FEINBERG'S 5: Billy Crystal, AFI Fest, 'The Iron Lady,' 'Margin Call,' Morgan Freeman

Billy Crystal Oscars Host - H 2011
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Billy Crystal Oscars Host - H 2011

These, in my judgment, are the five awards-related stories from the past week that every self-respecting movie buff should know about...

1. The Academy Makes the Best of It

It was a rollercoaster of a week for the Academy. As THR was the first to report, Brett Ratner, who had been named the producer of February's Oscar show, resigned from the job on Tuesday after provoking a firestorm of controversy by stating during a Q&A that "rehearsal is for fags" and explicitly discussing his sex life with Howard Stern. Then, on Wednesday, Eddie Murphy, whom Ratner recently directed in Tower Heist and recruited to serve as the host of the Oscar show, also walked away from the show, leaving things in disarray.

But that same day, Brian Grazer, the co-chief of Imagine Entertainment and the Oscar-winning producer of A Beautiful Mind (2001), stepped up to the plate and agreed to replace Ratner, and, on Thursday, Billy Crystal, the popular host of eight previous Oscar shows, agreed to come back and fill in for Murphy. (As a publicist friend said to me, it's a pretty safe bet that Crystal's opening monologue will begin, "Good evening and welcome to the Oscars. I'm your host, Eddie Murphy!")

PHOTOS: Oscar Hosts Through the Years

Despite the inconvenience and stress that the last week must have caused the Academy, they actually came out of it in pretty good shape; after all, does anyone doubt that they'd have preferred a Grazer/Crystal combo over Ratner/Murphy in the first place? Now, the Academy can devote its full focus to Saturday's third annual Governors Awards ceremony, at which actress/producer Oprah Winfrey will receive the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award and honorary Oscars will be presented to actor James Earl Jones (in absentia -- he didn't want to miss a night of his West End play Driving Miss Daisy) and makeup artist Dick Smith. (Click here to read my preview of the event and interviews with all three honorees.)

2. AFI Fest Closes Out Fall Festival Season

The fall festival season drew to a close with the 25th annual AFI Fest, a week-long festival that was held in Hollywood (primarily at Grauman's Chinese and Egyptian theaters) and was bookended by two highly-anticipated films. The opening night screening was the world premiere of Clint Eastwood's J. Edgar and the closing night screening was the North American premiere of Steven Spielberg's The Adventures of Tintin, both of which generated mixed-leaning-positive responses from critics.

PHOTOS: 'J. Edgar' Kicks Off AFI Fest

In-between, many other awards hopefuls that have been playing on the festival circuit for months were also screened, including contenders for the big eight categories (Michel Hazanavicius's The Artist, Steve McQueen's Shame, Roman Polanski's Carnage, Luc Besson's The Lady, Ralph Fiennes's Coriolanus, Lynne Ramsey's We Need to Talk About Kevin, Oren Moverman's Rampart, Simon Curtis's My Week with Marilyn, Lars von Trier's Melancholia), foreign language category (Wim Wenders's Pina, Asghar Farhadi's A Separation, Bela Tarr's The Turin Horse), and doc category (Werner Herzog's Into the Abyss). Be sure to check out my recent interviews with Coriolanus's director/star Fiennes (click here) and The Lady's star Michelle Yeoh (click here).

3. Iron Lady to December 30

The Weinstein Company has decided to push back the release date of Phyllida Lloyd's Margaret Thatcher bio-pic The Iron Lady -- which stars Meryl Streep in the title role -- from December 16 to December 30. This move, along with the fact that a trailer for the film has yet to be released, has stirred up doubts about whether the film will provide to be the awards contender that many expected it might be. Indeed, this film will test whether Lloyd will bring her game up to Streep's historic level (Streep seems to get nominated every time she appears in a film), or Streep will bring hers down to Lloyd's (Lloyd is best known for the 2008 big screen adaptation of Mamma Mia!). Either way, Harvey Weinstein will have a stake in the best actress Oscar race: he's also distributing My Week with Marilyn, which features an awards-caliber portrayal of Marilyn Monroe by Michelle Williams, who has been nominated twice in the past.

4. Margin Call Surprises

Roadside Attractions has decided to mount a late but aggressive campaign on behalf of the timely Wall Street drama Margin Call, which was written and directed by first-time filmmaker J.C. Chandor and features an incredible ensemble cast led by Zachary Quinto, Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons, Paul Bettany, Stanley Tucci, Simon Baker, Demi Moore, and Mary McDonnell. The film, which was released concurrently in select theaters and on VOD on October 21, quickly generated enthusiastic support from critics and phenomenal numbers on VOD, convincing the little studio -- which has previously guided The Cove (2009), Biutiful (2010), and Winter's Bone (2010) to Oscar success -- that they have a second contender on their hands to go along with Albert Nobbs, for which they hope to score a best actress nod for Glenn Close and a best supporting actress nod for Janet McTeer.

Margin Call, which one publicist described as "The Help for men," received a best ensemble Gotham Awards nod earlier this month, and seems to have a strong shot a best ensemble SAG nod and a best original screenplay Oscar nod; a so-so shot at best supporting actor SAG/Globe/Oscar nods for Irons and/or Spacey (although both are currently working overseas and therefore unable to do much glad-handing); and a long shot at a best picture Oscar nod. Roadside has already mailed screeners to the HFPA, with others for SAG and the Academy still to come; Quinto is doing SAG Q&As and will probably attend the Gothams, perhaps with Irons and other members of the cast; and the studio is starting to buy ads on various websites that might be read by awards voters.

5. Globes to Fete Freeman

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association announced that actor Morgan Freeman will receive the Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement at the 69th annual Golden Globe Awards on Sunday, January 15. The 74-year-old, whose booming voice has been likened to God's, made his film debut in 1964. In the years since, he has given memorable performances in dozens of critically and/or commercially successful films. Freeman has received five Academy Award nominations and five Golden Globe nominations, winning the best supporting actor Oscar for Million Dollar Baby (2004) and the best actor (musical or comedy) Globe for Driving Miss Daisy (1989). Previous recipients of the honor, which is determined by the HFPA's board of directors, include Alfred Hitchcock, Lucille Ball, Sidney Poitier, Sophia Loren, Sean Connery, Barbra Streisand, Martin Scorsese, and, at last year's ceremony, Robert De Niro.