<p>Scarlett Johansson in &quot;Under the Skin.&quot;</p>

Scarlett Johansson in "Under the Skin."

Credit: Film4

Venice preview, part three: 'Under the Skin,' 'Night Moves,' 'Tom at the Farm,' 'Ana Arabia,' 'The Police Officer's Wife'

Casting an eye over another five Golden Lion contenders

Continuing our preview of the 20 titles in the running for the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, which kicks off next week. Today's selection includes new films from Jonathan Glazer, Kelly Reichardt, Xavier Dolan, Amos Gitai and Philip Gröning. 

"Under the Skin," directed by Jonathan Glazer: Regular readers may well have worked out that this is my most anticipated title of the Venice Film Festival -- if not the entire remainder of 2013. Impatiently, I held out a sliver of hope that Glazer's long-awaited third feature would show up in Cannes, but it was always likeliest to premiere on the Lido -- where the British director's last feature, "Birth," was unveiled a full nine years ago. The eerie reincarnation drama was an immediately polarizing title. Some denounced it as overreaching twaddle; I'm in the camp that deems it one of the films of the new century. Nothing about "Under the Skin" suggests that Glazer, in his long absence, has grown any more inclined to play it safe.

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<p>Zac Efron in &quot;Parkland.&quot;</p>

Zac Efron in "Parkland."

Credit: Open Road Films

Venice preview, part two: 'The Wind Rises,' 'Parkland,' 'The Unknown Known,' 'L'intrepido,' 'Miss Violence'

Casting an eye over another five Golden Lion contenders

Continuing our preview of the 20 titles in the running for the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, which kicks off next week. Today's selection includes new films from Hayao Miyazaki, Peter Landesman, Errol Morris, Alexandros Avranas and Gianni Amelio.

"The Wind Rises," directed by Hayao Miyazaki: It's been five years since the last Miyazaki-directed feature, "Ponyo," premiered in Competition at Venice -- and honestly, that sweet but unapologetically minor children's film wasn't enough to satisfy Miyazaki fans' cravings for over half a decade. Since the veteran Japanese animator ascended to festival auteur status (a promotion sealed when eventual Oscar-winner "Spirited Away" won the Golden Bear at Berlin), his work has arrived with crossover expectations that "Ponyo"'s gentle maritime charms couldn't quite fulfil. That looks likely to change with "The Wind Rises," a significant change of pace for the director, and one of the most ambitious projects of his big-dreaming career.

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<p>The ensemble of &quot;The World's End.&quot;</p>

The ensemble of "The World's End."

Credit: Focus Features

Tell us what you thought of 'The World's End'

Will you raise a glass to Edgar Wright's apocalyptic bar-crawl comedy?

Years from now, when the dust has settled on the multiplex offerings of summer 2013 -- and I have a feeling we're talking quite a lot of dust here -- people will still be confusing "The World's End" with "This is the End," and vice versa. (In fact, the passage of time will only render the distinction fuzzier.) Perhaps they'll be put together in a box-set, so people will have their bases covered. Anyway, both are casually structured apocalyptic comedies, both have boisterous, largely male ensembles, and both are reasonably amusing. It's the British one, however, that has won the critical war.

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<p>Time to trade those in for the cape and cowl, sir.</p>

Time to trade those in for the cape and cowl, sir.

Credit: Focus Features

Ben Affleck goes from Best Picture-winning 'Argo' to... Batman?

An interesting and seemingly counter-intuitive choice from the actor/director

I think I'm in, like, Russellville, Arkansas or something like that. Mid-trek cross-country. Checked into the hotel, grabbed a shower, settled in and…Holy Argo, Batman -- Ben Affleck has been cast as the new Dark Knight in Zack Snyder's still untitled "Man of Steel" sequel (tentatively being called "Batman vs. Superman").

So if you're keeping score at home, that puts last year's Best Picture winner in the weirdly rare air of having played Superman (2006's "Hollywoodland") AND Batman in his career. Oh, and Daredevil, too. But let's break this down...

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<p>Oscar Isaac in &quot;Inside Llewyn Davis.&quot;</p>

Oscar Isaac in "Inside Llewyn Davis."

Credit: CBS Films

New trailer for 'Inside Llewyn Davis' further showcases Oscar Isaac's charisma

But you've still got to wait over three months to see the Coens' latest

The further I get away from the Joel and Ethan Coen's "Inside Llewyn Davis" -- which won the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes, along with adulation of critics -- the more I find myself thinking of Oscar Isaac's performance before I do the film surrounding him. That's no slight on "Davis," which is every bit as cool and acute and exquisitely crafted as the brothers' top-tier work, but it's Isaac who carries its soul, warming and roughing up its wintery reserve. I still have no idea what the film's profile will be this awards season -- it could as easily be the critics' cause as the distantly admired outsider -- but if it lands right with Academy voters, I hope Isaac lands with it.

