<p>Meryl Streep at a photocall for the official UK poster for &quot;The Iron Lady&quot;&nbsp;on Nov. 6.</p>

Meryl Streep at a photocall for the official UK poster for "The Iron Lady" on Nov. 6.

Credit: AP Photo/Jonathan Short

No joke: Meryl Streep may finally break her Oscar losing streak as 'The Iron Lady'

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The legendary actress delivers big time as Margaret Thatcher

Let's be frank, ever since it was announced Meryl Streep would portray highly controversial UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the new biopic "The Iron Lady" it was assumed she would be nominated once again for best actress.  The role was too Oscar friendly for her not to be.  When this occurs, it will be her 17th Academy Award nomination overall and her 13th in a row since winning her second Oscar almost 29 years ago for "Sophie's Choice."  No, that's not a typing error.  The 84th Academy Awards will mark 29 years since Streep last graced the Academy stage to accept an Oscar.  

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<p>James McAvoy at the world premiere of &quot;X-Men:&nbsp;First Class&quot; last May.</p>

James McAvoy at the world premiere of "X-Men: First Class" last May.

Credit: AP Photo/Pete Kramer

'Arthur Christmas'' James McAvoy says he and Michael Fassbender are keen to do an 'X-Men: First Class' sequel

Plus: Some tidbits on Danny Boyle's new thriller 'Trance'

Want to know a big reason why "Arthur Christmas" should be on your must-see list for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend?  Let one of the animated film's leading voices, James McAvoy, explain to you how the "quality" of the script made him jump at the chance to join the project.

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<p>If you just sent a video tribute and didn't show up in person to shake her hand and congratulate her, Amy Poehler says you're &quot;dead&quot;&nbsp;to her.&nbsp; </p>

If you just sent a video tribute and didn't show up in person to shake her hand and congratulate her, Amy Poehler says you're "dead" to her. 

Credit: AP Photo/Brad Barket

Will Ferrell, Maya Rudolph and friends salute Amy Poehler at Variety's Power of Comedy event

Did some forget to tell David Cross 'Arrested Development' was returning?

If it's a Saturday in November there were likely numerous guild and Academy screenings today for all the major contenders who haven't hit theaters yet.  And while many Los Angelenos were home watching the USC/Oregon game or wandering out of a "Breaking Dawn" screening somewhere in the Southland.  But, at the legendary Palladium Theater, Variety's 2nd Annual Power of Comedy was underway and this year's recipient was none other than one and only Amy Poehler.

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<p>Marion Cotillard in a scene from Steven Soderbergh's &quot;Contagion.&quot;</p>

Marion Cotillard in a scene from Steven Soderbergh's "Contagion."

Credit: Warner Bros.

'Contagion' crew looking to inject screenwriter Scott Z. Burns into Oscar talk as '20,000 Leagues Under the Sea' looms

Steven Soderbergh fetes his behind the scenes collaborator

Steven Soderbergh is no doubt very proud of his work on "Contagion," his biggest non-"Ocean's Eleven" movie hit since 2000's "Traffic," but the Academy Award winning director likely isn't trying to play the Oscar game this season.  Well, at least not for himself. 

On Friday evening, Soderbergh and buddies Jerry Weintraub, Gary Ross and Benecio del Toro hosted a reception and special screening to remind the press about "Contagion" in the context of awards season.  It's unlikely anyone at Warner Bros. seriously believes "Contagion" could land a best picture nomination, but one of the primary focuses of the evening was to focus attention on the screenwriter Scott Z. Burns.  A previous collaborator with Soderbergh on the underrated "The Informant," Burns' script for "Contagion" is easily a contender in the always wide open original screenplay category. 

Introduced to Burns for the first time, he seemed thrilled with the night's event and more than satisfied with "Contagion's" critical reception.  We discussed the fact "Contagion" had a strange release date (effectively the Friday after Labor Day, usually a dump date), but the strategy had worked in the film's favor and it played throughout the fall to a $74 million U.S. gross (strangely the star-studded ensemble didn't play as well overseas).  And we had some interesting words on just whether or not the film was a thriller (as the advertising sold it) or a drama (as most who saw it in theaters would classify it).  Honestly side-stepping the issue, Burns told me with complete sincerity he didn't go to film school so he didn't put labels on his films.  And, hey, it's a great way to leave yourself open creatively from the limitations of a particular genre (my words, not his). 

