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<p>Ray Park as Darth&nbsp;Maul in &quot;Star&nbsp;Wars:&nbsp;Episode I&nbsp;-&nbsp;The Phantom&nbsp;Menace&quot;</p>

Ray Park as Darth Maul in "Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace"

Credit: 20th Century Fox

That time 'The Matrix' ate 'The Phantom Menace' and George Lucas' lunch at the Oscars

The Wachowski brothers' cyberpunk-inspired opus swept 'Star Wars' back in 1999

I wasn't much of an Oscar-watcher in 1999. I was naive enough to think, surely, "The Insider" would be a big winner that year. "Three Kings" would definitely get a few nominations. "Magnolia" would HAVE to be a Best Picture nominee. None of that happened, of course.

I never liked "Star Wars." Still don't. Not one single entry in the franchise. Look, fans, I respect your obsession, admiration and commitment. But they don't work for me. So when I lined up for "Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace" on May 19, a high school senior soon to enter film school (and let me tell you, what a year to be a film school student), I wasn't too pumped or anything. I had a number of friends who were, surely, but even they -- some of them on their third and fourth viewing of the DAY -- were beginning to cool on it a bit when I finally got there to see it that afternoon.

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<p>Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds co-star in Charlie Kaufman's 'Deep&nbsp;Focus,' about a young actor who somehow slips out of focus, leading him on an existential journey of discovery.&nbsp; Oh, no, wait, this is a still from the action movie 'Safe House.'&nbsp; My bad.</p>

Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds co-star in Charlie Kaufman's 'Deep Focus,' about a young actor who somehow slips out of focus, leading him on an existential journey of discovery.  Oh, no, wait, this is a still from the action movie 'Safe House.'  My bad.

Credit: Universal Pictures

Review: Denzel and Ryan Reynolds almost bring anemic 'Safe House' to life

Exciting filmmaking can't quite shock the script to life

You will not be surprised by "Safe House."

It is pretty much exactly what it looks like.  It's an action exercise with two fairly dynamic leads, both of them taking visible delight in putting the other through their paces.  It is a solid big studio debut for Swedish director Daniel Espinosa, and whatever merit the film has is due largely to his aggressive aesthetic choices.

Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds) is a CIA operative looking to make his name inside the agency.  He's pulling a first posting punishment of sorts, working in a South African safehouse, tending this anonymous space every day and waiting for action that never comes.  It's been a year, and he's seen no one.  He's done nothing.  He is convinced that he's fallen off the edge of the earth, and any calls he makes to his one DC contact, David Barlow (Brendan Gleeson), seem to be getting him nowhere.

Then trouble walks in his door in the form of Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington), a former agent-gone-rogue who has been at the top of everyone's wish list for the better part of a decade.  He's been picked up and he's on his way out of town for debriefing, and Weston doesn't have to do a thing to help.  There's an entire team of badasses led by Daniel Kiefer (Robert Patrick) tasked with getting some information out of Frost by tuning him up, and all they need from Weston is for him to get out of the way while they work.

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"The 9/11 Tapes: Chaos in the Sky"

 "The 9/11 Tapes: Chaos in the Sky"

Credit: Discovery Channel

Watch: 'The 9/11 Tapes: Chaos in the Sky' as alternative Valentine's weekend programming

Bypass drippy rom-coms and take a more serious turn

Not everyone wants to celebrate Valentine's Day weekend, and especially not with fluffy rom-coms. Instead, consider something completely different -- a closer look at a tragic chapter in recent history. "The 9/11 Tapes: Chaos in the Sky" (Sun. Feb. 12 at 9 pm. on Discovery). The show pulls from hundreds of hours of audio recordings to tell the story of 9/11 through the voices of air traffic controllers, military commanders and even those on the hijacked planes. 

No, it won't be as cute and cuddly as some lightweight romance, but singletons might just feel a little less sorry for themselves about not getting a box of chocolates from a special someone after watching this. 

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Watch Bruce Springsteen's bleak video for 'We Take Care Of Our Own'

Watch Bruce Springsteen's bleak video for 'We Take Care Of Our Own'

The clip primes the pump for the live shows

In case folks haven’t gotten the message from the lyric video or just from listening to Bruce Springsteen's new song, “We Take Care Of Our Own,” the song’s video, released today, drives the point home.

It’s a stark affair shot in black and white to heighten the feeling of bleakness and isolation.  None of the band E Street Band appears in the clip, instead images of Springsteen playing in an abandoned house and on a roof top are interspersed with shots of everyday folks, walking the streets, seemingly downtrodden, as the lyrics appeal on the screen.

[More after the jump...]

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<p>Ryan Gosling blows some dude's face off in &quot;Drive&quot;</p>

Ryan Gosling blows some dude's face off in "Drive"

Credit: FilmDistrict

Oscar Guide 2011: Best Sound Editing

'Drive,' 'Dragon Tattoo,' 'Hugo,' 'Transformers' and 'War Horse' square off

(The Oscar Guide will be your chaperone through the Academy's 24 categories awarding excellence in film. A new installment will hit every weekday in the run-up to the Oscars on February 26, with the Best Picture finale on Saturday, February 25.)

