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Oscars 2013: how politics won the Academy's votes

24 February 2013 3:58 PM, PST

From the abolition of slavery to the 'war on terror', this year's Academy Awards are dominated by heavyweight political films

Follow our live coverage of the Oscars 2013 red carpet

Early in 1927, Louis B Mayer, the head of MGM studios and soon to be the highest-paid executive in the world, met a handful of fellow conservative thinkers to create an elite Hollywood organisation with the grandiose title of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

The aim was to deter the development of unions, or at least to control and arbitrate their operations. The academy, and the awards set up the following year as an expression of the good taste of its members (of whom there are now 6,000), began in politics and continue to be influenced by it.

Twenty years later, MGM went for three years without winning an Oscar and Mayer was fired by the company's ultimate boss in »

- Philip French

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Oscars 2013: everything you need to read and see before the ceremony begins

24 February 2013 3:16 PM, PST

We're into the final reel of preparations before this year's Academy Awards. Here's a brief reading, watching and shopping list before you join us for live coverage of the Oscars red carpet from 11pm (6pm Est/3pm Pst)

There's just eight hours to go until the Oscars 2013 ceremony begins, and with the curveball chucked last night by Silver Linings Playbook snaffling the Independent Spirit Award, the race remains the most open in years. Will Argo capitalise on the momentum of the Globes and Baftas and take the top prize? Or will splitting best picture and best director (a category in which Ben Affleck isn't even nominated) be just too big a no-no? Might Silver Linings, Les Mis or even Life of Pi sneak up a snatch the top gong from under Spielberg and Affleck's noses?

Join us from 11pm UK time, when Hadley Freeman and Rosie Swash will be »

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Who will win the 2013 Oscars?

24 February 2013 2:47 PM, PST

I'm predicting a big night for Michael Haneke, Argo and Daniel Day-Lewis

History be damned. A pox on precedent. A poke in gravitas's eye. This year it looks very much as if Argo, the nifty Iranian caper conjured up by Ben Affleck and George Clooney, will speed off with best picture, making it the first film to do so without a best director nomination since Driving Miss Daisy in 1989.

To those who say this riderless horse lacks the poundage of a typical best picture winner, just look at the light lifting the academy has preferred to do of late: The King's Speech, The Artist, and now Argo, just one letter away from an inert gas. In a year of passionate favorites and flash-fire controversies, Affleck's film has emerged as the clear consensus winner – the film that rubs the least number of people up the wrong way.

You'll soon know »

- Tom Shone

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The Oscars 2013: the key facts and figures

24 February 2013 2:43 PM, PST

Why winners are the losers, the Academy Awards are not the Academy Awards, and the real cost of the red carpet

• Protocol obliges those who walk down the Oscar red carpet to call the experience priceless but the real cost is around $1.50 (£1) per square foot, according to the La-based Red Carpet Systems, which rents the stuff to other events. At 500ft long and 33ft wide that adds up to $25,000 – still cheaper than padding the corridor with new towels. That's the Academy's only concession to austerity. The Hollywood Reporter's number-crunching "Oscarnomics" team estimates that the 488 Marc Friedland-designed laminated, hand-folded, gold-leaf-stamped, embossed nominee cards cost a total of $10,000. Only 24 – bearing the winners' names – will actually be revealed on stage. Leaves a lot of very posh stationery for recycling. Host Seth MacFarlane's fee is estimated at $15–$25,000. Interesting to see whether Seth or the carpet will prove better value.

• La's beauty salons are »

- Rory Carroll

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Peace on the streets? How Birmingham's gangs found common ground

24 February 2013 3:28 AM, PST

A brutal dispute between street gangs blighted Birmingham for 20 years, making national headlines in 2003 when two teenage girls were shot dead. But an uneasy truce reigns now, brokered by a former cabinet minister and a film-maker, who tells the story in an extraordinary documentary, One Mile Away

Ashley "Woody" Woodcock was 15 and hanging clothes on a washing line in his back garden when a bullet came whistling towards him. At first, he didn't understand what was happening but when he looked at his hand, he saw it was bleeding. The edge of his palm had been skimmed by the shot, a wound that would leave a burned-out blackened scar that is still visible now, 10 years later.

Matthias "Shabba" Thompson is 33. He was shot in the leg a few years back. He was in such a state of shock that he didn't even notice until he jumped in a car to »

- Elizabeth Day

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Finished at 27? Ha! You've got 10 years left, girls | Barbara Ellen

23 February 2013 4:09 PM, PST

Why do we demonise women for putting their career before having a family?

