Oscar news: ‘Selma,’ ‘American Sniper’ wow in AFI debuts

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Glenn Whipp calls “Selma” a a sincere, well-crafted film and notes: Martin Luther King, Jr. is long overdue for a cinematic close-up, having never been the focus of a major feature film. And the movie’s civil rights subject matter is timely, both in relation to the events in Ferguson, Mo., and last year’s Supreme Court decision that gutted the Voting Rights Act that King tirelessly worked for. Los Angeles Times

And Kris Tapley says: David Oyelowo is stirring and uncanny as King, a role he seems to have been born to play. He has a solid bead on a spot in the Best Actor five, but he’ll have to work for it to cut through the competition. Just last year, one of Hollywood’s favored sons, Tom Hanks, missed for a beloved performance in a Best Picture nominee. Nothing is ever assured. But I like Oyelowo’s chances, particularly since the film feels like a solid contender across a number of races, including Best Picture and Best Director. In Contention

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As Tim Gray notes: A few months ago, “American Sniper” wasn’t even on the radar for the 2014 Oscar race, but at Thursday’s AFI Fest premiere screening, the film bursts onto the scene as a strong contender in across-the-board categories. The Warner Bros. release features all the hallmarks of Clint Eastwood’s best work: terrific performances, expert below-the-line contributions, and a thoughtful script that seems to be taking the audience in one direction, then proceeds to challenge expectations and expand on its ideas. Variety

And for Pete Hammond: After today’s unveiling of “American Sniper,” the studio can probably feel pretty good it could receive a number of them including Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay for Jason Hall, Film Editing and Tom Stern’s Cinematography. And even in this impossibly crowded year in the Best Actor category, Bradley Cooper’s understated and immersive performance as Kyle  may well deliver him his third consecutive Oscar nomination. Deadline

Concurs Scott Feinberg: Bradley Cooper, who landed an Oscar nom in each of the past two years — for David O. Russell’s “Silver Linings Playbook” (2012) and “American Hustle” (2013) — is the heart and soul of “American Sniper,” a film that made sense for a Veterans Day premiere because it is all about the service and sacrifice of American troops. THR

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Jonathan Dornbush reports: “The Imitation Game may have been a bit of a history lesson for star Benedict Cumberbatch as he researched the role of Alan Turing, but he probably never expected for the film to turn into a family history lesson as well. Researchers at the family history site Ancestry claim Cumberbatch is related to the British mathematician who cracked the Enigma code during World War II. EW

Meriah Dorty has been asking Oscar contenders to “name their favorite movies from this year (excluding, of course, their own projects).” Not surprisingly, “Birdman,” which has an actor at the center of the action, topped the list. Yahoo! Movies

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