<p>Robin&nbsp;Williams and Forest Whitaker in &quot;Lee Daniels'&nbsp;The Butler&quot;</p>

Robin Williams and Forest Whitaker in "Lee Daniels' The Butler"

Credit: The Weinstein Company

Will 'Lee Daniels' The Butler' be an awards season preface or just a puffy prelude?

Oprah Winfrey, if nothing else, would appear to have a great shot at recognition

Showbiz 411's Roger Friedman -- who some might call a noted Harvey Weinstein shill -- bloviated about "Lee Daniels' The Butler" under the cover of "Oscar observation" a few weeks ago but apparently no one else could. The embargo is up today so let's get into it. The question on this one is, will it be an awards player or will it just fade out before the season even gets here? A few thoughts...

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<p>Joaquin Phoenix in Spike Jonze's &quot;Her.&quot;</p>

Joaquin Phoenix in Spike Jonze's "Her."

Credit: Warner Bros.

Spike Jonze's 'Her' will close the 2013 New York Film Festival

Plum awards slot for Warner Bros. unconventional awards season entry

The Film Society of Lincoln Center announced today that Spike Jonze's "Her" will close the 51st New York Film Festival on Sunday, Oct. 13. "Her" is Jonze's first film since 2009's "Where the Wild Things Are" and his first original screenplay.  

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<p>Rebecca Hall in &quot;Une Promesse.&quot;</p>

Rebecca Hall in "Une Promesse."

Credit: Venice Film Festival

Venice adds 'Une Promesse' to lineup, as Carrie Fisher completes Competition jury

Rebecca Hall and Alan Rickman star in the out-of-competition entry

Shortly after the Venice Film Festival announced its heavyweight lineup last month, fest director Alberto Barbera teased us with the promise of later additions to the programme: "There are at least a couple of films we're still working on, American films," he said, stirring much excitement and speculation over various high-profile titles. Today, at least some of those latecomers were announced, and even if they're not the breathlessly awaited A-list titles some pundits were improbably hoping for, they add further shading to an already eclectic selection.

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<p>John&nbsp;Goodman, Matt&nbsp;Damon, George&nbsp;Clooney, Bob&nbsp;Balaban and Bill Murray in &quot;The&nbsp;Monuments Men&quot;</p>

John Goodman, Matt Damon, George Clooney, Bob Balaban and Bill Murray in "The Monuments Men"

Credit: Sony Pictures

'Monuments Men' trailer finds George Clooney and Matt Damon on the hunt for stolen art

Well...that sure looks like a player

How is George Clooney's "The Monuments Men" going to shape up this season? Frankly, this "movie" movie is starting to looking like another "Argo," potentially, a middle-ground choice that entertains with a slice of history but has a populist edge to it that will draw in audiences, not just the industry.

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<p>Richmond Arquette in &quot;This is Martin Bonner.&quot;</p>

Richmond Arquette in "This is Martin Bonner."

Credit: Monterey Media

Chad Hartigan's 'This is Martin Bonner' hits New York and Los Angeles next week

Check out the trailer for the subtly moving festival hit

Many of you will remember the days when Chad Hartigan was our reliably astute and highly discriminating box office analyst back at the old In Contention site -- we miss him still. But that was then and this is now, and Chad's been making waves on the festival circuit this year with his thoughtful, penetrating second feature "This is Martin Bonner."  "'Decency' isn't much of a buzzword in the current, irony-fuelled indie realm," I wrote in my Edinburgh Film Festival review of the two-hander character study, "but 'Martin Bonner' possesses a pure, palpable strain of it from first cleanly composed frame to last."

