<p>President Barack Obama, NJ&nbsp;Gov. Chris Christie and local officials discuss the relief efforts in Sandy-struck New Jersey on Wednesday, Oct. 31.</p>

President Barack Obama, NJ Gov. Chris Christie and local officials discuss the relief efforts in Sandy-struck New Jersey on Wednesday, Oct. 31.

Credit: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Contender Countdown: A sprint after Hurricane Sandy and the Election

is it just a three-way race?

"Is it over yet?" 

Usually, that's a common refrain you hear during awards season at the beginning of February after countless pseudo awards shows, screenings, cocktail parties, interviews and film festivals.  Instead, it seems to be the nation's collective mindset about the upcoming presidential election.  Since the conventions at the end of August, the nation's attention has been distracted or bombarded by election coverage, debates and commercials.  And while few of the latter even air in Los Angeles, the movie industry is spending just as much time checking the latest poll results as a soccer mom in Kansas might be. Compound the last few months with three highly rated debates and 72 hours of Hurricane Sandy coverage (and concern) and you'll understand why it sort of feels like this year's Oscar race has been in a bit of a holding pattern.

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<p>It's been a good year for Joseph Gordon-Levitt.</p>

It's been a good year for Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Credit: AP Photo/Evan Agostini

Joseph Gordon-Levitt's smash year: 'Dark Knight Rises,' 'Looper' and now 'Lincoln'

Is he 2012's Ryan Gosling?

BEVERLY HILLS - Is last year's Ryan Gosling this year's Joseph Gordon-Levitt?  The "Inception" star has been on a tear in 2012 with four films hitting theaters within five months.  Gordon-Levitt became the new hope for Batman in "The Dark Knight Rises"; a bicycle messenger in the surprisingly well reviewed "Premium Rush"; a younger Bruce Willis in the hit Sci-Fi thriller "Looper"; and now he has a key supporting role in Steven Spielberg's new potential Oscar player "Lincoln."

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<p>Peter Jackson and Ian McKellen on the set of &quot;The Hobbit:&nbsp;An Undiscovered Journey.&quot;</p>

Peter Jackson and Ian McKellen on the set of "The Hobbit: An Undiscovered Journey."

Credit: Warner Bros.

Journey to 'The Hobbit' set for Peter Jackson, Martin Freeman and the spectre of 48 frames per second

Plus: Richard Armitage, Jackson's joy and more

WELLINGTON, NZ – It’s our second day on the set of “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” and we’ve finally gotten a chance to chat with the man steering the ship of the massive undertaking, Peter Jackson.  But it was never supposed to be the New Zealand filmmaker’s job.

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<p>Ian McKellen returns as Gandolf in &quot;The Hobbit:&nbsp;An Undiscovered Journey.&quot;</p>

Ian McKellen returns as Gandolf in "The Hobbit: An Undiscovered Journey."

Credit: Warner Bros.

Ian McKellen admits he thought 'The Hobbit' would make a good TV series

The legendary actor speaks from the set of 'The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey'

WELLINGTON, NZ – After almost a year and a half of shooting two, er, now three “Hobbit” films, no one would fault Sir Ian McKellen for being a tad bored. That’s a long time to work on any movie or spend away from home (granted there were two long breaks).  The 73-year-old acting icon has ventured to the set of “The Hobbit” this May day to spend what was supposed to just be 20 minutes talking to visiting press, but it soon became clear McKellen was excited to have a live audience again. 20 minutes soon turned into something closer to 40.

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2013 Best Supporting Actress Oscar Contenders: From Anne Hathaway to Sally Field

2013 Best Supporting Actress Oscar Contenders: From Anne Hathaway to Sally Field

How wide open is the category this year?

Now it's time for the supporting ladies. The actresses who usually steal the movie out from under their leading lady or gentleman co-stars.  And unlike the past few years, 2012 seems to be something of a wide open race at the moment.

