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The dirty tricks of Oscar campaigns, and what to expect at the 2018 Academy Awards

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Q: What are this year’s whisper campaigns?

Belloni: For instance, this year it was that “Three Billboards” is racist, or that “Shape of Water” was stolen from a playwright or it was that Gary Oldman is anti-Semitic. [Oldman apologized in 2014 for a remark to Playboy.] These are the political tactics that people use, and in the past there’s evidence these whisper campaigns have been successful.

You look all the way to “Zero Dark Thirty,” there was a whisper campaign about its authenticity, things that were not accurate in the film, or “Slumdog Millionaire,” that the kids were mistreated. There was an allegation that the real-life subject of “A Beautiful Mind” was anti-Semitic. Everyone thought Harvey [Weinstein] was behind that.

Harvey was the ultimate campaigner and the ultimate negative campaigner, and he taught a lot of people who are now doing this professionally.

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Q: Has the Oscar race been different without him?

Belloni: I think so. There is something missing. He would say, “I’d love for you to meet so-and-so. I’d love for you to meet the little kid from ‘Lion.’ ” There were always these press releases that would come out from Harvey, that the City of Los Angeles has declared today “The Artist” day, like a fake film festival that would only give awards to Harvey Weinstein.

Q: He really dominated the campaigning?

Belloni: In recent years it was more reserved, and now all the other campaigns are just as sophisticated. Everyone has caught up, and you see the stunts and all the things Harvey popularized.

Q: Why is the best picture a wide-open race this year?

Belloni: There are two things at work. There is no one film that the academy has coalesced around. Typically people talk and the momentum gets behind one or two movies, and it becomes a showdown. This year, because there isn’t that one movie that everyone loves, or the increasing diversification of the academy, there are five movies that legitimately could win best picture and each have their backers: “Shape of Water,” “Get Out,” “Lady Bird,” “Dunkirk” and “Three Billboards.”

 Frances McDormand wins best actress in a drama for “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” at the 75th Golden Globe Awards in Beverly Hills on Jan. 7. Paul Drinkwater / NBCUniversal

Q: Are any of those best pictures in your mind?

Belloni: I’m not a critic, and I reserve my personal opinions for my wife and occasionally I’ll tweet about a movie I really liked. I do know talking to academy voters that the favorite is “Shape of Water,” but I would absolutely not be surprised if “Get Out” wins. I feel like there was a late push, and people think it’s the most important movie of the year.

Q: Do you think it’s appropriate, whether on the red carpet or during the ceremony, to address politics?

Belloni: I understand why people don’t like it, but I also understand why people who feel strongly about their beliefs would use a powerful platform to get their message across. The Oscars is the biggest platform of the year. There is a history of the entertainment industry leading on certain social issues.

There is a balance. Plus, in a way, it makes it interesting, bigger than just some statues for movies. Oprah’s speech at the Golden Globes influenced what everybody in America was talking about. That was a powerful speech. She knew exactly what she was doing.

 Jordan Peele made his directorial debut with the psychological thriller “Get Out.” Justin Lubin / Universal Pictures

Q: What will the Oscar producers do differently this year?

Belloni: It’s the same team as last year, but they just have this gigantic elephant in the room that they have to address. The Golden Globes really leaned in.

Q: Can we talk about the different movements and whether the academy’s new, broader membership has affected the movies that get picked? Is Hollywood becoming less white male and more diverse?

Belloni: It is still overwhelmingly male and overwhelmingly white. However, over the past three years the number of people who have been invited to the academy has dramatically increased. The academy has made a significant push to diversify not just by gender but by race and nationality. There are more foreign members as well.

So consequently, with the electorate changing, the nominees are going to change. I strongly believe that five years ago, if it was the same choice between “Moonlight” and “La La Land” that “La La Land” would have won. The diversification and the age of the audience coming down, they’re more open in my view to nontraditional Oscar best pictures. That is why I think “Get Out” has a shot.

Q: Why don’t the movies I see at the multiplex ever get nominated?

Belloni: The academy increased the number of best pictures from five to as many as 10. The thinking was this will allow the bigger, more popular and populist movies to get a best-picture nomination. In reality, it’s been more of the same. It’s allowed more of these smaller art house movies that the academy members love, but the public doesn’t, to get in.

 Gal Gadot arrives at the premiere of “Wonder Woman” at the Pantages Theater on May 25 in Hollywood. Frazer Harrison / Getty Images

The argument on the other side is “Wonder Woman” doesn’t need the Oscars to get people to know it’s a good movie, but “Shape of Water,” and “Three Billboards” and “Darkest Hour,” those are the kind of movies people aren’t going to discover unless they get awards attention. And all of those movies have passed $100 million in box office, so people are seeing those movies and they’re seeing them because they’re in the awards competition.

