<p>The final poster for &quot;Precious:&nbsp;Based on Push on Push a Novel by Sapphire.&quot;</p>

The final poster for "Precious: Based on Push on Push a Novel by Sapphire."

Credit: Lionsgate

'Precious' makes box office history and sets its sights on 'New Moon'

Oscar contender makes a remarkable limited release debut

The journey of Lee Daniels' "Precious: Based on Push a Novel by Sapphire" continues to astound. In a stunner, "Precious" made box office history this weekend by posting the highest per screen average for a film in more than 10 theaters.  The acclaimed drama made $1.8 million in only 18 theaters for an eye-popping $100,000 per screen average. 

Historically, the only live action films to ever have a bigger per screen were "Dreamgirls" and "Brokeback Mountain," but both those films debuted on only three and five screens with averages of $126,000 and $105,000 respectively.  The more screens you make available, the lower your per screen usually is. In fact, the difference between 3 and 10 screens can be over a 50% drop. That what makes "Precious'" 18 screen debut so remarkable.

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<p>Anna Kendrick in a scene from potential Best Picture nominee &quot;Up in the Air.&quot;</p>

Anna Kendrick in a scene from potential Best Picture nominee "Up in the Air."

Credit: Paramount Pictures

Contender Countdown: Are 'Precious,' 'Hurt Locker' and 'Up in the Air' Best Picture locks?

And how perilous are 'District 9's' chances becoming?

As awards season storms into November the pool of Best Picture candidates is finally starting to solidify.  If the new ten picture system has done anything, it's established a small handful of films that are almost sure things to make to the dance.  Every prognosticator has their own favorites, but a consensus at Movie City News' Gurus of Gold (which Awards Campaign participates) finds Jason Reitman's "Up in the Air," Lee Daniels' "Precious: Based on Push a Novel by Sapphire" and Kathryn Bigelow's "The Hurt Locker" as pretty much sure bets at this early date.

This isn't just wild speculation.  The votes of 14 professionals who spend a good majority of the time watching the Oscar race over 3/4's of the year are at play here.  It's just not the quality of the movies, it's about considering the established field and what is yet to come.  And right now, there isn't much that hasn't been seen that could knock these three quality flicks out. 

You can find the rest of the Gurus top picks for last week here.  Awards Campaign's personal selections are a bit off from the consensus an we also takes into account new Fox Searchlight release "Crazy Heart" which could possibly knock one of the established ten out of contention (the film hadn't been screend when our original selections were submitted).  Check out Awards Campaign's current top 12 contenders and share your thoughts on the over field below.

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<p>Emily Blunt at the 2009 BAFTA/LA&nbsp;Britannia Awards.</p>

Emily Blunt at the 2009 BAFTA/LA Britannia Awards.

Credit: AP Photo/Dan Steinberg

Ben Stiller gives an already legendary intro to Robert De Niro at Britannia Awards

Plus: De Niro zings Disney over Miramax and Gov. Schwarzenegger honors Kirk Douglas

 

One of the classier early events of award season went off without a hitch last night as BAFTA LA's 2009 Britannia Awards were held in Century City.  The West Coast chapter the British Academy of Film and Television Arts holds this annual dinner to give career achievement awards to deserving filmmakers and actors -- and happily, they don't all have to be British.

This prognosticator had been warned that even with regular host Stephen Fry's witty banter in the mix that the show could be somewhat of a bore.  Lord, that was hardly the case.  There were truly some Golden Globe worthy moments (perhaps due to the free flowing wine) from presenters such as Amy Adams, Ewan McGregor and Mini Driver.

