<p>Abbie Cornish and Ben Winshaw in the poster for "Bright Star."</p>

Abbie Cornish and Ben Winshaw in the poster for "Bright Star."

Oscar Contender: Jane Campion's "Bright Star"

Is it more than this year's resident British period piece?

It's hard to imagine but it's been 16 years since Jane Campion delivered her masterpiece, "The Piano," to the movie world.  Nominated for eight Oscars it won three including a screenwriting statue for Campion, best actress recognition for Holly Hunter and 10-year-old Anna Paquin's shocking win for best supporting actress (a recognition she's more than deserved as any fan of "True Blood" will tell you). 

In the intervening years though, Campion seemed to lose her way.  "The Portrait of a Lady" was received coldly, "Holy Smoke" was seen as something of a lark and "In the Cut"?  Well, that disaster is better left unspoken.  However, it has been six years since her last narrative film and many thought Campion's better days were behind her.  After "Bright Star" debuted at the Cannes Film Festival this past May, that hardly seems the case.

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<p>Meryl Streep as lengendary chef Julia Child in "Julie &amp; Julia."</p>

Meryl Streep as lengendary chef Julia Child in "Julie & Julia."

Credit: Sony Pictures

Can Meryl Streep rake in her 16th Oscar nomination for 'Julie & Julia'?

Plus: Watch four new clips from the cooking meets blogging comedy


You gotta feel for Meryl Streep. 

Her recent box office successes and two Academy Awards for "Kramer vs. Kramer" and "Sophie's Choice" aside, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences has put America's greatest living actress through the ringer. So much so that it's probably more than you or I could take.

It's been over 16 years since Streep won the Best Actress trophy for "Sophie's" and in the intervening time span she's been nominated another 11 times (15 total for those counting at home) and the New York City resident has continued to trek to Los Angeles only to lose again and again.  At first, at least through the mid-90s, it didn't seem like that big a deal because Streep was one of the rare actresses to have already won twice.  Then, by the turn of the century, she'd been nominated for a few roles mostly by reputation only although you could argue she was robbed in 1996 for her performance in "The Bridges of Madison County" coming in second to the equally worthy Susan Sarandon in "Dead Man Walking."  Streep's best chance at winning a third may have been in 2003 when her supporting role in Spike Jonze' "Adaptation" lost out to Catherine Zeta-Jones who charmed her way to Oscar glory in "Chicago."   These days, especially after her nod for "The Devil Wears Prada," any Streep performance is pretty much considered a contender. So that's why the scuttlebutt will soon begin on Streep's turn as Julia Child in the new romantic comedy "Julie & Julia."

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<p>Tobey Maguire, Natalie Portman and Jake Gyllenhaal in Jim Sheridan's new drama "Brothers."</p>

Tobey Maguire, Natalie Portman and Jake Gyllenhaal in Jim Sheridan's new drama "Brothers."

Credit: Lionsgate

Oscar Contender: Jake Gyllenhaal, Natalie Portman and Tobey Maguire in 'Brothers'

Watch the trailer and check out the poster from Jim Sheridan's new drama


A November release date, three critically acclaimed young actors, potent dramatic material and a filmmaker who is no stranger to Oscar?  That my friends is a seductive formula for an awards season player on paper if there ever was one.  But is that really the case with "Brothers"?

An adaption of Susanne Bier's provocative Danish film of the same title (translated of course), this new "Brothers" was written by screenwriter David Benioff whose career has been all over the place with flicks such as the disappointing "The Kite Runner" and this summer's dreadful "X-Men Origins: Wolverine." He's a writer who hasn't returned to the heights of his debut novel and screenplay "25th Hour."  

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<p>Christina Ricci poses on the red carpet for Outfest's opening night screening of "La Mission."</p>

Christina Ricci poses on the red carpet for Outfest's opening night screening of "La Mission."

Credit: AP Photo/Dan Steinberg

Christina Ricci, Lisa Kudrow kick off Outfest Opening Night

Josh Brolin, Diane Lane and Chaz Bono watch 'La Mission'

These tough economic times aren't easy for many film festivals to wade through.  Even established regulars such as Outfest, the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Film Festival which is celebrating it's 27th year.  Ironically, however, the sad state of independent film distribution has given the festival one of its best slates in years.

Off the record, even Outfest regulars will tell you the opening night film is usually a turd and really just an excuse to show something after the organization's lifetime achievement award is given out and everyone heads to the booze-filled after party.  This year, saw the Sundance Film Festival selection "La Mission" screen and it is certainly one of the better openers of the last decade. 

