56 Up

There are a few sure signs that I’m getting older.  One is that pain I feel in my legs and feet if I stand for more than fifteen minutes.  Another is waking up every morning two hours earlier than I ever did as a teenager (and not needing an alarm clock for it).  Another is the number of times I have to visit the facilities every night.  But perhaps no sign is so definite and so certain as the release of a new entry in the Seven Up! series (and I’m not talking the soft drink).  Yes, Virginia, it’s that time of the millennium again.  I’m seven years older, deeper in debt, and 56 Up is in the theaters.
For those of you who may not know, Seven Up! was a documentary made in 1964 that profiled fourteen seven year olds of various backgrounds.  It was originally intended as a one off TV special.  Seven Up! was directed by Paul Almond, but Michael Apted, who did research for Almond, had the idea of coming back every seven years to see what has happened to their subjects and the two have joined forces on the documentaries ever since.   Their basic idea, and the driving force of the series originally, was to see if there is a class system in Britain and whether one’s future is determined by one’s past.  
I hesitate to describe going to 56 Up as visiting with a group of friends I haven’t seen for seven years.  I mean, it’s such a cliché.  At the same time, I don’t know how else to talk about it.  It’s silly in many ways.  I’ve never met these people.  I’m not related to them.  And yet, after all this time, I have an emotional attachment to them and I have to know how they are getting on.
Well, they’re all 56 now and in many ways, that’s about all there is to say about them.  They’ve gotten older, but it’s hard to say that much else is going on.  Most are married, have children, have made a life for themselves and there is little chance now that anything will change all that significantly for them (except for taxes and…, well, you know).  For the most part, with a couple of exceptions, their lives are just going on like they always have.   I’m not sure what to make of that.  In one way, it’s very comforting, I suppose.  It’s even very moving.  In another way, it’s very depressing from an existential point of view.  This is it.  This is life.  It’s not a Shakespearean tragedy (or a comedy).  It’s not even a boulevard melodrama ala Ibsen and Strindberg.  There’ no long day’s journey into night here.  It’s just life. 
The original idea, that of examining the class system, seems to have fallen by the wayside to a great degree, and when brought up, often feels a bit forced. No one seems to want to talk about it much except the directors.  At the same time, the movie just about proves the truth of that system to some degree.  The ones to the manor born are still pretty much there.  The ones who were not never managed to get much past the working/middle class.  And of those, many are finding their way of life slipping through their fingers in ways that the uppers aren’t as the social safety net that England is so famous for is being reduced (strangely enough, almost no one blames Margaret Thatcher—they all feel sold out by Tony Blair and the labor party). 
56 Up starts out well with some fascinating looks at Neil, the participant who had to drop out of Cambridge due to mental illness and found himself living on the road, and Jackie, a working class girl who has faced a number of people dying or who have died.  At the same time, as the movie goes on and each person is given their due, this entry finds it a little difficult to keep the forward momentum going.  It gets a little tedious here and there as the filmmakers struggle to bring more meaning to various participants’ lives than there is.  And Apted and Almond couldn’t really come up with a satisfying final scene to tie it all together.  In fact, it just kind of runs out of steam and ends.  But still, I loved it and was moved by it as I always am.  And all I know is that though I can gladly wait for 62 Up (there’s no hurry, really, take your time), still, I can’t wait for 62 Up.


