<p>Shailene Woodley, George Clooney, Barbara L. Southern and Robert Forster in Alexander Payne's 'The Descendants.&quot;</p>

Shailene Woodley, George Clooney, Barbara L. Southern and Robert Forster in Alexander Payne's 'The Descendants."

Credit: Fox Searchlight

Contender Countdown: Tag 'Descendants' you're still it

Gurus gets going again as 'Artist' and 'War Horse' also make some noise

Ah, the highs and lows of being the frontrunner.  Depending on the particular Oscar season it can either be a blessing or a curse.  Two years ago, Jason Reitman's "Up in the Air" was considered the frontrunner (by some) until "The Hurt Locker" and "Avatar" dominated December and September to make it an afterthought.   In 2009, "Slumdog Millionaire" was in the lead from the Toronto Film Festival forward.  2007 arguably had no frontrunner as "The Departed" took the crown from a crowded field.  In 2006, "Brokeback Mountain" was the expected best picture winner by many from Toronto onward until "Crash" surprised the public by taking the trophy (although this pundit sadly new "Crash" was in lead before the nominations came out and predicted its win).  Still, there are too many "Up in the Air's" along the awards season trail over the past decade to allow publicists to enjoy a frontrunner label.  So, with the Gurus of Gold back in full force this week, Fox Searchlight is probably wearing half a smile with Alexander Payne's critically acclaimed dramedy taking the top spot once again. 

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<p>Gil Cates</p>

Gil Cates

Credit: AMPAS

Academy issues statement on passing of longtime Oscar producer Gil Cates

Veteran oversaw 14 Oscar shows between 1990 and 2008

Gil Cates, longtime Academy Awards producer and governor of the organization's Director's branch, passed away at the age of 77.  The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences released the following after the news became public.

"Gil was our colleague, our friend and a former governor of the Academy," said Academy President Tom Sherak. "He was a consummate professional who gave the Academy and the world some of the most memorable moments in Oscar history. His passing is a tremendous loss to the entertainment industry, and our thoughts go out to his family."

Cates produced the show 14 times between 1990 and 2008, more than any other individual producer.  He was also responsible for bringing in some of the show's most popular hosts including Billy Crystal, Whoopi Goldberg, David Letterman, Steve Martin, Chris Rock and Jon Stewart. 

Martin tweeted this morning, "So sorry to hear Gil Cates has died. He helmed two Oscar shows I hosted. He was delightful, wise, canny and unperturbed. A great fellow."

Cates served three consecutive terms as a governor of the Academy's Directors Branch, from 1984 to 1993. He returned to the board for another term beginning in 2002, and held the post of vice president from 2003 to 2005.

Outside of Oscar, Cates directed a number of features including "The Last Married Couple in America" and "Oh God, Book II."

 

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<p>Michelle Williams in a special shoot for &quot;My Week with Marilyn.&quot;</p>

Michelle Williams in a special shoot for "My Week with Marilyn."

Credit: The Weinstein Company/Brigitte Lacomb

'My Week with Marilyn' gets some old school print love in Newsweek

There's no better way to let octogenarians know about a movie

The common refrain for the past five years or so in the content business is "Print is dead."  And while that's pretty much true across the board (or will be once digital tablets become commonplace amongst the masses), our print brothers can still impact the opening of a movie.

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<p>Thompson, Tomson and Tintin in Steven Spielberg's &quot;The Adventures of Tintin:&nbsp;The Secret of the Unicorn.&quot;</p>

Thompson, Tomson and Tintin in Steven Spielberg's "The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn."

Credit: Paramount Pictures

Oscar Watch: 'The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn' scores overseas

$55.8 million international debut

Paramount Pictures and Sony Pictures breathed a big sigh of relief on Sunday.  No, it wasn't because of the results of anything debuting stateside, but of a highly anticipated release dipping its toe into theaters overseas, Steven Spielberg's "The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn." 

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<p>Doris Day in 1955's &quot;Love Me or Leave Me&quot;</p>

Doris Day in 1955's "Love Me or Leave Me"

LAFCA doesn't take NYFCC bait and will honor Doris Day with lifetime achievement

LAFCA will announce year end awards on Dec. 11

The decision by the New York Film Critics' Circle to announce their year end honorees at the end of November has left a bad taste in the mouths of many in the industry, but their early move didn't have any repercussions with their West Coast brethren.  The Los Angeles Film Critics Association met today and, as expected, decided to keep their own year end awards announcement on the second weekend of December.  That means LAFCA will chime in on awards season on Sunday, Dec. 11.  Currently, the awards dinner is set for Sat. January 14, 2012 at a location to be determined.

Most importantly, LAFCA also announced that this year's lifetime achievement award will go to iconic screen legend Doris Day

The 87-year-old icon was a box office star of the '50s and '60s appearing in such films as "Pillow Talk," "Calamity Jane," "The Pajama Game" and Alfred Hitchcock's "The Man Who Knew Too Much."  She received an Academy Award nomination for best actress for "Pillow Talk" in 1960 and was nominated for 11 Golden Globes, winning three as well as the Cecil B. DeMille Award in 1989.  Day ended her film career in 1968 with "With Six You Get Eggroll" and transitioned to television where she starred in "The Doris Day Show" on CBS from 1968 to 1973. Day also has a very successful singing career and is most famous for "Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera, Sera)" which was first introduced in "The Man Who Knew Too Much" and also became the theme for her TV show.  More recently, Day became a champion for animal rights causes and those charitable efforts was a key reason she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2004.

