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<p>Meryl Streep at the New York premiere of &quot;The Iron Lady.&quot;</p>

Meryl Streep at the New York premiere of "The Iron Lady."

Credit: AP Photo/Marion Curtis

Watch Meryl Streep get the Kennedy Center treatment

Robert De Niro, Kevin Kline and Anne Hathaway among those paying tribute

Whether Meryl Streep wins her third Oscar in two months' time or not is still highly uncertain -- Michelle Williams has so far been winning the battle of the biopics in the critics' awards, while Viola Davis must wait until January's more populist ceremonies to potentially make her mark in the race -- but she's already received a neat maybe-consolation prize in the form of her Kennedy Center Honors presentation, which aired on US television last night.

Certainly, no Academy Award presentation can match this one for either generosity of spirit or simple star wattage: in order, Tracey Ullman, Robert De Niro, Mike Nichols, Kevin Kline, Emily Blunt, Stanley Tucci and Anne Hathaway all turned up to pay their respects in an elaborately staged tribute that, while unrelated, seemed to karmically repay Streep for her own lovely testimony at the Academy's Vanessa Redgrave tribute evening last month. The actress seems more comfortable at the giving than the receiving end of lavish praise, but good sport that she is, she grins through the whole thing.

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Taking questions for 12/30 Oscar Talk

Offer up your burning queries

Alright, you know the drill. I'm not quite sure what we'll be discussing yet, but for now, go ahead and tell use your need-to-knows and we'll address a few in the podcast. As always, keep it fresh and try not to retread things we've already covered.

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Greg P. Russell, doing his thing.
Greg P. Russell, doing his thing.
Credit: Greg P. Russell

Sound mixer Greg P. Russell talks creating 'dynamic range' on 'Transformers'

The 14-time nominee closes in on yet another nod this year

We've talked to Greg P. Russell here at In Contention numerous times over the years, stretching back, I think, to his work on 2006's "Apocalypto." He's amassed 14 Oscar nominations throughout his career (including two in 1998), but the statue has eluded him.

This is kind of what I'm talking about when I harp on the fact that the Academy at large just doesn't think all that hard about its choices throughout the crafts categories. From member to member, I'd be shocked if the difference between sound editing and sound mixing is all that considered or even known. It's all about favorite movies when they get to those categories, which explains why other talented craftsmen like Roger Deakins and Kevin O'Connell have also gone Oscarless all this time despite often cranking out some of the best work in their fields.

Films like "The Rock" and "Con Air," therefore, just don't win Oscars. But Russell's contribution to those kinds of films is substantial, as it was this year on "Transformers: Dark of the Moon."

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<p>John Hawkes sings &quot;Marcy's Song&quot; in &quot;Martha Marcy May Marlene.&quot;</p>

John Hawkes sings "Marcy's Song" in "Martha Marcy May Marlene."

Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Round-up: 'Shame' and 'Martha Marcy' going for a song

Also: Reznor on working with Fincher, and 'War Horse' the one to beat?

There's a lovely piece by Ian Buckwalter on NPR today about two of the most striking musical moments in film in 2011: John Hawkes's performance of "Marcy's Song" in "Martha Marcy May Marlene" and Carey Mulligan's slowed-down rendition of "New York, New York" in "Shame." Neither, of course, is a song originally written for the film, yet both selections feel more cinematically and thematically resonant than most Best Original Song contenders in any given year. As Buckwalter puts it: "[T]hey contain coded messages that pass, hidden between the lines, between the maker and the recipient... a simple two-minute pop song can carry more meaning and history than pages and pages of dialogue." [NPR

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<p>&quot;Hugo&quot;&nbsp;won Best Picture but nothing else from the group.</p>

"Hugo" won Best Picture but nothing else from the group.

Credit: Paramount Pictures

Austin film critics like 'Hugo,' Refn and Shannon

And the 'Attack the Block' score gets its due!

The Austin Film Critics Association is the latest group to speak up on the year's best, tapping "Hugo" as the best picture of the year. The film didn't show up anywhere else on the unique slate of superlatives, though, which included three wins for "Drive." Check out the full list of winners below.

