THE ENVELOPE
Hollywood's Awards and Industry Insider
Christmas movies vying for Oscar voters' attention

For a four-year stretch at the turn of the 21st century, December was the most wonderful time of year to be a best picture Oscar contender.

From 2002 to 2005, the film academy gave its best picture prize to movies debuting in December. Starting with "A Beautiful Mind" and continuing through "Chicago," "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" and "Million Dollar Baby," Oscar voters rewarded movies that broke late and were, presumably, fresh in their minds. In fact, Clint Eastwood's "Million Dollar Baby," shot in the summer of 2004, didn't even land on Warner Bros.' release calendar until the fall.

"We caught everybody by surprise with that one," Eastwood told me recently. "I wish they could all be that way."

Since then, though, only one December movie -- "The King's Speech" -- has won best picture. Increasingly, studios have used fall film festivals like Telluride and Toronto to build buzz and then released their contenders theatrically in October and November. December brings a...

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For these actors, it's about finding that rhythm

It can be a fine line, and a point of much awards-season engineering, to draw the distinction between a supporting performance and a lead. For a role to be placed in the supporting category by no means diminishes its importance to a story or the challenge for the performer in the part.

The actors who make up this year’s Envelope Supporting Actor Roundtable — Josh Brolin for “Inherent Vice” (opening Dec. 12), based on the Thomas Pynchon novel; Edward Norton for “Birdman” (Oct. 17), a surrealist take on fame; Mark Ruffalo for “Foxcatcher” (Nov. 14), the biopic of an Olympic wrestler and his relationship to millionaire John du Pont; J.K. Simmons for “Whiplash” (Oct.10), the story of a ferocious jazz ensemble conductor; and Christoph Waltz for “Big Eyes” (Dec. 25), the true story of Walter Keane, the man who took credit for his wife’s popular paintings — launched into a lively conversation, covering a wide range of topics.

Do they research a character, particularly when they are playing a...

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Oscar Watch: 'Selma' scores with academy
'Murder's' Annalise and other TV women leap darkly into antihero scene

Much has been made of the rise of the TV antihero, and deservedly so. Walter White, Tony Soprano, Dexter and Don Draper gave new meaning to the term "guilty pleasure." It's taken a while for women to join those ranks, but now the airwaves are fairly teeming with female characters as ruthless, ambitious and manipulative as any man. And like Ginger Rogers dancing with Fred Astaire, they can do it backward and in heels. You've seen the ladies who lunch? These are the women who punch.

This fall, ABC gave us Annalise Keating (Viola Davis) on the new "How to Get Away With Murder," something she helps an awful lot of people do. Netflix gives us Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) in the political drama "House of Cards," who is arguably her politician husband's better half. She stands by her man, but when he crosses her, she has no qualms about stabbing him in the back. Metaphorically. So far. And it's doubtful that any male antihero has gone as low as the emotionally frayed Carrie (Claire Danes)...

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How a costume or a prop helped actors meld with their roles

"If you sum up what acting is, it's just the ultimate expression of empathy," Emily Blunt has said. That seems just about right, empathy and refusing to judge a character, understanding what his or her needs are. It all comes from an emotional well that actors can perhaps tap more easily than the rest of us. But sometimes external forces can give them a little head start — such forces as just the right purse or shoes, or a perfectly precise bow tie. Here, a few actors share their connections with their props and costumes.

Chadwick Boseman

"Get On Up"

It was the scene "in Vietnam, with the pinkish-red kerchief, with the slicked-back hair, particularly because I had seen pictures of him getting off that plane. Sharen Davis didn't do that costume exactly; it was a different color. But it's very similar to what he actually wore. And because he was going to Vietnam, he didn't get to do his hair as much as he normally would, so it's a sweated-out version of that process. I just loved that...

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Five actors who gave their all to smaller roles in 2014

Amid all the attention paid to lead and supporting actors and their award chances this time of year, it's time for The Envelope's annual look at a few of the performers who shined just as brightly in their far briefer moments onscreen.

W. Earl Brown,

Frank, "Wild"

As Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) begins her arduous hike up the Pacific Crest Trail in "Wild," she realizes she brought the wrong stove fuel and must eat cold mush for every meal. Frantic, she hitches a ride into town from a farmer named Frank. Played by veteran actor W. Earl Brown, Frank is initially terrifying, with a steely, creepy gaze and a gun under the seat. But soon he turns into an ol' softie, taking Cheryl home so his wife can cook her a hot meal.

Having grown up on a farm, Brown notes, "that could have been my life had I not been bitten by the actor bug." His daughter agreed it was the closest role to himself that he'd ever played: scary at first glance, but then a lovable goofball.

At that crucial moment,...

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