I have mixed feelings about that. I would like to see movies like “Wonder Woman” and “Black Panther,” really well-executed mainstream entertainment, I’d love to see them get into the Oscar race, but I understand why the academy thinks the way they do.

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Joe Biden-Vladimir Putin summit: Leaders agree to return ambassadors to posts in bid to lower tensions | World News

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Russia’s Vladimir Putin says he and US President Joe Biden have agreed to return their ambassadors to their respective posts in an attempt to lower tensions.

It comes after around four hours of talks between the leaders at a summit in Switzerland.

The two men have had face-to-face discussions at a villa on the shores of Lake Geneva.

The first round of talks involved both leaders, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and a pair of translators.

A second session involved other senior officials on both sides.

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Putin and Biden meet in Geneva

President Biden gave a thumbs up as he left the villa and then entered his limousine, TV footage showed.

Diplomats deemed it to be too risky for them to appear together because of the potential of an embarrassing public spat in response to media questions.

Opening the talks earlier, Mr Putin said he hoped for a “productive” meeting, while Mr Biden called it a discussion between “two great powers” and insisted “it is always better to meet face to face”.

As they appeared together for the first time since 2011, both men appeared to avoid looking directly at the other during a brief and chaotic photocall before jostling reporters and photographers.

Mr Biden instigated the summit, and for months the two leaders have criticised each other.

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Biden: Putin is a worthy adversary

Mr Biden has repeatedly called out Mr Putin for malicious cyberattacks by Russian-based hackers on US interests, a disregard for democracy with the jailing of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny and alleged interference in American elections.

Mr Putin, in turn, has pointed to the US Capitol riot on 6 January to argue America has no business lecturing on democratic norms.

And he insisted the Russian government has not been involved in any election interference or cyberattacks despite US intelligence showing otherwise.

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Russia’s View: Exclusive interview with Putin

The jailing of Mr Navalny, whose novichok poisoning was blamed on the Kremlin, was a subject on which Mr Biden was unlikely to get much traction with Mr Putin who considers the case an internal Russian affair.

But there were areas where cooperation was expected. They include arms control, climate change, containing Iran’s nuclear ambitions, humanitarian assistance to Syrians and working together on the COVID-19 pandemic.

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US-Russia summit: Putin hopes for ‘productive’ meeting and Biden says it is ‘better to meet face to face’ as event gets under way | World News

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US President Joe Biden and Russia’s Vladimir Putin have embarked on hours of face-to-face talks at a lakeside mansion in Switzerland.

Opening the talks, Mr Putin said he hoped for a “productive” meeting, as Mr Biden insisted “it is always better to meet face to face”.

Their encounter at a villa on the shores of Lake Geneva is full of the potential for high drama but low on expectations for diplomatic breakthroughs.

Biden and Putin
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Biden and Putin

As they appeared together for the first time since 2011, both men appeared to avoid looking directly at the other during a brief and chaotic photocall before jostling reporters and photographers.

When a reporter asked if Mr Putin could be trusted, Mr Biden appeared to nod, but the White House quickly sent out a tweet insisting the president was “very clearly not responding to any one question, but nodding in acknowledgment to the press generally”.

Mr Putin ignored shouted questions from reporters.

The two leaders shook hands with Mr Biden extending his hand first.

Shortly before, Mr Biden had smiled at the Russian leader when they posed with Swiss President Guy Parmelin, who welcomed them to Switzerland for the summit.

The meeting, which is expected to last four or five hours in total, comes at the end of Mr Biden’s first foreign trip as US president which has taken him to Cornwall for the G7 meeting and Brussels for separate NATO and EU summits.

About two hours in, the Kremlin announced that the first round of talks had concluded, with a short break, followed by their resumption with a larger group of people in attendance – the first of two such rounds.

The first meeting involved the two leaders, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and a pair of translators.

At all of these meetings, messages have been moulded and red lines set by western leaders which sources say Mr Biden will spell out to Mr Putin.

Ukraine, Belarus, Iran, Syria and issues like arms proliferation are all expected to be discussed as well as behaviour by Russia which western nations consider to be contrary to the so-called international rules based system.

The fate of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, poisoned then imprisoned in Russia, will be raised by the American president. It is a subject on which he is unlikely to get much traction with his Russian counterpart who considers the case an internal Russian affair.

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Russia’s View: Exclusive interview with Putin

But domestically for Mr Biden, who is facing criticism for agreeing to a meeting with Mr Putin so early in his presidency, it’s important to be seen to be pressuring the Russians.

