at the commercial ITV network, which is trying to lure away Hector.

The strong points remain Mr. West's performance as Hector, a mixed bag of a character with good intentions and a weak will, and its glossy imagining of the late-1950s London news media world as a small group of smart and charming people forever running into one another at clubs, parties and country estates.

Therein lies the show's weakness, too: It may get the surfaces right, but its devotion to cocktail shakers, tight dresses, vintage cars and the amber hues of tumblers of whiskey can't make up for the highly unlikely story lines and the tinny platitudes about the power of the press. (Fictional journalists may routinely solve criminal cases, but it's a little beyond the pale when they do it in a show purporting to have some connection to historical events.)

At least in the early going, the current season avoids the sentimental speechifying about truth and justice that became increasingly prevalent in Season 1. And the let's-put-on-a-broadcast scenes are still reliably entertaining. But in its focus on image over recognizable journalistic reality, you can't help seeing a distant echo of the BBC's current troubles.

The Hour

BBC America, Wednesday nights at 9, Eastern and Pacific times; 8, Central time.

Produced by Kudos Film and Television and BBC America for the BBC. Written by Abi Morgan; Ms. Morgan, Jane Featherstone, Derek Wax and Lucy Richer, executive producers; Ruth Kenley-Letts, producer.

WITH: Dominic West (Hector), Romola Garai (Bel), Ben Whishaw (Freddie), Peter Capaldi (Randall), Oona Chaplin (Marnie), Hannah Tointon (Kiki), Anna Chancellor (Lix), Lizzie Brocheré (Camille), Lisa Greenwood (Sissy), Peter Sullivan (Laurie), Vincent Riotta (Raphael), Tom Burke (Bill), Julian Rhind-Tutt (Angus) and Joshua McGuire (Isaac).

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Critic’s Notebook: M.I.A. and Pharrell Williams Each Have Books by Rizzoli


Album concept artwork from M.I.A.'s new self-titled book, published by Rizzoli. The book reflects that recording artist's idiosyncratic path.

A couple of years ago M.I.A. and Pharrell Williams got into a tiff.

In M.I.A.'s telling, Mr. Williams, the hip-hop producer, fashion designer and bon vivant, told her she needed to spend more energy cultivating friends and less time antagonizing people. You get more flies with honey, he told her. Getting flies isn't the point, she insisted.

This took place, naturally, at the Met Ball, the annual gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that is the fief of Anna Wintour and has become the homecoming party of new society. That just goes to show that despite their wildly different approaches, M.I.A. and Mr. Williams often end up at the same places. Both have been signed to the same major record label, both have leapfrogged from musician to polyvalent brand, and both have new books from Rizzoli — catalogues raisonnés, more or less — that document this evolution.

The books are beautiful and indulgent, more a record of fame than an analysis of it — none of Jay-Z's "Decoded"-style exegesis here. You'll learn a little about what motivates M.I.A., and almost nothing of why Mr. Williams loves the sounds he does. Both M.I.A. and Mr. Williams are now finding success in multiple arenas, and these books, while static, exist to capture it all, flatteringly.

But that said, they couldn't be more different. Mr. Williams's, "Pharrell: Places and Spaces I've Been," is the product of open embrace, capturing someone moving ever forward, guided by curiosity and fame. "I am only as fast as the wind that's blown into my sails," he writes.

By contrast, M.I.A.'s self-titled book is a document of isolation and resistance, clearly the product of one person following an idiosyncratic path. Of her first album, "Arular," she writes, "It went from my bedroom to whoever was looking."

This contrast can be partly traced to their beginnings in music: Mr. Williams started his career as one-half of the production duo the Neptunes, who in the early 2000s were the most desired collaborators in hip-hop, and as part of the band N.E.R.D. Though he would later have some success as a solo artist, he began by working with others.

M.I.A.'s career has always had more of a DIY feel, taking the materials and technologies at hand, creating something fast and dirty, then moving on to the next thing. Her book contains barely any text: M.I.A. has some words at the beginning of the work's sections, which coincide with each of her albums. Steve Loveridge, a longtime collaborator who is making a documentary about her, has more to say about her in his opening essay than she does throughout.

