<p>Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio in &quot;The Departed.&quot;&nbsp;The Martin Scorsese directed thriller won the best picture Academy Award in 2007.</p>

Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio in "The Departed." The Martin Scorsese directed thriller won the best picture Academy Award in 2007.

Credit: Warner Bros.

Contender Countdown: Is this a 'Departed' or 'Chicago' type season?

Is it a legit three-way race?

As the annual Oscar season unfolds, there are a number of expected events that traditionally make or break a best picture winner.  These signposts usually indicate who is the frontrunner, who is gaining traction and who isn't.

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<p>Matthew McConaughey talks about &quot;Magic Mike,&nbsp;&quot;Bernie&quot;&nbsp;and losing 60 pounds for &quot;The Dallas Buyers Club.&quot;</p>

Matthew McConaughey talks about "Magic Mike, "Bernie" and losing 60 pounds for "The Dallas Buyers Club."

Oscar contender Matthew McConaughey reveals how he lost 38 pounds and ponders a 'Magic Mike' sequel

He knows exactly what he's going to eat when it's over

BEVERLY HILLS – I’d seen the pictures. I'd seen the news reports.  I’d heard about Matthew McConaughey’s amazing weight loss for his role in the new independent film “The Dallas Buyer’s Club” from all aspects of social media.  It was another thing, however, to shake the hand of a man that looked like he’d lost half of himself since we last talked just five months before.  

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<p>Marion Cotillard talks about her new role in &quot;Rust and Bone.&quot;</p>

Marion Cotillard talks about her new role in "Rust and Bone."

Marion Cotillard says Katy Perry's 'Firework' helped her performance in 'Rust and Bone'

Oscar winner talks about difficulty working with whales in captivity

BEVERLY HILLS - Marion Cotillard really wanted to work with Jacques Audiard.  In fact, she was so committed to the director's follow up to his acclaimed drama "A Prophet" that she dropped her normal required prep time to make sure "Rust and Bone" fit into her schedule.  The Oscar winner was already locked into shooting Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight Rises" for much of 2011, but then immediately transitioned to "Bone" when it was over. And, for Cotillard, taking away that chance to really research and study a role is a big, big deal.

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<p>Daniel Craig, Berenice Marlohe and director Sam Mendes at a photocall for &quot;Skyfall&quot;&nbsp;in Germany last month.</p>

Daniel Craig, Berenice Marlohe and director Sam Mendes at a photocall for "Skyfall" in Germany last month.

Credit: AP Photo/Gero Breloer

Now that you've seen 'Skyfall' - secrets revealed from Sam Mendes

Big revelations for fans of the biggest Bond ever

BEVERLY HILLS - Sam Mendes probably smiled this much in a long time. It's been almost 13 years since he won an Oscar for directing best picture winner "American Beauty" and the years since haven't always been as celebratory. "Road to Perdition," "Jarhead," "Revolutionary Road" and "Away We Go" all have their fans, but none of Mendes' follow ups reached the critical or moviegoer adoration that "Beauty" did. Who knew a 50-year-old franchise would be his ticket back to the top of the mountain?

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<p>Alicia Vikander at the New York premiere of &quot;Anna Karenina.&quot;</p>

Alicia Vikander at the New York premiere of "Anna Karenina."

Credit: AP Photo/Andy Kropa

Discover the next big thing: Alicia Vikander of 'A Royal Affair' and 'Anna Karenina'

The 24-year-old actress should soon be a regular in Hollywood

BEVERLY HILLS - The most surprising thing upon first meeting Alicia Vikander is her accent. As we sit down in a hotel conference room to specifically discuss her new film "A Royal Affair," she sounds American.  Well, maybe American with a hint of international upbringing.  Considering Vikander's Swedish background it was obviously unexpected, but then again, Vikander continues to surprise.

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<p>Sally Field talks about her role as Mary Todd Lincoln in Steven Spielberg's &quot;Lincoln.&quot;</p>

Sally Field talks about her role as Mary Todd Lincoln in Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln."

Sally Field says acting with Daniel Day-Lewis was like she'd 'died and gone to heaven'

Two-time Oscar winner gives an impressive history lesson on Mary Todd Lincoln

BEVERLY HILLS - You don't get to speak to a legend like Sally Field every day.  The 66-year-old actress has been in the public eye for over 45 years first gaining notoriety with her starring roles in the '60s TV series "Gidget" and "The Flying Nun." In the '70s she began to show an unexpected range. Whether it was her acclaimed performance in the TV movie "Sybil" or  indulging superstar Burt Reynolds in "Smokey and the Bandit" it was clear Field had more than a smile, she had fire.

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<p>Denzel Washington in Robert Zemeckis' &quot;Flight.&quot;</p>

Denzel Washington in Robert Zemeckis' "Flight."

Credit: Paramount Pictures

Contender Countdown: 'Flight' goes from pretender to legit contender

One day or one weekend and you're in

As Heidi Klum is fond of saying on "Project Runway," "One day you're in, the next day you're out."  That pretty much sums up the pros and cons of a potential awards player set on debuting at a public festival.  Unlike a traditional release which usually has the early reviews staggered, a festival provides instant reaction thanks to the internet age.  So far, a number of films have played the festival game smoothly this season.  "Argo" and "Silver Linings Playbook" got big boosts from the Telluride/Toronto game.  "Lincoln" and "Flight" found fans at the New York Film Festival.  Last week, "Hitchcock" opened AFI Film Fest in LA with Oscar buzz for stars Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren, but not so much for the film itself.

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<p>Eva Mendes walks the red carpet at the AFI&nbsp;Film Fest screening of &quot;Holy Motors.&quot;</p>

Eva Mendes walks the red carpet at the AFI Film Fest screening of "Holy Motors."

Credit: AP Photo/Jordan Strauss

Awards Season Weekend: Marion Cotillard, 'Impossible' and AFI Film Fest

And 'Flight' makes a big move

Hurricane Sandy is still sadly the focus of the Northeast (as well as that of family and friends from those areas affected) and the 2012 election is finally coming to a merciful end Tuesday. And what that really means is we're about to enter eight weeks of very intense Academy campaigning. Technically, contenders have been holding screenings and Q&As from Los Angeles to San Francisco to New York (although it's been tough the past week) for months.  Beginning Thursday, the always awards-friendly AFI Fest began and the pressure cooker got a wee bit busier.  With that in mind, here's a snapshot of one pundit's busy award season weekend.

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<p>Scarlett Johannson, Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren in &quot;Hitchcock.&quot;</p>

Scarlett Johannson, Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren in "Hitchcock."

Credit: Fox Searchlight

Review: Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren are simply stellar in 'Hitchcock'

HitFix
B
Readers
A+
The movie can't quite live up to the performances

HOLLYWOOD – There have been many movies about the history of the movie industry, but it’s surprising it took this long for someone to bring the life of Alfred Hitchcock to the big screen.  The legendary filmmaker captained an impressive list of classic films including “Vertigo,” “North by Northwest,” “The 39 Steps,” “The Lady Vanishes” and “Dial M for Murder” among others.  And with his TV series “Alfred Hitchcock Presents…” he became one of the most recognizable directors and celebrities of the 1950’s.  His biggest hit, however, was one of his latter films, 1960’s “Psycho.”  Hitchcock’s obsession with making that “horror” film sets the stage for Sacha Gervasi’s  “Hitchcock,” which opened the 2012 AFI Film Fest Thursday night.

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<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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