Awards Season Launch: The Best Picture Race

Every Oscars ceremony represents an opportunity for the entertainment industry to congratulate itself. Still, rarely has the self-love been quite so transparent as it was earlier this year, when the Academy handed its top prize to “The Artist,” Michel Hazanavicius’ nostalgic valentine to Hollywood history in general and silent cinema in particular.

Whether or not the Acad will feel moved to honor another movie about movies quite so soon, this year has seen a handful of high-profile pics that similarly peel back the curtain and scrutinize the filmmaking process — even when the production in question amounted to little more than a deceptive cover story.

Such is the case with “Argo,” Ben Affleck’s account of how a phony film production shielded a dangerous 1979 CIA rescue mission in Iran. Fusing suspense with satire, replete with affectionate wisecracks from John Goodman and Alan Arkin as a couple of seen-it-all filmmaking veterans, “Argo” makes Hollywood look and feel good in more ways than one, not least by confirming the emergence of one of its longtime golden boys as a formidable directing talent.

Another inside-the-studio period piece that could find itself in contention is Sacha Gervasi’s “Hitchcock,” starring Anthony Hopkins as the famed director as he struggles to make his 1960 masterpiece, “Psycho.” The second movie of the season to scratch the industry’s Hitch itch (the other being HBO’s “The Girl”), the drama offers a dishy-looking snapshot of a more innocent moviegoing era, when world-class filmmakers rarely trafficked in horror/exploitation fare and a leading lady could be expected to survive through the closing reels.

Movie love of a more off-the-radar sort informs Leos Carax’s Cannes sensation “Holy Motors,” which fashions a funny valentine to cinema by tripping through a multitude of genres — actioner, creature feature and Kylie Minogue musical, just for starters. The picture may prove too loopy to land on the Acad’s radar, though its commentary on the digital mandates that presently govern filmmaking, from weightless cameras to performance-capture f/x, makes it a surprisingly relevant entry in a year that has occasioned endless laments about the death of cinema.

Still, if the success of “The Artist” is any indication, paying tribute to the glories of Hollywood past is a far more palatable option than contemplating the uncertainties of the medium’s future.

Award Season Launch: The Best Picture Race
Oscar’s dating game means business | New rules tweak song, foreign, vfx categories | Inside H’wood tales flatter Acad voters | The Weinstein Co has more in store | ‘Lincoln’ on ticket for Disney | Mature themes offer robust alternative to four-quad fare
Award Season Calendar 2012 – 2013: November – December | January – February

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