<p>Willie Nelson</p>

Willie Nelson

Credit: AP Photo/Mark Duncan

Calling all Best Original Song contenders

Willie Nelson, Katy Perry and The Arcade Fire all in contention

As the season hums to life at the start of the fall festival circuit, it's time to take a look at the Best Original Song race and figure out what we're working with.

Just last week, the Academy announced new rules that will have a considerable impact on how things shake out. First and foremost, the screening event and points system has been done away with and a guaranteed slate of five nominees has been put back in place. Voters will still view songs within the context of their films, though on DVD, and they'll be asked to rank their five favorites.

This should take some of the burden off. Songs won't necessarily have to play well within the context of the narrative, though of course it will still help. Nevertheless, with a wider net from voting members, songs will likely get in on merit more than they did under the previous system.

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<p>Doona Bae in &quot;Cloud Atlas&quot;</p>

Doona Bae in "Cloud Atlas"

Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

New 'Cloud Atlas' trailer drops in advance of Toronto bow

How do you whittle all of that down to two-and-a-half minutes?

Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski and Tom Tykwer are all set to blow Toronto audiences' minds with the premiere of "Cloud Atlas" in a few short days. Everything I've heard about the ambitious ensemble project ends up pointing to "it's not for everyone," but each new nugget certainly makes me think it'll be for me.

A few weeks ago Warner Bros. tossed out a six-minute initial trailer for the film, an "extended first look," which did a great job of pre-immersing the audience in the world of the narrative (which is taken from David Mitchell's novel of the same name). And now, with the film getting ready for its close-up in Canada, things have been whittled down for an official trailer.

I'd have to think cutting trailers for this film is almost as difficult as seeing the whole production through. How do you find a throughline and steer away from confusing audiences while being inclusive enough to represent the entirety of the ensemble and the various settings they inhabit over the course of the film? Madness.

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<p>Shia LaBeouf in &quot;The Company You Keep.&quot;</p>

Shia LaBeouf in "The Company You Keep."

Credit: Sony Pictures Classics

Review: Redford's 'The Company You Keep' hangs with the right crowd

Few surprises in enjoyably old-fashioned thriller, save for the cast itself

VENICE -- For one of the more sedate festivals on the circuit, there’s been a curious running theme of restless youth at Venice this year that can hardly be accidental. In Competition, Harmony Korine’s manic, fluorescent “Spring Breakers” – which I reviewed for Variety – observed (it’d be a stretch to say critiqued) the directionless nihilism of today’s college-going generation. Its opposite number, Olivier Assayas’s “Something in the Air” (reviewed here), mused on the ambitious social ideals of kids 40 years ago – but steered clear of suggesting that their activism was any more effective than 21st-century irony.

Indirectly triangulating with Korine and Assayas, only out of competition, is “The Company You Keep,” Robert Redford’s absorbing, undemanding and agreeably old-fashioned political thriller about where Vietnam-era radicals go when the flowers really are all gone. It’s more romantically liberal than both the aforementioned films, painting its 1970s rebels as more nobly consistent and influential than Assayas’s floaty political dilettantes and suggesting, in the doggedly principled form of Shia LaBeouf’s lone-wolf reporter and Brit Marling’s whip-smart law student, that there are youngsters more willing to continue their cause than Korine’s junked-up party posse. 

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<p>Jeffrey Katzenberg</p>

Jeffrey Katzenberg

Credit: Katy Winn/Invision/AP

Honorary Oscars go to Katzenberg, Needham, Pennebaker and Stevens

Doris Day and Angela Lansbury, among others, passed over once again

The release was later than anticipated but a decision was finally made by the Academy's Board of Governors on this year's Honorary Oscar recipients. And names long considered due for the recognition, actresses Doris Day and Angela Lansbury among them, will have to wait a little longer.

The organization has announced that stunt man Hal Needham, documentary filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker and multi-hyphenate George Stevens Jr. will receive recognition at this year's Governors Awards ceremony. DreamWorks co-founder and philanthropist Jeffrey Katzenberg has been tapped to receive the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.

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"E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial"

Credit: Universal Pictures

Academy to celebrate 30th anniversary of Steven Spielberg's 'E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial'

...and not 'Gandhi'

When I sat down last season to cook up a list of Steven Spielberg's best work as a director, I had some hard thinking to do. I had always held "Jaws" in higher esteem than the rest of his filmography for a variety of reasons, but as I dug in on all of his movies one more time, I found myself leaning to "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial" for the first time, and it kind of shocked me.

"While they are both masterpieces, I settled on the willful masterpiece for the top spot and the accidental one [in second]," I wrote at the time. "'Jaws' was a runaway train that somehow, miraculously, became the sterling piece of cinema it is today...but 'E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial' is a perfect film, plain and simple. Every single thing is in its right place, and this, the turning point of Spielberg's career -- igniting his desire to start a family, swinging his thematic pendulum in another direction -- marks the end of his early era."

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<p>Stephen Chbosky (left)&nbsp;speaks with Emma&nbsp;Watson and Logan Lerman on the set of &quot;The Perks of Being a Wallflower.&quot;</p>

Stephen Chbosky (left) speaks with Emma Watson and Logan Lerman on the set of "The Perks of Being a Wallflower."

