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<p>Madonna's &quot;W.E.&quot; was the victim of more than a few 'exuberant pans' last year.</p>

Madonna's "W.E." was the victim of more than a few 'exuberant pans' last year.

Credit: The Weinstein Company

Roundup: On the power of the critical pan

Also: 'Silver Linings' vs. the heavier contenders, and 'Sugar Man' wins again

I had never heard of Guy Fieri until a few days ago, so I have no dog this fight, but I'm interested in how the media kerfuffle over a single scathing restaurant review has opened up a conversation on critical boundaries and responsibilities in all fields. The New York Times, who ran the offending review to begin with, has fed back into it with a piece by Margaret Sullivan on the necessity of what she terms the "exuberant pan" -- the review that zestily takes no prisoners in shooting down a creative endeavor, whether it's a film or a diner. Having written a few such pans myself -- I'm likely never going to be on Madonna's Christmas card list, nor Julie Taymor's -- I side with Sullivan: criticism is an artform itself, with no place for bland prose or tempered honesty, but the harshest words should be, in her words, "an arrow reached for only rarely." [New York Times]  

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<p>Jessica Chastain does a tremendous job as a CIA analyst at the heart of the hunt for Osama Bin Laden in 'Zero Dark Thirty'</p>

Jessica Chastain does a tremendous job as a CIA analyst at the heart of the hunt for Osama Bin Laden in 'Zero Dark Thirty'

Credit: Columbia Pictures

Review: Jessica Chastain anchors the stark, uncompromising 'Zero Dark Thirty'

Kathryn Bigelow bests her Oscar-winning 'Hurt Locker' with her new film

I think two directors this year are following up the movies where they won Best Picture with films that I think are clearly superior to the films they won the awards for.  This is one of the reasons I think this entire season is so strange.  Politics are so clearly part of the process of what gets picked and what gets ignored that if you try to apply the filter of "deserves" or "fair" to the films you watch, you'll go crazy.  In a perfect world, it shouldn't matter what film Kathryn Bigelow made last, or what awards it won.  But because "The Hurt Locker" was the little film that could, and it did, the scrutiny this time around is on a whole new level.  Of course, she's also collaborating again with Mark Boal, the screenwriter of "The Hurt Locker," and this is also a military themed film, so they're basically setting themselves up for the comparison.

I would love for the Kathryn Bigelow who directed "The Loveless" and "Near Dark" to sit down and watch "Zero Dark Thirty," because the huge dissonance between the voices of those works would make her head explode, "Scanners"-style.  She started her career as a filmmaker whose work existed in an entirely artificial movie universe, and with "Zero Dark Thirty," it feels like she has finally reached a place where she has stripped all artifice from her approach, and she's made a film that is pure procedural, the "Zodiac" approach to the hunt for Osama Bin Laden.  I can't tell you for sure that the film has anything to do with the unvarnished truth, but I can tell you that this feels accurate.  It has an integrity to it that is bracing and adult, and it manages to deliver a major visceral experience without ever once bending to Hollywood convention.  This is a film that knows exactly what it's doing, and does it without compromise.

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<p>The Tooth Fairy is intrigued by Jack Frost's teeth in &quot;Rise of the Guardians.&quot;</p>

The Tooth Fairy is intrigued by Jack Frost's teeth in "Rise of the Guardians."

Credit: Dreamworks Animation

Why isn't 'Rise of the Guardians' a box office hit?

A rare stumble from DreamWorks Animation

There is something very disheartening about the box office performance of "Rise of the Guardians" this past holiday weekend.  When Paramount and DreamWorks Animation first previewed footage from "Guardians" early this year there was genuine excitement in the media and animation circles. After surprising moviegoers with an unexpectedly adult-friendly "Puss and Boots" and somehow improving critically with "Kung Fu Panda 2," DWA seemed intent on continuing to break the mold with their upcoming slate. Principally, "Guardians" was executive produced by Guillermo Del Toro (who seemed to work wonders for "Boots") and was their first property acquisition since "Shrek" back in the day.  And that was just the beginning of its impressive creative credentials.

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"Liz & Dick"

"Liz & Dick"

Credit: Lifetime

Can we all just stop piling on Lindsay Lohan and 'Liz & Dick,' please?

It's a friggin' Lifetime TV movie, remember?

In the weeks before "Liz & Dick" was released, I'll admit I was looking forward to it. It was going to be Lindsay Lohan's comeback! And if not that, the casting was very meta. Lohan's career could hardly be called a mirror image of Taylor's, unless bounced off a cracked, tarnished and very small rear view mirror. Yes, they were both child stars, chased by paparazzi and troubled by bad press, but let's face it -- Liz Taylor was the sex symbol of her generation and a two-time Oscar winner to boot. Lindsay Lohan... well, she was good in "Mean Girls."

