<p>&quot;A Better Life&quot;&nbsp;and &quot;Take Shelter&quot;&nbsp;arrive in Academy members mailboxes.</p>

"A Better Life" and "Take Shelter" arrive in Academy members mailboxes.

And the first Academy Awards screeners are...

Plus: Some other screeners soon to hit Academy member mailboxes

If you're hoping Michael Shannon lands a best actor nomination for "Take Shelter," one of the most critically acclaimed films of the year, you might be worried.  

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<p>George Clooney is all smiles this awards season with &quot;The Descendants&quot; and &quot;The Ides of March&quot; both in the mix.</p>

George Clooney is all smiles this awards season with "The Descendants" and "The Ides of March" both in the mix.

Credit: AP Photo/Evan Agostini

Best Actor: Is it George Clooney vs. the field?

Who will take on the 'Descendants' star for Oscar glory?

Looking back at the past decade, there hasn't been many surprises in the race to win the best actor Academy Award.  By the time the New Year came around, most pundits and Academy members pretty much knew who would win taking most of the fun out of this category. And, yes, that's even before the nominations were announced.  Sure, Mickey Rourke gave Sean Penn a good run at it in 2009, but the only real upset you can point to is Adrien Brody in 2003 for "The Pianist."  Will 2012 provide an old fashioned horse race that seems only to be left to the supporting categories these days? It's possible, but someone's going to have to step and be a true challenger for George Clooney acclaimed role in Alexander Payne's "The Descendants."

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<p>A dramatic moment from &quot;A&nbsp;Separation.&quot;&nbsp; The Iranian drama has already won critics and moviegoers over at the Berlin, Telluride and Toronto Film Festivals.</p>

A dramatic moment from "A Separation."  The Iranian drama has already won critics and moviegoers over at the Berlin, Telluride and Toronto Film Festivals.

63 countries enter the competition for the 2012 Foreign Language Academy Award

Iran's 'A Separation' leads the pack

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced that 63 countries have entered potential nominees for the foreign language Oscar that will be handed out at the 84th Academy Awards this February.

The Foreign Language Committee will review all the submissions and vote for the five nominees that will be announced on Tues., Jan. 24, 2012 at 5:30 AM PT.

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<p>Antonio Banderas talks about his new role in Pedro Almodovar's &quot;The Skin I&nbsp;Live In.&quot;</p>

Antonio Banderas talks about his new role in Pedro Almodovar's "The Skin I Live In."

Antonio Banderas and Elena Anaya fit into 'The Skin I Live In'

Revelations about Almodovar's twisted 'cold horror' flick

As the fall continues, the movies must slowly bet getting better.  And coincidentally, in New York and Los Angeles at least, moviegoers will get the chance to sample the latest film from Pedro Almodovar, "The Skin I Live In," tomorrow.  And while I don't think the film has any real chances for major Oscar nominations (and neither did the Spanish film committee who passed it over for foreign language film consideration), it's a twisted and out-there thriller that will shock many ticket buyers looking for something different at the multiplex.

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<p>Felicity Jones and Anton Yelchin in &quot;Like Crazy.&quot;</p>

Felicity Jones and Anton Yelchin in "Like Crazy."

Credit: Paramount Pictures

Guess what unexpected audience loves 'Like Crazy'?

Could it foreshadow great word of mouth for the Sundance hit?

A funny thing happened on the way to awards season for Paramount Pictures' Sundance pick-up "Like Crazy," it found a surprising new audience.

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<p>Asa Butterfield and Chloe Moretz in Martin Scorsese's &quot;Hugo.&quot;</p>

Asa Butterfield and Chloe Moretz in Martin Scorsese's "Hugo."

Credit: Paramount Pictures

Martin Scorsese's 'Hugo' gets tempered reaction after New York Film Festival sneak

Trusted sources love the 3-D, but...

The 2011 edition of the New York Film Festival received a fine gift on Monday night when Martin Scorsese's latest film, "Hugo," debuted in a "sneak screening."  The unfinished picture (reports claim there was green screen evident in a number of shots) was introduced by the master filmmaker and New York icon.  

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<p>George Clooney at the New York premiere of &quot;The Ides of March&quot; on Wednesday.</p>

George Clooney at the New York premiere of "The Ides of March" on Wednesday.

