<p>Potential Academy Award players:&nbsp;George Clooney, <img alt="" src="file:///Users/GregoryEllwood/Library/Caches/TemporaryItems/moz-screenshot.png" /><img alt="" src="file:///Users/GregoryEllwood/Library/Caches/TemporaryItems/moz-screenshot-1.png" />Jean Dujardin and Viola Davis.</p>

Potential Academy Award players: George Clooney, Jean Dujardin and Viola Davis.

Oscar in August: 10 predictions for the 2011-12 awards season

The fate of Clooney, 'The Artist,' Viola Davis, 'Cars 2' and more

Can you feel it in the air? That sense of nervous desperation mixed with excitement? It's coming from the offices of every studio awards planner, publicist, talent manager, agent and ad sales rep in the greater Hollywood area (and a little bit of Manhattan too).  As you are likely reading this, George Clooney's "The Ides of March" has opened the 61st Venice Film Festival and unceremoniously kicked of the 2011-2012 awards season.  

After dramatic changes for the best picture category (5% is the new 10), possibly the scariest producer choice of all time in Brett Ratner (Joel Schumacher was seemingly unavailable), James Franco's increasingly blunt comments about his co-hosting gig (time for a sabbatical James) and a legal battle for control of the Golden Globes broadcast rights (eventually NBC wins and we all lose) it really doesn't seem like that long ago we were celebrating the end of another long season.  But "The King's Speech"?  "The Social Network"?  Natalie Portman? Melissa "Consider This" Leo?  Ah, distant memories.  Beginning today, we have so much to look forward to.

Thursday this globe-trotting pundit will find himself on a plane to sunny Colorado where we'll return to cover the ever-friendly Telluride Film Festival (shhh, don't tell anyone how great it is, our little secret, O.K.?) before heading to the Great White North alongside HitFix's Film Editor, Drew McWeeny, to attend my eighth straight Toronto International Film Festival (how time flies).  In the meantime, August can't end without another edition of my annual "Oscar in August" predictions.

Last year was a banner year on the early prediction front.  Every single one of my calls were right including Leonardo DiCaprio being shut out of the best actor race for "Inception," James L. Brooks' having a non-player in "How Do You know," Annette Bening's best actress nod and "Inception," "Social Network" and "Toy Story 3" being best picture locks among others."

*O.K., I was just 98% right.  "Tron: Legacy" didn't make the visual effects race, but I got "Inception" and "Iron Man 2" right. Sue me.

This year?  Obviously, the new best picture rules make things much more interesting or stressful (depending on how you see it), but there are some calls that this prognosticator has no problem making a little under five months before the nominations are handed out.*

*And yes, this writer will continue to refer to himself in the third person as much possible.  Just because he knows how much you love it (and you know who you are).

"Cars 2" won't keep the Pixar magic going
The worst reviewed film in Pixar history might have benefited Disney's bottom line, but John Lasseter's creative genius took a bit of a hit with this excuse to extend a toy franchise.  Luckily for Disney, the animated field may be slim this year.  "Rango" is the frontrunner, but the uneven "Rio" is an unsteady player while "Arthur Christmas" and "The Adventures of TinTin" are unknown quantities. Still, there's an excellent chance Pixar finds itself shut out of the race for the first time since the category debuted in 2002. Ouch.

Prediction: Forget a best picture nod, "Cars 2" might not even receive a best animated feature nod.  And, it's certainly not winning.  On the other hand, "Rango" is a lock for a best animated feature nomination.

It's ingenue vs. old school for best actress

This year's best actress race may be more interesting than best picture when it comes down to it.  On one end of the spectrum you have Meryl Streep going for her long-deserved third statue for "The Iron Lady," Glenn Close trying to get her first as a man in "Albert Nobbs" and Viola Davis trying to sneak in for carrying "The Help."  On the other you have relative youngersters including Cannes winner Kristin Dunst ("Melancholia"), Elizabeth Olsen ("Martha, Marcy Mae, Marlene"), Michelle Williams ("My Weekend with Marilyn"), Abbie Cornish ("W.E") and Sundance winner Felicity Jones ("Like Crazy") trying to win their first. An that doesn't even include contenders such as Charlize Theron, Tilda Swinton, Jodie Foster or Kate Winslet.  Oh me, oh my.

Prediction: Either Elizabeth Olsen or Felicity Jones will be nominated for best actress. Both?  Ummm....