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

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<p>An iconic moment from James Cameron's Oscar-winning epic &quot;Titanic.&quot;</p>

An iconic moment from James Cameron's Oscar-winning epic "Titanic."

Credit: Paramount Pictures

James Cameron hopes a new generation will discover an almost 3D or 2.99-D 'Titanic' on the big screen

Kate Winslet is back in the fold, but will Leonardo DiCaprio join her?

It's hard to believe, but almost 15 years ago to the day (O.K., maybe month), I sat in the Paramount Theater on the Paramount Pictures lot in Hollywood and was one of the first 100 or so people to watch James Cameron's epic "Titanic."  At the time, I was a very young assistant at 20th Century Fox International (I would actually work for Paramount later), fresh out of grad school and trying to work my way into the business (note to readers: marketing is not the way to go, trust me).  My boss invited me to join him and watch what had become one of the most buzzed about films of the past few years.  Pop into the next century and I'm now far removed from the studio side (or the dark side as I like to call it) and am watching 18 minutes of Cameron's "Titanic," now in 3D, back in the same Paramount Theater.  The more things change, the more things stay the same.  Of course, a lot has changed since then. 

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<p>Bill Condon discusses a scene from &quot;The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Pt. 1&quot;&nbsp;with Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson.</p>

Bill Condon discusses a scene from "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Pt. 1" with Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson.

Credit: Summit Entertainment

Bill Condon reflects on how Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart surprised him in 'Breaking Dawn'

The Oscar winner on the massive special effects, reuniting with Carter Burwell and more

Few directors can say they've made films back to back for a beloved franchise.  It may be cost effective for most Hollywood studios, but it's a rarity.  This century we've had Peter Jackson's three "Lord of the Rings" films, the Wachowskis' "Matrix Reloaded" and "Matrix Revolutions" and, most recently, Gore Verbinski's second and third "Pirates of the Caribbean" blockbusters.  Jackson is currently at it again with two "Hobbit" features, but the latest filmmaker to join that exclusive club is none other than Academy Award winner Bill Condon.  The man behind acclaimed films such as "Kinsey," "Dreamgirls" and "Gods and Monsters" has jumped into the world of Stephenie Meyer's "Twilight" with "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Pt. 1" and "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Pt. 2."  The first of the films hits theaters next month and, not surprisingly, pre-release polling shows the interest in the lives of Bella and Edward Cullen hasn't waned since "Eclipse" was released 16 months ago. 

I first met Bill just a few weeks after he returned from Sundance and the premiere of "Gods and Monsters" (that was way back in 1998 for those of you playing at home).  A lot has happened since then, but through a ton of success on the big screen and co-producing the best Oscar telecast over the last decade (no bias, it's the truth), nothing may have prepared him for jumping on the "Twilight" train.  With "Breaking Dawn, Pt. 1" completed and only a few weeks away from opening, Bill was kind enough to jump on the phone this morning and chat about the ride so far.

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

Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones in "Like Crazy"

Credit: Paramount Pictures

Oscar Watch: 'Like Crazy' and 'Puss in Boots' weekend picks

What's worth seeing on the big screen?

With awards season kicking into really high gear next month, awards campaign will do its best to give you a rundown every Thursday of the contending movies opening over the weekend so you can make sure to keep up with the conversation.  This pundit will have seen almost every film hitting theaters (with a few rare exceptions, but you can guarantee if I haven't that someone at HitFix or our colleagues at In Contention will have (well, maybe).

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<p>The official U.S. poster for &quot;We Have To Talk About Kevin&quot; starring Tilda Swinton.</p>

The official U.S. poster for "We Have To Talk About Kevin" starring Tilda Swinton.

Credit: Oscillscope Films

Exclusive: Tilda Swinton watches over her son in 'We Need To Talk About Kevin' poster

Thriller aims to put former Oscar winner in the best actress race

One of this pundit's biggest disappointments last awards season was how little traction Tilda Swinton received for her stunning turn in "I Am Love."  That was partially due to the film's release date, the former Academy Award winner's unavailability to campaign for the picture in Nov. or Dec. and a limited push by U.S. distributor Magnolia Pictures.  A year later, Swinton has another acclaimed performance ready for Oscar consideration in Lynne Ramsay's "We Need To Talk About Kevin." 

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<p>Puss (Antonio Banderas) and Kitty Softpaws (Selma Hayek)&nbsp;in Chris Miller's &quot;Puss in Boots.&quot;</p>

Puss (Antonio Banderas) and Kitty Softpaws (Selma Hayek) in Chris Miller's "Puss in Boots."

Credit: Dreamworks Animation

Chris Miller directs a cat lover's dream in 'Puss in Boots'

Secrets behind DreamWorks Animation's latest tentpole

I have a confession to make.  I genuinely think "Puss in Boots" is entertaining, funny and a significantly more original movie (even surreal) than what you'd expect for a "Shrek" spin-off.  However, my judgement may be a tad clouded.  As my friends have consistently remarked, I'm a male 'cat lady' in the making with two kittens under my wing (Phoenix and Sookie).  Granted, you can only blame my parents for raising me amongst them.  In fact, there is photographic evidence of our two cats (Charkey and Nutmeg) literally sleeping my crib when I was a newborn "protecting me" and no doubt cementing this lifelong feline bond (note to young parents: this is a big no, no).  But, I digress…

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