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<p>Louis CK in &quot;Louie.&quot;</p>

Louis CK in "Louie."

Credit: FX

TV Top 10 of 2011: The best 10 (or 11) overall shows

A strong year for veteran series like 'Breaking Bad,' 'Louie' and 'Parks and Recreation'

It's that time of year, everybody, where critics of every stripe have to break down the best things they covered over the last 12 months into a list of 10 (or thereabouts). Eventually, all the members of Team HitFix will be rolling out his or her top 10 list, but I get to be first up at bat this year. (Katie Hasty should be up next with some thoughts on the year in music.)

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<p>Nicolas Winding&nbsp;Refn's &quot;Drive&quot; is showing remarkable staying power throughout the precursor circuit.</p>

Nicolas Winding Refn's "Drive" is showing remarkable staying power throughout the precursor circuit.

Credit: FilmDistrict

Off the Carpet: Against the grain of dystopic claims

'Drive,' 'The Tree of Life' and Tilda Swinton stand out amid predictable precursors

It's an odd time of year. There is a film, "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," that has very little hope of securing Oscar consideration and that I can now talk about. But I have nothing to say other than to offer that, in my opinion, it is director David Fincher's least compelling, most superficial film to date, practice, a craftsman staying in shape with material utterly beneath him and his boredom with it (or was it mine?) showing like the slip of a dress.

Meanwhile, there is another movie, "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close," that has plenty of potential in the Oscar race and that I cannot talk about.

So what do we talk about? The critics? There's nothing really left to say. The last film I screened in 2011, "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol?" It's fun and has great sound design (and good GAWD, Paula Patton is God's gift). This morning's BFCA announcement? It was one of the most vanilla, Oscar-forecasting collectives the group has ever managed to cough up.

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<p>Keira Knightley as Sabina Spielrein in &quot;A Dangerous Method.&quot;</p>

Keira Knightley as Sabina Spielrein in "A Dangerous Method."

Credit: Sony Pictures Classics

Interview: Keira Knightley on pushing herself (and pulling it back) in 'A Dangerous Method'

The British actress tells us why she's drawn to characters she doesn't understand

In the last year or so, I’ve seen Keira Knightley withering away on a hospital bed as her inorganic organs are removed and farmed out, moodily chain-smoking in an icy Manhattan loft as she contemplates her husband’s infidelity, stridently slamming doors on a West End stage as her life is undone by malicious rumors about her sexuality, and most recently, getting the life spanked out of her by Carl Jung as he attempts to cure her of crippling hysteria.

It has, in short, been a rather intense time for Knightley in the fictional realm, so it’s a relief, not to mention an irrational surprise, when the young Londoner answers the phone with the perkiest of hellos. It swiftly becomes difficult to reconcile the fast-talking, warmly enthusiastic person on the line – the word “incredible” pops up with endearing frequency throughout our chat – with the prickly, often unhappy women she’s lately brought to life on screen (and, in a superb London revival of Lillian Hellman’s “The Children’s Hour” last spring, on stage too).

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<p>The Magnetic Fields' &quot;Love at the Bottom of the Sea&quot;</p>

The Magnetic Fields' "Love at the Bottom of the Sea"

Credit: Merge

Magnetic Fields announce new 'Love' album for Merge, plus tour dates

Stephin Merritt is back with songs that don't play for longer than three minutes

Just as we surmised when it was announced Stephin Merritt and Co. were playing South By Southwest: Magnetic Fields has prepared the way for a new album, "Love at the Bottom of the Sea," due on March 6.

It will be their first album for Merge records in 13 years, their last for the indie label having been another "Love" set: they issued three-parter "69 Love Songs" in 1999, and then put their last three albums out via Nonesuch (former home to Wilco).

"Love at the Bottom of the Sea" -- a title that sounds  equal parts desperate, slow-moving, fatalistic and romantic -- is Magnetic Fields' 10th album, it utilizes a stable of Merritt's usual collaborators, including Claudia Gonson, Sam Davol, John Woo, Shirley Simms, Johny Blood and Daniel Handle. Merritt sticks to his signature brevity, too, on the 15 tracks, with no song exceeding three minutes in length.

Pre-orders are up now with extra goodies for the first 100 folks who sign up, and early vinyl purchasers will have dibs on eggshell colored records. Lovely.

Magnetic Fields will be supporting the release with its SXSW showcase, plus a slew of tour dates, below.

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<p>Tom&nbsp;McCarthy (far left), Paul Giamatti and Alex Shaffer on the set of &quot;Win&nbsp;Win&quot;</p>

Tom McCarthy (far left), Paul Giamatti and Alex Shaffer on the set of "Win Win"

Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures

From 'Win Win' to 'Bridesmaids,' surprises in the precursor landscape

In the midst of the predictable critics make some unusual performance selections

Amidst the recent slew of regional critics awards lists there have been the predictable pre-Oscar nominations and wins peppered with a few unconventional and often well-deserved selections. One or two of the honors felt particularly surprising, though.

