Oscars news: ‘Unbroken’ and ‘Into the Woods’ open strong, Ava DuVernay on ‘Selma’ and Oprah

As E. Alex Jung reports,”‘The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies‘ stayed on top for the second week in a row, with $41.2 million. The other two big releases, Angelina Jolie‘s World War II epic ‘Unbroken‘ and the Stephen Sondheim adaptation ‘Into the Woods‘ came in second and third with $31.7 million and $31 million, respectively.” Vulture

UPDATED: Experts’ Oscars predictions in 24 categories

For Pete Hammond, “there are a boatload of movies that might be saying  ‘I coulda been a contender’ but are lost and drifting in one of the most wide-open best picture races in memory, certainly since the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences decided to allow a maximum of 10 nominees instead of just five for the biggest prize in the industry. Some say it’s just not a very good year, and that’s why it appears as if there are numerous contenders but no obvious choice. Others just have their favorites, which are all over the place. One prominent Academy voter who has seen just about everything told me, ‘There’s great acting, great writing, but I am still waiting for that one movie to just blow me away. So far it hasn’t happened.’ Deadline

Anita Bennett notes, “Ava DuVernay faced a daunting task in bringing ‘Selma‘ to the big screen. The drama, about the 1965 Civil Rights marches in Alabama to demand voting rights for blacks, had already been through several directors by the time she came on board. Adding to the challenges, Martin Luther King Jr.’s estate would not grant the team behind the film permission to use his iconic speeches. Still, DuVernay managed to put together a critically acclaimed drama which debuted strongly at the box office this weekend after Paramount pictures rolled it out in limited release. And thanks to ‘Selma,’ DuVernay recently made history as the first African-American woman ever nominated for a Golden Globe Award in the directing category.” The Wrap

See latest Oscar rankings when the Experts’ predictions are combined

In a provocative essay, Sasha Stone asks: “Why do I compare ‘Selma‘ and ‘Unbroken‘? They are both films about American heroes that were given to women to direct. They both opened on Christmas Day. One has a giant studio and a superstar behind it and one has a wing and a prayer. One opened big in 3100 theaters nationwide with terrible reviews, one opened quietly in 19 showcase theaters with rave reviews. It isn’t about pitting them against one another – it’s about noticing how differently they are being treated by the public, the press and the fans.” Awards Daily

Scott Feinberg wonders, “Is ‘Nightcrawler‘ the best picture Oscar contender we’re all underestimating? Earlier this week I caught up with Tom Ortenberg, who was the president of theatrical films at Lionsgate nine years ago when that operation’s ‘Crash,’ a film about intolerance in the Los Angeles community, shocked the world by beating ‘Brokeback Mountain’ to win best picture. Today, the 54-year-old runs Open Road Films, which is placing its chips this season on Nightcrawler, Dan Gilroy‘s directorial debut that stars Jake Gyllenhaal as a paparazzo-like creep who documents and sells footage to the local news of accidents that occur throughout L.A.” THR

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