Flashback: My 1997 interview with Leon Gast, director of the Muhammad Ali documentary When We Were Kings

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Boxing legend Muhammad Ali passed away Friday at the age of 74. I never met him, but nearly two decades ago I did a phone interview with Leon Gast, the director of the Oscar-winning documentary When We Were Kings, which covered the legendary ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ when Ali fought George Foreman in Zaire in 1974.

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Watch: Trailers for the Oscar-nominated short films, which are coming to theatres January 29

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One of the best things about the Academy Awards is the way they can shine a light on films and filmmakers who would otherwise not get much attention.

Case in point: the short film awards.

Every year, the Academy nominates five animated shorts, five live-action shorts, and five documentary shorts — and every year, the ShortsHD cable channel packages them together and sends these programs to theatres around the world, thereby allowing moviegoers everywhere to catch up on these otherwise obscure categories.

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Oscar winners slipping at the box office — 2015

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Click for previous posts: 2005 | 2006 | 2007 | 2008 | 2009 | 2012 | 2013 | 2014

2005 marked the first time since 1996 that the Best Picture winner did not gross at least $100 million, the first time since 1985 that not one of the Best Picture nominees grossed at least $100 million, and the first time in living memory that the Oscar did not go to one of the Top 25 films in North America. In fact, the winner that year — Crash — grossed a mere $54.6 million and ranked way, way down at #49.

Ever since then, the Oscar for Best Picture has tended to alternate between relatively big hits and somewhat smaller box-office performers — until last year, when the award was given to a smaller film for the second year in a row. Is that the new normal now? Will the award go to another small film this year? Or could it mean that the Academy is even more likely to snap back and go for a big film this year?

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Oscar nominations — my own two bits, and a complete list

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Alejandro G. Iñárritu beat the odds last year when Birdman became the first film to win Best Picture without at least being nominated for its film editing since 1980’s Ordinary People. Now, with 12 nominations for The Revenant — the most of any film released last year — Iñárritu may be poised to do something similarly rare, by becoming the first director to win back-to-back awards for his directing since Joseph L. Mankiewicz won for 1949’s A Letter to Three Wives and 1950’s All About Eve.

Then again, maybe not.

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A short list of things that the Star Wars and Rocky (now Creed) franchises have in common

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It has been almost 40 years since the original Rocky and Star Wars movies came out. Each franchise has seen a number of ups and downs since then. And now, over the next three and a half weeks, each series will release a new installment that sees one generation pass its legacy on to another. And the parallels don’t stop there…

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Watch: Two new films take a look at the origins of Islam

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There are plenty of movies that depict the origins of Judaism and Christianity. But there are also a few movies that touch on the origins of Islam. One such film is playing in Iran right now, and another will premiere in Qatar a few weeks from now.

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