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I had a friend once who was, one might say, a tad flamboyant, a tad Jack McFarland.  When I introduced this friend to an acquaintance of mine, the acquaintance said of my friend, “Every time he takes a drag off his cigarette, it’s like he’s having an orgasm”. 
That was one of the first thoughts I had upon laying eyes on Ruben, the central character of Let My People Go!, the new farce written by Mikael Buch (who also directed) and Christophe (Love Songs) Honoré.  But perhaps no one could describe him better than his husband Teemu, who tells him he acts like a French actress (Isabelle Adjani to be exact, and though I can’t argue with that, I think Norma Shearer, suffering and suffering in costumes by Edith Head, is more apt). 
Ruben is French, but he lives in Finland and works for the post office (he puts on his uniform as if he were preparing for his close up, Mr. DeMille).  The world he lives in is as candy coated as he is with houses of vibrant colors and lawns manicured to within an inch of their lives.  He and Teemu live a fairy tail existence.  That is, until IT happens.  I won’t tell you what IT is, but suffice it to say, IT does (in a bit too forced a manner, perhaps, but still…) and Ruben panics.  Panics?  He shrieks and cries and cries and shrieks and shrieks and cries (you get the drift) until Teemu throws him out.  And Ruben sees little choice but to come home to Paris in time for the holidays. (Oh, did I mention that Ruben’s Jewish and is getting home in time for Passover?  Well, if I didn’t, he is and he does.)
And then comes one of the central ironies of the story as we find out that Ruben didn’t flee to Finland so he could be free to be the drama queen he is.  No, he went to Finland to escape a suffocation of DQ’s, a family so  “me, me, me”, it makes Ruben look like the normal one of the group.  His brother is a bully with anger management problems; his sister, who is treated badly by her husband, greets Ruben by whispering in his ear that she’s getting a divorce and don’t tell anyone; his father, who has left home, waxes profoundly (or so he thinks) that he is to be pitied for being in love with two women at the same time; and his mother (played by that refugee from Pedro Almodovar films, Carmen Maura) has asthma attacks while doing aerobics to Hava Nagila (no, I’m not kidding—this is almost worth the price of admission alone) while worrying that her son won’t have a child to continue the Jewish race.  (Oh, did I mention they were Jewish?  If I didn’t, it’s kind of important because one of the themes seems to be that if you looked up Jewish in Roget’s, you’d find drama queen there.). 
Let My People Go! Is really a showcase (would a movie about a DQ have it any other way) for Nicolas Maury, who plays Ruben as if he was to the Adrian gown born, bursting with a petulant flamboyancy because no one will treat him with the respect a true DQ deserves (how can he, with so much competition).  Ruben is the sort of character who usually gets marginalized in films and TV as an accessory (like a Gucci Bag) for the female lead, or the straight gay man’s best friend so that the gay man won’t seem so…gay.  So it’s refreshing to see one take the center stage spotlight he so richly deserves (at least in his own mind).
Though fun, the movie isn’t much more than that.  The farce hits its mark at times, but it never quite reaches the heights of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (which also starred Ms. Maura) or The Birdcage.  But it’s sweet and satisfying and a perfectly good time in the theater.


When providing coverage or script consultation, I am a firm believer in not providing feedback based on a set of rules one gets from a popular book on screenwriting. All coverage should be based on the idea of trying to make a script work on its own terms. I don’t care if a character is active, passive, or reactive, but only if the story works. I don’t care if there is a three act structure and the first act ends on page 30, but only if the story works. I don’t care if the central character has a character arc, but only if the story works. I am a great advocate of writers trying to break the rules and find new ways of communicating their visions.

My charge for script consultation is $150.00 and consists of doing three to four pages of detailed notes, making notes on the script (if a hard copy is provided) and a one hour in person consultation. Turn around time is one week or less.

I also provide four to five pages of notes alone (no notes on script, no in person consultation) for $50.00.

I began doing script consultation in 2003 for the Slamdance Screenplay Competition. That year and for the next three years I discovered the first place winner. I quickly became one of their top readers and my coverage is used as the sample on their web site. In addition, I have read for the Slamdance Teleplay Competition (where I discovered the first place winner the first year) and the Horror Screenplay Competition. Also through Slamdance, I originated and co-produced the Slamdance on Stage reading series in which the winners of the competitions were provided staged readings of their scripts at different legitimate theaters around town.

At the present time, I provide coverage and am a reader for the Slamdance Screenplay Competition and the Big Break Final Draft Screenplay Competition. I have also read for Here! Networks/Regent Entertainment, Creative World Awards, the African Film Commission Screenplay Competition and been a judge for the Great Gay Screenplay Contest.

