Fox Searchlight will release “Hitchcock” throwing Anthony Hopkins in the Oscar race

This holiday season will get a welcome surprise coming to a theater near you. “The Master” with Joaquin Phoenix will get some strong competition in its bid for Oscar as Fox Searchlight has announced that “Hitchcock,” about the making of Alfred Hitchcock’s acclaimed thriller “Psycho,” will arrive in theaters on Nov. 23, throwing star Sir Anthony Hopkins in the thick of the Oscar race.

The move is surprising for a number of reasons, not the least of which being that most Oscar heavyweights have already been scheduled by now. Hopkins — who won an Oscar for “The Silence of the Lambs” — immediately enters into the Best Actor conversation alongside Phoenix, Day-Lewis, Bill Murray, Denzel Washington and John Hawkes, the latter of whom stars in the Fox Searchlight release “The Sessions.” How that category comes together over the next few months will be one of the more intriguing aspects of awards season.

There are two impending films that purport to shed some light on what is myth – and what is fact – when it comes to “The Master of Suspense,” Alfred Hitchcock. One is HBO’s The Girl, a television movie that explores the filmmaker’s notorious relationship with actress Tippi Hedren. The other is Hitchcock, a theatrical release that previously went under the working title Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho (three guesses as to what it’s about).

Hitchcock sounds like perfect Awards Season fodder; it’s a biographical work about a Hollywood historical figure, as well as testament to a landmark achievement in American filmmaking (like My Week with Marilyn meets RKO 281… sort of). Sure enough, Fox Searchlight Pictures has announced that Hitchcock will begin a limited release in the heat of the 2013 Oscar race.

Stephen Rebello’s book “Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho” is the basis for Hitchcock, which examines the studio interference, financing issues, and personal doubts that plagued old Alfred throughout the making of his pioneer slasher film. The spotlight is also shined on Hitchcock’s relationship with his wife Alma Reville – brought to life by Helen Mirren – as well as his time working with bygone showbiz players Janet Leigh (Scarlett Johansson) and Anthony Perkins (James D’Arcy).

Fox has set Hitchcock to open in limited release over Thanksgiving weekend on November 23rd, two days after fellow awards-hopefuls Silver Linings Playbookand Life of Pi open in wide release. The studio has gone ahead and released a poster to commensurate the event, with Sir Anthony Hopkins “in character” as old Alfred. Suffice it to say: Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln won’t be the only beloved Oscar-winning thespian bearing an uncanny resemblance to a famous larger-than-life person this November.

Directing duties on Hitchcock were handled by Sacha Gervasi – the director of the acclaimed documentary Anvil: The Story of Anvil – while the script was penned byBlack Swan co-writer John J. McLaughlin. The biographical project is described as a comedy-drama, so it’s reasonable to expect that Hitchcock paints the filmmaker as a playful eccentric – as opposed to The Girl, where old Alfred appears to come off as charming genius one moment, nasty old creeper the next. Which version will be the more captivating to watch, of course, remains to be seen.

The Hitchcock cast is rounded out by Jessica Biel (Total Recall), Toni Collette (Little Miss Sunshine), Michael Stuhlbarg (Boardwalk Empire), and Ralph Macchio (The Karate Kid). Look for a trailer to drop in the foreseeable future.

Psycho has long been shrouded in controversy due to its then-unprecedented depiction of sexuality and violence. In addition, its legacy has been marred by rumors that a body double was used for Leigh’s infamous shower scene, though Leigh has insisted that she was in the scene the entire time.

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