<p>Some of the cream of Focus' crop.</p>

Some of the cream of Focus' crop.

Credit: Focus Features

As Focus Features evolves, an appreciation

Universal's specialty division gets a shake-up but the legacy lives on

Film is an art but it's also a business and the writing may well have been on the wall for Focus Features. It hurts, but it seems the rule is you don't get to crank out that kind of an art house run and live too long to tell the tale. Indie/dependent divisions have been shuttering left and right for years. We lost Paramount Vantage. We lost Warner Independent. Sony Classics is the success model, 20 years strong, having figured something out. Fox Searchlight continues to find pay dirt, too. But they're the exceptions. We should be so lucky that we got Focus for as long as we did.

But by the way, Focus Features isn't going away. It is simply, by necessity, shifting its reach and identity. Some are writing about it like the sky is falling, like folding in FilmDistrict product and putting Peter Schlessel in charge is an affront. But I think a mixture of specialty and wide releases is a smart approach and, at the end of the day, it might provide an even better opportunity for specialty product to find its way at Focus as some of the other product (in theory) proves more profitable. This is their path, and I'm personally more positive than some of my colleagues.

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<p>Michael B. Jordan in &quot;Fruitvale Station.&quot;</p>

Michael B. Jordan in "Fruitvale Station."

Credit: The Weinstein Company

Roundup: The illusion of diversity in the Oscar race

Also: Darren Aronofsky bows down to 'Gravity' and dark days at Paramount

There has already been a lot written about race in these initial stages of the Oscar season, and there will be plenty more to come -- even if early projections of an 80% black Best Actor field seem increasingly unlikely to pan out. Kia Makarechi writes that he's glad the likes of Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael B. Jordan, Idris Elba and Forest Whitaker are in the awards conversation, but believes the supposed diversity of this year's race is merely an illusion: "These roles have to be played by black actors ... we'll know when Hollywood casting directors and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences view people of color as deserving of equal opportunities to shine when a black man in the role of a fictional caring father, son, teacher, student, doctor, author or otherwise non-racially coded character is nominated for and wins Best Actor." [Huffington Post]

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Sandra Bullock and George Clooney take 'Gravity' to New York

Sandra Bullock and George Clooney take 'Gravity' to New York

Oh, and Emma Watson and Katie Holmes were invited too

Hey, boys and girls, it's time for another movie marketing lesson from your friends at HitFix.

What do you do when you have a film that mostly appeals to men, but you want to make sure you get the attention of younger women? It's really important those women go with their boyfriends on Friday and Saturday night, because that means their boyfriends will definitely go. Well, when your cast is limited to just two, cough, older, cough, actors, there isn't much you can do. Sure, rave reviews (97% on Rotten Tomatoes, 8 100 grades so far on Metacritic) and amazing footage are selling it pretty damn well, but it's opening week. The pressure is on! Someone in the studio is no doubt saying, "How can we liven things up a bit down the homestretch? I mean, yeah, the movie stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, but how do we make some noise on, y'know, those gossip sites (Sandra can't do this on her own!)?"*

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Best Actor 2014: Oscar contenders include Christian Bale, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Matthew McConaughey

Best Actor 2014: Oscar contenders include Christian Bale, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Matthew McConaughey

Could this be the most competitive lineup in years?

If we've said it once we've said it a hundred times: the Best Actor Oscar race is crowded this year. And that's really putting it lightly. The amount of contenders that would be shoo-ins in any other year is unfortunate, really, because someone is going to come up with the short straw, and it won't be pretty.

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<p>A pulse-pounding scene from &quot;Gravity&quot;</p>

A pulse-pounding scene from "Gravity"

Credit: Warner Bros.

Experience the third dimension of 'Gravity'

New featurette takes you inside Cuarón's unique approach to 3D

The use of 3D in "Gravity" was part of the equation from the beginning. As director Alfonso Cuarón told me in an interview last week, the original title of the script was "Gravity: A Space Suspense in 3D." Stereoscopic supervisor Chris Parks was involved in the imagery before cameras even began rolling, way back during the pre-visualization phase. It was crucial for the immersive experience Cuarón was looking for.

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<p>Sally Hawkins and Cate Blanchett in &quot;Blue Jasmine.&quot;</p>

Sally Hawkins and Cate Blanchett in "Blue Jasmine."

