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Writers Guild Awards honor 'Perks' and 'Looper' among surprises

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The tricky thing about the Writers Guild Awards is that some of the major contenders for the Oscar aren’t eligible.

So the absence of Django Unchained and Amour in the original screenplay category has more to do with the work not being covered by the guild than an actual snub of the writing. The same goes for the adapted screenplays Les Miserables and Beasts of the Southern Wild.

Still, the work nominated today by the writers union could each still be major Oscar players. READ FULL STORY

'Looper' Blu-ray/DVD: Old Joe confronts Suzie in deleted scene -- EXCLUSIVE VIDEO

The time travel thriller Looper arrives on DVD, Blu-ray, and digital copy on Dec. 31, New Year’s Eve, and it includes several never-before-seen deleted scenes from the complex mind-bender, directed by Rian Johnson (Brick). In the exclusive clip below, check out one of those scenes, showing Bruce Willis (“Old Joe”) confronting Suzie (Piper Perabo). The scene is interspliced with the scene from the film where Sara (Emily Blunt) is being held hostage by Jesse (Garret Dillahunt), while Young Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) tries to negotiate with him.

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CONSIDER THIS: Jason Reitman on the original sceenplay of 'Looper'

prize_fighter1_bannerWith Academy Awards voting underway, EW’s Prize Fighter is kicking off the “Consider This” series, asking folks with Oscar histories of their own to share their personal favorites of the year. Jason Reitman, who had a best director nomination for Juno and was a writing, directing and best picture contender for Up in the Air, offered these thoughts about filmmaker Rian Johnson’s screenplay for the time-travel drama Looper, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the younger version of Bruce Willis’ hitman, now forced to target his older self.

Here’s a fun fact… you know what Alien, Blade Runner, Close Encounters and The Matrix have in common? I mean, outside of being timeless groundbreaking movies that changed the way we watch cinema. None of these films were acknowledged for their screenplays — which makes me wonder, is it just because they have flying cars and hyperbaric sleep chambers and creatures with acid in their blood? Perhaps we’re so thoroughly engrossed that we dismiss how these films triumph in their examination of complicated ideas. Or maybe, as writers, we have some sort of prejudice against futuristic costume and production design. READ FULL STORY

Best of 2012: The breakout kids

Image Credit: Murray Close

From a human-vampire hybrid to a pair of precocious love birds, these kids stole the show in some of this year’s biggest flicks. The peewee actors mirrored their strong-willed characters’ strengths, stirring Oscar buzz for several of their roles in 2012.

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Best of 2012 (Behind the Scenes): The inside story behind Emily Blunt's [SPOILER] in 'Looper'

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD! When writer-director Rian Johnson and actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt first unveiled Looper at WonderCon last March, the filmmaker and his cast carefully and pointedly kept a major feature of the time-warping sci-fi thriller under wraps. But now that audiences have had a chance to see Looper for themselves (click here for EW’s B+ review), many of the film’s key players are finally willing to talk about this top secret element for the first time — and using words like “spooky,” “brilliant,” and “extraordinary” to do it. Here, in a piece originally published right after the film hit theaters, is that reveal.

For more stories behind this year’s top TV and movie moments, click here for EW.com’s Best of 2012: Behind the Scenes coverage.
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Q&A: Paul Dano on tight pants, and playing a deadbeat rocker dad in 'For Ellen'

With his broad, serious face and lanky body, Paul Dano has always played the kinds of finely tuned characters that pop out for their intensity, from a black-haired, mostly silent 16-year-old in 2006’s Little Miss Sunshine to a screaming evangelical preacher, and his twin brother, in 2007’s There Will Be Blood. He’s also proved himself to be neurotically funny, as he was in this year’s romantic comedy Ruby Sparks.

But 28-year-old Dano has rarely played a dad on film (he adopts a baby in 2008’s Gigantic), much less the deadbeat rocker dad starring role he takes on in the Tribeca Film indie For Ellen, out now on VOD and in theaters in Los Angeles, Florida and Chicago on Friday, on top of already being in New York.