Credit: AP Photo/Evan Agostini

Can 'The Ides of March' pull a 'Michael Clayton' to stay in the Oscar race?

It's all up to George


After positive notices following its debut at the Venice and Toronto Film Festivals last month, George Clooney's last directorial effort opened to the masses on Friday.  Seen as a potential best picture player, the political thriller had an O.K. weekend grossing $10.4 million. But, don't judge that figure too hastily.

"Ides" first weekend was actually strikingly similar to "Michael Clayton's" first "wide" weekend (actually its second overall after debuting in 15 theaters the week before) in 2007. Both were the equivalent "second" weekends of that October and both found a similar audience reception. "Clayton" found $10.3 million in just 2,511 theaters compared to "Ides" estimated $10.4 million in just 2,199. Many believed "Clayton" had a shaky start, but the Tony Gilroy drama ended up landing seven Academy Award nominations including best picture.  Moreover, Tilda Swinton was something of an upset winner in the best supporting actress category over sentimental favorite Ruby Dee ("American Gangster") and critic's charge Cate Blanchett ("I'm Not There").  "Clayton" also eventually found $49 million or what is termed a "five multiple" which basically means it played much stronger than expected.  The big difference between the two pictures, so far, is their nationwide critical reception.

"Clayton" averaged an 82 on Metacritic and a 90% on Rotten Tomatoes.  The film featured raves from Roger Ebert, USA Today's Claudia Puig and EW's Owen Glieberman as well as very strong notices from important Academy bellwether Kenneth Turan of the LA Times as well as Manohla Dargis of the paper of record.  "Ides" found major supporters in regional critic Stephen Rea of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Glieberman and Peter Travers of Rolling Stone.  Turran and the NY Times' A.O. Scott gave it mixed reviews.  Currently, it has a 67 on Metacritic and an 82% on Rotten Tomatoes.

The question for "Ides" in the 2012 awards season frame revolves all around one man: director, co-screenwriter and star George Clooney.  The Oscar favorite rarely campaigns for his films, but after doing very limited press and awards events for "Clayton" initially, he did a full court press right before nominations were determined in January of 2008.  Whether that helped push "Clayton" into what were just five nominated pictures that year is unclear.  However, without 10 guaranteed nominees this season, his popularity may be needed to foster recognition for his cast and crew in January (although we'd be shocked if Philip Seymour Hoffman doesn't make the supporting actor race without George's help).  Clooney will also have his impressive leading role in Alexander Payne's "The Descendants" to campaign for (competing features seems to be a regular thing for Clooney during awards season).  Normally, a studio would be calling the shots here and pushing the talent to act, but without a major monetary investment, Sony Pictures will also (and understandably) be more concerned with "Moneyball" and possibly "The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo" (Sony put up the P&A to distribute the $12.5 million budgeted drama in the U.S.).  With Clooney's Smokehouse Pictures production company now based at Sony, however, it's possible the film will remain an important awards season priority on the Culver City lot.  Maybe.  Because, as already noted, it's all up to George.

As it's only October 10, this year's awards campaign has a lot of twists and turns to go.  So, for those of you already assuming "Ides" may not find itself in the um, 5, 6, 7, 8 or 9 this year, beware of making early proclamations.*

*Unless it's about "W.E," "A Dangerous Method," "Anonymous" or "Carnage" of course.

Do you think "Ides of March" is still in the game?  Share your thoughts below.

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

<p>Orlando Bloom talks &quot;The Hobbit&quot;&nbsp;and his bad boy role in &quot;The Three Musketeers.&quot;</p>

Orlando Bloom talks "The Hobbit" and his bad boy role in "The Three Musketeers."

Watch: Orlando Bloom is the 'Three Musketeers' bad boy and happy to be with 'Hobbit' family

Admits he's having the 'best time' back with the 'LOTR' family

LONDON - When you first heard that Orlando Bloom was starring in the new big screen adaptation of Alexandre Dumas' "The Three Musketeers" it would be natural to assume that the former "Pirates of the Caribbean" swashbuckler would be playing one of the title heroes.  Instead, Bloom is playing one of the film's main two villains, the notorious Duke of Buckingham.

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<p>Juno Temple, director Abe Sylvia and Jeremy Dozier at the New York premiere of &quot;Dirty Girl.&quot;</p>

Juno Temple, director Abe Sylvia and Jeremy Dozier at the New York premiere of "Dirty Girl."