The evening got off to an impressive start as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger made a surprise appearance to present Kirk Douglas with the Britannia Award for Worldwide Contribution in Filmed Entertainment.  It turns out one of Schwarzenegger's first films, "The Villain,"  was alongside Douglas and the legendary actor took the Austrian under his wing teaching him tennis (or tried to) and attempted to out pump him with his own bicep curls. More recently, the Governor shared how when he first was elected into office, Douglas invited him to appear at a playground opening he'd funded.  As time went by, Schwarzenneger ended up appearing at one playground opening after another.  Finally, the Governor asked Douglas how many more playgrounds he was going to build.  Douglas replied, "I'm going to stop at 400."  Last spring, Douglas' 400th playground was finished and a proud Schwarzenneger was there.  On this night, Douglas received no less than three standing ovations and the 93-year-old icon whose speech is affected by a stroke won the crowd over when he hit the stage.  He recalled the last movie he shot in London, 1959's "The Devil's Disciple" with old buddy Burt Lancaster and Sir. Laurence Olivier.  Lancaster and Douglas were asked to appear at a charity event in the city where they did a song and dance number to a classic London song. At that point in his speech, Douglas proceeded to sing the song and he didn't embarrass himself.  It was a remarkable moment.

Up next was Danny Boyle who was introduced by his "Slumdog Millionaire" star Dev Patel and one of his most frequent early collaborators, Ewan McGregor.  McGregor praised Boyle, who was receiving the John Schlesinger Britannia Award for Artistic Excellence in Directing by noting "how safe I felt working with him."  Boyle, who has been accepting accolades for the better part of a year for "Slumdog," seemed honestly humbled by the award. He also joked he "wants to avoid scenes with toilets" (something he noticed as a common thread in his video montage) in the future.

One of the more forced moments of the night was the odd appearance of Benecio Del Toro who was the first presenter for Emily Blunt.  The up and coming actress was being honored (perhaps a tad early) with the Britannia Award for British Artist of the Year for her roles in "Sunshine Cleaning" and December's "The Young Victoria" which has already been released in Europe.  Del Toro and Blunt worked together on the upcoming "The Wolfman" (in fact, with all the reshoots they worked on it a lot) and he joked she gave him the nickname Bearnice during filming. And, um, that was about it. Thanks for showing Benecio.

On the other hand, Blunt's second presenter was her "Cleaning" co-star and, it turns out, good friend Amy Adams.  Adams recalled how they met on the set of "Charlie Wilson's War" where they bonded after she ogled Blunt's breasts.  Yeah, the audience didn't get it either, perhaps it's an inside joke, but it was nice fodder for Fry during the rest of the show.

One of the more serious moments of the night was the presentation of the BAFTA/LA Volvo Humanitarian Award to Colin Firth.  The Brit is getting raves for his work in "A Single Man" (in fact, I interviewed him earlier in the day about his role), but many of his fans will be surprised to discover he has a long history as a champion for the underprivileged working with Oxfam International, Survival International and Amnesty International.  He's also co-founded a coffee shop chain, Cafe Progresso, that guarantees a fair price to independent coffee growers around the world. Longtime friend Mini Driver (who looked stunning by the way) described Firth's passion for change, but she noted that like his acting style, "He's quiet about it.  He doesn't draw attention to himself."  Firth's final presenter was his "Single Man" director Tom Ford and it may not have been the best choice.  21 days of shooting and a few film festivals aside, Ford barely knows Firth and his mannered intro was delivered more like a business presentation than a personal salute.  Firth, as gracious as anyone in this industry can be, sheepishly accepted his award declaring he'd really done nothing, but if he could shine a light on the issues of fair trade he hoped it would help.  If Firth keeps this up, he may find himself battling Angelina Jolie for sainthood.

As the night progressed, the cameras would occasionally cut to the night's final honoree Robert De Niro.  Needless to say, the Oscar winner did not look like he was having a good time.  Fry and numerous presenters would reference him either seriously or jokingly and he'd remain pretty stone faced every time the cameras caught him.  In fact, all this writer could imagine is that De Niro was over receiving yet another life time achievement award and just wanted to get out of there.  That all changed when Ben Stiller took the stage.

To be fair, De Niro's "Stardust" co-star Claire Danes appeared first and perhaps it was just that point in the show for everyone in the room, but what was meant to be funny just fell completely flat. Still, she gave it the old college try describing what appears to be a true friendship with her fellow New Yorker.  Stiller, on the other hand, stole the show and that's hard to do when the Governator has magically appeared to honor Kirk "freakin'" Douglas.

