<p>Matt Damon in a very Cameron Crowe like moment from &quot;We Bought A Zoo.&quot;</p>

Matt Damon in a very Cameron Crowe like moment from "We Bought A Zoo."

Credit: 20th Century Fox

Cameron Crowe gets out of movie jail with charming and commercial 'We Bought A Zoo'

20th Century Fox sneaks a month early to create buzz

Cameron Crowe's Get Out of Jail card just hit theaters.  Well, it hit your multiplex for a sneak peek on Saturday night.  "We Bought A Zoo" is Crowe's first movie since the disastrous "Elizabethtown" in 2005.  That romance Crowe's second critical failure after "Vanilla Sky," but the former thriller still had enough Tom Cruise star power to turn a profit. Not only did "Elizabethtown" cool Crowe's previously lauded career, but it was one of the reasons Cruise and his then producing partner, Paula Wagner, found themselves out of a production deal at Paramount.  Now, six years later, Crowe returns with "Zoo," a very commercial dramedy with some of the filmmaker's trademark touches thrown in for good measure.

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<p>Albert&nbsp;(Jeremy Irvine) takes Joey for a ride during a happy moment in Steven Spielberg's &quot;War Horse.&quot;</p>

Albert (Jeremy Irvine) takes Joey for a ride during a happy moment in Steven Spielberg's "War Horse."

Credit: Dreamworks Studios

'War Horse' makes it a three-horse race for best picture

Will Spielberg's epic sprinted past the competition?

Steven Spielberg hasn't been a major player in the Oscar game since "Munich" was nominated for best picture and he received a best director nod in 2006.  In the five year since, Spielberg re-teamed with his old buddy George Lucas on another "Indiana Jones" adventure (one best forgotten) and spent a good deal of effort giving DreamWorks Studios new life at the Walt Disney Company after an unsuccessful alliance with Paramount.  Spielberg's first directorial effort for the new DreamWorks is "War Horse" and ever since the rights to Michael Morpurgo's 1982 novel were acquired the project had the Oscar bait stamp all over it.  The film has been finished since late summer when selected long lead press screened it. Over the past few weeks more media found themselves partaking the approximately 2 hour and 20 min epic as well as some random film screening groups that Spielberg personally attended. On Thanksgiving the floodgates opened and guild, Academy and media members all began to bask in the legendary filmmaker's endeavor.  And, surprise, awards season took a turn.

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<p>Jean Dujardin and B&eacute;r&eacute;nice Bejo discuss &quot;The Artist.&quot;</p>

Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo discuss "The Artist."

Meet the celebrated stars of 'The Artist': In sound and living color

Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo

If you're in the vicinity of Los Angeles or New York for the holidays you've already had a chance to catch such awards season players as "My Week with Marilyn," "Hugo," "The Descendants" and maybe even "Melancholia" if you didn't watch it on VOD already.  Today, one of the frontrunners in the race finally hits screens on this side of the Atlantic, "The Artist."

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<p>The U.S. poster for Angelina Jolie's directorial debut &quot;In the Land of Blood and Honey.&quot;</p>

The U.S. poster for Angelina Jolie's directorial debut "In the Land of Blood and Honey."

Credit: FilmDistrict

Angelina Jolie's 'In the Land of Blood and Honey' gets a bloody romantic poster

Jolie's directorial debut arrives next month

Is "In the Land of Blood and Honey" really an awards player?  That remains to be seen, but   FilmDistrict is providing Angelina Jolie's directorial debut with a prestige release to make Madonna (aka "W.E" helmer) envy. The mini-major already made noise by deciding to release the drama in the native Bosnian language of the film's characters and setting (although it's know officially called Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian (Bosanski/Hrvatski/Srpski)).  Joust in case, Jolie shot each scene in English, but the studio and Jolie felt it was better served in  Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian.  The studio has also released a trailer which shows that Jolie may have more cinematic talent than many would have believed (she also has sole credit on the picture's screenplay).  Now, a striking and iconic poster for "Blood" has hit the web and it should absolutely draw moviegoers attention.  And, considering the lack of star power in front of the screen, that's a very good thing.

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<p>Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe in &quot;My Week with Marilyn.&quot;</p>

Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe in "My Week with Marilyn."

Credit: The Weinstein Company

Speed dating with Michelle Williams over 'My Week with Marilyn'

Short and very sweet

Michelle Williams doesn't have much time.  I mean, she really doesn't have much time. The two-time Academy Award nominated actress landed in Los Angeles just a few hours ago and now has only one hour, yes, just one hour to do interviews with a slew of waiting reporters at the always bustling Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills.  it won't be long before Williams has to walk the red carpet at the premiere of "My Week with Marilyn" at AFI Fest that evening and when her people say she only has an hour they aren't kidding.  My specific warning before sitting down with the best actress contender: Just two questions with the always charming Ms. Williams.  Eke. I better make them good.  

Needless to say, it was a much different story a year ago when I sat down for a much longer and more intimate chat regarding her acclaimed work in "Blue Valentine." But with Williams still busy filming Sam Raimi's "Oz: The Great and Powerful" with James Franco, the luxury of an in-depth conversation about her turn portraying the iconic Marilyn Monroe isn't going to happen (for anyone). When I first sat down across from a beaming Williams, she asked me, "Are you ready to speed date?"  I'm not sure if I passed the test, but it was a cheerful 2 1/2 minutes I likely won't forget.

To find out Williams thoughts about playing one of her childhood icons and the agony of "over thinking" a role watch the interview embedded above.  Oh, and note for all you Hollywood producers and directors out there who are likely to be blown away by Ms. Williams singing talents in "Marilyn," she'd love to appear in a movie musical.  Really.

For more on Williams transformation as Monroe, check out an intriguing look at the actress getting into character on set and during a special photo shoot for photographer Brigitte Lacombe.

"My Week with Marilyn" is now playing in limited release across the country.

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

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<p>Michael Fassbender as Sigmund Freud and Keira Knightley as Sabina Spielrein in David Cronenberg's &quot;A Dangerous Method.&quot;</p>

Michael Fassbender as Sigmund Freud and Keira Knightley as Sabina Spielrein in David Cronenberg's "A Dangerous Method."

Credit: Sony Classics

Keira Knightley brings the hysterical to 'A Dangerous Method' (and she isn't being funny people)

A Q&A with the former Oscar nominee

TORONTO - In the midst of a busy Toronto Film Festival, I found myself racing to the Fairmont Royal Oak Hotel.  One particular actress was in town for only a few more hours and this was a rare opportunity for a sit down one on one with her.  The star in question was none other than Keira Knightley, the former "Pirates of the Caribbean" star who has spent the last four years running from blockbusters and, instead, gaining respect with stellar performances in films such as "Atonement," the underrated "The Edge of Love," "Never Let Me Go," the also underrated "Last Night" and "The Duchess."  This fall she's delivered a career best turn in David Cronenberg's "A Dangerous Method."

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<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'

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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