Whether Burns lands in the Oscar hunt remains to be seen (we're a little skeptical considering a good chunk of Marion Cotillard's storyline got cut out of the final picture), but he did tell me he's hoping Soderbergh isn't retiring so they can work together again.  He's also excited about his finished screenplay for Disney's "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" which will be directed by David Fincher.  Burns isn't sure when the film will start exactly because of a non-movie project Fincher is committed to early next year, but surprised by revealing he'd had little interference from Disney execs over his adaptation of the classic Jules Verne tale.   Burns also revealed his version, while period, isn't based on Disney's 1954 film.  Pressing him on Disney's involvement so far, he did admit there was a cute kid in the current script, but it was completely his own idea and the character's fate and/or arc is not what you'd expect.  And, he promises the film will be much darker than what you'd expect for a Disney film (with Fincher we'd actually expect no less).

In the meantime, Burns will see where this awards season run ends up for "Contagion."  He may not find himself in the nominee circle this time around, but based on his work so far he'll get their very soon.

"Contagion" debuts on DVD and Blu-ray on Jan. 12.


For year round entertainment commentary and awards season news follow @HitFixGregory on Twitter.
 

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<p>Ricky Gervais hosting the 2011 Golden Globes</p>

Ricky Gervais hosting the 2011 Golden Globes

Credit: AP Photo

Get ready Johnny Depp: Ricky Gervais is officially hosting the 69th Golden Globes

Is the third time the charm?

The HFPA confirmed the long speculated news that Ricky Gervais will return to host the Golden Globes for a third time this January.  The initial confirmation came from the organization's twitter account.

Gervais added a few minutes later the following tweet:

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<p>Alexander Payne, Shailene Woodley and George Clooney at the Los Angeles premiere of &quot;The Descendants&quot;&nbsp;at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences theater Tuesday night in Beverly Hills.</p>

Alexander Payne, Shailene Woodley and George Clooney at the Los Angeles premiere of "The Descendants" at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences theater Tuesday night in Beverly Hills.

Credit: AP Photo/Chris PIzzello

'The Descendants' finally makes its Academy debut as the raves come in

Is that the creator of 'Mad Men' in the house?

Three months after dazzling audiences at the Telluride and Toronto Film Festivals, Alexander Payne's "The Descendants" is finally hitting theaters in New York and Los Angeles today. And that opening timed perfectly to the film's Los Angeles premiere Tuesday night at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills.

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<p>Zachary Quinto and Penn Badgely in &quot;Margin Call.&quot;</p>

Zachary Quinto and Penn Badgely in "Margin Call."

Credit: Roadside Attractions

Contender Countdown: Can 'Margin Call' crash the Oscar party?

Plus: A rundown of the best picture, director and screenplay races

"Frozen River," "The Messenger," "The Savages," "In Bruges," "Dirty Pretty Things," "You Can Count on Me," "Winter's Bone," "In the Loop," "City of God," "The Sweet Hereafter."  All examples of smaller and/or independent films over the past 15 years or so that found a way to sneak past the big boys into the Oscar party.  There are a number of potential candidates to join that list this year, but the big surprise among them may be "Margin Call."

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<p>George Clooney and Alexander Payne talk &quot;The Descendants&quot;</p>

George Clooney and Alexander Payne talk "The Descendants"

George Clooney and Alexander Payne talk shooting on 'The Descendants' and praise 'The Wire'

Film icons talk 'shooting film and beating up actors' on TV

To be honest, I'm normally not a fan of studio created features or interviews edited by them, but after watching this conversation between George Clooney and Alexander Payne the chance to exclusively premiere it was just too hard to turn down.  

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<p>Elizabeth Reaser talks about &quot;The Twilight Saga:&nbsp;Breaking Dawn&quot; and Jason Reitman's &quot;Young Adult.&quot;</p>

Elizabeth Reaser talks about "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn" and Jason Reitman's "Young Adult."

'Breaking Dawn's' Elizabeth Reaser talks about the climactic scene in 'Young Adult'

Busy schedules for Reaser and 'Nurse Jackie's' Peter Facinelli

Let's be frank.  For Elizabeth Reaser and Peter Facinelli, being part of "The Twilight Saga" hasn't given them that much to do.  As Dr. Carlisle Cullen (Facinelli) and his wife Esme Cullen (Reaser), the two pros are usually background players to the drama following their on screen adopted "son" Edward (Robert Pattinson) and the love of his, um, life, Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart).  While that changes just a bit in "Breaking Dawn," it's given two of the more experienced members of the ensemble a different perspective on the fourth production in the series.