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Revisit 'Blue Jasmine' with Peter Sarsgaard and Andrew Dice Clay

Revisit 'Blue Jasmine' with Peter Sarsgaard and Andrew Dice Clay

Woody delivers another summer surprise

Looking over the past few months, you might think the summer surprise of 2013 was the critical and box office success of "The Conjuring." Not really. All corners of the industry knew that Warner Bros. release was a hit in the making after early screenings started the buzz in the spring. It wasn't the word of mouth success for "Fruitvale" either.  That award-winning drama had a passionate following out of Sundance in January.  And the disappointments of "Lone Ranger," "White House Down," "After Earth,""Turbo" or "R.I.P.D."?  Um, yeah. Personally, I'm kicking myself for not going to Vegas to put money down on how those movies would perform months ago.  No, the surprise this summer is, hands down, "Blue Jasmine."

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<p>Sissy Spacek as the fictionalized Caril Ann Clair in &quot;Badlands.&quot;</p>

Sissy Spacek as the fictionalized Caril Ann Clair in "Badlands."

Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Memories of 'Badlands' as real-life inspiration hits the headlines

70-year-old Caril Ann Clair injured and widowed in car crash

For whatever reason, a lot of elements have combined lately to make me think of Terrence Malick's "Badlands." It's never an unwelcome thought, of course: Malick's debut feature, which somewhat unbelievably celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, remains his coolest and crispest work. That's not necessarily to say it's his best, but this portrait of a kid couple's Midwestern massacre retains a bare, bony lyricism that cuts as close today as it must have in 1973; it's at once his oldest and youngest film.

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<p>Brie Larson and Kaitlyn Dever in &quot;Short Term 12&quot;</p>

Brie Larson and Kaitlyn Dever in "Short Term 12"

Credit: Cinedigm

On the dismissive attitude toward indie Oscar hopefuls

We see it every year but it's really bugging me this time around

I was thinking recently about something that really agitates me when it comes to the awards season, which is this notion that certain accomplishments are instinctively relegated to the "indie" bin of the Independent Spirit Awards or the Gotham Awards, like some ghetto of would-be Oscar contenders.

Every season when I have conversations with publicists and journalists about what's in the mix for awards, I tend to mention things like, oh, Elizabeth Olsen in "Martha Marcy May Marlene," or Woody Harrelson in "Rampart," to name a couple of examples. "Yeah but that's just Indie Spirits," someone will reply. And it bugs the ever-loving crap out of me.

I don't want to come off foolishly idealistic because we all know what's what, but why does it HAVE to be? Why can't that spotlight be shone? Why instinctively compartmentalize the season like that and not allow it to breathe a bit? I think we've always tried to be inclusive in our coverage rather than exclusive. Even if it's clear something isn't going to happen for this or that hopeful, we make it clear when they deserve to be in the ring. But others are far too quick to marginalize.

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<p>Michael Fassbender in &quot;The Counselor.&quot;</p>

Michael Fassbender in "The Counselor."

Credit: 20th Century Fox

Has Michael Fassbender been bad, asks trailer for Ridley Scott's 'The Counselor'

Brad Pitt, Cameron Diaz, Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem also star

It's been a while since a Ridley Scott film fully delivered on its pre-release promise: disagreement lingers as to what degree of disappointment "Prometheus" was, while the likes of "Robin Hood," "Body of Lies" and "A Good Year" languish largely unloved in his recent history. Still, given the sheer volume of talent involved, it's hard not to get a little excited for his upcoming thriller "The Counselor" -- not least because it represents the first time an original screenplay by Pulitzer Prize winner Cormac McCarthy has been filmed.

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<p>Joaquin Phoenix in &quot;Her&quot;</p>

Joaquin Phoenix in "Her"

Credit: Warner Bros.

Joaquin Phoenix falls for a cyber Scarlett Johansson in the trailer for Spike Jonze's 'Her'

The film looks to be another fascinating meditation from a vital filmmaking voice

Spike Jonze has been firing on all cylinders since his 1999 debut "Being John Malkovich." Every new film is cause for excitement, whether awards are in the picture or not. His is a vital voice and his latest, "Her," promises to deliver another fresh stroke in the filmmaker's feature career.

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