NEW YORK - The world premiere of Steven Spielberg's "War Horse" took place Sunday night at Avery Fisher Hall in Lincoln Center and a slew of notable New Yorkers came out to screen the potential best picture player. Besides Spielberg himself, other industry faces included Walt Disney Studios Chairman Rich Ross, Joel Coen, Stephen Daldry (who has his own awards season player waiting in the wings), best actress contender Elizabeth Olsen, "Shame" director Steve McQueen, NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams, Brian Cox, Billy Connolly, Ed Westwick, Stephen Lang, Eriq La Salle, Phylicia Rashad and um, Kathie Lee Gifford among others.

And, of course, almost the entire cast was on hand including Tom Hiddleston, Emily Watson, David Thewlis, David Kross, Toby Kebbell, Patrick Kennedy and newcomers Celine Buckens and, the film's leading human being, Jeremy Irvine.  Sadly, none of the 7 to14 horses (the number keeps changing) who played Joey were in attendance.

Happily for DreamWorks, the picture absolutely played to the New York audience as women (and no doubt many men) were visibly weeping at just the right moments.  Spielberg and John Williams (again, a magnificent score) got a huge amount of applause when their title cards appeared in the credits.

During the after party I caught up with Elizabeth Olsen for a few moments and she said while she liked the movie she didn't cry. Of course, she noted tha many of the people in her seating area were.  Attending a premiere like this is a very smart move for the "Martha Marcy May Marlene" star. Arguably a more glamorous star than anyone in the cast of "War Horse," she found herself at the center of everyone's gaze and she worked the room like a pro.  She's already received public support from actors such as Alec Baldwin, but being able to speak and get out there in front of New York Academy members, especially those in the acting branch is huge for her.  With Streep, Williams, Davis and Close basically locked for four of the five best actress slots, she's battling Charlize Theron, Tilda Swinton, Felicity Jones and Kirsten Dunst for the fifth nomination.  It's just a tough year for the ladies.

As for "War Horse," debuting in theater-friendly New York and only yards away from where the Tony Award-winning play is still running was a very gutsy move.  The NY theater crowd will always be deferential to the stage version first and it will be interesting to see what the buzz from the East Coast is considering how different the movie is from the play.  That being said, the film likely won over some skeptics who just came to pay homage to Spielberg.  Moreover, it will play like gangbusters for Acadmy members in Los Angeles and those who haven't seen the spectacle of the horse puppetry-filled play.  Again, very different beasts at, um, play here.

On a somewhat bizarre side note, Madonna's "W.E" had its effective New York premiere at the same time as "War Horse" at the Museum of Modern Art.  Clearly not an awards season player at this point, "W.E" put the spotlight on director and co-screenwriter Madonna as well as Andrea Riseborough whose portrayal of Wallis Simpson is the only thing critics seemed to like about the flashback romance.  "W.E" was a slightly different crowd with Valentino, Chloe Sevigny, Parker Posey, Kim Cattrall, Michelle Trachtenberg and, um, NASCAR legend Jeff Gordon attending (yeah, must be the wife).

The awards season focus will tilt back to LA on Tuesday night when "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" premieres, but this night? A very good outing for Spielberg and his veteran "War Horse" team.  Their race has officially begun.

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