I've been amusing myself thinking up a blurb for a Chinese dating site.

"Are you a 'leftover' woman? Old! Rotting! Disgusting! Left on the side of the plate of romance. Your destiny, like all other leftovers, to be scraped straight into the bin of life or fed to the pigs… We have the man for you!"

As employed by the All-China Women's Federation website, "leftover women" (sheng nu) is a term for educated, moneyed, professional females still single at 27. Sometimes, these hideous hags are given until 30, but that's deemed to be pushing it.

"Leftovers" shame their families and horrify the Chinese government, which needs them married, so that single men won't cause "social havoc" and to mop up the surplus of males (20 million more) born after 1979's one-child rule, when selective abortions were endemic.

After many complaints, »

- Barbara Ellen

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The Last Days of Dolwyn

23 February 2013 4:07 PM, PST

(Emlyn Williams, 1949, StudioCanal, U)

In 1986 the Welsh-language Coming Up Roses, directed by Stephen Bayly, an American resident in the principality, was the only British movie in the official programme at Cannes, and thought the harbinger of a major revival of Welsh cinema. It wasn't to be. But Wales has a cinematic tradition, and in his invaluable Wales & Cinema: The First Hundred Years, David Berry calls the little-known The Last Days of Dolwyn "one of the most distinctive postwar contributions to the cinema of Wales" and regrets that playwright Emlyn Williams, its writer-director and star, "was not inveigled into directing again". Set in 1892, it's a powerful, poetic, elegiac melodrama about the destruction of a tight-knit community when a Welsh valley is drowned to provide water for Liverpool. Williams plays the vicious agent of capitalism, an aggrieved, anglicised Welshman who persuades the impoverished local aristocrat and her leaseholders to sell out their heritage. »

- Philip French

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To the Wonder – review

23 February 2013 4:07 PM, PST

In his 70th year, Malick must be feeling time's wingèd chariot hurrying near. Which is why we've had to wait a mere 19 months for his sixth film rather than the customary decade or more. While clearly the work of the director of Days of Heaven, the pastoral tragedy that remains his masterpiece, To the Wonder is a rambling disappointment with wonderful moments, mostly visual.

The title refers to "the wonder of the western world", an epithet long attached to Mont-Saint-Michel, the magnificent medieval abbey on the Normandy coast, a great symbol of faith, object of pilgrimage and example of sublime architecture. The film begins and ends there, and among its themes are the contrast between the old world and the new, what man creates and what he spoils. It's also about faith and love as experienced by an American writer (Ben Affleck) and a single mother from eastern Europe (Olga Kurylenko »

- Philip French

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Cloud Atlas – review

23 February 2013 4:07 PM, PST

So David Mitchell's novel was filmable after all – but will you want to see it twice?

Dai Congrong's bestselling Chinese translation of James Joyce's Finnegans Wake and the film version of David Mitchell's 2004 Booker shortlisted novel, Cloud Atlas, both complex fictions about the cyclical nature of life, should warn us against calling anything unfilmable or untranslatable. They are not necessarily proof, however, that they're worth filming or translating.

In a charming introduction to the new paperback edition of his novel, Mitchell expresses his good fortune that it fell into such "capable hands" as Lana and Andy Wachowski and Tom Tykwer, the film's co-directors and adaptors. The Wachowskis love intricate narratives and the world of ideas; their Matrix trilogy has, I believe, been used in introductory philosophy courses at American colleges. Tykwer's Run Lola Run, a German action movie telling the same story thrice, with events taking different courses, »

- Philip French

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Trailer Trash in Hollywood

23 February 2013 4:07 PM, PST

If this year's Oscars are all about revolution, 2014 could see royalty carry off the crown. Stoker director Park Chan-wook makes more plans for Hollywood. And a last-minute tip for Oscars night…

Princesses on parade

If revolution and overthrow are a theme of tonight's Oscars (Les Mis, Django Unchained, Lincoln, Argo), it's an irony that next year looks set to be a right royal display. The best actress race is already shaping up as a showdown of princesses: Grace of Monaco and Diana, Princess of Wales. Nicole Kidman has just finished work filming Grace of Monaco, directed by Olivier Dahan, the Frenchman behind the Edith Piaf biopic La vie en rose, for which Marion Cotillard won an Oscar. I'm told by her co-star Tim Roth (yes, he plays an unlikely Prince Rainier) that Kidman has "nailed it".