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David Graham, The Wardrobe

Just got my script notes from Howard Casner Script Consultation back for 101 Ways to Survive the End of the World and they are fantastic! Very helpful without being heartbreaking. If you are looking for professional coverage, I can not recommend him enough! 
Tracee Oles Beebe, 101 Ways to Survive the End of the World
Thanks to Howard’s very helpful notes and rapid turn around, I just optioned my screenplay, 101 Ways to Survive the End of the World! 
Tracee Oles Beebe, 101 Ways to Survive the End of the World
I recently sent a script to Howard for coverage and I had a short deadline. He responded with promptness and professionalism. I received the coverage in three days and he was spot with many of his notes. He provided ideas to improve the script all tidied up in an 8 page report. We also spoke by phone for about an hour. Very responsive. I am currently implementing 3 or 4 of those ideas and hope to submit the script in the next couple of days. I will use and recommend Howard for future coverage. Thanks Howard.
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Byer’s Bog
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In the new animated movie The Rabbi’s Cat (written by Joann Sfar and Sandrina Jardel and directed by Sfar and  Antoine Delesvaux) there’s, well, this cat, you see, and he belongs to, well, this Rabbi, and they live in Algeria in the Casbah before World War II.   And then the cat, the rabbi’s cat, okay?, well, he eats this parrot, see, which doesn’t really seem to upset anybody all that much, but when he does, he, well, he starts talking, and not just talking, but he’s able to speak in just about any language there is.  No, no, stick with me here.  So this rabbi, the one the cat belongs to?, he thinks the cat, now that he can talk and has, well, ideas (you know, like…carbon dating proves the world is millions of years old and not created six thousand years ago in six days and other things banned from textbooks in Texas?), the rabbi is afraid it will be a bad influence on his impressionable teenage daughter so the rabbi prevents the cat from seeing her.  So the cat, who loves his mistress, comes up with the idea of being bar mitzvahed, because then he’d be Jewish, you see, and couldn’t be a bad influence and he’d be able to hang out with the rabbi’s daughter.
Are you with me so far?  Too bad, because even though that sounds like what the story is going to be about, it’s not, since the idea of a bar mitzvahed cat, as promising an idea as that may sound, is soon forgotten and gives way to a travelogue about a Russian Jewish refugee who wants to find a mythical city of black African Jews (I am not making this up, you know).  And so through a series of rather odd plot turns and twists, a group of types join forces and take off for a jaunt across Africa.
The Rabbi’s Cat is lovely to look at with graceful animation of foreign cities, giraffes reaching for leaves with the grace of a ballerina, pink elephants (no, this is not Dumbo and no one was drunk—just, your everyday pink elephant), and a poor donkey who spends most of his time trying to keep up with a car he is tied to (again, you had to be there).
There’s also a lot of talk about religion and which one is the best with the movie coming squarely done on the side of the most tolerant of the characters.  The story itself is a bit rag tag and more than a bit all over the place and it doesn’t really end, but just sort of stops.  I can’t say it was the most exciting animated film I’ve ever seen (it fact, it’s a little too leisurely for my taste), but it’s not chopped liver either.   


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How to Survive a Plague, the new documentary written by David France (who also directed), Todd Woody Richman and Tyler H. Walk, could be described as rounding up the unusual suspects.  Though this history of AIDS activism and ACT UP doesn’t ignore the more well known participants (Vito Russo, Mathilde Krim, and Larry Kramer—who has a terrifyingly, gut wrenching moment when he shouts down a particularly confrontational meeting with one word, “plague”, and upbraids the participants as if they were children), this chronicle celebrates more the “little people”, the ones more behind the scenes and not as well known, like Iris Long, a retired chemist who taught them all how to navigate the Kafkaesque bureaucracy of scientific research; Bob Rafsky, who got into a shouting match with then candidate Bill Clinton and by doing so, turned AIDS into one of the major issues of the 1992 presidential campaign; and Peter Staley, who could leap small buildings in a single bound and hang SILENCE=DEATH banners while leading demonstrations (his other super power was leaving Pat Buchanan speechless and unable to respond to Paley’s logic when it came to the use of condoms—who needs a radioactive spider when you can do that).  And this is to name but a few.  A very few.  A very, very, very few. 
In this way, …Plague is the antithesis of the more recent reverential look at politics summed up in the movie Lincoln.  If the producer and director of …Plague had created that movie (rather than Spielberg/Kushner), the story of abolishing slavery would have focused on people like Frederick Douglas, William Lloyd Garrison and Harriet Beecher Stowe (as the recent three part American Experience on PBS has done).  Whereas Spielberg/Kushner subscribe to the historical theory of the Great Man, …Plague subscribes to the idea that history is driven by the masses, driven by events bigger than any one person can control.
In this way, …Plague falls more into the category of recent films like Argo, Zero Dark Thirty and Les Miserables in which mid-level bureaucrats, unheard of undercover agents and the common man determine the future.  For these movies, history is not driven by Napoleon conquering Europe, but by an army of soldiers backed by a devastating winter that defeats a supposed superman.  Even Django Unchained says that slavery was ultimately ended by a movement rather than by Congressional fiat.
Whether you agree with me or not, …Plague is a devastating documentary about a devastating period in world history that to this day has not been fully resolved.  It’s moving, painful, emotionally overwhelming at times.  It’s also filmed with the attitude of ironic nostalgia.  The survivors look back at that period in anger and horror.  But they also look back at it as a time when they were really alive, never more so that when they were facing imminent death (existentialism is alive and well and living in the U.S.).  With the discovery in the 1990’s of combination therapy, they had won their victory.  But there was a slight touch of pyrrhic about it.   Today, touched by survivor’s guilt, they continue their lives, wondering if anything in their lives could ever provide as much meaning as that time did. 