The nomination that struck me as the most unusual was Houston submitting Alex Shaffer in the Supporting Actor category for his work in “Win Win” vs. one or a few of the other actors in the film. I am an admirer of Tom McCarthy’s understated (for lack of a better word) dramedy and applaud Houston for including the film in its Best Picture contenders. McCarthy is also rightly in the race for a Best Original Screenplay nomination at the Oscars.

I spoke the writer/director last week and will be releasing a full interview with him this week. For now I will say that I was in absolute agreement with McCarthy when he said that the performances in this film are easy to overlook because they are “very subtle” and take place in “un-extraordinary settings.” I also grant that in a year with several strong candidates in the Best Actor field, the Indiana critics made a bold and legitimate selection with Paul Giamatti for his role in the film. “I might not know everything,” McCarthy said during our interview, “but I know acting and those performances are authentic and so deeply felt. There are very few people who could pull that couple off as genuinely as they (Giamatti and Amy Ryan) did.” It would be lovely to see Ryan receive her own share of critical recognition for her work in the film as well, work that was nuanced, layered and a joy to watch.

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<p>Rooney&nbsp;Mara in &quot;The&nbsp;Girl with the Dragon&nbsp;Tattoo&quot;</p>

Rooney Mara in "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"

Credit: Columbia Pictures

Oscarweb Round-up: The year's best performances

Also: Paul Feig talks 'Bridesmaids' and the top five badass female roles

Tomorrow we'll be continuing with the year in review as I post up "The Longlists," a slate of spotlights in key areas that I've extended beyond the Oscar-centric five to 10 in each field. One of the joys in doing it that way was the opportunity to widen the net and recognize many of the year's great performances rather than a specific slice. With that in mind, Sasha Stone has written up the year's best performances. But what about you? Are there any performances that stuck out for you this year outside of the generally agreed-upon stuff? Anything on the fringe that hasn't gotten its due, or perhaps something right in front of our faces that keeps getting leap-frogged in favor of others? I'm curious what you think. [Awards Daily]

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<p>Laura Dern in &quot;Enlightened.&quot;</p>

Laura Dern in "Enlightened."

Credit: HBO

'Enlightened' - 'Burn It Down': Hack attack

Checking back on the Laura Dern/Mike White series as it wraps its first season

When "Enlightened" debuted back in October, I called it an awkward comedy that I had very little interest in watching any more. Since then, a number of critics I respect (including James Poniewozik, Tim Goodman and Dan Fienberg) have kept making passionate arguments for the show, and it made me curious to check back in to see if perhaps I had missed something the first time around. I caught up through last night's season finale, and I have a few thoughts coming up just as soon as I'm not a yoga instructor...

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<p>&quot;Hugo&quot;&nbsp;shared the lead with 11 nominations.</p>

"Hugo" shared the lead with 11 nominations.

Credit: Paramount Pictures

'The Artist' and 'Hugo' lead the BFCA's Critics' Choice nominees

'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy' snubbed completely, Andy Serkis nominated for 'Apes'

The Broadcast Film Critics Association has announced its nominees for the 17th annual Critics' Choice Movie Awards, and there aren't really any surprises. Across the board, it's the roll call of Oscar contenders the announcement has turned into, more and more.

I went to the mat for "Margaret" throughout my ballot. Naturally, though, it doesn't show up. Leading the way was "The Artist" and "Hugo" with 11 nominations each. Not far behind were "Drive" and "The Help" with eight apiece. The biggest surprise, I suppose, is "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" being snubbed completely. Nothing. Not even a notice for Gary Oldman in a Best Actor category of six.

Other things worth noting: Glenn Close didn't show up in the Best Actress category despite there being six nominees. Her film, "Albert Nobbs," only received a makeup nomination. "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" received nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Young Actor/Actress, but nothing for Max von Sydow or Sandra Bullock. And Nick Nolte rallied to a supporting actor notice for his work in "Warrior."

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<p>Rooney Mara certainly went all out with the physical transformation into 'The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo'</p>

Rooney Mara certainly went all out with the physical transformation into 'The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo'

Credit: Sony Pictures

Review: Fincher's take on 'Dragon Tattoo' is visually striking and dramatically dormant

Rooney Mara does nice work, but to what avail?

There are few filmmakers whose work speaks more directly to me on an aesthetic level than David Fincher.

Even so, my first exposure to his work as a feature film director left me convinced that he was not worth paying attention to at all.  Considering how little he has to say about "Alien 3" at this point, it seems he agrees that it was not the best foot forward, and all accounts of the experience make it sound like it was a nightmare for all involved.

