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Steve James, The Interrupters

9.January.2012: Michael Cieply reports for the New York Times that the Oscars will have different ground rules for documentary submissions effective for films qualifying for the 2013 ceremony. The new requirement drawing the most attention: Documentaries will have to receive a review from either the New York Times or the Los Angeles Times in order to be eligible for the Academy Award. Writing for the Grey Lady, Cieply notes that some worry that the new rules “might diminish the prospects of those who make smaller and less prominent movies; these filmmakers have often qualified their documentaries without the kind of commercial release that typically leads to reviews by the two news organizations.” At Indiewire, Dana Harris details the present and future rules of eligibility and speaks with filmmaker Michael Moore, who as one of the representatives of the documentary branch of the Academy’s Board of Governors was instrumental in advocating the change. Moore describes the current rules for shortlisting docs as “byzantine,” a sentiment echoed by filmmakers Steve James (The Interrupters) and Andrew Rossi (Page One: A Year Inside the New York Times). Moore goes on to explain that the review requirement is partly aimed at ensuring that eligible titles were designed as theatrical releases, which Rossi points out makes for interesting questions in a changing distribution landscape: “‘What if these newspapers began reviewing films released on the web or on demand first?…Would the papers’ critical recognition of those movies bolster other arguments to loosen the Academy’s theatrical requirements? That would be ironic, indeed.”

The National Society of Film Critics announced its awards for 2011 over the weekend. Melancholia won Best Picture, with star Kirsten Dunst coming away Best Actress. Brad Pitt won Best Actor for his performance in Moneyball, while Best Director went to Terrence Malick for The Tree of Life. Berlinale has added ten new world premiers to its Competition, including new films by Christian Petzold, Miguel Gomes, Ursula Meier, and Billy Bob Thornton. Meanwhile, the International Film Festival Rotterdam, which opens January 25, has announced an expanded version of Regained, a section dedicated to “the cinematic past.” Among the many highlights of this year’s program: French impresario Serge Bromberg will make one of his signature archival presentations as part of a broader tribute to George Méliès; a selection of films by Austrian avant-garde filmmaker and theorist Peter Kubelka; and a pair by the recently departed auteur Raúl Ruiz.

Peter Knegt reports that Tomas Alfredson’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy continues to be the big draw for specialty box office, while Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Once Upon a Time in Anatolia opened strong at New York’s Film Forum in spite of its 157-minute running time. The Turkish film has split critics. One strongly in favor is J. Hoberman, who writes it’s “already a favorite for the New Year’s best movie” in one of his final regular reviews for the Village Voice. But where Hoberman sees a police procedural that’s “at once sensuous and cerebral, profane and metaphysical, “empty” and abundant,” Time Out New York’s David Fear sees the same plot “paced somewhere between lazy-Sunday contemplativeness and leisurely dripping tree sap.”

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