It's no secret in Hollywood that Stiller can be a major pain to work with, but there's a reason he keeps getting considered to host the Oscars.  When he kills.  He kills.  He first noted he was overwhelmed by all the "prestigiousness" in the room.  Stiller mocked himself in regards to his own resume compared to his "Meet the Parents" and upcoming "Little Fockers" co-star.   During one night shoot, De Niro stunned Stiller by saying, "Yeah, this reminds me of shooting 'Mean Streets' at night." Stiller admits all he could nervously come up with in reply was, "Yeah, this reminds me of shooting 'Mystery Men'" Oh, and who is dying at his seat of laughter?  De Niro.  There's also the fact De Niro has two Academy Awardsa and Stiller has a collection of Teen Choice, Nickelodeon Kid's Choice and MTV Movie Awards, "Maybe this Kubrick Award will even things up, huh Bobby?"

Stiller continues that once the legend fell asleep during a scene because of jet lag, but he was still be better sleeping in the shot than any other actor on the planet would be.  The comedian also said that after ten years he has such a close relationship with De Niro now that he's been able to "pull his ear, grab his cheek, kiss him in drag in a wedding dress and shoot a needle in his penis.  And we haven't even started shooting yet." [Insert shot of De Niro dying of laughter].  Stiller continued for a bit more joking that when the man of few words gets on stage, "We know he'll just go on and on and on."  It may be hard to convey in print, but Stiller eclipsed the man of the hour.

But, after a long standing ovation, De Niro did make it to the podium to accept the Stanley Kubrick Excellence in Film Award and pulled out some notecards before speaking.  What was this?  De Niro had prepared an acceptance speech?  It was certainly hard to follow a great act like Stiller, but it appeared De Niro wasn't just going to be run over by his friendly colleague. 

De Niro was a little wobbly at first.  He went down the predictable road of apologizing to the Brits for "overreacting" a bit with wasting all that tea during our tea party.   But then he noted how he always loves re-recording his roles for British audiences and while again you sort of had to be there he proceeded to reinterpret his famous "Are you talkin' to me?" scene from "Taxi Driver" in the most stiff upper lip and polite way ever. Yep, even the quiet auteur seems to have a sense of humor about himself.  Then his speech took a somewhat strange turn.  De Niro, who earlier in the week was at the gala opening of his new movie "Everybody's Fine" at AFI Fest, noted that there were too many people to thank. "They know who they are but, I want to thank what's left of Miramax.  I called them the other day and got the answering machine.  It said they would call back after the holiday."

The room is in stunned silence.

"They'd be back after Easter," De Niro quipped.  A couple of uncomfortable laughs and a few "Oh, my's" met that zinger.  Yes, one of America's greatest thespians delivered a 2 minute acceptance speech for a lifetime achievement award where he devoted a quarter of it to dissing Disney for ripping up Miramax.  Could Disney chief Bob Iger hear that blast from across town?  Ouch.

And with that, De Niro was done and so was the show.  No musical numbers, no commercial breaks, but a ton memorable moments from a truly classy organization. 

And awards season rolls on...
 

For constant updates on awards season and entertainment news follow Gregory Ellwood on Twitter at Twitter.com/HitFixGregory

 

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<p>George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Ewan McGregor and Jeff Bridges at the Toronto Film Festival premiere of &quot;The Men Who Stare at Goats.&quot;</p>

George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Ewan McGregor and Jeff Bridges at the Toronto Film Festival premiere of "The Men Who Stare at Goats."

Credit: AP Photo

Grant Heslov balances the fantastical in 'The Men Who Stare at Goats'

Clooney's buddy talks about his solid directorial debut

It pays to have powerful friends in Hollywood, but it also pays to have a reputation as a good guy.  That's Grant Heslov to a tee.  The former and sometimes actor has made his way through the industry at the side of buddy George Clooney as co-writer and producer of "Good Night, and Good Luck" (which netted him two Oscar nominations) and as his producing partner. Most importantly though, all you hear around town are compliments at how humble Heslov is at his success.  Yes, it's true moviegoers, you don't have to be a jerk to make it in Hollywood.

Heslov's filmmaking abilities were put the test with his very funny directorial debut, "The Men Who Stare at Goats" which opens nationwide this week.  Working of Peter Straughan's adaptation of Jon Ronson's non-fiction book, Heslov and crew had to find a way to make an entertaining film out of Ronson's mostly investigative novel. 