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<p>Jaymes and James of &quot;The Amazing Race&quot;</p>

Jaymes and James of "The Amazing Race"

Credit: CBS

Recap: 'The Amazing Race' - 'Fishy Kiss'

The teams head to Amsterdam where a Double U-Turn looms
Sunday (November 25) night's episode of "The Amazing Race" was simultaneously very simple and yet very complicated, wasn't it?
None of the tasks completed during the episode were especially difficult, but there were definitely a lot of them. We had a Roadblock and a Detour and a Fast-Forward, plus there was a Double U-Turn. And then, as if that weren't enough, we got several layers of travel drama. 
There was such a myriad-assortment of busy-ness that there were three or four majority contributing factors to the week's elimination, even though none of them had to do with success or failure at any challenge. 
The result was that this was a third straight week in which "The Amazing Race" delivered a strong episode, despite major structural problems. 
Then again, when was the last time "The Amazing Race" delivered three straight episodes of this caliber? 
It's been a while, so I guess I won't quibble.
[On to the recap after the break. Apologies if any of this is scattered. I'm on an 11-hour flight returning from a vacation and it's already two or three in the morning in my head...]
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<p>Jessica Chastain in &quot;Zero Dark Thirty.&quot;</p>

Jessica Chastain in "Zero Dark Thirty."

Credit: Sony Pictures

Mark Boal calls 'Zero Dark Thirty' a story of a 'Western woman who defeated al-Qaeda'

Jessica Chastain and Kathryn Bigelow on the riveting new thriller

WEST HOLLYWOOD - "Zero Dark Thirty," Kathryn Bigelow's follow up to her Oscar-winning thriller "The Hurt Locker," made its formal screening debut in both New York and Los Angeles on Sunday, but the West Coast audience had the pleasure of a formal discussion with the director and some of her cast members immediately following.

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<p>In the &quot;Trem&eacute;&quot;&nbsp;season finale, LaDonna (Khandi Alexander)&nbsp;and Davis (Steve Zahn)&nbsp;meet for the first time.</p>

In the "Tremé" season finale, LaDonna (Khandi Alexander) and Davis (Steve Zahn) meet for the first time.

Credit: HBO

Season finale review: 'Tremé' - 'Tipitina'

A benefit for LaDonna brings most of our cast of characters together

A review of the "Tremé" season finale coming up just as soon as I like metal and sea shanties...

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<p>Morena Baccarin in &quot;Homeland.&quot;</p>

Morena Baccarin in "Homeland."

Credit: Showtime

Review: 'Homeland' - 'Two Hats'

Brody resurfaces, and Saul looks into Quinn

A quick review of tonight's "Homeland" coming up just as soon as I find a pay phone...

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<p>On &quot;The Walking Dead,&quot;&nbsp;Michonne gives Rick, Oscar and Daryl a tour.</p>

On "The Walking Dead," Michonne gives Rick, Oscar and Daryl a tour.

Credit: AMC

Review: 'The Walking Dead' - 'When the Dead Come Knocking'

Michonne makes new friends, while Glenn is reacquainted with an old one

A quick review of tonight's "The Walking Dead" coming up just as soon as I telecommute...

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<p>Dunn (Erik LaRay Harvey)&nbsp;and Chalky (Michael Kenneth Williams)&nbsp;in &quot;Boardwalk Empire.&quot;</p>

Dunn (Erik LaRay Harvey) and Chalky (Michael Kenneth Williams) in "Boardwalk Empire."

Credit: HBO

Review: 'Boardwalk Empire' - 'Two Imposters'

Nucky goes on the run and Gillian gets some houseguests

A review of tonight's "Boardwalk Empire" coming up just as soon as I have to ask for your phone number...

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

Jessica Chastain in "Zero Dark Thirty"

Credit: Columbia Pictures

Kathryn Bigelow's 'Zero Dark Thirty' tells it straight, to varying effect

Will the 'Hurt Locker' director be back for Oscar seconds?

When Kathryn Bigelow walked away with honors for Best Picture and Best Director at the 2009 Academy Awards, she was the little guy. The narrative was David vs. Goliath as James Cameron's "Avatar" was the big dog on campus, the money-guzzler, "the future." This year things are a little different.

"Zero Dark Thirty" arrives amid a cloud of secrecy. Columbia Pictures -- and Bigelow and Mark Boal -- have been very careful about what is and isn't known about the film, which details the near-decade-long manhunt for Osama Bin Laden. Even the particulars of Jessica Chastain's character had been held somewhat close to the chest. But enough peek-a-boo.

The film is as clinical as they come, a 160-minute procedural. It details Chastain's "Maya," what may be a slight composite but is in all likelihood "Jen," the woman recently heralded by the member of Seal Team Six who wrote a book about the final raid on Bin Laden's Abbottabad compound. She came into the CIA young, entered the Bin Laden case early and did nothing else until he was confirmed dead.

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Grammy predictions for best new artist

Grammy predictions for best new artist

Will Carly Rae Jepsen face fun., Frank Ocean or One Direction?

The Grammy nominations will be announced on Dec. 5. One of the most hotly contested races is always for best new artist.  Some years, the Grammys have gotten it right and picked acts who went on to have long careers. Other years, they’ve made regrettable choices: Starland Vocal Band or A Taste Of Honey anyone? To be eligible, an artist must have released at least one album, but cannot have released more than three. The eligibility period runs Oct. 1-Sept. 30, which means such hot artists as Meek Mill are not eligible since debut album came out after Sept. 30. Artists cannot have previously won a Grammy.  

See if we included your favorite new act:

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