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<p>Keira Knightley in &quot;Anna Karenina&quot;</p>

Keira Knightley in "Anna Karenina"

Credit: Focus Features

Tech Support: 'Anna Karenina,' 'Les Mis' and 'Lincoln' lead the race for Best Production Design

Period, fantasy and contemporary films duke it out in a diverse mix

Ah, Best Production Design. It was about time the name was changed.

Previously known as “Best Art Direction,” the award doesn’t cite a movie’s art director. Rather, it recognizes both the production designer, who is in charge of the set designs and the overall art department, and the set decorator, whose responsibility it is to fill up those environments with accouterment that truly brings them alive.

The Designers Branch, as it is now known, votes for the nominees in Best Production Design. It also contains the costume designers, making the branch responsible for two of the Oscar categories, like the sound branch. And while the category’s name has changed, the rules have not, so branch's past behavior provides helpful guidance in handicapping this race.

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<p>Anthony Hopkins in &quot;Hitchcock.&quot;</p>

Anthony Hopkins in "Hitchcock."

Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Will 'Hitchcock' remind the Academy of its own Hitch neglect?

The biopic is set to premiere tonight at AFI Fest

Tonight, Sacha Gervasi's "Hitchcock" will kick off the AFI Fest in Los Angeles, giving Oscar-watchers more to murmur about while critics decide if it's a tribute worthy of Hitch himself or a disposable dress-up piece in the "My Week With Marilyn" mold.

Either way, Fox Searchlight -- who sprang a surprise on the season by moving the film up from its scheduled 2013 bow -- will be aiming to get more awards traction for their starry prestige item than almost any film directed by Hitchcock himself managed.

That tidy irony, meanwhile, could emerge as the chief hook for "Hitchcock"'s Oscar campaign: many voters will be aware of how the Academy neglected the master in the past, so might they choose to demonstrate their latter-day awareness of his greatness by voting for a film in which he's the subject?

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<p>Your friendly neighborhood TV&nbsp;critic hasn't quite been in a &quot;Revolution&quot;&nbsp;situation the last few days, but it's been closer than he'd like.</p>

Your friendly neighborhood TV critic hasn't quite been in a "Revolution" situation the last few days, but it's been closer than he'd like.

Credit: NBC

The week the lights went out in Jersey

Catching up on a strange week in TV in the wake of Hurricane Sandy

How's everybody doing? We came through the storm just fine (we were much luckier than many of our neighbors, whose houses were struck by falling trees), but like most everyone in New Jersey, our house has been blacked out for days. I've found at least a temporary place to work that has electricity and internet, but it's been a strange few days, both inside and outside the storm's path.

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<p>Joaquin Phoenix in &quot;The Master.&quot;</p>

Joaquin Phoenix in "The Master."

Credit: The Weinstein Company

Roundup: Phoenix keeps riding the truth train

Also: Gearing up for AFI Fest, and is 'Cloud Atlas' still a Best Pic player?

I have to say, Joaquin Phoenix deserves the Oscar for his interviews alone this season -- whether he likes it or not, he's swiftly shaping up as the most compelling human figure in this year's awards race, and I'm increasingly thinking his sheer unfiltered bolshiness could be more of a help than a hindrance to his reluctant Best Actor campaign. His latest refreshing dose of candor comes in a UK broadsheet interview, and is perhaps more endearing than his headline-making anti-awards rant. The choice quote: "I think the trouble is I'm not very good and I need a lot of help; I need the entire set to be working to help me." Keep going, sir. [The Independent

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2013 Best Director Contenders: From Ben Affleck to Robert Zemeckis

2013 Best Director Contenders: From Ben Affleck to Robert Zemeckis

A varied field of filmmakers makes the push for Oscar recognition this year

Moving right along through the season's major Oscar categories, we come today to the Best Director field. A wide and varied field of contenders is represented, from intimate dramas to CGI blockbusters and everything in between.

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<p>President Barack Obama, NJ&nbsp;Gov. Chris Christie and local officials discuss the relief efforts in Sandy-struck New Jersey on Wednesday, Oct. 31.</p>

President Barack Obama, NJ Gov. Chris Christie and local officials discuss the relief efforts in Sandy-struck New Jersey on Wednesday, Oct. 31.

Credit: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Contender Countdown: A sprint after Hurricane Sandy and the Election

is it just a three-way race?

"Is it over yet?" 

Usually, that's a common refrain you hear during awards season at the beginning of February after countless pseudo awards shows, screenings, cocktail parties, interviews and film festivals.  Instead, it seems to be the nation's collective mindset about the upcoming presidential election.  Since the conventions at the end of August, the nation's attention has been distracted or bombarded by election coverage, debates and commercials.  And while few of the latter even air in Los Angeles, the movie industry is spending just as much time checking the latest poll results as a soccer mom in Kansas might be. Compound the last few months with three highly rated debates and 72 hours of Hurricane Sandy coverage (and concern) and you'll understand why it sort of feels like this year's Oscar race has been in a bit of a holding pattern.