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<p>Jeff Bridges and Maggie Gyllenhaal in a scene from the new drama &quot;Crazy Heart.&quot;</p>

Jeff Bridges and Maggie Gyllenhaal in a scene from the new drama "Crazy Heart."

Credit: Fox Searchlight

Sneak Peek: Jeff Bridges and Maggie Gyllenhaal in 'Crazy Heart'

Late entry Oscar contender also gets a release date

 

Boy, that was quick.

One day after showing the new music-themed drama "Crazy Heart" to selected press including your humble prognosticator, Fox Searchlight officially announced the potential Oscar candidate will now open in limited released on December 16. In addition, the studio made two images from the Jeff Bridges showcase available for the first time.

You can read more about Bridges entry into the Best Actor race here, but it will be intriguing to see how "Crazy Heart" affects the overall Best Picture and Actor races.  And just as importantly, how it will fare in Best Original Song.  For the moment though, enjoy the pics as we await the first  official preview.

Hopefully Searchlight will throw a Colin Farrell photo out soon too.

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<p>Jeff Bridges could theoretically be looking at two Oscar nominations this year.</p>

Jeff Bridges could theoretically be looking at two Oscar nominations this year.

Credit: AP Photo/Evan Agostini

Jeff Bridges jumps in to the Best Actor race with 'Crazy Heart'

Could 2010 actually be the 'Year of Jeff Bridges' at Oscar?

 

Should Fox Searchlight be happy I can't get the beautiful final song from the new drama "Crazy Heart" out of my head?  That question might answer itself.

The studio had the first of a few preview screenings for selected press on the Fox Lot this morning to gauge reaction to the music-themed drama and this writer was lucky enough to get an invite.  Most recently slated for a March release (with an expected Sundance Film Festival premiere), the picture will likely move to mid to late December for an expected awards season push.  It's unclear what all the other journalists in attendance thought, but this pundit sees a new Oscar contender on the horizon and an almost sure thing best actor nod for star Jeff Bridges.

Written, produced and directed by Scott Cooper (who has had more success as an actor than filmmaker to this point), "Crazy Heart" is an adaptation of Thomas Cobb's novel that centers on down on his luck country singing star Bad Blake (Bridges) who has escaped into alcohol after his career dramatically falls behind that of his former protege Tommy Sweet (think a dark haired Kenny Chesney played superbly by Colin Farrell).  Blake's life seems to turn around when he falls for a small town reporter (Maggie Gyllenhaal), but as expected, old habits die hard.  How the film rebounds from that arc is what makes it so intriguing.

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<p>Kate Beckinsale, Robert De Niro and Drew Barrymore Tuesday night at the AFI&nbsp;Fest premiere of &quot;Everybody's Fine.&quot;</p>

Kate Beckinsale, Robert De Niro and Drew Barrymore Tuesday night at the AFI Fest premiere of "Everybody's Fine."

Credit: AP Photo/Chris Pizzello

Robert De Niro's 'Everybody's Fine' premiere more like a Miramax wake than a celebration

New dramaedy a depressing pause button for prestige studio

There has been scuttlebutt around Hollywood that the real reason Bob Iger is about to chop Miramax into a sliver of its former self is because of his unhappiness with the development and expensive marketing costs.  In the long run he intends to have someone else come in and resurrect the mini-major down the road.  Daniel Battsek had a pretty impressive track record with the Oscar-winning "No Country For Old Men" and "The Queen," but the last year found the barely profitable "Doubt," disappointing bombs such as "Adventureland," "Extract," "The Boys are Back" and the mishandled "Cheri."  That underachieving trend won't end with the new Robert De Niro dramedy "Everybody's Fine."

Before tonight's premiere at Los Angeles' AFI Film Fest there was hope the tale of a widowed man who travels the country to reconnect with his children could put De Niro back in the Oscar game, but that's a pipe dream now.  The movie is a mess in so many ways that neither the legendary actor or the stars who play his children -- Sam Rockwell, Drew Barrymore and Kate Beckinsale -- can save it.  In fact, the more the picture goes on you start to wonder "What convinced any of them sign on to this?  Let alone, why was it even greenlit?"  The storyline is painfully predictable and the subplot regarding the fate of a fourth sibling isn't just unnecessary, it's bogs down the entire proceedings.  "Fine" feels like an early-90's road trip comedy that would have done OK in theaters and had a long cable life, but that just doesn't work in 2009. And released back to back with the Clive Owen melodrama "The Boys Are Back" it paints a bleak portrait of development at the studio Harvey and Bob Weinstein once built their fortunes on.