Scott Rudin vs. Harvey Weinstein once more
Just when you thought it was safe to return to the Academy campaign, the two biggest prestige power brokers are back in the game.  Longtime rivals and rare allies, producer Scott Rudin and producer/studio entrepreneur Harvey Weinstein have clashed on films they have made together ("The Hours," "The Reader"), campaigned against each other ("The Social Network"/"The King's Speech") and attempted to say nice things about each other in the press.  Now, it's on.  Once again.  Rudin has "Moneyball," "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" and "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close."  Weinstein has "W.E," "The Artist," "The Iron Lady" and "My Weekend with Marilyn."  Sigh, if only there were 10 guaranteed spots so everyone could be happy.

Prediction: Rudin and Weinstein films will face off for best picture once again.  How many each get into the ring remains to be seen.

There will be lots of second guessing over dropping the guaranteed 10 nominees system
Duh. The new rule requiring a nominee to land 5% of first place votes will find campaigners trying to convince voters to vote for the film they would have voted 2nd or 3rd (in the old weighted system) in first place (um, OK).  It's going to lead to lots of drama, unnecessary stress and a very confused membership when they see which films made the cut and which didn't.  You'll see.

Prediction:  There will not be 10 best picture nominees.  In fact, there may not be eight or nine.  And, yes, very deserving films will be left on the sidelines.

Popular summer hits won't be nominated for best picture
The 10 rule was put into effect make sure deserved films such as "The Dark Knight" and "WALL-E" weren't left out of the best picture race.  Over the past two years of the rule's existence, it allowed acclaimed summer releases such as "Inception," "Up," "District 9," "Inglourious Basterds" and "Toy Story 3" make the field.  Don't expect any of that this time around.

"Harry Potter and  the Deathly Hallows, Pt. 2," "Rise of the Planet of the Apes," "The Help" and "Super 8" will not be nominated for best picture.

Woody Allen is back
75-years-old and with his biggest hit ever, Woody Allen will find himself back in the Academy's good graces.  A three-time winner and 21-time nominee, Allen's "Midnight in Paris" is a critic's favorite and legitimate box office hit with $51.6 million so far.  Allen was last nominated in 2006 in the original screenplay category for "Match Point" and sadly overlooked for "Vicky Christina Barcelona." That drought is about over.

Prediction: Allen's work in "Midnight in Paris" will be recognized in the best original screenplay category, but best picture or best director isn't a given. Not yet anyway.

It's the year of Jessica Chastain, but…
After banking a slew of significant movie roles over the past three years, Jessica Chastain finally had her theatrical coming out party as "Take Shelter" debuted at Sundance (in theaters this fall), "The Tree of Life" hit Cannes, "The Help" became a major summer hit, "The Debt" opens today, Berlin programmer "Coriolanus" arrives this fall, "Texas Killing Fields" debuts at Toronto and Al Pacino's "Wild Salmoe" premieres at Venice.  And yet, as amazing as she is in "Take Shelter," "The Help" and "The Tree of Life" landing best actress or best supporting actress nods will be very tough to come by.

Prediction: It will be close, but Chastain will not land an Oscar nod for any of her acclaimed roles.

George Clooney will return to the Kodak Theater
Is it 2006 all over again?  That's the year Clooney found himself with a slew of nominations for his directorial effort "Good Night, and Good Luck." but his first win was for his back-breaking role in "Syrianna."  Now, Clooney could experience deja vu with "The Ides of March," which he co-wrote, produced, directed and has a supporting role in and a leading performance in Alexander Payne's "The Descendants."   

Prediction: Whether as best director, best picture (producer), best adapted screenplay or best supporting actor for "The Ides of March" or for best actor for "The Descendants,"George Clooney will land at least his sixth nomination in 2012.

"The Tree of Life" will thrive in the below-the-line categories
There may not be any film more polarizing among critics, moviegoers and the industry than Terrence Malick's "The Tree of Life." Winner of the Palm d'Or (never a good omen for Oscar), "Life" has its passionate supporters but it was a disappointment on the art house circuit and even star Sean Penn has come out against Malick's editing choices on the film.  Again, a picture only needs 5% of the first place votes to try and get one of 10 slots, but a best picture nod feels dicey at the moment.

Prediction: "Life" is a lock for visual effects and cinematography.  Don't bet on anything else.

Billy Crystal will save Brett Ratner and Don Misher from the worst show ever
The Academy gave Brett Ratner the co-producing job no one else really wanted (truth hurts) only to have the media and industry reaction be worse than anyone expected (and they must have known it wasn't gonna be good).  Like a white knight riding in over the Malibu hills, beloved longtime and former host Billy Crystal has made it clear he's willing to return. In fact he's made that privately clear for a number of years, but now they really need him.

Billy Crystal will host and he'll basically be a defacto co-producer making sure the show doesn't go off track. Whew?

