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Birdman

One of the best times you'll have at the movies this year, and possibly the year's best film overall.

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Rudderless

If this directorial outing was in any sense an audition for the talented Mr. Macy, he should be congratulated on passing it.

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Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

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Monsieur Hire

Patrice Leconte's "Monsieur Hire" is a tragedy about loneliness and erotomania, told about two solitary people who have nothing else in common. It involves a…

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Outguess Ebert winner: A flawless performance

Alex Kazhinsky of Lincolnwood is this year's Grand Prize winner in the annual Outguess Ebert contest — and tells me, "It's a big thrill to win your contest after playing it for so many years!"

Kazhinsky had a perfect score across all the categories. "For many years," he says, "I have worked as an actor in Chicago's entertainment industry. I've had speaking roles in independent films, web series, and commercials. Some of my most notable roles are the following:

• A corrupt Chicago Alderman named Cunningham in the web series "DaWiseguys."

•Uncle Steve in the short film "When I Was An Elephant," which won the award for Best Branded Film at the 2011 Chicago International Film Festival.

• Russian crime boss in the short film "The Moment."

"Because I'm an actor," he says, "the only thing I'll say about my age is that I'm in my 30s."

He's been playing the contest since the 1992 Oscars, for the year 1991: "That was the year in which "The Silence of the Lambs" won five Oscars, including Best Picture. "Very few people saw that coming. I think I scored only 2 or 3 out of 9 in your contest that year."

"Back in the year 2000 (for the film year 1999), I got 9 out of 9 in your contest. For the tie-breaker question, I said that 'American Beauty' would win the most Oscars, with 6. It won 5. So, I came very close to getting a perfect score. And I would've gotten a perfect score last year if Viola Davis had beaten Meryl Streep in the Best Actress category."

I asked, "If you were awarding the Oscars, who would win for best actress?" His reply suggests a certain degree of sheer blind luck: "Unfortunately, I haven't actually seen any of the films nominated in any of the 24 categories, except for the Bond film "Skyfall." So, I can't really say which performance, film, or directorial effort I prefer over another.

"However, I was cheering for Jennifer Lawrence to win, not just because I picked her for your contest, but also because of her beauty, charm, and great personality. I saw her in 'The Hunger Games' and in 'House at the End of the Street,' and she was fantastic in both films. She certainly brings out the charm in her interviews."

His advice (which apparently doesn't involve seeing the films, but never mind, lots of people haven't seen the all): "Perform research. This is true whether you have seen the nominated films or not. In recent years, I have visited various websites where the Oscars were discussed. Some websites listed odds for various categories. Other websites kept people up to speed on all of the precursor awards. I also followed online message boards where people analyzed everything ad infinitum.

"This year, there were a LOT of hard categories. Perhaps the hardest were Adapted Screenplay and Best Actress. For Adapted Screenplay, 'Lincoln' was the first front-runner. Then David O. Russell won the BAFTA. Because of the BAFTA (British) Award and Russell's immense popularity with the actors branch of the Academy (the largest branch), Russell seemingly became the new front-runner. Then, 'Argo' won the WGA precursor award, and therefoe became the front-runner.

"In the Best Actress category, Jennifer Lawrence seemed to be a lock to win, until Emmenuelle Riva won the BAFTA. Then it became neck-and-neck between Lawrence and Riva."

I recent years, Kazhinsky said, "I've watched movies primarily in two theaters: the AMC Showplace Village Crossing 18, at the Village Crossing shopping mall in Skokie, and the Century Evanston 12 in Evanston. When I was a kid, I would watch movies at the Lincoln Village Theater and at the Plaza Theatre, both in Chicago."

"There's a theory that in contests like the Illinois State Lottery, it increases your chances if you buy a ticket at a store that sells lots of winning tickets. Whether that works he is doubtful, because a degree of skill is at least presumably required."

His five favorite films, the ones that excite him the most, are these (in no order): 1) "Star Wars --Episode IV: A New Hope"; 2) "Die Hard 2"; 3) "A View to a Kill" ("Roger Moore is my favorite Bond. Plus, the film has action sequences at the North Pole, the Eiffel Tower, the streets of Paris, and the Golden Gate Bridge, and great music from Duran Duran"; 4) "Speed"; and 5) "Saturday Night Fever."

Kazhinsky's Gtrand Prize includes a round trip for two from Delta Vacations, and hotel and accomodations to the World Premiere of Marvel's "Iron Man 3," starring Robert Downey, Jr. He'll also win a Marvel gift package. And I'm throwing in an autographed copy of my new "Roger Ebert's Movie Yearbook 2013," which includes my reviews of more than 800 new films, so he can get an early start on the 2014 Outguess concert.

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