Muppets Most Wanted - Miss Piggy

Gone Girl: Rosamund Pike

Noah - Russell Crowe

Gone Girl: Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike

Noah - Russell Crowe

Gone Girl: Ben Affleck and Director David Fincher


   Festival films: As Hollywood gears up for the New York Film Festival, no solid front-runner in Oscar's best picture race has emerged from festival showings in Cannes, Venice, Telluride or Toronto.

   NYFF, which gets underway Friday and ends Oct. 12, has a high profile opening night world premiere in 20th Century Fox and Regency Enterprises' R rated mystery thriller "Gone Girl".

   Directed by David Fincher, a two-time best directing Oscar nominee for "The Social Network" (2011) and "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" (2009), it stars Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike and Neil Patrick Harris.

   "Girl" opens wide Oct. 3, springing-boarding off being in the NYFF media spotlight. It's already tracking in double digits as a first choice film for 25-plus women and is also doing well with women under 25 and men over 25.

   Affleck plays Nick Dunne, who on his fifth wedding anniversary reports his wife Amy (Pike) is missing. Under police pressure and a growing media frenzy, Nick's portrait of their happy marriage crumbles -- and before long everyone's asking, "Did Nick Dunne kill his wife?"

   By this point last year, "12 Years a Slave" was generating the kind of post-Telluride/Toronto heat that carried it all the way to an Oscar night best picture victory.

   This time around, the best picture race is still wide open with a number of dramas looking like potential contenders based on how they've performed at earlier festivals. They'll all be trying to get traction with Academy members by making the most of their media attention at NYFF. That coverage can be extensive since the festival takes place in the media world's very public backyard.

   One of those titles, Fox Searchlight Pictures and New Regency's R rated dramatic comedy "Birdman", is NYFF's closing night selection Oct. 12. It opens in limited release Oct. 17.

   Directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu ("Biutiful"), "Birdman" stars Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianikis and Edward Norton. It played at the Venice and Telluride festivals, but opted for NYFF instead of Toronto. This year, Toronto's new regulations about eligibility to play during its prime first four days ruled out films that had a U.S. premiere at Telluride.

   Keaton plays Riggan Thomson, a one-time action superstar who must overcome ego and family problems while staging a Broadway play in desperate hopes of being taken seriously as an actor and reclaiming his past glory.

   Inarritu was Oscar nominated in 2007 for directing and being a producer of "Babel", which received a best picture nomination.

   "Birdman" did well with festivalgoers, critics and Oscar bloggers at Telluride in early September. They responded to Inarritu's cinematic device of making it appear his film was shot in one long take, the way Hitchcock famously did in his 1948 classic thriller "Rope". Insiders expect "Birdman" to do well with critics groups when they start handing out awards in early December. In particular, it's generating a best picture and actor (Keaton) buzz.

   "Foxcatcher", another big favorite of the Oscar bloggers who flock from festival to festival, will also be playing at NYFF. The R rated biographical drama, from Sony Pictures Classics, Annapurna Pictures and Media Rights Capital, opens in exclusive release Nov. 14.

   Directed by Bennett Miller ("Moneyball"), a 2006 Oscar nominee for directing "Capote",it stars Steve Carrell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, Vanessa Redgrave, Sienna Miller and Anthony Michael Hall.

   "Foxcatcher" tells the tragic story of billionaire John E. du Pont (Carrell), who recruits championship wrestling brothers Dave and Mark Schultz (Ruffalo and Tatum) to establish a national wrestling team on his family's Pennsylvania estate.

   NYFF is "Foxcatcher's" U.S. premiere. It world premiered in May at the Cannes Film Festival, where it immediately sparked an early best picture and directing Oscar buzz. Although it was talked about as a potential Palme d'Or winner, that prize went to the small Turkish drama "Winter Sleep", directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan ("Once Upon a Time in Anatolia"). "Foxcatcher" went on to win praise at Telluride and Toronto.

   Another high profile awards hopeful that's world premiering as NYFF's centerpiece selection is Warner Bros.' R rated crime drama "Inherent Vice". It's written and directed by five time Oscar nominee Paul Thomas Anderson ("There Will Be Blood", "Magnolia", "Boogie Nights").

   Based on the novel by Thomas Pynchon, "Vice" stars Reese Witherspoon, Jena Malone, Josh Brolin and Joaquin Phoenix. It opens in limited release Dec. 12.

   Phoenix plays Doc Sportello, a private eye trying to find his ex-girlfriend Shasta (Katherine Waterston, who's already being buzzed about for a supporting actress Oscar nom) in the 1970s drug culture of Los Angeles. Brolin plays police detective Bigfoot Bjornsen, who gets in Doc's way every step of the way.

   Anderson's one of the Oscar bloggers' biggest heroes, especially for "Blood," for which he was Oscar nominated in 2008 for directing, adapted screenplay and as one of its producers.

   Also upcoming at NYFF is Focus World's R rated satirical drama about Hollywood, "Maps to the Stars". Directed by David Cronenberg ("Cosmopolis"), it stars Julianne Moore, Robert Pattinson and John Cusack.

   In "Stars," Cronenberg takes a biting satirical look at the Weiss family, a long established Hollywood dynasty with no shortage of daunting personal problems.

   "Stars" world premiered at Cannes, where Moore won best actress, instantly sparking an Oscar buzz. Although Cronenberg hasn't been Oscar nominated yet, he's had a long string of noms and wins with other awards givers worldwide. He's one of those filmmakers who gets close attention from critics and Oscar bloggers any time he has a new film in the marketplace.

   British director Mike Leigh ("Another Year") is another filmmaker who automatically commands Oscar consideration whenever he has a new movie coming out. His R rated biographical drama "Mr. Turner", which will have its New York premiere at NYFF, world premiered at Cannes. It was well received there, especially for Timothy Spall's lead performance as the eccentric 19th century British artist J.M.W. Turner.

   "Turner" opens in exclusive release Dec. 19 via Sony Pictures Classics.

   The world premiere of the documentary "CITIZENFOUR" from RADiUS, Participant Media and HBO Documentary Films, was just added to NYFF's slate last week and will play Oct. 10. It opens Oct. 24 in limited release via RADiUS.

   Directed by Laura Poitras ("O'Say Can You See"), it features comments by the controversial whistleblower fugitive Edward Snowden, who called himself "citizen four" when he began e-mailing Poitras in January 2013 while she was working on her film about national security abuses.

   A best documentary Oscar buzz is already underway for "CITIZENFOUR," which should benefit from Academy members having high awareness of its subject matter. That should translate into getting the picture seen, which is always the name of the game for anything that doesn't start out as a must-see high profile studio picture.

   Bottom line: Oscar marketers have their fingers crossed that lightning strikes at NYFF. Whatever happens, they'll soon be heading to the Hamptons Film Festival, which runs from Oct. 9-13 and offers prime media coverage because of its proximity to New York.

   The Hamptons festivities include the East Coast premiere Oct. 10 of Fox Searchlight's R rated biographical drama "Wild", which goes into limited release Dec. 5.

   Directed by Jean-Marc Vallee ("Dallas Buyers Club", for which he shared a film editing Oscar nom), it stars Reese Witherspoon (who's already generating great best actress Oscar heat), Gaby Hoffmann and Laura Dern.