As a result, when I walked into his next film, I had no expectations at all, and I think I even had a bit of a chip on my shoulder about the movie.  A few hours later, I sat there, totally flattened by "Se7en," amazed at what the film accomplished and just how rough it played.  It seemed like a film made by someone who had decided to never compromise again, and there was something genuinely dangerous about it.  Immediately, my opinion of Fincher shifted, and in the years since, he's proven himself to be an immaculate visual artist, capable of creating some of the most arresting, electrifying images of the last fifteen years.

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<p>Orson Welles as Charles Foster Kane in &quot;Citizen Kane.&quot;</p>

Orson Welles as Charles Foster Kane in "Citizen Kane."

Credit: RKO Pictures

Orson Welles's Oscar on your mantle

The cinema icon’s singular Academy Award is up for auction

Here’s one for wealthy and eccentric cinephiles: The Wrap reports that Orson Welles’ solitary Oscar is up for auction.

Let's take a moment to pause and reflect on the fact that what is now considered one of the most significant films of all time, “Citizen Kane,” only took home the Oscar for Best Screenplay (though it was nominated for nine Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Actor). If I were forced to select just one category for a “Citizen Kane” win, it would be Best Director. The innovative techniques Welles employed to get the shots he wanted to tell his story were as effective as they were influential. Alas, as Aaron Sorkin writes in the "Moneyball" script, “the first one through the wall always gets bloodied.”

The history of Welles's golden statue is storied and apropos. The writer/actor/director originally gave his Oscar to cinematographer Gary Graver (so much for sentiment). His daughter, Beatrice, then sued Graver for ownership. She went on to give the Award to a Los Angeles-based charity called Dax Foundation. (Looks like material detachment may be in the bloodlines – they took the lessons of “Kane” to heart it would seem).

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<p>Amani and Marcus of &quot;The Amazing Race&quot;</p>
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Amani and Marcus of "The Amazing Race"

Credit: CBS

HitFix Interview: Marcus & Amani talk 'The Amazing Race'

Sports metaphors, flight simulators and life lessons from the third place team
In his 13-year NFL career, Marcus Pollard had 40 touchdown receptions and made the postseason with the Indianapolis Colts, Seattle Seahawks and Atlanta Falcons. 
Pollard never made it to the Super Bowl, though, a fact he mentioned this season on "The Amazing Race," as he and wife Amani made it all the way to Sunday (December 11) night's finale.
Marcus & Amani came up short on "The Amazing Race," finishing third after a  series of flight simulator miscues left them unable to make up enough time in Atlanta. Even in defeat, Marcus & Amani were one of this season's most popular pairs, earning a reputation as the Comeback Kids, surviving a Non-Elimination Leg and several other close calls to make it all the way to the last Pit Stop.
Marcus' irrepressible enthusiasm and love for sports metaphors, and Amani's boundless patience with Marcus' enthusiasm and sports metaphors made then fan favorites in a Race they often said they were running to set a positive and enriching example for their four children.
Click through for my "Amazing Race" exit interview with Marcus & Amani (and check back over the next couple days for the season's last two exit interviews)...
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<p>Guy Ritchie works with Jared Harris and Robert Downey Jr. on the climax of 'Sherlock Holmes - A Game Of Shadows'</p>

Guy Ritchie works with Jared Harris and Robert Downey Jr. on the climax of 'Sherlock Holmes - A Game Of Shadows'

Credit: Warner Bros.

Listen: Guy Ritchie talks about building a better Moriarty

Plus call-in games and a conversation about the death of 35MM film

I know this is confusing, but this podcast was recorded between the Bret McKenzie and the Edgar Wright one.  I just wanted to get the Edgar one up before tonight's programming began at the New Beverly.

The first time I met Guy Ritchie, Harry and I were trying to get him to bring "Snatch" to Butt-Numb-A-Thon.  We had lunch with him and with Matthew Vaughn, who was still Guy's producer at the time, and by the end of the lunch, we had the film, and I'd really come to like the two of them just as film fans and guys.

The next time I saw him was on the set of "Sherlock Holmes," and he'd covered quite a bit of ground as a person and as a filmmaker in the years between those encounters.  What struck me about that encounter was that he seemed to have made a choice about what he wanted, and that choice involved giant-budget tentpole movies.  I certainly don't think that big-budget films are "better" than independent movies, or vice-versa, but I do think that the best way to get some creative freedom is by making a studio some serious money.  Ritchie was coming off a series of misfires like "Swept Away" and "Revolver," and it seemed fitting that he had Robert Downey Jr. starring in his film, as Downey had also made that jump into franchise filmmaking with a real passion.

Now, as Ritchie prepares to release his first sequel, we sat down to talk about how he approached his interpretation of Professor Moriarty, the most famous villain ever faced by Sherlock Holmes, and how he felt about stepping back into the world.  It's a pretty loose conversation, one of two I had with Ritchie last week.  You'll see the other one as a video interview sometime this week.

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