When I spoke to Nicole – namedrop of the year award right there, I thank »

- Jason Solomons

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Napster: the day the music was set free

23 February 2013 4:06 PM, PST

The digital music revolution started with Napster – the file-sharing service dreamt up by two teenagers in 1999. As a new film tells Napster's story, Tom Lamont recalls the incredible sense of liberation he felt as a young music fan, one of millions happily plundering the world's record collections…

In the first weeks of 2000 the founders of Napster were in their office above a bank in San Mateo, California, considering dizzying numbers. Figures scrawled on a whiteboard told how many people around the world had installed their file-sharing application and were using it to download music from each other's computers. As recounted in Downloaded – a documentary soon to premiere at the SXSW film festival, telling the story of a piece of software that came and went and whipped up a new digital music industry in its slip – Napster had 20 million users at the time. Some way from San Mateo, in suburban London »

- Tom Lamont

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On my radar: Park Chan-wook

23 February 2013 4:06 PM, PST

The South Korean writer, director and producer behind the popular Vengeance trilogy, whose new movie, Stoker, is out next week, picks his cultural highlights

Park Chan-wook is a South Korean writer, director and producer. Born in Seoul, Chan-wook worked as a film critic before filmmaking. Best known here for his Vengeance trilogy – Sympathy for Mr Vengeance (2002), Oldboy (2003) and Lady Vengeance (2005) – Chan-wook is a master of dark, violent films. Oldboy won the Grand Prix at Cannes the year that Quentin Tarantino (a fan of Chan-wook) was head judge. Chan-wook's English-language debut, Stoker, is a psychological thriller inspired by Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt. It opens in cinemas on Friday.

Technology

Leica M-e digital camera

I'm a long-time Leica user, even from the analogue film camera days. I own four Leicas.They are the perfect combination of function and aesthetics. The M-e is very sturdy and the lens is extraordinary. I'm a »

- Corinne Jones

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Olga Kurylenko: 'You never really leave a Terrence Malick film'

23 February 2013 4:06 PM, PST

Olga Kurylenko on working with Terrence Malick on To the Wonder and why she prefers London to her native Ukraine

To ask anyone to explain what the latest Terrence Malick movie is "about", via the medium of simple clunking words, is about as fair as asking someone to mime the concept of postmodernism using only toe puppets and duct tape. It is not, assuredly, a popcorn film; you need your brain strapped on firmly throughout: but it is Malikally haunting, mesmerising and gripped by a wrecking beauty, and pointlessly hard work, and will last for decades rather than popcorn-seconds. One co-star, Ben Affleck, has already said that it makes Malick's last gauzily obscure (bastardly difficult) one, The Tree of Life, "look like Transformers".

And so I find myself talking to the other co-star, a Ukrainian who became a Vogue cover girl in Paris, and then a Bond girl, and then a Malick star. »

- Euan Ferguson

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Macbeth; If You Don't Let Us Dream, We Won't Let You Sleep; A Chorus Line – review

23 February 2013 4:06 PM, PST

Trafalgar Studios; Royal Court; Palladium, London

The wonderful thing about Jamie Lloyd's production of Macbeth is that the Scottish play is Scottish. There is a rightness about the accents – it's almost as if one had only heard the play in translation until now. It is tremendous to hear James McAvoy's Macbeth say: "the multitudinous seas incarnadine" rolling the "r", giving the line new momentum. Yet designer Soutra Gilmour's stricken set – a concrete bunker filled with overturned office chairs – is not necessarily Scottish. We could be anywhere. And it is immediately obvious that this production is going to do Macbeth the hard way. It's set in a dystopian future in which everyone looks as if they have recently had a mud or blood bath, the witches wear gas masks and Banquo is so bloody he looks as though he ought to go straight to A&E. One feels one »

- Kate Kellaway

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Mark Kermode's DVD round-up

23 February 2013 4:06 PM, PST

This is Not a Film; McCullin; Hope Springs; Rust and Bone; Frankenweenie; On the Road; Paranormal Activity 4; Premium Rush

It is often said that the greatest auteurs make films not because they want to but because they have to – it's as natural and essential as breathing. In December 2010 the Iranian maestro Jafar Panahi was banned from making movies and sentenced to six years in prison for creating "propaganda against the Islamic republic", a judgment that sparked outrage around the world.

While awaiting the outcome of an appeal, Panahi was visited in his home by his friend Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, who filmed Panahi wandering through his apartment, feeding his pet iguana, reflecting on scenes from his past movies and describing the latest script that he had been refused permission to shoot – the story of a young girl accepted for university but locked in her house by her zealous father.