But that's presuming that words are her best medium, which they very much aren't. The most vivid parts of this book have to do with image and politics. She has a keen grasp of iconography, a phenomenal color sense and a provocateur's instinct for hot buttons.

Some of the most moving works here are stencils of Tamil fighters. M.I.A. made them from photographs taken of videotapes that were used by Tamil rebels to report on fighters who had died in the Sri Lankan civil war. (M.I.A. is of Tamil heritage.) Elsewhere she's playful with context, as in the graphic with a Chanel logo turned on its side, the opposing Cs used as the U and N in United Nations.

During the past decade she's gone from handmade music and art to thinking harder about technology and its casualties. "Kala," her second album, was about "the digitizing of third-world taste and the cheap, gritty production of third-world goods for first-world consumption," she writes. Sometimes, but not often, she acknowledges her own privileged ability to move through multiple worlds, borrowing from and participating in other cultures; it's refreshing to hear, even briefly, about the price of these cultural exchanges.

In a couple of places here M.I.A. talks about her shortcomings in self-merchandising. Even with such a facile gift for branding, she is almost comically bad at selling things. Maybe that's what Mr. Williams should have been haranguing her about at the Met.

Mr. Williams's art is capitalist collaboration. There are sections of his book devoted to his design team-ups with Louis Vuitton and Moncler, and some of the sharpest layouts are of the stores that sell his Billionaire Boys Club and Ice Cream clothing lines — especially one in Hong Kong where images of the lunar surface cover some of the floor.

Mr. Williams gives good picture, and isn't shy about including several photos of himself from editorial fashion shoots. But even still, this book doesn't feel vain. That's because of the interviews Mr. Williams conducts with his peers and heroes, often the same people. They're loose and haphazard and wide-ranging and occasionally hit pay dirt — Jay-Z talking about speaking with the Notorious B.I.G. the night he was killed, or Mr. Williams asking Zaha Hadid if she will collaborate with him on designing affordable prefab houses.

Throughout is the sense of Mr. Williams as student. He speaks with Buzz Aldrin about the Drake equation, which is used to estimate the number of detectable extraterrestrial civilizations in our galaxy, and then turns and tries to get Kanye West to unpack his perfectionism.

It doesn't all stick, but Mr. Williams displays bravura range, even if he comes off as someone who sold a book idea just for the chance to get some of his well-placed friends and colleagues in a room to talk; it's like his own personal Interview magazine.

The notable exception is a conversation with Chad Hugo and Sheldon Haley, Mr. Williams's band mates in N.E.R.D. (Mr. Hugo is also the other half of the Neptunes), who are, bizarrely, interviewed by Mr. Williams's manager. But maybe that's because they represent Mr. Williams's past, and he faces only forward.

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MoMA Gains Treasure That Metropolitan Museum of Art Also Coveted

When Glenn D. Lowry arrived 17 years ago as director of the Museum of Modern Art, he and the curator Kirk Varnedoe sat down and wrote out a list of the 10 works they most wanted. "Canyon," a landmark of 20th-century art by Robert Rauschenberg, was at the top, Mr. Lowry recalled.

Now that wish has come true. "Canyon" is to go on display on Wednesday at the Modern after being captured in a contest with its uptown sister, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where it had resided on and off since 2005. Its owners agreed to donate the work as part of a $41 million settlement with the Internal Revenue Service.

MoMA made a concerted effort to woo the work's owners, the children of the New York art dealer Ileana Sonnabend, who died in 2007. Mr. Lowry said it agreed to add their mother's name to the Founders Wall in the lobby of the museum (which was established in 1929, when Ms. Sonnabend was 15), and to devote an entire show to "Canyon" and Ms. Sonnabend, an important figure who helped introduce and nurture modernist artists.

Though the Met also offered a spot on its lobby wall and an exhibition, the Sonnabend family's lawyer, Ralph Lerner, said in the end the children thought "Canyon" — a mixed-media collage from 1959 known as a "combine" — would have a higher profile and greater context at MoMA, which already has a rich collection of these combines.