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<p>Carey&nbsp;Mulligan and Ryan&nbsp;Gosling in a scene from &quot;Drive&quot;</p>

Carey Mulligan and Ryan Gosling in a scene from "Drive"

Credit: FilmDistrict

The 'Drive' that binds

Four top 10 lists here at HitFix converged on one film

As the year draws to a close, we find ourselves in the midst of the season's superlative train. Most of the critics have had their say, and one film that has done somewhat surprisingly well on the circuit, establishing the field-leading Best Supporting Actor candidate and corralling a healthy share of Best Director trophies, too, is Nicolas Winding Refn's "Drive."

Not only that, but it is also the only film shared by top 10 lists published here at HitFix by Drew McWeeny (#6), Gregory Ellwood (#2), Guy Lodge (#3) and yours truly (#3). That's interesting to me, because when you look at those three takes on the 2011 film year, they are drastically different and have different criteria (in some instances different release date criteria) for judgment. But they converge at this one dynamic burst of style and vision. Why, I wonder? What is it about this film that manages to bridge gaps like that? And it's not just us, of course, as "Drive" has popped up on a number of top 10 lists this year, firmly in the top tier of the year's favorites.

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<p>Kenneth Branagh at the UK premiere of &quot;My Week with Marilyn&quot;&nbsp;on Nov. 20 in London.</p>

Kenneth Branagh at the UK premiere of "My Week with Marilyn" on Nov. 20 in London.

Credit: AP Photo/Joel Ryan

Kenneth Branagh on the 'method' of playing Olivier and Marvel movies fueling England's film biz

Has he had his own 'Marilyn' on set?

If anyone deserves the 2011 comeback of the year award it may just be Kenneth Branagh. 

The four-time Oscar nominee burst upon the scene in 1989 with his acclaimed adaptation of "Henry V."  It was a remarkable achievement which he both directed and starred in at the ripe old age of 28.  Branagh became a creative force and incredibly prolific during the early to mid-90's with more Shakespeare adaptations such as "Much Ado About Nothing" and a four-hour "Hamlet," the underrated thriller "Dead Again," cult comedy favorite "Peter's Friends" and the studio misfire "Frankenstein." His career hit a major bumpy patch after his villainous turn in the disappointing "Wild Wild West" and the critical drubbing of his musical version of "Love's Labour's Lost" in 2000.  What followed was almost a decade of supporting roles in films such as "Rabbit-Proof Fence," "Valkyrie" and "Pirate Radio" and little substantial directing work.  I remember speaking to Branagah when "Sleuth" screened at the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival and he was humbly grateful star and producer Jude Law offered him the chance to helm a movie people were paying attention to.  It was a far cry from a decade earlier when he was the toast of Hollywood and "Hamlet" was perceived as a best picture nominee (which didn't happen although it did land four nominations).

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Jean Dujardin in "The Artist"
Jean Dujardin in "The Artist"
Credit: The Weinstein Company

'The Artist' triumphs with Phoenix critics

The group also boasts tapping 'King's Speech' against the grain last year... Um...

The Phoenix Film Critics Society has named "The Artist" the best picture of the year, but I have to say, I was stopped dead in my tracks by this line of boast at the organization's official site:

"Last year the PFCS was the only critics group to name 'The King’s Speech' as Best Picture correctly predicting the Academy Awards."

Look, yay, you were good enough to go against the grain of last year's pro-"Social Network" critics' awards onslaught. But don't brag about it like it should matter. Your job isn't to predict the Academy Awards, so don't start thinking it is, please. PLEASE.

The group fell hard for "The Artist" this year, giving the film Best Picture along with eight other awards. Nine wins for the film that has become the 2011 critics' favorite. Not so against the grain after all, I guess. Of course, that writing was probably on the wall after the film led the way with nominations earlier this month.

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<p>This image always sums up the first film for me, as destiny claims Frodo Baggins and kicks off a huge adventure.</p>

This image always sums up the first film for me, as destiny claims Frodo Baggins and kicks off a huge adventure.

Credit: New Line Home Video

A Return To Middle-Earth, Part I: Liveblogging the 'Lord Of The Rings' on Blu-ray

Why are we heading back now, and what will we find when we get there?

So why now?

That's the question that seems most appropriate as we begin the journey.  It's 6:00 PST on December 27, and we just hit play on "Fellowship Of The Ring" for the first time since mid-2004.