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Rust and Bone is a meet cute story about a double amputee who has a romance with a mixed martial arts fighter and they change each other (I know, I know, it sounds like a logline for a high concept film that any devotee of Save the Cat would be salivating over—but believe me, it’s far too original and fresh to be mentioned in the same sentence as that book, which I guess I’ve already done—shoot). 
I suppose one might describe it as the distaff version of The Intouchables, the movie about the privileged white quadriplegic who hires a minority to help him and they change each other.  But perhaps it would be better to compare it to The Sessions, the comedy about the guy in the iron lung who wants to lose his virginity so he hires a sex surrogate and they change each other (are you sensing a leit motif here?).  That might be a slightly better fit because, whereas The Intouchables is safe, cuddly and as formulaic as a teddy bear (and proved that the French are just as able to create middle brow entertainment as the Americans–The Help, anyone?), The Sessions uses its edgy and dark humor to hide a bitterness and anger at the way God has set up the world which, believe me, is much closer to the style and attitude of Rust and Bone.
Rust and Bone is written by Jacques Audiard (who also directed) and Thomas Bidegain (Craig Davidson wrote the story).  Both are rising stars in France.  Audiard is also known for The Beat that My Heart Skipped (the far superior remake of James Toback’s Fingers) and The Prophet (about the rise of a young Arab man from fresh prison meat to the head of organized crime—a remarkable film also co-written by Bidegain).   Bidegain most recently co-wrote the movie Our Children which has the same actors as in A Prophet.
The leads in Rust and Bone are Stephanie, played by Marion (La Vie en Rose) Cotillard, as a trainer at an aquarium who loses her legs after a platform collapses and sends her into a tank of killer whales, and  Alain, Matthais (Bullhead) Schoenarts, as the fighter who tends to work on instinct without fully understanding how his actions affect other people (so animal instinct is he, that when Cotillard mentions that she is not sure she is able to be sexually responsive, Schoenarts casually asks if she wants to “fuck” to see; he’s not being flirtatious, he’s not being coy; he’s flat out asking in as practical and everyday manner as one could; I suppose one should be repulsed, but instead, one is more often won over by his attitude than not).   Cotillard brings those Bette Davis/Jeanne Moreau eyes of hers to the proceedings and one can’t help but melt when you see them.  Schoenarts brings the same bullheadness he brought to Bullhead.  They have a quite palpable chemistry between them.    Whatever else you may think of the film, you can’t deny the intensity of their scenes together. 
The, it  has to be admitted, somewhat manipulative plot is one of those that tends to constantly change directions and take off on odd forks in the road, yet is never unbelievable or dramatically unsatisfying.  It makes sense in all its chutes and ladders configurations.  The story is basically a converging of two popular fairy tales.  On one hand, we have Beauty and the Beast with Stephanie as the beauty who tames Alain’s beast and helps him realize that he can care for others and doesn’t have to act on his bestial nature.  The other is The Little Mermaid in which a woman gains her legs because of her love for a prince.  I’m not sure that either one of them have quite been told the way they have here, but in the end, the story reaches an emotional depth that’s not easy to shake off.
What Audiard and Bidegain do here is bring a beauty to all the ugliness that is taking place.  No matter how unpleasant the world of Stephanie and Alain gets, the filmmakers reveal that underneath it all there’s something more going on.  This is a story about two people who have had awful things happen to them or even do awful things, but both have souls that defy the situation.  This is a world that is a challenge to exist in, that is not often sympathetic to those who live in it, yet people can come together and create something more from it.  It’s not always an easy film to watch, but it is a moving and rewarding one.