As scraggly hipster musician Joby Taylor, complete with chin scruff, long hair, snug-fitting pants, chipped black nail polish and fake tattoos, he deals with a looming divorce, and whether he’ll lose all custody of his estranged 6-year-old daughter Ellen, played by cutely somber newcomer Shaylena Mandigo. Dano and Mandigo play off of each other with the realistic awkwardness of a parent and child who don’t know each other. For inspiration, Dano read books about such hard-partying bands as Motley Crue. The film’s writer-director So Yong Kim, known for her female-centric South Korean language movies Treeless Mountain and In Between Days, based For Ellen on her own back story. Her parents divorced when she was a kid, and her father disappeared.

A trouper over the phone, talking to EW.com while sick with a fever, Dano delved into the surprising glory of wearing tight pants, how he hates shopping, the joys of working with a child actor and going deep into a part “so unlike me,” his part as a futuristic assassin in Looper, and other films on the horizon.

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Box office report: 'Taken 2' scores explosive $50 million debut; 'Frankenweenie' (un)dead on arrival

Liam Neeson has had an indisputably amazing year.

Though the quality of the actor’s movies remains up for debate (We’re looking at you, Battleship. Well, you too, Wrath of the Titans. Oh gosh, The Grey as well. And, as much as I hate to say it, perhaps even The Dark Knight Rises… don’t stone me!), the fact that 60-year-old Neeson is at the peak of his career, recognized as an almost mythic Chuck Norris-esque figure and opening a new action tentpole every couple of months, is nothing short of remarkable.

And now Neeson has another chart-topper to add to his already impressive resume: Taken 2, which debuted to an astounding $50 million from 3,661 theaters this weekend, good for a sizzling $13,657 per theater average. Taken 2‘s debut is the third-best ever in the month of October, behind 2011’s Paranormal Activity 3, which started with $52.6 million, and 2010’s Jackass 3D, which started with $50.4 million.

The revenge sequel also earned more than twice as much as the original Taken did in its opening weekend — that film surprised Hollywood when it bowed with $24.7 million in 2009, and it also served as the catalyst for Neeson’s career jumpstart. Thanks to great word-of-mouth, Taken chugged all the way to $145 million total.

Time will tell whether Taken 2 can match its predecessor’s gross, but that may prove challenging.

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Box office update: 'Taken 2' takes in $18.6 million on Friday; 'Frankenweenie' lacks bite

At age 60, Liam Neeson has become the most impressive action star in Hollywood. The grizzled actor’s revenge sequel Taken 2 topped the box office in a major way on Friday, earning an estimated $18.6 million; that puts the film on pace for a weekend in the $45-50 million range — far above the original Taken‘s $24.7 million bow. Fox execs should be celebrating that audiences flocked to Taken 2 despite its terrible reviews. READ FULL STORY

Box office preview: Audiences will be taken with 'Taken 2'

Liam Neeson has a very particular set of skills as a movie star, and one of them is selling tickets at the box office.

The actor’s revenge sequel Taken 2 is expected to easily top the chart over the next three days — and the thriller is hardly the only player this weekend. Tim Burton’s animated effort Frankenweenie will take on the monster hit Hotel Transylvania, which opened in first place last weekend, and the a cappella comedy Pitch Perfect will expand to a whopping 2,770 theaters.

All in all, it’s a diverse weekend that gives moviegoers viable options across an array of genres, and it should yield solid grosses. Here’s how the whole frame might play out:

1. Taken 2 – $44 million

Fox could never have known the instant cult status that the original Taken would garner when it was released in 2009. The revenge thriller revived Liam Neeson’s career, galvanizing him as a sort of grizzly, wizened Chuck Norris. The $20 million film opened to a strong $24.7 million, but thanks to amazing word of mouth and sheer curiosity at the relentless over-the-top badassery, the film chugged all the way to $145 million.

