<p>Anthony Hopkins and Scarlett Johansson as they appear in &quot;Hitchcock.&quot;</p>

Anthony Hopkins and Scarlett Johansson as they appear in "Hitchcock."

Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures

See Anthony Hopkins strut (okay, waddle) his stuff in first 'Hitchcock' trailer

Fox Searchlight is releasing the Hollywood portrait in prime Oscar season

"Hitchcock"  is the late arrival in this year's Oscar race, yanked forward from Fox Searchlight's 2013 slate into a prime-bait November slot. Does that mean they think they've got something genuinely special on their hands --, or just easy fodder for acting nominations, given the Academy's recent weakness for famous people playing other famous people?

A newly unveiled trailer doesn't do much to answer the question, though it does confirm what early marketing materials suggested: that "Anvil!" director Sacha Gervasi's film -- not a formal biopic, despite what the bland title promises, but a study of the making of "Psycho" -- is taking a comedic approach to the material. Given Hitchcock's own playful sene of humor, that seems the right approach to take... though let's hope the film has a black edge to it, and isn't just a puffball in the "My Week With Marilyn" vein.

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<p>Keira Knightley, Quvenzhan&eacute; Wallis and Marion Cotillard, three of the names vying for Best Actress this year.</p>

Keira Knightley, Quvenzhané Wallis and Marion Cotillard, three of the names vying for Best Actress this year.

Credit: Focus Features/Fox Searchlight/Sony Pictures Classics

Best Actress 2013: Potential nominees from Keira Knightley to Quvenzhané Wallis

Surveying the year's leading ladies as the season commences

It's an annual (if not always accurate) complaint: the Best Actress category is so much weaker than its male counterpart. Even when that does seem to be the case, however, that statement doesn't paint the full picture. Every year, there's an abundance of rich, challenging female lead performances to be found -- just not always in the kind of film Academy members are generally willing to consider. Blame them to some extent, but also blame Hollywood for ensuring that so many gifted actresses have to look to the indie and arthouse fringes for opportunities to shine.

Earlier this year, pundits suggested that the Best Actress field was looking even thinner than usual. As we crawl closer to awards season, picking up festival discoveries and critical favorites along the way, it's looking increasingly competitive -- with only one name, I'd venture, assured a spot on the ballot. Thanks to the trend described in the above paragraph, it's a varied an unusual field, with frontrunners ranging from a red-hot Hollywood ingenue to an 8-year-old amateur to not one, but two, marvelous French-language Cannes sensations. Check out the gallery below as we weigh up their individual pros and cons. You can also keep up with the ups and downs of this race at In Contention's Best Actress Contenders page.   

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<p>Marion Cotillard in &quot;Rust and Bone.&quot;</p>

Marion Cotillard in "Rust and Bone."

Credit: Sony Pictures Classics

Roundup: Marion Cotillard to be honored at Gotham Awards

Also: 59 world premieres at Rome, and a taste of the 'Skyfall' score

In what will be a handy boost to her Best Actress Oscar campaign for "Rust and Bone," French star Marion Cotillard will receive a career tribute at next month's IFP Gotham Independent Film Awards, traditionally the first stop on the awards calendar. Also due to receive non-competitive honors at the ceremony are Matt Damon, David O. Russell and Participant Media chairman Jeff Skoll. The ceremony takes place a little over a week after Cotillard's film lands in US theaters. Joana Vicente, director of the IFP, stated: "Marion Cotillard is not only a delight to watch, she is one of the most talented women working in cinema around the world today. Her acting choices are always challenging and rewarding, and her performances show that she is a truly skilled artist, totally dedicated to her craft. We are so honored to present this Tribute to a woman of her magnitude.” Here's hoping the Academy agrees. [Filmmaker]   

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A scene from Sarah Polley's "Stories We Tell."
A scene from Sarah Polley's "Stories We Tell."
Credit: Roadside Attractions

Sarah Polley eyes next year's doc Oscar with 'Stories We Tell'

Roadside will release her intimate family portrait in mid-2013

I'm a bit behind the curve on this news, but since it was rather buried beneath the surge of autumn Oscar-contender updates, I thought it worth flagging up anyway. I've recently been combing the US release calendar for possibilities in the Best Documentary Feature race, looking in particular for the slightly left-of-center contenders that routinely pop up in the branch's shortlist -- the eligibility rules may have changed this year, but we have no reason to think voters will suddenly start focusing more intently on much-hyped frontrunners.