Credit: Summit Entertainment

Interview: Stephen Chbosky on Pittsburgh toughness and 'The Perks of Being a Wallflower'

The second-time director takes on the project of his dreams

When you've written a hit novel that has taken on a life of its own and become a beloved modern classic, translating it to film might render a bit of nervousness -- particularly if you're taking on the task yourself.

Author Stephen Chbosky's "The Perks of Being a Wallflower," published in 1999 and one of the American Library Association's top 10 most frequently challenged books (it has been banned from its share of high schools), took on such a life over the last decade. But for the writer, it was less nervousness than a bit of anxiety and eagerness to actually see the film version through.

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<p>Michael Haneke, Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant on the set of &quot;Amour.&quot;</p>

Michael Haneke, Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant on the set of "Amour."

Credit: Sony Pictures Classics

'Amour' wins FIPRESCI Grand Prix for Film of the Year

International critics' prize honors best film premiered in the past 12 months

It's been a great week for Michael Haneke's "Amour." Not only was it confirmed yesterday as Austria's official entry in the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar race, but it played to predictably rapturous responses at Telluride -- reheating the Cannes buzz enough for us to place it in our Best Picture predictions on the sidebar. (We've had it listed in Best Director for a few months now.)

Now comes further good news. Sealing its status as the de facto critics' darling of 2012 so far, it was also just emerged as the winner of the FIPRESCI Grand Prix -- an annual award voted on by the 200-plus members of the international critics' federation, given to the best film premiered in the last 12 months. Haneke now joins Pedro Almodovar and Paul Thomas Anderson as the only two-time winners of the Grand Prix, which has been awarded since 1999. The award is presented every year at Spain's San Sebastian Film Festival in late September -- which is why it isn't detemined on a calendar-year basis.

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<p>&quot;What's a Google+&nbsp;Hangout?&quot;&nbsp;Abraham pondered.</p>

"What's a Google+ Hangout?" Abraham pondered.

Credit: Touchstone Pictures

Steven Spielberg's 'Lincoln' trailer coming September 13

Google+ event to be broadcast in Times Square

Trailer for trailers and press releases for trailers. What a world. Though I guess Disney's big brou-ha-ha around the trailer for Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln" is a little more understandable given the robust pomp and circumstance they're bringing to its debut.

According to a press release this afternoon, plans have been set to -- stay with me -- launch a Google+ Hangout (for those who didn't abandon the social networking attempt two days in) and premiere the trailer there on September 13. A live conversation with Spielberg and "Lincoln" star Joseph Gordon-Levitt will also be featured. The event will also be broadcast on the ABC SuperSign in the heart of New York's Times Square, and somewhere in there, my head just exploded.

Fans interested in participating are asked to upload a short video to their own YouTube channel with the #LincolnHangout tag explaining who they are, why they are interested in the film and what they would like to ask Spielberg and Gordon-Levitt about the film. And oh, here's the website: www.lincolnhangout.com.

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<p>Jean-Louis Trintignant in &quot;Amour.&quot;</p>

Jean-Louis Trintignant in "Amour."

Credit: Sony Pictures Classics

Austria enters Haneke's 'Amour' in the foreign Oscar race

A foreign-language nod is likely, but can it cross over into the general race?

I'll make this relatively quick, partly because I have a screening to run to, and partly because we've covered this ground in a previous post. But thanks to Austrian reader Norman Shetler for informing us that his country has selected their entry for this year's Best Foreign Language Film Oscar race -- and, as we suspected, it's Michael Haneke's Palme d'Or winner "Amour." 

"But it's a French film!" I hear some of you cry. Well, no: this is a global industry, after all, and a film isn't defined by the country it's set in or the language it speaks. As a French-Austrian-German co-production, any one of those three countries would have been entitled to submit it. Tidily enough, it's the director's home country that gets the privilege this time.

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<p>A scene from Olivier Assayas's &quot;Something in the Air.&quot;</p>

A scene from Olivier Assayas's "Something in the Air."

Credit: IFC Films

Venice: 'Something in the Air' and 'Fill the Void'

Moving away from the American contingent of this year's Venice lineup

VENICE - Almost a week into the Venice Film Festival, the Lido has fallen rather quiet. After a cinephile's superbowl of a weekend that saw the fest's two most generally anticipated films, Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master" and Terrence Malick's "To the Wonder," premiere on consecutive days, many journalists are already either heading home or preparing for the exodus to Toronto -- where they'll be able to catch "Passion" and "The Company You Keep," the two high-profile commercial films left in the lineup.

What surprise gems and potential Golden Lion winners lie ahead, of course, is anyone's guess. The smart money right now is on "The Master," still the dominant topic of conversation around the Venice grounds, appealing to jury president Michael Mann's robust sensibilities and taking home the big one. Others think Marco "Vincere" Bellocchio's latest (which premieres later this week) is, on paper, the one to beat. I, meanwhile, wouldn't be surprised to see Russian director Kirill Serebrennikov's dazzling romantic puzzler "Betrayal" (more on that in a later post) take home some major hardware -- nor either of the films reviewed below, though one is from a celebrated French major and the other from an Israeli novice.

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