That visit »

- Mark Kermode

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Song for Marion – review

23 February 2013 4:05 PM, PST

Paul Andrew Williams made an impressive debut in 2006 with London to Brighton, a brutally realistic crime movie that he followed with a couple of less good but still enjoyable thrillers. With Song for Marion he changes direction, pulling together into a crowd-pleasing, tear-jerking package some elements of Brassed Off, Calendar Girls, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Quartet and TV's The Choir. Shot around Tyneside and Durham, but with no particular regional feeling, it focuses on the long-married lower-middle-class couple, Marion and Arthur, both well played by Vanessa Redgrave and Terence Stamp.

She's ebullient, outgoing and terminally ill. He's gruff, laconic, alienated from their son and incapable of showing his feelings. Moreover, he refuses to join the choir of chirpy, eccentric old folk called the "OAPz", being organised by a patronising young music teacher (Gemma Arterton). Marion represents the life force (working-class division), Arthur the embodiment of British emotional repression. Everything that follows is as predictable, »

- Philip French

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Crawl – review

23 February 2013 4:05 PM, PST

In this assured Australian thriller a middle-aged Croatian hitman, wearing a Stetson and bearing a striking resemblance to Roman Polanski, comes to an outback town to kill the sleazy owner of a filling station. He gets involved intentionally with a nasty pub-owner and accidentally with a sweet-natured barmaid. The feature debut of writer-director Paul China and his producer brother, Ben, both born and educated in Britain, the film borrows shamelessly from the Coen brothers' debut, Blood Simple, for its mood and plot, and from Hitchcock's Psycho for the screeching, all-string music of Bernard Herrmann. There's little originality but a decent amount of suspense, a great deal of blood and some promise.

ThrillerWorld cinemaHorrorPhilip French

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- Philip French

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The Road: A Story of Life and Death – review

23 February 2013 4:03 PM, PST

In 1956 Samuel Selvon published a milestone novel about the Windrush generation of black Britons called The Lonely Londoners. Its title would be perfect for this moving, deeply sad documentary about immigrants living at the London end of the A5. There's an affecting sequence featuring Somali exiles, but Isaacs's principal interviewees, from anonymous, racially mixed Cricklewood, are a nonagenarian Jewish refugee from Austria, an Irish barmaid with musical ambitions, an alcoholic Irish labourer, a former German flight attendant running a student hostel, a Burmese cook working at a Buddhist temple, and a Kashmiri hotel porter waiting for his wife to join him. They're an engaging group (two of whom died during the making of the film), and they're sympathetically interviewed, though Isaacs's commentary is on the prosaic side.

DocumentaryImmigration and asylumPhilip French

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- Philip French

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Mama – review

23 February 2013 4:03 PM, PST

This self-consciously stylish Hispanic horror movie is the feature debut of the Argentinian Andrés Muschietti, who has co-scripted it with his sister Barbara. It's produced, like many such, by the Mexican-born Guillermo del Toro, who has been helping to reintroduce the supernatural into the genre. In a brisk pre-credit sequence a topical note is injected into the stuff of Grimm fairytales by having an American, unhinged by the 2008 financial crisis, kill his wife and then take his little daughters into the wintry Virginian countryside to kill them and take his own life. His aim is mystically frustrated, and several years later the girls, frighteningly feral, are discovered in a remote cabin, claiming to have been reared by some one they call "Mama". They're surrendered into the care of their father's identical twin and his heavy-metal partner (Jessica Chastain), and what follows becomes increasingly arbitrary and explicit. There are plenty of easy shocks, »

- Philip French

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Lore – review

23 February 2013 4:03 PM, PST

Based on one of the three sections of The Dark Room, Rachel Seifert's Booker-shortlisted novel and winner of the 2001 Guardian first novel award, Lore is the affecting story of Hannelore, a German teenager conducting her younger sister and three small brothers (one of them a baby) across Germany at the end of the second world war. Their father, an SS officer deeply involved with the Final Solution, and their equally complicit mother, have fled. We see everything through Lore's adolescent eyes as she shepherds the children to their grandmother's home outside Hamburg, confronting a devastated country along the way and coming to terms with her father's crimes and a nation's guilt. In the course of this nightmare journey she witnesses robbery, death and degradation, experiences hunger, fear and bewilderment and develops a sense of responsibility. It has the feeling of a dream vividly but fragmentarily recalled, and there's no »

- Philip French

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