An actor you've likely never hard of, Jean Dujardin, is gonna make a quiet splash

There is a movie that is ripe to be an art house favorite this winter entitled "The Artist."  Shot in Hollywood in black and white and - gasp - in a silent movie style, Michel Hazanavicius' charmer is going to win over the industry quicker than Sarah Palin makes friends at a Tea Party rally.  Hollywood loves movies about themselves (they really do) and this romantic look at the transition from silent movies to "talkies" is going to be a big favorite.  The film has an excellent chance of landing a best picture not (not quite a lock yet), but leading man Jean Dujardin?  Well...

Prediction: Pencil Jean Dujardin in for a best actor nomination.  Trust me.

What do you think of this August's Oscar predictions?  Share your thoughts below.

For year-round entertainment commentary and awards season analysis follow Gregory Ellwood on Twitter @HitFixGregory.

To get all the latest Academy Awards, Film Festival and Awards Season news, sign up for custom alerts in the field at the top of this post.

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<p>The new poster for &quot;My Week with Marilyn&quot; with Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe and Eddie Redmayne.</p>

The new poster for "My Week with Marilyn" with Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe and Eddie Redmayne.

Credit: The Weinstein Company

Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe in striking 'My Week with Marilyn' teaser poster

One of the fall's more tempting new films

One of this year's more increasingly tempting new releases is the 1950's period romance "My Week with Marilyn."  Directed by Simon Curtis, the film follows a week in the production of "The Prince and the Showgirl" and the true story of a production assistant (Eddie Redmayne) who developed a close friendship with iconic American movie star Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams).  The picture already has substantial buzz behind it and it's also been selected as the centerpiece premiere at this year's prestigious and oh,so picky New York Film Festival.

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<p>Ryan Gosling in George Clooney's &quot;The Ides of March.&quot;</p>

Ryan Gosling in George Clooney's "The Ides of March."

Credit: Sony Pictures

Contender Countdown: Beware 'The Ides of March'?

Just when you thought you were safe Oscar returns

Just when you thought you were safe, the Oscar game returns. 

With the Venice, Telluride and Toronto Film Festivals just around the corner, industry pundits, including myself, have given our initial top ten picks in the annual Gurus of Gold rankings. Basically, a preview of what should shape up to be the main contenders across the board this awards season.

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<p>Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain and Sean Penn at the world premiere of &quot;The Tree of Life&quot; at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival.</p>

Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain and Sean Penn at the world premiere of "The Tree of Life" at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival.

Credit: AP Photo/Lionel Cironneau

Sean Penn doesn't seem to be a fan of 'The Tree of Life'

Penn: 'I’m still trying to figure out what I’m doing there'

When a majority of your performance ends up on the cutting room floor, it's understandable if you find yourself a bit disappointed with the final results of a highly anticipated feature film.  Three months after "The Tree of Life" was honored with the Palm d'Or at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, cast member Sean Penn is still trying to figure out the purpose of his character in Terrence Malick's critically praised epic.

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<p>Owen Wilson and Alison Pill in Woody Allen's &quot;Midnight in Paris.&quot;</p>

Owen Wilson and Alison Pill in Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris."

Credit: Sony Classics

Box Office: 'Midnight in Paris' hits the $50 million mark

Is a best picture nod next?

Continuing to surprise, the summer indie hit "Midnight in Paris" crossed the $50 million mark in domestic box office today.  With $50,062,843, "Paris" is already writer and director Woody Allen's biggest hit ever. But, it also is a significant grosser for many members of its ensemble cast.

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<p>Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly, Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz in a scene from Roman Polanski's &quot;Carnage.&quot;</p>

Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly, Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz in a scene from Roman Polanski's "Carnage."

Credit: Sony Classics

Watch: Jodie Foster and Kate Winslet steal the show in new 'Carnage' international trailer

New Roman Polanski dramedy an expected actor's shocase

Adapting a stage play to the big screen is never an easy task, especially when it's a self-contained story in limited locations and over a short time frame.  The past few years have seen hyped cinematic incarnations of acclaimed plays such as "The History Boys" and "Doubt," but now matter what the screenwriters and directors on each project tried to free the subject matter of its theatrical origins, each suffered the always feared critique that they still seemed more like filmed plays than movies. When it was announced Roman Polanski intended to tackle a movie version of Yasmina Reza's "God of Carnage" (re-titled "Carnage") that concern was raised by this pundit, especially after Polanski's disappointing and claustrophobic turn with "Death and the Maiden" in 1994.  Now, the first preview of "Carnage" has it the interwebs and, well, all is as was expected.