Credit: Sony Classics

Roundup: Sony's Oscar plans for 'Blue Jasmine'

Also: Charles Ferguson's cancelled Hillary Clinton doc, and Cuaron on 'crap' 3D

When "Blue Jasmine" opened in the summer, its awards talk initially revolved around Cate Blanchett's certain Best Actress nod -- but as the glowing reviews and remarkable box office continued, the conversation has expanded. Speaking about their 2013 Oscar strategy to Scott Feinberg, Sony Classics bosses Michael Barker and Tom Bernard say they're confident the film will receive Best Picture nominations, along with nods for Sally Hawkins, Woody Allen's screenplay (of course) and even the costumes. They also explain their decision to play any festivals with the film, while the conversation extends to "Before Midnight," "The Invisible Woman," and their foreign and documentary hopefuls.  [The Race]

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<p>Captain Richard Phillips appears via Skype at the Los Angeles special screening of &quot;Captain Phillips on Monday, Sept. 30 at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills, CA.</p>

Captain Richard Phillips appears via Skype at the Los Angeles special screening of "Captain Phillips on Monday, Sept. 30 at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills, CA.

Tom Hanks and the real 'Captain Phillips' appear at Los Angeles premiere

One virtually, one in person

Tom Hanks walked the red carpet with the man he plays in "Captain Phillips," Richard Phillips, Friday at the opening night of the 51st New York Film Festival. Unfortunately, Phillips couldn't make it to Los Angeles for the West Coast premiere of the film tonight, but that wasn't going to stop director Paul Greengrass from giving Phillips his due. Even after his ordeal of being taken hostage by Somali pirates in 2009, Phillips has returned to the sea as a ship captain. And as Phillips is actually setting sail this week (according to Greengrass at least), he said hello to everyone at the film's Los Angeles premiere via Skype. It was a fleeting moment, but one that will be remembered by the Academy, guild and industry attendees who will spread their enthusiasm for the Best Picture contender (i.e., it was a nice PR win).

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<p>Barkhad Abdi leads his band of pirates in a scene from &quot;Captain&nbsp;Phillips&quot;</p>

Barkhad Abdi leads his band of pirates in a scene from "Captain Phillips"

Credit: Sony Pictures

Unlikely 'Captain Phillips' star Barkhad Abdi on learning from Tom Hanks and finding empathy for a pirate

The Somali actor answered a casting call and now he's in the Oscar race

Barkhad Abdi could easily have been a statistic. He might not have made it out of a harrowing childhood alive. He was born in Somalia and lived in the chaos of Mogadishu where he was surrounded by murder, rape, robbery and a lack of structure and government. He was lucky enough to have parents who got him out of there, to Yemen for Middle School and, eventually, a lottery to the United States.

He moved to Minneapolis, but he hated the snow. Every year he would ask himself, 'Why am I here?' He drove a limousine. He was just a mild-mannered immigrant living his life when he was at a friend's house one day and a commercial flashed on the screen: "Casting call. Tom Hanks. Local Somali actors." Well, why not, Abdi figured.

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<p>Christian Bale and Casey&nbsp;Affleck in &quot;Out of the Furnace&quot;</p>

Christian Bale and Casey Affleck in "Out of the Furnace"

Credit: Relativity Media

'Nebraska,' 'Furnace' and 'Walter Mitty' set to screen as AFI Fest centerpieces

A tribute to Bruce Dern has also been lined up

It's nice to see more and more of the year's awards season players being evenly spread throughout the fall festival circuit. Venice got "Gravity" and "Philomena." Telluride got "12 Years a Slave" and "Prisoners." Toronto landed films like "August: Osage County," "Dallas Buyers Club" and "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom." New York, meanwhile, landed the trio of "Captain Phillips," "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" and "Her." Even the London film fest got a nice first look at "Saving Mr. Banks" this year.

AFI Fest, as always, is utilized smartly by studios every year. In the middle of Oscar season, it's a great opportunity to make a big splash with a cheap Los Angeles premiere, and films like "Saving Mr. Banks" has already been announced for a US premiere there, though a scheduled world premiere of "Foxcatcher" was nixed last week when that film was moved off its Dec. 20 release date and scheduled for 2014.

Three more films have been set as centerpiece screenings for this year's AFI Fest. The first is a world premiere: Scott Cooper's "Out of the Furnace," which has mostly avoided the fall festival circuit save for a Dec. 6 Rome Film Festival berth (the day it releases domestically). The second is Ben Stiller's "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty," which will segue to the festival for its Los Angeles premiere after world premiering at NYFF on Oct. 5. And the third is Alexander Payne's "Nebraska," which will bring with it a tribute to actor Bruce Dern.

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<p>&quot;Oscar&quot;&nbsp;will premiere on Turner&nbsp;Classic&nbsp;Movies on Feb. 1</p>

"Oscar" will premiere on Turner Classic Movies on Feb. 1

Credit: AP Photo

TCM to premiere new documentary 'Oscar' in February

Academy Awards-centric film will be the kick-off to the annual 31 Days of Oscar showcase

Every year Turner Classic Movies gets home audiences in an Oscar state of mind with its annual "31 Days of Oscar" showcase. Held every February, it's a month-long celebration of Oscar-winning films leading up to the annual Academy Awards ceremony, and this year, the showcase will kick off with the premiere of a brand new documentary about the awards' 85 years of history. It's called, what else… "Oscar."

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