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<p>Penelope Cruz reunites with Pedro Almodovar once more in "Broken Embraces."</p>

Penelope Cruz reunites with Pedro Almodovar once more in "Broken Embraces."

Credit: Sony Pictures Classics

First Look: Penelope Cruz in U.S. 'Broken Embraces' poster

New thriller reunites Almodovar and Cruz once more


Through all the ups and downs at this year's Cannes Film Festival one of the most constant refrains was the more than solid performance of Penelope Cruz in Pedro Almodovar's "Broken Embraces." 

Described as a melodramtic homage to Hitchockian thrillers such as "Vertigo," "Embraces" is the fourth collaboration between longtime friends Cruz and Almodovar.  In fact, it was Almodovar's "Volver" which provided Cruz with her first Oscar nomination in 2007.  She lost out to "The Queen's" Helen Mirren that year, but won this past go around for her superb comic performance in "Vicky Christina Barcelona."

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<p>Lionsgate scores again with the new teaser poster for "Precious."</p>

Lionsgate scores again with the new teaser poster for "Precious."

Credit: Lionsgate

Exclusive: New 'Precious' Teaser Poster Debuts

Beautiful image for upcoming Mariah Carey and Mo'Nique drama


If there is any movie I can't wait to see again this year it's "Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sappire."  The winner of this year's Sundance Film Festival's grand jury and audience award, "Precious" is a powerful dramatic film that has silenced every skeptic I know who has seen it. 

Originally titled "Push: Based on a Novel by Sapphire," Lionsgate and the filmmakers smartly changed the title when the Sci-Fi "Push" came out earlier this year.  Precious is the nickname the film's title character, a wonderful debut by newcomer Gabourey Sidibe, is given to by her abusive mother, a career altering performance by Mo 'Nique.  The film follows 16-year-old Precious as she tries to break the chains that relationship and create a new life for herself.  It's an inspiring film with stunning turns from the leads and a fine supporting cast including Mariah Carey, Paula Patton and Lenny Kravitz.

Many films get hyped beyond belief out of Sundance never to be heard of again  Lionsgate is making sure this won't happen with "Precious."  First, they brought on board both Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey to "present" the film -- guaranteeing it a stature the media can't ignore -- and secondly, they are continuing to put their signature creative vision to the marketing materials.  The studio has gained acclaim for posters from everything from their Perry films to the "Saw" franchise.  Their latest accomplishment?  This classy, artistic and inspiring teaser poster HitFix has the pleasure of presenting below.  Enjoy.

"Precious: Based on the novel Push by Sapphire" opens on Nov. 6, but will be heard loudly throughout the 2009 awards season.

The New Teaser Poster for 'Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire'

<p>James Franco hasn't received an Oscar nomination yet, but he's now a voting member of the Academy.</p>

James Franco hasn't received an Oscar nomination yet, but he's now a voting member of the Academy.

Credit: AP Photo

Oscars invites 134 new members including Anne Hathaway, James Franco, Tyler Perry and Hugh Jackman

Seth Rogen, Michael Cera, Emile Hirsch and Paul Rudd also in the mix


The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced their latest class of new members and there were some of the selections were major surprises. 

A longstanding criticism of the Academy is that it's membership has skewed about as old as a typical retirement community in Miami Beach and with the longer life spans most Americans have these days once you're "in" you're in for quite a long time.  So, this year the inclusion of a large number of under 40-year-old actors including Anne Hathaway, Emile Hirsch Seth Rogen, James Franco, Michael Cera, Taraji P. Henson, James McAvoy, Amy Ryan, Michelle Williams, Emily Blunt and Casey Affleck is quite astonishing.  Some of those thespians aren't even 25 yet!  For the Academy this is almost jaw-dropping

Perhaps more intriguing is how many actors were invited this year with no nominations to their credit.  Hugh Jackman, Paul Rudd, Rogen, Hirsch and Jane Lynch all have stellar resumes, but none have smelled the rose of an Oscar nod. 

More distressing, however, is the continuing lack of minority representation amongst the Academy overall.  Henson, Jeffrey Wright, Viola Davis, Tyler Perry (OK, he's made a ton of money for Lionsgate, but really?) and A.R. Rahman make up a very small pool of non-whites joining the process this year.  No one will disagree that this is an overall problem for the industry, but that's it? No one else?  out of 134 people?  Depressing more than anything.