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<p>Alec Baldwin has the most to gain as this year's Academy Awards co-host.</p>

Alec Baldwin has the most to gain as this year's Academy Awards co-host.

Credit: AP Photo/Matt Sayles

Oscar makes a safe choice with witty new hosts Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin

Geez, guess neither figures to be nominated for 'It's Complicated'

Universal Pictures just got the biggest Christmas present ever. Well, maybe their biggest present if their new Nancy Meyers romantic comedy "It's Complicated" was being released in March.  Instead, the two men who battle for the heart of Meryl Streep in the holiday comedy will have to work off that cinematic chemistry as they host the 81st Annual Academy Awards on March 7. And in the meantime, Uni will just enjoy all the free publicity.

Let's be honest though.  Today's announcement was not that surprising.  Martin has hosted twice before, getting strong notices in 2001 and 2003 and has considered jumping back in the ring but clearly didn't want to do it alone.  He almost hosted last year's show with Tina Fey, but the "30 Rock" star couldn't get away long enough from New York to make it work.  Instead, Martin will team up with another "Rock" star and become the first all-male duo since Donald O'Connor and Fredric March hosted in 1953.  The pair also break a twenty year run of solo hosts that dates back to Billy Crystal's inaugural show in 1989. How time flies.

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<p>&quot;Star Trek&quot;&nbsp;cast members Anton Yelchin, Chris Pine, Simon Pegg, Karl Urban and John Cho.</p>

"Star Trek" cast members Anton Yelchin, Chris Pine, Simon Pegg, Karl Urban and John Cho.

Credit: Paramount Pictures

Oscar Watch: 'Star Trek' picks up a significant ensemble award

Plus: 'Mother and Child' goes to SPC, Oscar honors presenters and more

 

To say that "Star Trek" is an underdog to make Oscar's top ten is an major understatement, but that doesn't mean the blockbuster Sci-Fi flick isn't finding awards season love.

Monday night found J.J. Abrams' reboot winning the Artios Award for best casting for a studio feature (drama) to April Webster and Alyssa Weisberg.  The 25th Artios Awards are staged by the Casting Society of America in simultaneous ceremonies in both Los Angeles and New York.  This isn't a major award towards the road for Oscar except that it shows the casting directors saw "Trek's" ensemble as one of its strong points.  That could be a sign the film might sneak into the SAG Award's Best Ensemble race which would be another nice recognition for the rejuvinated franchise.  Other winners on the cinema side this year included "Tropic Thunder's" Francine Maisler for studio feature (comedy), "Milk's" Francine Maisler and Nina Henninger for independent feature (drama/comedy), "Sunshine Cleaning's" Avy Kaufman for low budget feature (drama/comedy) and "Up's" Kevin Reher and Natalie Lyon for "Up."

"Star Trek" hits DVD and Blu-ray on Nov. 17.

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<p>The lovely ladies of &quot;Nine&quot; are making the Best Supporting Actress category quite complicated in 2010.</p>

 

The lovely ladies of "Nine" are making the Best Supporting Actress category quite complicated in 2010.

Credit: Weinstein Company

Best Supporting Actress: Can a 'Twilight' star and Mo'Nique knock out the 'Nine' ladies?

Lots of questions surround 2010's most dramatic and competitive category

 

At this stage of the game, the question isn't "who" going to win the best supporting actress statue of 2010.  That's easily down to two of the year's best performances: Mo'Nique for her relevatory work in "Precious: Based on Push a Novel by Sapphire" or "Twilgiht" star Anna Kendrick who shines opposite George Clooney in the acclaimed dramedy "Up in the Air."  It wouldn't be a careless exaggeration to say that if one or neither of these two actresses weren't nominated it will be one of the biggest upsets in Oscar history.  The true drama this season surrounds who their competition will be in the remaining three slots.  And yes, there are questions aplenty.

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