"Putting your name on the wall, all that stuff — none of it was really important to the family," Mr. Lerner said. "What was important was that it would be more of a star at MoMA. It was at the Met, and was not featured as a star."

Elyse Topalian, a spokeswoman for the Met, was polite in responding to the loss of "Canyon," which had been on loan there.

"Of course we are disappointed," Ms. Topalian said in an e-mail. "We would have been extremely pleased to receive this work on a permanent basis. Nevertheless, we have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to display Canyon here not once but twice in the past few years."

The Museum of Modern Art and the Met have never been direct competitors because their missions are different; one focuses on certain periods while the other is an encyclopedic institution. In recent years, though, the Met has worked to bolster its traditionally weaker contemporary and modern art holdings, including a plan to lease the Whitney Museum's Breuer building.

If the Met had won, the new space would perhaps have been the showcase for "Canyon," an audacious combination of personal photographs, cardboard, wood, fabric, paint, string, a pillow and a stuffed bald eagle on canvas that helped redraw the bounds of postwar art.

That stuffed bird is ultimately the reason "Canyon" is being donated at all. The presence of a bald eagle — a bird protected by federal laws — means that the work cannot be legally sold or traded. So when the Sonnabend children, Nina Sundell and Antonio Homem, inherited "Canyon," five years ago, their appraisers valued it at zero. The I.R.S., however, insisted this masterwork was worth $65 million. It demanded they pay estate taxes of $29.2 million plus another $11.7 million in penalties.

As part of the settlement, the I.R.S. dropped the tax assessment; in exchange, the family was required to donate "Canyon" to a museum where it would be publicly exhibited and claim no tax deduction, Mr. Lerner said.

While both museums delivered written proposals about their plans for the gift, the Modern invited the heirs to the museum so its top officials could make a personal appeal, Mr. Lerner said.

On Tuesday, Ann Temkin, the Modern's curator of painting and sculpture, took a break from overseeing the hanging of the work to summarize the argument she had made to the family. She told them the Modern already owned five other Rauschenberg combines, including "Bed" and "Rebus," from the same period, as well as several works by his contemporaries and other artists like Willem de Kooning and Joseph Cornell who influenced him. Seeing an artist in context, she said, gives viewers an insight into his work that is impossible to get from seeing the work in isolation.

Mr. Lowry said, "If you were going to sit down and close your eyes and dream of an installation, you would envision 'Rebus,' 'Bed' and 'Canyon' in conversation with each other."

Commenting on the choice of MoMA, Bruce J. Altshuler, director of the program of museum studies at New York University, said: "These things happen. Often people decide to give to a different institution than where a work has been on loan."

Adding Ms. Sonnabend's name to its wall of founders in the lobby decades after the Museum of Modern Art's creation may seem odd, but he said it was not that unusual.

Also, different museums define a founder differently. Deborah Ziska, a spokeswoman for the National Gallery of Art in Washington, said that one could not necessarily compare the meaning of the term among institutions.

The Founders Wall was created in 2004, when MoMA's expansion was completed, and features the names of actual founders in addition to those who gave significant gifts, said Margaret Doyle, director of communications. About a half-dozen names have been added since 2004.

Ms. Sonnabend was famous for both selling and collecting art. She was once married to another legendary art dealer, Leo Castelli, but she did not establish herself as a force to be reckoned with in the art world until she divorced him in 1959 — the same year that Rauschenberg created "Canyon." After remarrying, she opened an influential gallery in Paris, then in New York. She left a collection, estimated to be worth $1 billion even without "Canyon," to Mr. Homem and Ms. Sundell, who have already paid $471 million in state and federal estate taxes.

Like all bald eagles, alive or dead, the one in "Canyon" is covered by two laws, the 1940 Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Because of these statutes, it is a crime not only to buy, sell or barter a bald eagle, but also to possess one. Ms. Sonnabend was able to hold on to the combine in part because Rauschenberg provided a notarized statement to the government explaining that it had been stuffed by one of Theodore Roosevelt's Rough Riders before the laws' passage.