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<p>A scene from Wednesday's &quot;Survivor: Philippines&quot;</p>

A scene from Wednesday's "Survivor: Philippines"

Credit: CBS

Recap: 'Survivor: Philippines' - 'Not the Only Actor On This Island'

Would secrets and lies be revealed after a Merge?
Pre-credit sequence. Team Jeff Kent returns to Kalabaw camp. "Denise, we have to give you a break from this Tribal nonsense," Penner tells the Matsing exile, who has been at every Tribal Council this season and has begun to suspect she may be cursed. Jeff Kent's figuring Penner is going to help him out eventually, which is why he went against Katie at the last vote. "Thanks guys, for not voting with her," says Penner, who was surprised that anybody had voted against him. Penner had briefly forgotten that people in "Survivor" lie, but now he's got his eyes and ears open. "I'd be ridiculously stupid not to," he says.
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Credit: ABC

'Nashville' recap: 'We Live in Two Different Worlds'

Juliette finds out how much a bottle of nail polish will really cost her

So, as we know from the promos that have been plastered all over ABC, this episode will focus on Juliette's undoing. Last week we saw her steal a bottle of nail polish, and now the video of that self-destructive moment has gone viral. Let the fallout begin! I have to wonder what it's going to take for Juliette to recover from this screw-up, especially since we know that in real life she's hardly to sweet country princess she pretends to be. Maybe she can save some puppies from drowning during a natural disaster or something. 

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"American Horror Story"

 "American Horror Story"

Credit: FX

'American Horror Story' recap: 'Nor'easter'

Dr. Arden and Shelly have a horrifying encounter and Bloody Face gets a twist

Well, that didn't take long. Just three episodes in, and the second season of "American Horror Story" (Wed. 10:00 p.m.) has started to give me nightmares. Surprisingly, this has nothing to do with the creepy timing of tonight's episode. The asylum is hit by a monster storm, and the episode is called, yes, "Nor'easter." Which is, by the way, part of the weather system that created Frankenstorm Sandy (the other part was pure hurricane). It would probably be especially spooky for some people in New York and New Jersey, but their power's still out.

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<p>Luke, Leia and Han may belong to Disney now, but their earlier adventures are still trapped in a tractor beam by 20th Century Fox.</p>

Luke, Leia and Han may belong to Disney now, but their earlier adventures are still trapped in a tractor beam by 20th Century Fox.

Credit: 20th Century Fox/Lucasfilm

Don't expect to see the original editions of 'Star Wars' on Blu-ray any time soon

The Disney/Lucasfilm has people excited, but for the wrong reasons

One of the first reactions yesterday across the Internet was rejoicing about the Disney/Lucasfilm deal because fans immediately assumed that Disney would make all their dreams come true of a Blu-ray release for the unaltered original 1977 version of "A New Hope."

Well, don't hold your breath.

Home video rights are a tricky thing, and in this case, fans can be forgiven for their immediate assumption.  After all, Disney bought Lucasfilm, right?  The problem is that there are existent deals in place concerning the first six films and the "Clone Wars" television series that aren't going to suddenly change just because of this sale.  Those obligations are going to be playing themselves out for several years to come.

In the case of the "Star Wars" movies, the earliest Disney would have a chance to release anything would be in the year 2020, and even then, they aren't going to have the rights to "A New Hope," which remain with Fox permanently.  Now, sure, companies can work out deals to release movies that other studios made.  The new James Bond box set, for example, is a Fox release even though MGM is the studio that has made those movies and Sony is currently releasing the new titles.  And the Alfred Hitchcock box that just came out from Universal features several Paramount and MGM titles as well.  It's certainly not unheard of, and I'm sure Disney would love to work it out.

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<p>Betcha you're missing Steve Jones right now</p>

Betcha you're missing Steve Jones right now

Credit: FOX

Recap: 'The X Factor' Performances - The Top 16

Plus, Mario Lopez and Khloe Odom Kardashian make their hosting debuts

It's been six weeks and 12 episodes worth of Auditions and Boot Camp and Judges' Houses and all of the various preliminary steps, but "The X Factor" is finally ready to bring on the live performances.

Wednesday (October 31) night's episode features performances from the Top 16, which inexplicably isn't being treated as the "finals." No, we're going to have Wednesday's performances and then eliminations on Thursday and *that* group of contestants -- 12 individuals/groups -- will be the Finalists. Why does "12" scream "Finalists" and "16" says "Random Intermediate Grouping"? I have no idea. You'd have to take it up with FOX or Simon Cowell.

In any case, click through for my usual "X Factor" recap, including performance reviews, plus any brilliant additions courtesy of new hosts Mario Lopez and Khloe Kardashian Odom...

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<p>Jessica Chastain in &quot;Zero Dark Thirty.&quot;</p>

Jessica Chastain in "Zero Dark Thirty."

Credit: Columbia Pictures

The Long Shot: A hazy shade of winter

Should the annual December glut of prestige fare be discouraged?

Spot question: What do the last seven winners of the Best Picture Oscar all have in common? Chances are you won't find many narrative, practical or technical common points between the lot of them, but there is this: none of them were first released Stateside in December. Yes, “The Artist” and “The King's Speech” only narrowly count by virtue of their limited Thanksgiving releases, but the point is that they, too, got in just ahead of the traditional Christmastime glut of prestige fare that has become inseparable from Oscar season.

In every year since the last-minute sneak attack by “Million Dollar Baby” in the 2004 season, the overstuffed Christmas stocking that is the December release calendar has produced contenders and nominees aplenty – as well as the high-profile misfires that are an equally inevitable part of the season. But when it comes to actually choosing their favorite of favorites, the Academy has recently proved that its collective memory can extend at least a little beyond the eggnog fog.

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