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<p>Could Miley Cyrus return to the Oscars in 2010 with a best original song for "The Climb"?&nbsp; With the new category rules?&nbsp; Probably not.</p>

Could Miley Cyrus return to the Oscars in 2010 with a best original song for "The Climb"?  With the new category rules?  Probably not.

Credit: AP Photo/Matt Sayles

New Rules: Oscar keeps making more changes

Lifetime Achievement, Original Song and Picture voting tweaked


It was a busy week for the folks over at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.  First, they turned the industry on its head by announcing from now on the prime Oscar category -- best picture -- would go from five to 10 nominees.  A few days later, they skipped the surprise press conference and sent a release out with even more changes.  Ironically, its one of these new changes "seems" (big emphasis on that) to have the Academy membership in a huffy, not the dramatic change to the best picture category. 

In order to properly give the yearly recipients of the organization's lifetime achievement awards, the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award, the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award and the Honorary Award, the Academy will now be announced in September and recognized with a special dinner in November.  They will still be "acknowledged" (stand up and wave!) during the Oscar show, but as Academy President Sid Ganis noted in an official release, "“For some years now, the Board has struggled to balance the desire to truly honor worthy individuals with the time limitations that the Oscar® telecast imposes on these honors.  By creating a separate event for recognizing these outstanding people in the movie industry, we’re insuring that each honoree will be given his or her full due, without compromise.”

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<p>Leonardo DiCario in Martin Scorsese's "Shutter Island."</p>

Leonardo DiCario in Martin Scorsese's "Shutter Island."

Credit: Paramount Pictures

Contender Countdown: The Oscar field expands to 26 dreamers

A very early breakdown of potential best picture nominees


We really should not be doing this.

June is way too early.  It goes against every rule I've ever given myself in this realm.  There is way too much that can change between now and -- most importantly -- the Venice/Telluride/Toronto Film Festival triumvirate in late August and early September.

And yet, today's announcement by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences completely changes the race.  By going from 5 to 10 best picture nominees, the Academy has opened the field to films that would usually not be seriously considered.  The fact that a significant number of voters will still have to get behind each candidate makes this year a complete cluster [expletive].  The Academy has changed it's rules, but it's still predominantly an older membership.  By expanding the number of nominees will it really skew broader?  Or, in a worst case scenario, will the field resemble the Independent Spirit Awards? (Not that we don't love the Spirits, but they are two very different things). 

More intriguingly, studios have already set release dates for many of these films based on the old system.  Will a wider field change their strategy?  Will they want to go earlier or later?  Does matter?  Trust me, even consultant will spend the next few weeks pulling their hair out on which pictures to focus on and which to cast aside.  It's made a monstrous undertaking even more unweilding. 

With all that in mind, here is a brief rundown of 25 candidates and their prospective chances of a nomination as of June 24, 2009.  And yes, even with nomination day six months away there are two locks.  Really.

Harvey can breathe a sigh of relief.  Based on the trailer alone, there is no way it's not getting in.
Unless Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman or Matt Damon commit a disastrous public relations folly,  this feel good about Nelson Mandela and a popular South African rugby star is in.

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<p>Could "Star Trek" make the final five, er, ten of this year's Oscar race?&nbsp; Don't laugh. Now it's possible.</p>

Could "Star Trek" make the final five, er, ten of this year's Oscar race?  Don't laugh. Now it's possible.

Credit: Paramount Pictures

Analysis: Oscars takes a risky, but potentially slamdunk gamble with 10 nominees

The pros and cons of this industry changing move


I have to confess, I'd heard about this potential change from five to 10 best picture nominees a few weeks ago, but my source was too close to the situation for me to reveal.  But having had time to dwell on the move, I think some of the initial rush to judgements of "worst idea ever" or "now the show will be six hours long" are a little short sighted.  Certainly, this is a dramatic change for the Oscars and will affect many aspects of the movie industry, but the positives certainly outweigh the negatives.  Let's take a look shall we?


*It creates two horse races instead of one.  The first in the nominating process, the second during the final voting period.  The former always exists in some form, but now it's really broadening the field.  The latter has had little drama over the past decade with 2007's "The Departed" surprise win being the most intriguing competition during that time.  With 10 nominees, you need less votes to win (it's not a 50% majority after all) so many years it "could" be a crapshoot.  That's not to say there won't be universal pics like "Titanic" or "Slumdog Millionaire" that dominate the field, but tension will fill the Kodak Theater like never before.

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