The US president, who famously called Mr Putin “a killer” has conceded already that there is “no guarantee” that the meeting will effect any change of behaviour by the Russian president.

As well as the Navalny case, the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury in 2018 is likely to feature in the talks.

Defence rivalry will be a key issue with an attempt at a new dialogue on arms control. Issues like the territorial control in the Arctic, space, cyber and autonomous weapons systems could all be up for discussion.

Andrey Kortunov is director general of the Russian International Affairs Council and considered to be a Kremlin insider.

He told Sky News: “They will not resolve these issues in Geneva, they might only authorise their respective bureaucrats and military and diplomats to get into a serious conversation on all of these issues. That would be already a major accomplishment.”

Vladimir Putin (R) shakes hands with then vice president Joe Biden in Moscow in 2011
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Vladimir Putin (R) shakes hands with then vice president Joe Biden in Moscow in 2011

He continued: “I think that Biden and Putin will probably articulate their positions on issues like Ukraine or Belarus too. But it’s hard to believe that they can achieve a breakthrough on such sensitive issues.”

Expectations by diplomats on both sides are being kept intentionally low. From that base it’s possible to build up even small wins as diplomatic breakthroughs.

There is a chance that the two leaders could agree to repair the basic mechanics of their bilateral relationship by reinstalling ambassadors in their respective capitals. But beyond that sort of gesture, bigger announcements are not likely.

On Monday, Mr Biden said he will make clear to Putin “what the red lines are” and “if he chooses not to cooperate and acts in a way that he has in the past relative to cybersecurity and some other activities, then we will respond in kind.”

Asked for his assessment of the former KGB officer, Mr Biden said: “He’s bright, he’s tough, and I have found that he is a – as they say when I used to play ball – a worthy adversary.”

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Biden: Putin is a worthy adversary

The meeting, which was initiated by President Biden, has been arranged over just a few weeks and will involve one-plus-one talks with Mr Putin and his Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Mr Biden and his Secretary of State Anthony Blinken.

A second session will then include other senior officials on both sides.

The two leaders will not hold a joint news conference. Diplomats deem it to be too risky for them to appear together because of the potential of an embarrassing public spat in response to media questions.

“Definitely the summit was prepared in a haste. It’s the very beginning (of the relationship). And it’s going to be a modest beginning especially for Biden. He cannot look as if he yielded too much to the Russian counterpart,” Mr Kortunov told Sky News.

There are areas where cooperation is expected. They include arms control, climate change, containing Iran’s nuclear ambitions, humanitarian assistance to Syrians and working together on the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Nora Quoirin: Malaysia court overturns coroner’s verdict that teen’s death was misadventure | UK News

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A High Court in Malaysia has overturned a coroner’s verdict that the death of French-Irish teenager, Nora Quoirin, was likely misadventure with no one else involved.

The 15-year-old, who lived in Balham, in southwest London, was staying with her family at a hotel around an hour from the capital, Kuala Lumpur, when she disappeared in August 2019.

After a ten-day search, her body was discovered around 2.5 kilometres from where she was last seen at the Dusun eco-resort in southern Negeri Sembilan.

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A coroner in Malaysia ruled in January that the death of British teenager Nora Quoirin was most likely a misadventure.

Meabh Quoirin said her daughter was born with holoprosencephaly, a disorder that affects brain development leaving Nora with learning and physical disabilities.

During a short virtual hearing, Judge Azizul Azmi Adnan laid out the reasons for revising the judgement and returning an open verdict.

In particular, he highlighted Nora’s struggles with balance and coordination, the steep terrain around the resort, which was challenging for people without her physical disabilities, and her shy personality which made her “unadventurous” and “uncomfortable with the unfamiliar”.

“Having reviewed the material, that was before the court, I am of the view that the verdict of misadventure ought to be vacated in the interests of justice and substituted with an open verdict, as there was no credible evidence to support any other verdict,” he explained to Nora’s listening parents.

“I am willing to accept that on the evidence before the court the possibility for third party involvement was lower than the possibility that Nora Anne had inadvertently got herself into a situation from which she could not extricate herself.

“That does not mean, however, that I should enter a verdict of misadventure,” he added.

The ruling is a legal victory for the family who believe Nora may have been abducted and challenged the coroner’s decision.

Police have always suggested there was no evidence of foul play, claiming she likely climbed out of a window and wandered off into the jungle alone.

Her family has dismissed this saying that Nora would not have been physically able to disappear into thick forest unaided and evade detection during the intensive search involving drones and sniffer dogs.

Nora’s parents said they were “utterly disappointed” by a coroner’s verdict in January.

They have suggested her body may have been placed in the area where it was finally found.

Legal representatives for the family previously said an open verdict would be “appropriate”.

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