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<p>Kim Wayans and Adepero Oduye in &quot;Pariah.&quot;</p>

Kim Wayans and Adepero Oduye in "Pariah."

Credit: Focus Features

Focus handling Sundance drama 'Pariah' with special care

Pay attention young Sundance filmmakers

During this time of year it's pretty common to hear someone incredulously remark "Why is [insert movie studio] releasing [insert this movie] during awards season?  It could do so much better in the [name a more appropriate time of year]."  Usually, it's because a filmmaker associated with the picture has unrealistic Academy Awards dreams for either the picture, one of their stars or, sadly, themselves.  The problem is that audiences would likely embrace the picture at a different time of year which could mean, um, better financial returns.  And, sometimes, it's a smaller distributor making a gutsy, go for broke call with little chance of success.  I'll be quite honest, until a lunch at the Chateau Marmont Thursday afternoon, I had put the striking Sundance drama "Pariah" in the "gutsy" category.

The rare example of a good opening night film at Sundance (almost a miracle), Dee Rees' "Pariah" tells the story of Alike (Adepero Oduye), a Brooklyn teenager who is struggling with her gay identity both at home and amongst her friends.  As I noted in my review from the film's premiere last January, "Pariah" is a perfect example of the resurgence of quality gay themed indie films (a trend that continued this year at SXSW with "Weekend").  However, I'm not sure anyone who saw the film at Sundance would have considered it an "awards" picture outside of obvious Independent Spirit Awards consideration.  

Of course Focus Features, which picked up "Pariah," has an impressive history with releasing and supporting groundbreaking gay films.  From "Brokeback Mountain" to "Milk" to "The Kids Are All Right" to "My Summer of Love" to "Far From Heaven" to last summer's "Beginners," the mini-major has been a social force for opening audiences to all aspects of gay life on the big screen.  With "Pariah," the studio decided to release the drama in limited release on Dec. 28 and expand it throughout January and February.  That's a pretty competitive time frame on the art house circuit, but the studio obviously believes the positive reviews the picture received so far will fuel strong limited returns. On this day, the studio had fashioned an intimate lunch featuring writer/director Rees, the incredibly charming Oduye, Kim Wayans who plays Alike's conservative mother (yes, that Kim Wayans) and Aasha Davis (best known for a short stint on "Friday Night Lights") who plays a family friend.  

Speaking to these talented ladies and a few invited journalists, I was immediately reminded of how rare it is these days for a film about real African American women to hit theaters.  Sure, there are Tyler Perry movies, but an original movie about African American women? Let alone a film that shines the light on African American lesbians?  That's almost unheard of.  And for the writers present who cover African American entertainment it was the subject they kept returning to again and again.  For Kim Wayans, who has fought for years to be given a chance with a meaty dramatic role (and succeeds beautifully), it was important to make "Pariah" for her gay niece and in memory of a gay male friend who was beaten and killed by a younger man he'd met at club. Wayans also lamented about how few positive role models there are on TV for African American girls as it's mostly filled with reality shows featuring women who just fight with each other in over-the-top arguments ("My friend and I don't know who those people are. We've never seen women act like that."). Oduye, who still looks a decade younger than her 33 years, has been moved by audiences all oner the world finding a universal truth in the picture of a person just trying to find acceptance for who they are.  Dees is looking forward to taking the film to cities in the south such as Atlanta and just getting it in theaters for audiences to discover.  And when you take all that into account, frankly, perhaps Focus is making the right move.

Realistically, "Pariah" could easily find itself the recipient of numerous critics awards outside the traditional best picture race (best first film, special achievement in filmmaking, etc.) and could also make enough top ten lists to help publicize the picture in art house theaters outside of New York and Los Angeles.  The studio is also making a smart strategic decision by making sure the screener is in Academy and guild member hands by Thanksgiving.  Granted, there will be numerous screeners hitting mailboxes ("Warrior" and "Contagion" are two recent arrivals), but in races such as original screenplay (where another indie "Margin Call" has been mentioned by members) or cinematography (remember Bradford Young's name) you honestly never know.

More importantly though, many distributors could pick up a film like "Pariah" and lose interest in it just a few months down the road.  But Focus? Nope. That's not gonna happen.  When they care. They care.  Pay heed young Sundance filmmakers.  You only get your first chance to shine once and in Dees case, she's in more than capable hands.

Oh, and don't forget to watch that screener Academy and guild members.  You may be surprised at what you think of it.

"Pariah" opens in select theaters on Dec. 28.

For year round entertainment commentary and awards season news follow @HitFixGregory on Twitter.

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