After all, "The World Has Changed."  That first line seems very appropriate now.  It's been ten years since this was released, and the landscape of the modern blockbuster seems very different.  It's strange to see a new production diary for "The Hobbit" or to see the first trailer and to see how well Jackson appears to be recapturing the exact vibe of his first trip to Middle-Earth.  I wasnt sure he'd be able to do it, but more importantly, I wasn't sure audiences would still want to see it.  As acclaimed as these three films were, and deservedly so, I still think this is one of the great weird flukes in film history.

Watching the prologue play out again, I'm amazed they were able to start the films this way, kicking off with this crazy infodump, but he makes this history lesson feel positively lyrical.  It helps when you have a voice as hypnotic as Cate Blanchett's telling you this tale of how the Ring was created and changed hands.  I think it's also smart because it sets up that there is magic and the scale of the world and the darkness that is possible in the series, and it lets you know up front what sort of ride you're in for.

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<p>George Clooney, Jason Segel, The Muppets, and 'Hugo' all made 2011 a wonderful year to spend in the dark, and we celebrate their work with this list of the Runners-Up.</p>

George Clooney, Jason Segel, The Muppets, and 'Hugo' all made 2011 a wonderful year to spend in the dark, and we celebrate their work with this list of the Runners-Up.

Credit: Fox Searchlight, Disney, Paramount

The Runners-Up for 2011 include damaged souls and family issues to spare

Twice the Segel, twice the Greer, and twice the Considine? We're just as surprised as you.

I find that the act of making a Top Ten list each year probably takes up way more headspace than it should for me.  I sweat over it.  I wrestle with each spot on that list.  I spend days moving things up and down the list until I feel like there's nothing that I can movie anywhere else.

And the films that just narrowly miss that Top Ten are almost always films I love just as much as the films that made the Top Ten.  It's just that the order shook out in a way that often leaves me tied in knots.  How can I love a film this much and not find a spot for it in that top ten?  It's a good problem to have, and 2011 was a year where I could easily have made three totally different Top Ten lists and each one would have been equally valid and filled with things I adore.  I'll leave it at 20, though.  There's the main Top Ten that we ran the other day, and now this, my list of the runners-up.  And what a strange and diverse group of titles it is.

As with the Top Ten list, if it showed at a public screening this year, it qualifies for my list, and I think this represents a pretty strange and wonderful range of experiences that were possible to have for ticket-buyers this year.

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<p>Gary Oldman in &quot;Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.&quot;</p>

Gary Oldman in "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy."

Credit: Focus Features

Gary Oldman to receive career retrospective at the Arclight Theater in Hollywood

Six of the actor’s most notable films will screen for free in January

Gary Oldman’s career has been a frequent topic of conversation of late at In Contention. Two recent interview pieces focused on his work in "JFK” and “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,” respectively and a secondary list focused on his most notable performances.

But it appears as though we are not the only ones who believe the actor deserves a bit of well-earned recognition at this stage in his career.

The Palm Springs International Film Festival selected the Oldman for its International Star Award earlier this month, and now, the Arclight Hollywood has announced that it will host a six-film retrospective of character portraits starring Oldman  – all of which make an appearance on Kris’s aforementioned top 10 Gary Oldman performances list.

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<p>Chris O'Dowd in &quot;Bridesmaids.&quot;</p>

Chris O'Dowd in "Bridesmaids."

Credit: Universal Pictures

First-Half FYC: Best Supporting Actor and Actress

10 worthy contenders from the first six months of 2011

It’s an annual complaint among Oscar-watchers and industry folk alike that the awards season is overwhelmingly geared towards prestige releases that land in the second half (or even fourth quarter) of the year, aiming to capitalize both on autumn festival buzz and Oscar voters' short memories. For every early release that stays the course all the way to the Oscar podium -- most recently, "The Hurt Locker" -- there are any number of deserving January-to-June contenders that slip through the cracks as newer, shinier, not necessarily better fare takes precedence.

With that in mind, I began a new column series last year dedicated to writing that wrong: First-Half FYC, in which I spotlight the worthiest major-category Oscar possibilities (or impossibilities) from the first six months of the U.S. release calendar. I've started a little late this year, so I'm doubling up on the categories, beginning with the Best Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress races: what follows is an alternative ballot of five deserving names in each category, all of them in films released before July.

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