Taken 2 will start off much faster, though with reviews as bad as the ones it has been earning, it may not have the same legs as its predecessor. Still, between Neeson’s gigantic appeal (he helped The Grey earn $51.6 million earlier this year, and that film was sold on nothing but his drawing power) and Taken‘s fondly regarded reputation,Taken 2 is set to muscle its way to number one. A rep at Fox says the studio shelled out $42 million for the sequel and will release it in 3,661 theaters. Fox should earn all of that money back this weekend, as Taken 2 seems headed for a $44 million bow.

2. Hotel Transylvania – $24 million

Last weekend’s chart-topper may drop by about 40 to 45 percent (somewhat high for a family film) due to the direct competition from Frankenweenie. Still, a $24 million weekend would give Hotel a robust $74 million total after ten days.

3. Frankenweenie – $17 million

As evidenced by the Dracula-centered Hotel Transylvania, theaters are playing host to an inordinate number of creepy kiddie flicks of late. ParaNorman entered theaters in August, followed by Hotel last week, and now Frankenweenie, about a young boy’s attempt to resurrect his dearly departed pooch, is entering the fray.

Disney’s $39 million Tim Burton-directed film doesn’t have the same kind of broad appeal as Hotel Transylvania, and its stop-motion animation style turns off many moviegoers (see: The Pirates! Band of Misfits). Yet Frankenweenie‘s proximity to Halloween lifts its prospects, as does Burton’s name appeal. With strong reviews but a creepier style, it seems likely that Frankenweenie will play to more adults than a typical family film, much in the same way that Coraline (which opened to $16.8 million) did in 2009. Disney is releasing the film into a big 3,005 theaters, but it may have to settle for a $17 million weekend.

4. Pitch Perfect – $16.5 million

Universal’s $17 million a cappella comedy broke out last weekend, earning $5.1 million from just 335 theaters. Now, it’s strutting its way into 2,770 locations. Thanks to a full week of buzz — including a straight “A” CinemaScore grade — Pitch Perfect should have another terrific frame, especially with its core demographic of females under 25, who may not be all that interested in seeing Taken 2. Give Pitch Perfect about $16.5 million for the Friday-to-Sunday period.

5. Looper – $13 million

Liam Neeson will take away some of the audience for Looper, but strong reviews and positive word-of-mouth will keep the thriller a contender. A decline just under 40 percent would give the Bruce Willis/Joseph Gordon-Levitt vehicle about $13 million for the weekend and $41 million total.

Check back all weekend for full box office coverage, and follow me on Twitter for up-to-the-minute box office updates.

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Box office preview: ‘Looper’ and ‘Hotel Transylvania’ check in to theaters
EW Movie Reviews

'Looper': The inside story behind Emily Blunt's [SPOILER] -- EXCLUSIVE PHOTO

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD! Since writer-director Rian Johnson and actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt first unveiled Looper at WonderCon last March, the filmmaker and his cast have carefully and pointedly kept a major feature of the time-warping sci-fi thriller under wraps. But now that audiences have had a chance to see Looper for themselves this weekend (click here for EW’s B+ review), many of the film’s key players are finally willing to talk about this top secret element for the first time — and using words like “spooky,” “brilliant,” and “extraordinary” to do it.

First, though, some quick backstory. The movie’s main character, Joe (Gordon-Levitt), is part of a class of mob assassins called Loopers, who kill victims sent back from the future — until one day they kill their future self, and “close their loop.” The film’s cast and director have spoken at length about the tricky make-up process Gordon-Levitt underwent to look more like the actor playing his future self, Bruce Willis. And they’ve given a detailed look at the process of making the movie — click here for Johnson’s exclusive tour of his stunning behind-the-scenes photographs from the film’s Lousiana-based production.

But when it comes to Emily Blunt’s character Sara, the cast and director have stayed silent. Up until now, the most anyone, including Blunt, has been willing to say about the her character is that Joe’s dogged pursuit of Older Joe brings them in contact with Sara, a single mother living on a remote Kansas farm. So why has everyone been so reluctant to say anything more about Sara or her place in the film’s story? (Obviously, if you haven’t seen Looper yet, MAJOR SPOILERS FOLLOW. If you plan on seeing the film, do yourself a favor and stop reading now until you have.) READ FULL STORY

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