In any case, the eagle has now landed.

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Carpetbagger: What’s in the Running This Year?

Written By Unknown on Selasa, 27 November 2012 | 16.43

First things first: what's in play? At the end of the last Oscar season – lo, these eight months ago – speculation had already begun about we would be talking about in 2013, and it turns out some of the prognosticators were spot on. "Lincoln," "Les Misérables" and "Beasts of the Southern Wild" may all be contenders for what 9-year-old "Beasts" star Quvenzhané Wallis calls "the golden man."

Add to the list "Argo," Ben Affleck's rollicking Hollywood-true story of a rescue during the Iranian hostage crisis, and "Silver Linings Playbook," David O. Russell's follow-up to "The Fighter," about unstable souls finding romance and stability (as well as football wins and dance moves). Some insiders also favor "Life of Pi," Ang Lee's visually dazzling adaptation of the popular novel, and Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal (Oscar winners for "The Hurt Locker") are back with "Zero Dark Thirty," their take on the hunt for Osama bin Laden. The Weinstein Company, winner of the best picture prize for the last two years (for "The Artist" and "The King's Speech"), will no doubt make a play for its films, like "The Master" and the yet-unseen "Django Unchained," along with "Silver Linings."

Most pundits have "Argo," "Lincoln," "Les Misérables" and "Silver Linings Playbook" in the top spots, in metrics that are sure to shift as the season progresses. But let's not just take the experts' word for it – what's the fun in that? Put your pick for best picture in the comments now, and earn bragging rights next year.

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Music Review: New York Youth Symphony at Carnegie Hall

The most moving part of the New York Youth Symphony's concert on Sunday afternoon at Carnegie Hall came after the music had ended.

Karsten Moran for The New York Times

The New York Youth Symphony, with musicians 12 to 22, celebrated the beginning of its 50th season with a concert in Carnegie Hall that included Shostakovich's "Festive Overture."

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A sortable calendar of noteworthy cultural events in the New York region, selected by Times critics.

The final note of Dvorak's "New World" Symphony faded, thunderous applause began, and the orchestra, made up of musicians ages 12 to 22, rose for a bow.

That was the first time it was obvious that two adult artists had joined the mix. The violinists Cho-Liang Lin and Michelle Kim, who had been featured as soloists earlier in the afternoon, had sneaked in for the Dvorak. They were tucked away in a spot that must have been unfamiliar for both of them: the back of the violin section.

That these well-respected, busy musicians had not rushed out of Carnegie Hall after playing their solos attests to the good will built over the decades by the orchestra, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this season. Mr. Lin, after all, was once (1976-77, to be exact) its concertmaster.

Since the orchestra's early days, its offerings have expanded from symphonic music into the chamber and jazz repertories. There are workshops in conducting and composition, as well as the invaluable First Music program, which has commissioned works from more than 100 emerging composers since 1984. The orchestra now even sponsors a First Art competition for young visual artists.

The ensemble's concerts clearly have an element of the sentimental — "I remember when he played the cello in his diapers" was a representative overheard comment — but the quality of the playing is excellent. I had heard the New York Philharmonic play Dvorak's "New World" with brisk panache two days before and was, to be honest, dreading the comparison.

But the youth symphony, alert and with a firm foundation in its clean, clear string sound, more than held its own. Conducted by its new music director, Joshua Gersen, it was precise in attack in the first movement and, aside from hiccups in the brasses, focused later on. I preferred Devin Hinzo's tender, dynamically nuanced English horn solo in the Largo to the stiffer one at the Philharmonic.

The program for this anniversary celebration was unexceptional. The opening number, Shostakovich's bustling "Festive Overture," seemed chosen primarily to release some jitters among the musicians. Ludwig Maurer's intermittently charming Sinfonia Concertante for Four Violins in A featured eloquent work from Mr. Lin, Ms. Kim and the orchestra's concertmaster, Samuel Katz, but was most memorable for the sweet-toned playing of the fourth and youngest violinist: Alice Ivy-Pemberton, 15.

