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Oscar watch
There were the films we expected to be there -- "Atonement" with seven noms, "No Country for Old Men" with eight -- and then there was the little movie that could. Ellen Page? Sure. Diablo Cody's screenplay? Pretty much a lock. But best director and best picture for "Juno"? If you saw that coming, please take one big step forward. Actually, don't. No one likes a know-it-all. ... Meanwhile, the award for most disappointing ad blitz-to-nom ratio has to go to Paramount Vantage's best song push for Eddie Vedder and "Into the Wild." Luckily, they can console themselves with their 16 noms for Miramax co-productions "No Country" and "There Will Be Blood."

Noms fun fact
"Norbit" 1. "Zodiac" 0. Really.

To deal or not to deal
After a slow start on the sales front, Sundance finally had itself an old-fashioned bidding war this week. Indie distribs fell hard for Andy Fleming's "Hamlet 2," about a high school drama teacher who stages a sequel to the Shakespeare play. After Monday's screening, the Weinstein Co., Lionsgate, Vantage and Fox Searchlight all were reportedly enthused. But when the smoke cleared, it was the bleary eyed Focus Features team that emer-ged from the CAA condo at 8 a.m. with rights in hand for a whopping $10 million. ... Other pickups saw Paramount Vantage pay $2 million plus for docu "American Teeth" and Overture Films' drop $4 million on "Henry Poole Is Here."

Back to work
The WGA and AMPTP sat across the table for the first time in more than a month. Perhaps spurred by the recently completed DGA deal, the two sides met for "informal talks" that saw the writers officially pull demands for reality TV and animation jurisdiction off the table. While the move removes a hurdle from the current negotiations, the WGA said that their "organizing efforts to achieve guild representation in these genres ... will continue."

Squeaky wheel
In this week's episode of the ongoing drama known as the Italian festival circuit, RomaCinemaFest organizers backed down to intense public pressure after moving the start of their fledgling fest to within a month of the Venice Film Festival's close. The Rome event will now take place Oct. 22-31, providing a little breathing room -- 46 days to be exact -- for its venerable neighbor to the north while simultaneously crowding the Turin Film Festival, which will no doubt issue an outraged press release any day.

A real monster
Isn't January supposed to be a dumping ground for films? A dusty boxoffice graveyard? Someone forgot to tell the folks at Paramount, who parlayed a buzz-building marketing campaign into a January record $41 million opening for "Cloverfield." The J.J. Abrams-produced "Blair Witch" meets "Godzilla" project -- with a reported cost of just $25 million -- now looks certain to cruise comfortably to the $100 million mark. Tune in next month when we find out if all those "Jumper" ads that ran during the NFL playoffs pay off.

End credits
Oscar nominee Tom Wilkinson is reteaming with "Michael Clayton" helmer Tony Gilroy in Universal's "Duplicity." ... Adrien Brody and Jeffrey Wright are getting a classic record label off the ground in "Cadillac Records." ... Penelope Cruz is voicing a brainy guinea pig in the animated pic "G-Force." ... Tim Meadows and Gillian Vigman are down with roles in "They Came From Upstairs."

Heath Ledger, 1979-2008
If you followed the story on TV or the blogosphere, you watched as the "facts" changed seemingly minute-by-minute, all but the saddest central one. Heath Ledger was just 28, a father, a son and a star on the cusp of bigger things still. He broke through as a teen heartthrob in his first U.S. roles but quickly moved on to reveal an intense artist in challenging films like "Monster's Ball" and "Brokeback Mountain," for which he earned an Oscar nomination. "A courageous actor and a great soul," Focus Features boss James Schamus called him, a sentiment being echoed repeatedly by friends and colleagues. In the days and months ahead, studios and producers will still be dealing with the harsh -- and yes, economic -- realities of his death, but none will surpass the human cost.
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