In doing so, I found myself wondering what became of "Stories We Tell," Sarah Polley's lovely non-fiction debut -- a critical hit at the Venice and Toronto festivals that did rather well for itself by scoring a US distribution deal with a relatively high-profile indie outfit, Roadside Attractions. In recent years, Roadside has been a tidy little player in the Oscar race, scoring major nominations for "Winter's Bone," "Biutiful," "Albert Nobbs" and "Margin Call," in all cases against significant odds. However, they made their name with the Academy in the documentary race: founded in 2003, they landed their first nod less than two years later with "Super Size Me," and took the win five years later with "The Cove."

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<p>Alan Arkin in &quot;Argo&quot;</p>

Alan Arkin in "Argo"

Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Interview: Alan Arkin on teaming with Ben Affleck and John Goodman in 'Argo'

Rounding up a (very) few words from an old pro

Five years ago Alan Arkin won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his work in "Little Miss Sunshine," an award many thought would end up going to "Dreamgirls" star Eddie Murphy. He's back knocking on the door of another tip of the Academy's hat with his work as a cranky, seen-it-all film producer in Ben Affleck's "Argo." But he probably couldn't care less.

"To me that's a euphemism for saying, 'I liked your work,'" he says of awards speculation by telephone. "I'm just as happy with people saying that."

Nevertheless, as short-answered and moderately cantankerous as Arkin can be in an interview situation, there's something lovable there. He's not the sort who has to work the circuit hard to get kudos because, after all, we're talking about someone whose first nomination was 45 years ago (for "The Russians are Coming the Russians are Coming"). He's been there. Done that. So the terse replies to queries become a bit of a warm blanket that lets you admit, yes, this is all rather silly.

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<p>Omar Sy and Francois Cluzet in &quot;The Intouchables.&quot;</p>

Omar Sy and Francois Cluzet in "The Intouchables."

Credit: The Weinstein Company

Roundup: 'Intouchables' wins the Oscar screener race

Also: The landing of 'Lincoln,' and Variety finds a home

Pete Hammond reports that the Weinsteins have won yet another Oscar race: the annual scramble to see who can get the first formal For Your Consideration screener mailed out to voters -- an early-bird strategy that has previously paid off for under-the-radar contenders like "A Better Life" and "Frozen River." (Millennium sent out "Bernie" a while back, but it was a commercial disc that didn't comply with official Academy regulations.) The lucky beneficiary? French Oscar submission "The Intouchables" -- an obvious contender for Best Foreign Language Film, but a crowdpleaser that I think most pundits are underestimating in other categories. Omar Sy is an outside shot who shouldn't be discounted in the Best Actor race, while I recently added the film to my Best Original Screenplay predictions. [Deadline]

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<p>A scene from &quot;Frankenweenie.&quot;</p>

A scene from "Frankenweenie."

Credit: Walt Disney Pictures

Does 'Frankenweenie''s disappointing box office harm its Oscar chances?

Disney's campaign will have to focus on art and sentiment over commerce

I could tell things weren't going swimmingly for "Frankenweenie" this weekend when I could use a single hand to count the responses to our post inviting your thoughts on the film. For whatever reason, and not for lack of critical enthusiasm, Tim Burton's peculiarly personal stop-motion animated feature just hadn't caught the public's imagination, and the figures last night made for discouraging reading: after opening wide in over 3000 theaters, "Frankenweenie" limped into fifth place with $11.4 million, less than half of what rival Halloween-friendly animation "Hotel Transylviania" managed to gross in its second weekend. International box office will surely be required to clear a budget of $39 million.

