Considering the critical acclaim and cult following among cinefiles Wes Anderson has received over the past 13 years, it's surprising how little love Oscar has thrown his way.  Anderson only has two nominations to his credit so far: the first for co-writing "The Royal Tenenbaums" with Owen Wilson and, second, as director of best animated feature nominee "The Fantastic Mr. Fox."  You could argue that Anderson likely doesn't play the awards season game, but his producers and actors certainly have.  Now, after releasing his last two films through Fox Searchlight (a mini-major that knows something about Oscar), Anderson is taking his new live action project, "Moonrise Kingdom," to Focus Features (another mini-major that knows something about Oscar).

According to a release from the studio, "Kingdom" is "set on an island off the coast of New England in the 1960s" and "follows a young boy and girl falling in love. When they are moved to run away together, various factions of the town mobilize to search for them and the town is turned upside down – which might not be such a bad thing." 

Anderson has recruited yet another intriguing cast for the film including "we won't admit it, but we really want to win one" stars such as Bruce Willis (as the town sheriff), Edward Norton (a camp leader), Bill "I can't believe I haven't won one yet" Murray and Frances McDormand (the latter playing the girl's parents).  Anderson's old buddy Jason Schwartzman and Tilda "I never thought I'd win one" Swinton are also on board.  The young couple in love are played by newcomers Jack Gilman and Kara Hayward.  And, the number one reason you can't take "Kingdom" out of your sights as a potential awards player is that Scott Rudin ("The Social Network," "No Country For Old Men") is producing.  In fact, Rudin has produced every Anderson picture since the filmmaker first broke through with "Rushmore" in 1998.

Focus Features CEO John Schamus noted in a release today, "One of the world’s most distinctive filmmakers, Wes crafts witty and emotionally affecting pictures. The stellar cast will bring his and Roman’s fanciful script to life, and audiences will enjoy their trip back in time to this Kingdom. Everyone at Focus is pleased to be working with Wes and partnering with Indian Paintbrush."

Focus will rep the film at this year's Cannes Film Market where it will look for international distribution.  Shooting now, it's unclear whether Anderson can get "Kingdom" done by December, but there's certainly an open slot on Focus' release schedule for it if the film is completed in time.

In other news…

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced this year's finalists for the Student Academy Awards and surprisingly, one of the most prestigious film schools in the country, USC, was not represented among the 22 schools and 33 film students who made the cut.  (We knew the NCAA sanctions against the school's football program were tough, but not that tough.)  Instead, this pundits Alma mater (CalArts) once again made the cut as did surprising entries from the University of Michigan, the University of Colorado, Dartmouth College, the University of Florida, UC Berkeley, The New School, Pratt Institute and City College New York.  As expected, AFI, NYU, Columbia and UCLA students were among the finalists in four categories.

According to AMPAS, Academy members will view the finalists’ films at special screenings and then vote to select the winners.  Gold, Silver and Bronze Medal awards, along with accompanying cash prizes of $5,000, $3,000 and $2,000, respectively, may be presented in each of four categories: Alternative, Animation, Documentary and Narrative.  The winning filmmakers will get a free trip to Los Angeles for a week of industry-related activities (usually some agency meetings) and social events (lots of older Academy members with too much time on their hands) that will culminate in the awards ceremony on Saturday, June 11, at the Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater (which means a nice after-reception in the lobby).

The finalists (listed alphabetically by film title) are below.  Sincere congrats to all the nominees.  You've made your parents and Sallie Mae very proud.

Alternative

“Bitter,” Vlad Korishev, the Art Institute of California - San Francisco
“The Dust Machine,” Damon Mohl, University of Colorado, Boulder
“The Vermeers,” Tal S. Shamir, The New School, New York
“Unreal City,” Bryan Bykowicz, University of Michigan-Dearborn

Animation

“The Birds Upstairs,” Christopher Jarvis, New York University
“Correspondence,” Zach Hyer, Pratt Institute, New York
“Defective Detective,” Avner Geller and Stevie Lewis, Ringling College of Art and Design, Florida
“Dragonboy,” Bernardo Warman, Academy of Art University, California
“The Girl and the Fox,” Tyler Kupferer, Savannah College of Art and Design, Georgia
“Heart,” Erick Oh, University of California, Los Angeles
“The Renter,” Jason Carpenter, California Institute of the Arts
“Swing,” Yen-Ting Kuo, School of Visual Arts, New York
“Treasure,” Chelsea Bartlett, Ringling College of Art and Design, Florida

Documentary
“After,” Jeremy Cohen, The New School, New York
“Civil Indigent,” Nicholas Corrao and David Hafter, University of Florida
“Feast & Sacrifice,” Clare Major, University of California, Berkeley
“Imaginary Circumstances,” Anthony Weeks, Stanford University
“Shape of the Shapeless,” Jayan Cherian, City College of New York
“Sin Pais (Without Country),” Theo Rigby, Stanford University, California
“This is Us: Video Stories from Senegalese Youth,” Jeremy Teicher, Dartmouth College
“The Time Machine,” Mark Kendall, School of Visual Arts, New York
“Vera Klement: Blunt Edge,” Wonjung Bae, Columbia College Chicago

Narrative

“The Candidate,” David Karlak, Savannah College of Art and Design, Georgia
“Fatakra,” Soham Mehta, University of Texas at Austin
“Flagpole,” Matt Kazman, New York University
“High Maintenance,” Shawn Wines, Columbia University
“Le Jeu des Soldats,” Lorne Hiltser, American Film Institute, California
“My First Claire,” Lou Howe, American Film Institute, California
“Snovi,” Reshad Kulenovic, Boston University
“Thief,” Julian Higgins, American Film Institute, California
“The Wind Is Blowing on My Street,” Saba Riazi, New York University