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<p>Hugh Dancy and Maggie Gyllenhaal in a scene from &quot;Hysteria.&quot;</p>

Hugh Dancy and Maggie Gyllenhaal in a scene from "Hysteria."

Watch: Hugh Dancy learns to pleasure women in the trailer for 'Hysteria'

Plus: New previews of 'Union Square' and 'Think of Me'

The Toronto International Film Festival is known as part of the early September kick-off of awards season, but it also serves as one of the busiest and more commercial acquisition markets in the world.  Some of the noteworthy pictures to be picked up out of Toronto over the past few years include Oscar winners "Crash" and "The Hurt Locker," "Insidious," "Everything Must Go," "Submarine," "Thank You For Smoking" and ( ).  While there are numerous awards season titles screening at the festival next month, TIFF also has some major premieres that could soon find their way to your local multiplex.  One romantic comedy that seems like true commercial fodder is "Hysteria."

Starring Hugh Dancy, Maggie Gyllenhaal (throwing out a Victorian Brit accent), Jonathan Pryce and don't look now Rupert Everett, the indie appears to be a cheeky look at the origins of the modern, um, electric "stimulator" for women.  The festival posted a production created trailer for the film and while the cut of the preview has pacing issues the film looks like it could easily be sold as a commercial art house hit (or as the Brits would say, "It's cheeky!").  Take a sneak peek yourself

A more serious and moody drama recently added to the Festival's line up is "Think of Me."  Written and directed by Bryan Wizemann, the picture stars Lauren Ambrose ("Six Feet Under") as a single mother struggling to get by in Las Vegas.  Facing pressure to give up her child, Ambrose's character must decide how far she'll go to survive and keep her tough life intact.  The film immediately conjures up allegories to 2006's "Sherrybaby," but Wizemann appears to be using the Vegas backdrop to make this seemingly familiar tale stand on its own.  "Think of Me" may be more appropriate for Sundance, but it's non-commercial feel will be welcome north of the border.  

"Union Square," on the other hand, looks like a potential Sundance pitch that didn't make the cut.  Featuring Tammy Blanchard and Mira Sorvino as estranged sisters (one's class, the other is crass), the drama was written and directed by Nancy Savoca who is best known for 1991's acclaimed indie "Dogfight" with River Phoenix and Lili Taylor.  We're not so convinced Savoca has returned to those heights with "Union Square," but we're hoping to be proved wrong.  Check out the trailer below and judge for yourself.


Look for continuing coverage of the Telluride and Toronto Film Festivals on Awards Campaign over the next month. 

For year round entertainment commentary and awards season news, follow Gregory Ellwood @HitFixGregory.


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<p>Jennifer Hudson as Winnie Mandela in &quot;Winnie.&quot;</p>

Jennifer Hudson as Winnie Mandela in "Winnie."

Jennifer Hudson's 'Winnie' among newly announced Toronto Film Festival galas

Plus: Saoirse Ronan and Alexis Blendel are 'Violet & Daisy'

The Toronto International Film Festival revealed a number of new galas and premieres for the upcoming September festival today including some long awaited features, some curious acquisition titles and a number of just plain surprises.  Most notably is "Winnie" starring Jennifer Hudson as the controversial freedom fighter Winnie Mandela and Geoffrey Fletcher's thriller "Violet & Daisy."  Here's a complete rundown with some thoughts for added measure.

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<p>Billy Crystal stops by the 83rd Academy Awards earlier this year.</p>

Billy Crystal stops by the 83rd Academy Awards earlier this year.

Credit: AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

Surprise: Billy Crystal wants to host the Oscars again

Should he?

After the startling news that the Academy was bringing back last year's Oscar co-producer Don Misher and teaming him with, um, Brett Ratner (lord, it's gonna be a long season) it appears one of the award show's most famous faces has seen an opening.  

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<p>Leonardo DiCaprio as J. Edgar Hoover in Clint Eastwood's &quot;J. Edgar&quot;</p>

Leonardo DiCaprio as J. Edgar Hoover in Clint Eastwood's "J. Edgar"

Credit: Warner Bros.

Clint Eastwood says Hoover's sexuality open 'for interpretation' in 'J. Edgar'

Plus: New images of the Leonardo DiCaprio drama

The fall movie season is less than a month away and with the shorter days and chillier nights Hollywood enters it's "serious" season.  The prestige picture extravaganza will begin with the triple threat of festivals in less than three weeks, Venice, Telluride and Toronto.  However, there are a few films currently skipping those early showcases in hopes of awards season glory later one.  One is the increasingly curious biopic "J. Edgar."

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