Credit: AP Photo/Evan Agostini

'Dirty Girl's Abe Sylvia on the seven-year wait, Melissa Manchester and the search for Dirty Debbie

An epic interview waxing on the making of a Hollywood indie

Living in Los Angeles for as long as this pundit has (and no, we're not going there), the list of friends and acquaintances who are writing a screenplay or trying to get a movie off the ground is seemingly endless.  Over the years, great scripts that were never produced passed through my hands and many of those budding filmmakers or screenwriters slowly transitioned to other full time gigs in the entertainment industry.  Whether they have given up on those dreams is debatable (hopefully not), but there was always one friend who's journey to the big screen should be an inspiration in devotion for others, Abe Sylvia.  

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<p>Ryan Gosling talks about &quot;The Ides of March&quot; at the 2011 Toronto Film Festival</p>

Ryan Gosling talks about "The Ides of March" at the 2011 Toronto Film Festival

Ryan Gosling says 'The Ides of March' isn't really about politics

Plus: 'Carey Mulligan and Comic-Con, that's a short I want to see'

TORONTO - You can't blame Ryan Gosling if he's a little puckered out.  The 30-year-old Canadian actor has had five of the busiest months in his life.  In May, Nicholas Winding Refn's "Drive" debuted to massive acclaim at the Cannes Film Festival. Gosling spent most of July promoting another critic's favorite, and solid hit for Warner Bros., the dramedy "Crazy, Stupid, Love."  By September, Gosling was pounding the pavement and talk shows for the release of "Drive" and George Clooney's new thriller "The Ides of March."  It may be the year of Michael Fassbender and Jessica Chastain, but it's also clearly "a" year for Ryan Gosling.

Speaking to Awards Campaign at the 2011 Toronto Film Festival last month, Gosling was much more relaxed than when we had a spirited conversation about "Crazy, Stupid, Love" in July.  When I asked him why he carefully chose to play up and coming campaign strategist Stephen Meyers in Clooney's "Ides," Gosling was as blunt as ever.  First, it's hard to say no to George Clooney.  Second, he recalls, "I liked that it was set in the world of politics, but not necessarily a political film.  It's more about the dangers of separating your brain from your heart."

That has pretty much been the company line from everyone involved in "Ides"; "It's not a movie about politics." And, considering the need to open the picture, you can't blame them for taking that position when talking to the media. And yet, Stephen's optimism and almost naiveté at the beginning of the film and his disillusionment at the end seems like an obvious correlation to where the country is after three years of President Obama first term.  In response to that comparison, Gosling would only note, "It's a good film to start a dialogue, but what I like about the movie is that it doesn't really have a message, but an insight into that world."

On the other hand, the former Oscar nominee was more than happy to discuss his very passionate and charming director on "Ides."

"He's pretty charming all the time.  I've never seen him not be charming," Gosling says. "He's so enthusiastic about filmmaking.  He's so excited to be on set. I haven't worked on all of his films, but he seems to love the films that he's making and loves the people that are in it and that's all he wants to talk about and everyone who is working on them.  It's nice to see someone who could be so jaded not be like that at all.  He's like a kid in a candy store."

With only a few minutes left for our interview, I had to ask Gosling about "Drive," a thriller that could end up on this pundit's top 10 list at the end of the year.  I mentioned that I'd spoken to his co-star, Carey Mulligan, at Comic-Con and we'd had a very enlightening conversation about the creative process she, Gosling and Refn undertook.  Gosling immediately perked up, laughed and volunteered, "Carey Mulligan at Comic-Con, that's a short film I'd like to see."

He then continued, "Talk about not talking?  Well it was a relief.  I think a lot of times practically a script has to be a certain length.  You're handed a script that is 90 pages no one will read it.  It has to be 100 pages or 110 pages for someone to take it seriously. I think when you get on set you don't need all those lines. You can say more without saying anything. And the audience?  They can see what's going on. They can see that this person likes that person. They don't need them to tell each other. So, when we worked with [director Nicholas ] he just understands that and it was just a relief for us because we got to shape the dialogue and see how much we could say without saying it."

You can watch the entire interview (it's worth it just for Gosling's reaction to the concept of Mulligan at Comic-Con) embedded at the top of this post.

"The Ides of March" opens nationwide Friday.

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