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2012 was not, for me, one of the better years for movies.  In fact, until Beasts of the Southern Wild came along, I was bemoaning, for the first time ever, whether I would be able to come up with a satisfactory list for movies of the year.  But things did start improving in the late summer until my fears started to abate a bit.
For my reviews on the following, please check out my blog at http://howardcasner.blogspot.com/
At any rate:
Beasts of the Southern Wild
The remainder in alphabetical order:
Django Unchained
Holy Motors
Les Miserables
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Raid: The Redemption
The Road
Rust and Bone
Seven Psychopaths
Honorable mention:   First a special shout out for the best romantic comedy of the year Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same.  But also, I also enjoyed Dark Horse, Compliance, Bernie and The Innkeepers.
Michael Hanake – Amour
Remainder in alphabetical order:
Jacques Audiard – Rust and Bone
Leos Carax – Holy Motors
Gareth Evans – Raid: The Redemption
Quentin Tarantino – Django Unchained
Benh Zeitlin – Beasts of the Southern Wild
Honorable mention: Tom Hooper for Les Miserables; Sam Mendes for Skyfall; Martin McDonagh for Seven Psychopaths
Denis Levant – Holy Motors
Remainder in alphabetical order:
John Hawkes – The Sessions
Mads Mikkelsen –  The Hunt and A Royal Affair
Matthias Schoenaerts – Rust and Bone
Jean-Louis Trintignant – Amour
Christoph Waltz – Django Unchained
Honorable mention:  First, a note: I realize that Daniel Day-Lewis isn’t on the list.  I thought he did an excellent job as Lincoln, but I just didn’t find his performance and the movie that exciting, so I have him in honorable mention.  I also include here; Sam  Rockwell for Seven Psychopaths; Anthony Hopkins for Hitchcock; Francois Cluzet and Omar Sy for The Intouchables; Hugh Jackman for Les Miserables; Joaquin Phoenix for The Master; Toby Jones for Berberian Sound Studio.
Rachel Weisz – The Deep Blue Sea
Remainder in alphabetical order:
Marion Cottillard – Rust and Bone
Jennifer Lawrence – Silver Linings Playbook
Helen Mirren – Hitchcock
Emmanuelle Riva – Amour
Quvenzhane Wallis – Beasts of the Southern Wild
Honorable mention: Nina Hoss for Barbara
Alan Arkin – Argo
Remainder in alphabetical order:
Roberto Benigni – To Rome With Love
Dwight Henry – Beasts of the Southern Wild
Leonardo DiCaprio – Django Unchained
Ezra Miller – The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Tommy Lee Jones – Lincoln
Honorable mention:  Robert de Niro for Silver Linings Playbook; Javier Bardem for Skyfall; Richard Jenkins for Cabin in the Wood; Jason Clarke for Zero Dark Thirty.
Ann Dowd – Compliance
Remainder in alphabetical order:
Jeannie Berlin – Margaret
Pauline Collins – Quartet
Anne Hathaway – Les Miserables
Edith Scob – Holy Motors
Maggie Smith – The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel/Quartet
Honorable mention: Helen Hunt for The Sessions; Nicole Kidman for The Paperboy; Jacki Weaver for Silver Linings Playbook; Isabelle Huppert for Amour; Shirley McClaine for Bernie
Martin McDonagh – Seven Psychopaths
Remainder in alphabetical order:
Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlin – Beasts of the Southern Wild’
Jacques Audiard and Thomas Bidegain – Rust and Bone
Leos Carax – Holy Motors
Stephen Chbosky – The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Michael Haneke – Amour
Honorable mention: Madeleine Olnek for Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same; Todd Solondz for Dark Horse; Skip Hollandsworth and Richard Linklater for Bernie 
Finally, I always do a set of awards for ensemble:
Seven Psychopaths
Remainder in alphabetic order:
Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
The Perks of Being a Wall Flower

