Hurricane Sandy is still sadly the focus of the Northeast (as well as that of family and friends from those areas affected) and the 2012 election is finally coming to a merciful end Tuesday. And what that really means is we're about to enter eight weeks of very intense Academy campaigning. Technically, contenders have been holding screenings and Q&As from Los Angeles to San Francisco to New York (although it's been tough the past week) for months.  Beginning Thursday, the always awards-friendly AFI Fest began and the pressure cooker got a wee bit busier.  With that in mind, here's a snapshot of one pundit's busy award season weekend.

FRIDAY

9:45 - Lionsgate and Summit Holiday Celebration
Held earlier than normal to coincide with all the talent from "Breaking Dawn" in town, a number of awards season players were on hand to celebrate the holidays.  I spoke to "Perks of a Wallflower" writer/director Stephen Chbosky who told me he's thrilled that fans of the book seem to adore the movie.  Summit is hoping Chbosky can crack the always tough adapted screenplay category (I also think they should push Ezra Miller hard in supporting).  And good news is a "Perks" screener will make it to guild and Academy members before Thanksgiving.  Keep hope alive "Perks" fans.

Ran into Jonathan Levine who segued from last year's "50/50"  to this February's zombie romance "Warm Bodies."  He sounds like he's going to take at least a year off from directing and might concentrate on screenwriting for a bit.

Most of the night, however, was spent catching up with "The Impossible's" director Juan Antonio Bayona and his producing partner Belén Atienza.  The latter was extremely proud and excited about the film's box office performance in their native Spain where it had the largest opening of all time and has already grossed $42.5 million (in just that territory).  France is next, followed by the US limited release in Dec and then more of Europe in January. 

Bayona is an incredible talent (as evidenced by "The Impossible" and "The Orphanage") and I asked the 37-year-old Barcelona native if he'd been considered for "Justice League" at all. Bayona has taken a ton of top level meetings around town, but at the moment he is not. Intriguingly, though, he did tell me he's a huge Superman fan. It's always been his favorite superhero and he'd have loved to have helmed "Man of Steel."  Are you listening Warner Bros.?

This was the third time I'd met Bayona after an interview in Toronto and moderating a Q&A for "The Impossible" a few weeks ago. That was one of the rare guild Q&As I'd witnessed a standing ovation and Bayona said the reaction wherever they have gone has been incredibly positive.  Both he and Atienza are riding the awards season wave and they still have a long way to go before "The Impossible" washes up on shore.

SATURDAY

10:15 AM - Marion Cotillard talks "Rust & Bone"

Jacques Audiard's "Rust & Bone" is having its Los Angeles premiere on Monday night, but Audiard, Marion Cotilalrd and amazingly charismatic Matthias Schoenaerts sat down for some interviews Saturday morning.

Audiard, best known for 2009's "A Prophet," told me he normally likes to do extensive rehearsals for his films, but Cotillard was tied up with shooting Christopher Nolan's "Dark Knight Rises" and much of it had to be worked out on set.  He also revealed he's much more comfortable and open to special effects after how naturally they worked into "Bone."

Cotillard says she was nervous about her role in "Rust" because her favorite part of the acting process is actually researching her role, something "Rises" really cut into.  Look for further insight into "Rust" when interviews with Cotillard and Schoenaerts post sometime over the next week.

8:45 PM - "Holy Motors" screens 1:45 min late

Another French film, Leos Carax's "Holy Motors," was set for a 7:00 PM LA premiere at the Egyptian for AFI Fest, but the digital projector broke forcing an almost 2-hour wait for the film to screen.  In order to allow the event to continue, a Blu-ray of the film was projected instead. Unfortunately, it just took some time to get one.  It would have been nice if AFI had let everyone into the theater to sit down earlier, but perhaps that's a lesson for the 2013 edition of the festival.  The wait was well worth it, however.  Carax's surrealistic drama features a tour de force performance from star Denis Lavant. The 42-year-old is simply spectacular as a man who becomes many different men in what can only be described as an "act of life." Eva Mendes and Kylie Minogue have small, but impressionable roles.  Mendes walked the red carpet, but didn't stick around for the film's introduction.  "Motors' is currently playing in New York, New Haven, Montclair and Boston. It will eventually hit Los Angeles on Nov. 16.  It's an understatement to categorize it as a must-see for any true cinephile.

SUNDAY

10 AM - "Flight" surprises with $25 million

The Oscar race takes a surprising turn as Robert Zemeckis' "Flight" completely over-performs at the box office with a $25 million gross in just 1,800 or so theaters.  This strong audience reaction combined with solid (although not spectacular) reviews (76 on Metacritic, 77% on Rotten Tomatoes) is prime evidence that the drama is more than a Denzel Washington play for best actor.  "Flight" now has a legitimate shot at a best picture nomination and as more pretenders fall out of the race box office success may keep this one in play until Jan 10.

8:30 PM - "The Impossible" screens at AFI Film Fest

"The Impossible" crew brought their powerful true life drama to Grauman's Chinese Theater and it was a joy to take it in on such a big screen. The audience was moved by Bayona's achievement and a number of people were visibly crying at key moments during the picture. Ewan McGregor was in his element during the post-screening Q&A where he charmed the crowd with stories from the set.  I hadn't seen the picture since August and this second viewing only reiterated to me that it will land high on my personal top 10 list.  Let's hope Summit and their awards campaign agency can get more guild members to see it in the weeks to come.

Of course, the weekend also featured a basketball league game (loss, sigh) and a few hours making calls for a presidential candidate who is quite popular in California.  But that has little to do with awards season. Still, everyone needs a break now and then.  Whether that will happen after Tuesday is a completely different story.