I'm no box office analyst, but as disappointed as I am by this tepid reception for a lovingly made film that deserves an audience, I'm hardly surprised. As much as Disney tried to underline Burton's money-raking "Alice in Wonderland" credentials in the marketing, "Frankenweenie" is a tough sell: a stylized, macabre and boldly black-and-white mosaic homage to vintage horror/monster movies, it's a film for the director's devotees who likely loathed "Alice."

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<p>Mads Mikkelsen and Alicia Vikander in Denmark's &quot;A Royal Affair,&quot; one of 71 films vying for the Oscar.</p>

Mads Mikkelsen and Alicia Vikander in Denmark's "A Royal Affair," one of 71 films vying for the Oscar.

Credit: Magnolia Pictures

Final foreign-language Oscar longlist numbers a record 71 titles

The nine-film shortlist will be announced in January

Well, we're finally there. After three months of submissions, which we reported on at regular interviews, the Academy has lowered the boom and announced the official longlist of films in the running for this year's Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. And quite a list it is too: with 71 countries represented, including a first-time entry from Kenya, it's the longest in the category's history.

Last week, after glancing over the near-final list as it stood after the October 1 submissions deadline, I mentioned that a few additions, switches and/or disqualifications would take place before the Academy set it in stone. Happily, only the first of those modifications came to pass, with three last-minute entries joining the fray: Malaysia's "Bunohan,"  Kyrgysztan's "The Empty Home" and Singapore's "Already Famous." Contrary to the title of the latter film -- a showbiz satire about a TV soap addict trying to launch an acting career -- none of these latecomers have much of a profile, though reviews from last year's Toronto fest of the Malaysian entry make it sound like a hoot: Variety calls it "a fight film with echoes of 'King Lear,' and a ghost story about living people who occupy the edge of existence." It's remake-ready, apparently. Sign me up.

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<p>Alicia Vikander in &quot;Anna Karenina.&quot;</p>

Alicia Vikander in "Anna Karenina."

Credit: Focus Features

Roundup: 'Playbook,' 'Lore' and 'Karenina' stars feted at Hamptons fest

Also: Top supporting actors, and Hollywood goes back to board games

The Hamptons International Film Festival wrapped this weekend, delivering another Audience Award to Toronto favorite "Silver Linings Playbook" -- more ammo the Weinsteins to campaign it as the crowdpleasing Oscar choice -- and a hat-trick of prizes for Australia's foreign Oscar contender "Lore." Meanwhile, the festival hosted the official celebrations for Variety's 10 Actors to Watch, a well-chosen bunch that includes Scoot McNairy ("Monsters"; "Killing Them Softly"), Nate Parker ("Arbitrage") and the film-stealing "Anna Karenina" duo of Alicia Vikander and Domnhall Gleeson. (Yep, son of Brendan.) Cheers all round. [Hamptons Film Fest

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<p>A scene from &quot;Frankenweenie.&quot;</p>

A scene from "Frankenweenie."

Credit: Walt Disney Pictures

Tell us what you thought of 'Frankenweenie'

Tim Burton's latest animated effort hit theaters yesterday

We may have led with "The Paperboy" yesterday, but if we were to focus on the new release that's likeliest to find awards recognition in the next five months, it'd have to be Tim Burton's "Frankenweenie" -- the kook merchant's first animated feature since 2005's "Corpse Bride," and a likely bet to repeat that film's nomination for the Best Animated Feature Oscar. (I think it could easily go one better.) Due to the quirks of transatlantic embargoes, I'm not supposed to discuss the film until its UK premiere on Wednesday, when it'll open the London Film Festival, but I will say that I can happily endorse our colleague Drew McWeeny's enthusiastic take. But let's turn it over to you. Do you think it's a return to form for Burton? Could it net him his first golden statue? Feel free to rate the film above, and share your thoughts below.

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