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<p>Judi Dench and Steve Coogan in &quot;Philomena.&quot;</p>

Judi Dench and Steve Coogan in "Philomena."

Credit: The Weinstein Company

Venice preview, part one: 'Philomena,' 'Child of God,' 'Stray Dogs,' 'Jealousy,' 'The Rooftop'

Our first overview of the titles competing for the Golden Lion at this year's fest

I can hardly believe we're at that point in the year already, but it's less than a week until Alfonso Cuaron's "Gravity" opens the Venice Film Festival on Wednesday -- kicking off a long, busy, hype-filled run of fall festivals, and in turn, priming us for the even longer, even busier, even more hype-filled awards season that lies ahead. As usual, I'll be in attendance at Venice, and this year, we've heard your requests for a more detailed festival preview than usual. Time is too short for me to preview the 20 Competition titles individually, as in my Cannes Check series. Each day for the next few days, however, I'll be casting an eye over a mixed selection of five Golden Lion contenders -- beginning today with the latest from Stephen Frears, James Franco, Tsai Ming-Liang, Philippe Garrel and Merzak Allouache.   

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<p>Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, Christian Bale and Jennifer Lawrence in &quot;American Hustle.&quot;</p>

Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, Christian Bale and Jennifer Lawrence in "American Hustle."

Credit: Sony Pictures

Oscar pundits set the field before festival madness begins

The Gurus are back and taking names

Ah, it's that time of year again. Do you feel it in the air? Pundits from coast to coast have been roughly awoken from their off-season slumber to groggily begin walking the long, tedious road to Oscar. There will be amazing moments of euphoria, oceans of tears, rivers of laughter, shocking upsets and devious betrayals, but eventually the Academy gods will come down from Mount Olympus (really, it's right around the corner from Hollywood) and proclaim who is truly worthy of their golden gifts.

That magical night is still a little less than, cough, seven, cough, months away. In the meantime, we have the first look at a consensus field from the ever prestigious…

Gurus of Gold.

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<p>Ralph Fiennes and Cate Blanchett in &quot;Oscar and Lucinda.&quot;</p>

Ralph Fiennes and Cate Blanchett in "Oscar and Lucinda."

Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Cate Blanchett and Ralph Fiennes to receive Gala Tributes at NYFF

Fiennes' directorial effort 'The Invisible Woman' will also bow at the fest

Calling all "Oscar and Lucinda" fans! The New York Film Festival has a reunion of sorts for you. Back in 1997 -- one year before her star-making role in "Elizabeth," that little-seen Australian romantic drama announced 28-year-old newcomer Cate Blanchett to the moviegoing public; the striking actress was then an unknown quantity beside the headlining name of her more seasoned co-star Ralph Fiennes, by then a two-time Oscar nominee and high-end heart-throb.

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<p>Audrey Tautou in &quot;Th&eacute;r&egrave;se.&quot;</p>

Audrey Tautou in "Thérèse."

Credit: MPI Media Group

Exclusive clip of Audrey Tautou in elegant French melodrama 'Thérèse'

Last year's Cannes closer opens in limited release tomorrow

While we're waiting for the breakout films of this year's Cannes Film Festival to make their way over to theaters -- in many cases, via the fall festival circuit -- we still have some unfinished business from Cannes 2012. Opening in limited release tomorrow is French period melodrama "Thérèse" (at different points dubbed "Thérèse Dequeyroux" or "Thérèse D"), which was the Closing Night film of last year's fest.

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<p>Dougray Scott in &quot;Mission:&nbsp;Impossible&nbsp;II&quot;</p>

Dougray Scott in "Mission: Impossible II"

Credit: Paramount Pictures

What if Dougray Scott had played Wolverine in "X-Men" and not Hugh Jackman?

Pondering the possibilities if history took a different route in 2000

This week HitFix is revisiting some of the key turning points in recent entertainment history and considering what would have happened if history had turned a bit differently. What if...?

At the turn of the millennium things were looking up for actor Dougray Scott. He had been hand selected by Tom Cruise to be the villain in the anxiously awaited sequel to the megastar's 1996 blockbuster "Mission: Impossible" and he was all set to follow that up with what might have been a breakout role as Wolverine in Bryan Singer's big screen adaptation of the X-Men comic book series. But when the production schedule of "Mission: Impossible II" went long, Singer had to make a snap decision and settled on an unknown by the name of Hugh Jackman.

What if Dougray Scott had played Wolverine in "X-Men" and not Hugh Jackman?

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