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<p>Helen Hunt talks about &quot;The Sessions.&quot;</p>

Helen Hunt talks about "The Sessions."

Credit: Fox Searchlight

Helen Hunt on the thrill of sex without shame in 'The Sessions'

If there's one movie she could leave behind it might be this one

BEVERLY HILLS - Helen Hunt may be incredibly nervous on the inside, but she projected an unexpected regal confidence during our short interview for her work in "The Sessions" last week. Obviously, playing a real life character is always daunting.  Playing a real life person who was a sexual surrogate to a disabled poet hoping to have his first sexual experience in his late 30's is something else.

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2013 Best Supporting Actor Oscar Contenders: Leonardo DiCaprio and Tommy Lee Jones round out a crowded field

2013 Best Supporting Actor Oscar Contenders: Leonardo DiCaprio and Tommy Lee Jones round out a crowded field

Is it a wide open field or a battle for two slots?

Predictably, awards season begins with almost every major category either being characterized as too competitive or more wide open then you could possibly imagine.  The 2012 best supporting actor field is somehow an intriguing mix of both (at the moment).

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<p>Bryan Cranston in &quot;Argo.&quot;</p>

Bryan Cranston in "Argo."

Credit: Warner Bros.

Q&A: Bryan Cranston on surprising the CIA and Ben Affleck as a director in 'Argo'

It's been a busy year for the Emmy winner

BEVERLY HILLS - It's been a busy year so far for Bryan Cranston.  Two films he shot long ago were finally released ("Red Tails" and "John Carter") and he appeared in three big summer releases ("Madagascar 3," "Rock of Ages" and "Total Recall").  Oh, and he just happened to land his fourth Emmy nomination for best actor in recognition for his stellar work as the iconic Walter White in "Breaking Bad." Plus, "Bad" aired eight of its last sixteen episodes to continued critical acclaim (which sort of makes up for the duds "Rock of Ages" and "Total Recall"). In September, he received another gift, Ben Affleck's "Argo."

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The Sandman, Easter Bunny, Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy try and bring Jack Frost on board to stop Pitch from taking over the world's children in DreamWorks Animation's "Rise of the Guardians."
The Sandman, Easter Bunny, Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy try and bring Jack Frost on board to stop Pitch from taking over the world's children in DreamWorks Animation's "Rise of the Guardians."
Credit: DreamWorks Animation

'Rise of the Guardians,' 'On the Road' and 'Life of Pi' among AFI Fest galas

'Silver Linings Playbook,' 'The Impossible' and 'Central Park Five' will also screen

LOS ANGELES - After already setting "Hitchock" as its opening night gala and "Lincoln" as its closing night gala, AFI revealed its slate of centerpiece galas and special screenings for the 2012 AFI Film Festival.

This year's centerpiece galas include best animated picture contender "Rise of the Guardians," Ang Lee's 3D visual extravaganza "Life of Pi," Walter Salles' already well traveled "On the Road" and Jacques Audiard's Cannes breakout "Rust and Bone." The latter ties into a special Tribute to Marion Cotillard that will be held during the eight day event. Cotillard, a prime best actress contender, received a similar honor at the Telluride Film Festival last month.

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<p>Ben Affleck talks to HitFix about &quot;Argo.&quot;</p>

Ben Affleck talks to HitFix about "Argo."

Q&A: Ben Affleck on going back to 1980, Jimmy Carter and the real people behind 'Argo'

An in depth video interview with the - yep - acclaimed filmmaker

BEVERLY HILLS - Ben Affleck is battling bronchitis. In fact, when he appears to introduce his acclaimed new film "Argo" at its official LA premiere a few days later, his cough and haggard voice will be even more pronounced.  This day though, it's slight enough to just seem like a simple cold.  Considering the love his new thriller has received since its sneak premiere at the Telluride Film Festival a month before, the momentary illness may be the toughest fight Affleck has to face at the box office or during "Argo's" expected awards season run.

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