In spit-balling the upcoming fall festival circuit recently, I noted that, in my view, the New York Film Festival -- at least as a launching pad for year-end awards hopefuls -- had been underutilized in its time. But things have changed the last few years.

Up until the unveiling of David Fincher's "The Social Network," NYFF had been a stopping-off point for Sundance, Cannes, Venice, Telluride and Toronto holdovers, for the most part. Films like "Good Night, and Good Luck.," "The Queen," "The Darjeeling Limited," "The Class" and "Wild Grass" opened the fest after bowing elsewhere, while closing nighters such as "Caché," "Pan's Labyrinth," "Persepolis," "The Wrestler" and "Broken Embraces" did the same. Ditto a slew of centerpiece screenings.

But that exclusive bow for Fincher's film in 2010 was a turning point. The excitement was probably dampened a bit by the fact that Sony screened the film for press in New York and Los Angeles in the middle of the Toronto Film Festival, looking to get some headway while ultimate Best Picture winner "The King's Speech" was dominating the festival conversation, but it was a good start.

2011 brought "Carnage" and "The Descendants" as bookends after each had played Venice and Telluride/Toronto, respectively, but an exclusive show of "My Week with Marilyn" in the centerpiece arena and, particularly, Martin Scorsese's "Hugo" as a work in progress was added muscle for a festival looking to set itself apart as more than just a stop on the tour.

And this year, for its 50th annual festivities, NYFF has gone big. Last week it was announced that Robert Zemeckis's first live action film in 12 years, "Flight," would close out the fest, while today, the big news was that Ang Lee's "Life of Pi" would be the curtain raiser (which I nailed in the aforementioned spit-balling column). It's Lee's second opening night presentation at the fest, the first being 1997's "The Ice Storm." His "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" closed the fest in 2000.

The question now is, what of the big anticipated awards hopefuls is left to choose from for centerpiece selections? These two are major gets as it is, so we'll likely see something that's already slated for Venice or Toronto.

Scott Cooper's "Out of the Furnace" was an option at one point, but the film has been saved for 2013 entirely, while some are speculating that Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln," opening in theaters just weeks after the fest ends, is a possibility. I highly doubt the latter, as Spielberg just never takes the festival approach. Neither does Disney.

I still wonder about Sacha Gervasi's "Hitchcock" and Gus Van Sant's "Promised Land." The former is likely to remain a 2013 player, while the latter is probably in the same boat.

Nevertheless, congratulations to Film Society for nailing down two big contenders for its 50th anniversary and for standing tall as a place to bring exclusive awards contender bows. I have to say, it's a good year to have made the move here. (We signed a lease this afternoon -- I'm a New Yorker now, for those unaware.)

The 50th annual New York Film Festival runs September 28  - October 14.