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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

<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

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.

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

A tribute to Bruce Dern has also been lined up

<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

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.

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

<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

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."

Off the Carpet: Shapeshift

Contenders hope to take advantage of exiting players

<p>Julia Roberts in&nbsp;&quot;August:&nbsp;Osage&nbsp;County&quot;</p>

Julia Roberts in "August: Osage County"

Credit: The Weinstein Company

What a difference a week makes...

This time seven days ago we were telling you about a delayed "Wolf of Wall Street" from Martin Scorsese (tipping off trades to sniff it out on their end and write a version without crediting the original story, natch). Within days, "Foxcatcher" would take its leave, joining "Grace of Monaco" on that score. The season, as it always does, is changing shape.

Iran surprises by picking 'The Past' as foreign language submission

Which take on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict will come out on top?

<p>Berenice Bejo and Tahar Rahim in &quot;The Past.&quot;</p>

Berenice Bejo and Tahar Rahim in "The Past."

Credit: Sony Classics

The deadline for Best Foreign Language Film submissions is now one day away. We're still waiting one some countries (including China), and there are usually a couple of post-deadline stragglers, but it's fair to say the field -- which now numbers 65 films -- is close to complete.And it's a field that just got even more competitive with a flurry of high-profile entries over the weekend, including a couple of Cannes award winners.

Chief among them is Iran's selection. Having won its first Oscar two years ago with Asghar Farhadi's "A Separation," and boycotted last year's competition for political reasons, the country has returned to the race -- and to Farhadi -- by submitting the director's French-Italian production "The Past."

Roundup: Weinstein on 'the most competitive season I've ever seen'

Also: The state of animation, and the movies behind 'Breaking Bad'

<p>Nicole Kidman in &quot;Grace of Monaco.&quot;</p>

Nicole Kidman in "Grace of Monaco."

Credit: The Weinstein Company

Oscar talk is not something you'd expect to surface much at the Zurich Film Festival, but when Harvey Weinstein is giving a masterclass there, it inevitably comes up. Wendy Mitchell reports from the event, where the master awards campaigner declared this year's Oscar race "the most competitive season I've ever seen," explained the delayed release of "Grace of Monaco" -- it's not ready, he wants it to play festivals and it could be "bigger than 'My Week With Marilyn'" -- and revisited the 15-year-old controversy of "Shakespeare in Love"'s five Oscar-awarded producers. He also gave a shout-out to his favorite non-Weinstein films of the season so far: "12 Years a Slave," obviously, but also "Prisoners." [Screen Daily]

Marcus Mumford, Carey Mulligan and more perform at 'Inside Llewyn Davis' concert

Plus: Patti Smith, Elvis Costello and best actor contender Oscar Isaac

<p>Marcus Mumford and Oscar Isaac perform songs from &quot;Inside Llewyn Davis.&quot;</p>

Marcus Mumford and Oscar Isaac perform songs from "Inside Llewyn Davis."

Credit: AP Photo/Evan Agostini

NEW YORK (AP) — When Justin Timberlake couldn't attend Sunday's concert celebrating the music of the new Coen Brothers movie, "Inside Llewyn Davis," master of ceremonies John Goodman told the crowd Timberlake's understudy would perform instead.

ICG honors contributors to cinematography including a familiar HitFix face

Sometimes it's nice to be on the other side

<p>The American Society of Cinematographers' clubhouse in Hollywood.</p>

The American Society of Cinematographers' clubhouse in Hollywood.

The International Cinematographers Guild (ICG) held a celebratory luncheon at the ASC clubhouse today to showcase the winners of the 2013 Emerging Cinematographers Awards. Those honorees will have their work screened during a special ceremony at the DGA Theater on Sunday night. Friday, the guild took a few moments to honor four more experienced gentlemen for their contribution to the cinematic arts at the American Society of Cinematographers Clubhouse in Hollywood.

Tell us what you thought of 'Don Jon'

Joseph Gordon-Levitt's directorial debut opens in limited release today

<p>Joseph Gordon-Levitt in &quot;Don Jon.&quot;</p>

Joseph Gordon-Levitt in "Don Jon."

Credit: Relativity Media

It's pistols at dawn in the HitFix critical fraternity today. Well, not really, but we can offer you two opposing reviews of Joseph Gordon-Levitt's directorial debut, the sex comedy "Don Jon." Reviewing out of Sundance (back when the film was called "Don Jon's Addiction"), I was less than impressed, complaining that the film "[settles] on a laddish archness that undermines the seriousness of the addiction in question." (I didn't warm to it on a second look, though Scarlett Johansson's firecracker performance as a feisty Jersey girl burned even brighter. As I wrote recently, a Best Supporting Actress campaign would not be undeserved.) Drew McWeeny, on the other hand, was wowed at South by Southwest, calling it "sharply written, sharply performed [and] one hell of a debut." Which one of us do you agree with, or do you fall somewhere in between? Share your thoughts when you've seen the film, and be sure to vote in the poll below. 

Roundup: The 'real' start of the Oscar race

Also: Tom Sherak's new appointment, and when Kerry met Cicely

<p>James Gandolfini and Julia Louis-Dreyfus in &quot;Enough Said.&quot;</p>

James Gandolfini and Julia Louis-Dreyfus in "Enough Said."

Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Mark Harris has been pretty vocal in expressing his disdain for the Oscar buzz that emerged from the echo chamber that is the Toronto Film Festival. Instead, he claims that the awards race really started last week, when audiences were actually able to see two of the awards hopefuls that emerged from the fall festival circuit: Nicole Holofcener's "Enough Said" and Ron Howard's "Rush." (Of course, by that rationale, you may argue that the Oscar race runs all year round.) Anyway, while it's "Rush" that has enjoyed far more advance buzz, it's Holofcener's quiet indie, Harris argues, that emerged victorious in the real world, winning on the critical and commercial front. Will voters see it? "In the case of Rush, it's Hollywood that tells the world, 'This is an Academy movie'," he writes. "In the case of Enough Said, it's the world that has to tell Hollywood." [Grantland]

The Academy has made some changes to the voting system in the animated race -- Steve Pond examines the specifics. [The Wrap

2013-2014 OSCAR NOMINATIONS
UPDATED: MARCH 2, 2014

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