The 2008 awards season is starting to take early shape as potential contenders lock in fall release dates.

The latest is Universal and Imagine’s “Frost/Nixon,” from director Ron Howard, which will open Dec. 5 in an exclusive run before expanding, U announced Monday.

The film, based on Peter Morgan’s play re-creating David Frost’s famous TV interviews with Richard Nixon, stars Michael Sheen and Frank Langella.

U and Spyglass will open “Flash of Genius,” based on the real-life story of the Detroit engineer who claimed the auto industry stole his idea for the intermittent windshield wiper, on Oct. 17. Greg Kinnear, Lauren Graham and Dermot Mulroney star.

While all five of last season’s Oscar best picture contenders came from studio specialty units, the studios themselves could have a bigger awards presence this go-around. “Frost/Nixon” is followed a week later, on Dec. 12, by Sony’s Will Smith drama “Seven Pounds,” from “Pursuit of Happyness” director Gabrielle Muccino.

Specialty arms aren’t planning on taking a back seat, however, even if they haven’t dated all of their fall films.

The Coen brothers’ next movie, “Burn After Reading,” and Keira Knightley-Ralph Fiennes starrer “The Duchess” both open on Sept. 12. Focus Features will open “Burn After Reading” wide, while Paramount Vantage will take “Duchess” out in a limited run.

The next week, on Sept. 19, Miramax opens Fernando Meirelles’ “Blindness,” starring Gael Garcia Bernal, Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo, in limited release.

United Artists and MGM debut Bryan Singer’s Tom Cruise starrer “Valkyrie” on Oct. 3; the film was originally scheduled to open in June but was pushed back to shoot a key battle scene, as well as better position it for an awards run. It is currently set to open wide.

Warners will bow Ridley Scott’s Leonardo DiCaprio-Russell Crowe starrer “Body of Lies,” another awards contender, on Oct. 10.

Twentieth Century Fox debuts Baz Luhrmann’s Hugh Jackman-Nicole Kidman epic “Australia” on Nov. 14.

On Nov. 26, the Weinstein Co. is set to open John Hillcoat’s “The Road,” starring Charlize Theron, Viggo Mortensen and Guy Pearce.

Dec. 19 will see two awards contenders open: Paramount Vantage and DreamWorks’ “Revolutionary Road” and Paramount’s “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.”

Directed by Sam Mendes, “Revolutionary Road” reteams Kate Winslet and DiCaprio for the first time since “Titanic.” It’s unclear whether the pic will open wide or in a limited run.

Par intends to take David Fincher’s “Benjamin Button,” starring Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett and Tilda Swinton, wide.

A number of possible awards contenders have yet to be dated, including DreamWorks’ “The Soloist,” Universal’s “The Changeling,” Vantage’s “Defiance,” Fox Searchlight’s “The Secret Life of Bees,” Miramax’s “Doubt” and Focus’ “Milk” The Weinstein Co. also hasn’t dated “Shanghai” and “The Reader.”

Elsewhere on the master release calendar, Universal said it will release Tony Gilroy’s Julia Roberts-Clive Owen starrer “Duplicity” on March 20, 2009, and Kevin Macdonald’s “State of Play” on April 17, 2009.

And Warner Bros. has decided to keep the release dates planned for the first three New Line films it will distribute in the wake of the downsizing of that former mini-major.

Warners will open New Line’s “Harold and Kumar: Escape From Guantanamo” on April 25; “Sex and the City” on May 30; and “Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D” on July 11. Warners did not go beyond these three titles in terms of release plans for New Line’s slate, which it is now in charge of distributing.