But there is always interest in the orchestra's new commissions from young composers. "Universal at Midnight," by Gabriel Zucker, suavely combined a symphony orchestra and a jazz band, beginning with a haunting orchestral hush and passing a gentle theme through the jazz soloists.

It was a nocturne out of early Bernstein or introspective Sinatra: classic-sounding but a little staid. Mr. Zucker's influences, to judge from the epigraphs for this piece, go from Charles Ives to Wilco. I wish "Universal at Midnight" had even more of that range and spirit of experimentation.

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New Music: Kid Rock’s ‘Rebel Soul,’ and Alicia Keys’s ‘Girl on Fire’

Jim Young/Reuters

"Rebel Soul" by Kid Rock, above, and "Midnight  Special" by Uncle Kracker hew to Nashville sensibilities.

Of all the pop genres, country has manned its borders the most ferociously, and that's been to its detriment. A world with slow or no influx of new ideas is a dying one. But while you can police sounds, you can't police people, and the genre's embrace in recent years of the onetime rap-rock kingpin Kid Rock and his former sidekick Uncle Kracker has as much to do with their charm offensive as with their music.

The front door wasn't an option for these two, who grew up in and around Detroit's hip-hop scene while harboring an appreciation for ragged Southern-style rock and country. Kid Rock has been reconciling these things for years, since he realized a straight-ahead rap career probably wasn't in the cards for him, even going so far as to record a sensitive, relatively spare album with the producer Rick Rubin — "Born Free" from 2010 — that was a bit of a rebuke to the up-all-night yowling that Kid Rock had made his breakthrough sound.

"Rebel Soul" (Atlantic) is his first album since that one, and his ninth studio album over all, in a career that's moved from goofball hip-hop to sleazy rap-rock to, now, preservationist American heritage music. Who better, though, to catalog and celebrate this country's sonic lineage than someone who's consumed and regurgitated it all?

"Rebel Soul" is Seger and Creedence and all the dirty '70s rock in between, with the lyrical clichés to prove it: "drugstore cowboys," check; "moonshine whiskey," check. The title track is plenty convincing Lynyrd Skynyrd manqué. The songs are designed for broad consumption — "Detroit, Michigan" is a roll call of places and their legacies that will work all tour long; "Cucci Galore" is a lost-night fantasia in which "Everybody wearing edible bikinis/Everybody want a chocolate martini." The most beautiful song on the album is called "Cocaine and Gin," naturally.

Kid Rock is an amateurish singer, but over the last few years his unsteady squeal has been become burnished and is now credible, enough so that the one song here with gratuitous vocal processing, "The Mirror," feels like an insult to his mission.

Kid Rock was famous before this, which means he had higher obstacles to traverse to achieve what he has. Uncle Kracker, by contrast, had almost a blank slate to work with, going from being Kid Rock's childhood friend to D.J. in his band to accompanying vocalist to solo singer to accidental soft-rock star.

Or maybe not so accidental. Uncle Kracker has a clean, syrupy voice with a tiny bit of wheeze to it. At his best he approaches the banal charms of Jim Croce. Once on a major label, he's now on a smallish roots-music label, which seems like a misstep: "Midnight Special" (Sugar Hill) is easily one of the year's best country albums — though, in fairness, it's been a slow year — one that most bigger-budgeted stars would be grateful to have.

It's produced by the veteran Keith Stegall, and it shows. "Midnight Special" is an almost totally guileless album, faithful to its smooth-rock and country-lite forefathers, and as polished as military shoes.

Uncle Kracker sounds lovely and engaged on "Blue Skies" and "When I Close My Eyes." And "I'd Be There" features some striking, heartfelt songwriting: "If I could, I would crawl through the phone/Yeah, this drink gets me by but it don't get me home."

The traditionalism of this album underscores the real reason Nashville has welcomed Kid Rock and Uncle Kracker with open arms: They're not invaders from the outside but prodigal children looking to come home.


"Girl on Fire" (RCA)

"Girl on Fire," Alicia Keys's fifth album, has two modes: lofty and submerged. Guess which one leads to better songs?

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