Predictions for 2012 Oscar nominations

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These are now my predictions for the Oscar nominations in the top eight categories.  The problem at this point is no longer what is going to be nominated, but what is not going to be nominated.  Most of the nominations in each category are obvious.  It’s those last couple that are the most painful to decide because to put one in, means you have to take one out.
Best Picture
I’m going to go for nine:
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Django Unchained
Les Miserables
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty
I believe The Master is going to be almost totally out of consideration in almost every category.  Amour will quite possibly not be nominated here because all the voters will assume not just that it will be nominated for Best Foreign Language Film, but will win.  Moonrise Kingdom still has a possibility, but I just don’t think it’s going to make it.  Life of Pi I could never get a confident handle on and have finally decided to take it off and replace it with Skyfall which seems to have some last minute surge.  I also still suspect that Best Exotic Marigold Hotel may make it.
Best Director
This often goes hand in hand with the pictures, but I am going to go out on a limb here for one nomination:
Ben Affleck – Argo
Katherine Bigelow – Zero Dark Thirty
Michael Haneke – Amour
Tom Hooper – Les Miserables
Steven Spielberg – Lincoln
I think Haneke could get in without a picture nomination because of the reasons he won’t get a picture nomination.  Sorry Tarantino and Russell, but not everyone can make it.
Best Actor
Bradley Cooper – Silver Linings Playbook
Daniel Day Lewis – Lincoln
John Hawkes – The Sessions
Hugh Jackman – Les Miserables
Denzel Washington – Flight
I think River Phoenix will be left out because The Master just never caught on with the voters.  Cooper is in because of the support for the movie and because the Weinsteins are behind him. 
Best Actress
Jessica Chastain – Zero Dark Theory
Marion Cotillard – Ruse & Bone
Jennifer Lawrence – Silver Linings Playbook
Emmanuelle Riva – Amour
Quvenzhane Wallis – Beasts of the Southern Wild
Right now, I think only Naomi Watts can push someone out, but I don’t know if that would be Cotillard, Wallis or Riva.  But the question is, did The Impossible get to the voters too late and was Watt’s performance so overwhelming that she can get in.
Best Supporting Actor
Alan Arkin – Argo
Robert de Niro – Silver Linings Playbook
Leonardo DiCaprio – Django Unchained
Tommy Lee Jones – Lincoln
Matthew McConaughey – Magic Mike
The big wild card here is Philip Seymour Hoffman for The Master.  But who will he get rid of ?  McConaughey or DiCaprio?
Best Supporting Actress
Ann Dowd – Compliance
Sally Field – Lincoln
Anne Hathaway – Les Miserables
Helen Hunt – The Sessions
Maggie Smith – The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Amy Adams and Jacki Weaver are the wild cards here, but I think Ann Dowd is gong to get in (or maybe that’s just so much wish fulfillment on my part)
Best Original Screenplay
Mark Boal – Zero Dark Thirty
Michael Hanake – Amour
Rian Johnson – Looper
Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano – The Intouchables
Quentin Tarantino – Django Unchained
The wild cards here are Seven Psychopaths and Rust and  Bone, but I’ve heard whispers of The Intouchables and Looper getting in.  I hope that Seven Psychopaths gets in. 
Best Adapted Screenplay

Tony Kushner – Lincoln
Ol Parker – Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
David O. Russell – Silver Linings Playbook
Chris Terrio – Argo
Benh Zeitlein and Lucy Alibar – Beasts of the Southern Wild
I’m going out on a limb for Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, but could see Les Miserables getting in and if not, then Perks of Being a Wild Flower, Life of Pi and The Sessions.

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So that’s it.  We’ll find out Thursday morning how many I got right.