As Guy intimated in his Oscar Guide to Best Sound Mixing, the sound categories really were interesting and all over the place this year. In the sound editing field, we have just two of the nine Best Picture nominees represented, one surprise show (for some) for a Cannes hit that was expected to pop up elsewhere, a franchise entry that deserves more love than it'll get and a tip of the hat to a Best Picture snubee that actually showed up in both sound fields.

Typically, voters pick their "favorite" movie of the nominees in these areas. That is, unless a palatable secondary option is available that makes its case for recognition of its aural qualities. I expect this year's situation to be more reflective of the latter.

The nominees are…

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Oscar Talk: Ep. 81 -- Lunch with the nominees, breaking down animated shorts, BAFTA preview

Oscar Talk: Ep. 81 -- Lunch with the nominees, breaking down animated shorts, BAFTA preview

Also: What happened to Shailene Woodley's Oscar bid?

Welcome to Oscar Talk.

In case you're new to the site and/or the podcast, Oscar Talk is a weekly kudocast, your one-stop awards chat shop between yours truly and Anne Thompson of Thompson on Hollywood. The podcast is weekly, every Friday throughout the season, charting the ups and downs of contenders along the way. Plenty of things change en route to Oscar's stage and we're here to address it all as it unfolds.

We're getting close. Oh so close. The Oscars, if you can believe it, are just over two weeks away. We have a few more ceremonies on the horizon, but with ballots in hand for another week, it's a few more times into the breach. So, let's see what's on the docket today...

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<p>&quot;Hanna&quot; composers The Chemical Brothers, nominated for Breakout Composer of the Year</p>

"Hanna" composers The Chemical Brothers, nominated for Breakout Composer of the Year

Credit: AP Photo/Jonathan Short

John Williams, Michael Giacchino, Chemical Brothers nominated by film music critics

Spielberg's maestro clocks seven nods

I'd like to humbly make a (self-serving) request of the International Film Music Critics Association. Bump your announcement up by a couple of weeks. Granted, you don't speak for composers, so your annual announcement of the best in film music doesn't necessarily indicate anything. But in a category with precious little in the way of precursor suggestion, every little bit helps.

This year's list of nominees was predictably dominated, however, by John Williams, who landed seven nominations across the various categories for his two Oscar-nominated scores: "The Adventures of Tintin" and "War Horse." Not too far back with five nods was "The Artist" composer Ludovic Bource.

Third was Michael Giacchino, who landed a nomination each for "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol" and "Super 8" and was singled out in the Film Composer of the Year category as well. And Howard Shore had a decent showing for "Hugo," popping up twice.

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<p>Shailene Woodley and George&nbsp;Clooney in&nbsp;&quot;The Descendants&quot;</p>

Shailene Woodley and George Clooney in "The Descendants"

Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Round-up: Did you hear 'The Descendants' is an underdog all of a sudden?

Also: AMPAS promises to look at original song process and Hollywood and Highland pushes back against Kodak

When I'm asked, I'm honest. And I've been asked about "The Descendants" plenty in the last few weeks, whether the Jean Dujardin SAG win is a harbinger, whether the film still has any gas left in the Best Picture tank after that post-Globes feeling of ecstasy, etc. And my line is this: Forget Best Picture. Stick with Best Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay before you lose those, too. In a recent piece, Brooks Barnes gets it wrong vis a vis what makes an Oscar underdog (both "Crash" and "Million Dollar Baby" were less that than alternatives at a time when the Academy really did want to go a different way), but he nevertheless props Fox Searchlight's big "underdog" push up. Look (and I really do believe this): it was never going to win Best Picture. Focus. [New York Times]

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<p>Mary Steenburgen and Alec Baldwin on &quot;30 Rock.&quot;</p>

Mary Steenburgen and Alec Baldwin on "30 Rock."

Credit: NBC

'30 Rock' - 'Hey, Baby, What's Wrong?': I need tungsten to live! Tungsten!

On Valentine's Day, Liz and Criss go to Ikea, Jack and Avery's mother bond and Pete helps Jenna

A review of last night's hour-long "30 Rock" coming up just as soon as Mickey Rourke tests his catapult on me...

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<p>Robert Kirkman surrounded by his zombie pals from &quot;The Walking Dead.&quot;</p>

Robert Kirkman surrounded by his zombie pals from "The Walking Dead."

Credit: AMC

Interview: 'The Walking Dead' producers Robert Kirkman and Glen Mazzara

After peaceful first half, season two will close with things 'at a full boil' on the farm
"The Walking Dead" returns from a brief mid-season hiatus on Sunday night at 9 on AMC. Ratings-wise, the post-apocalyptic zombie drama remains an enormous hit for AMC, with its viewership actually increasing after the already successful first season. Creatively, though, there have been some bumps, with most of the season's first half taking place during a relatively idyllic — or, as some viewers have put it, dull — stretch on a rural farm that's been largely untouched by the zombie plague.
On top of that, there was the abrupt departure of showrunner Frank Darabont midway through the season, which left his number two man, "The Shield" alum Glen Mazzara, in charge of things. I spoke with Mazzara and Robert Kirkman — who created "The Walking Dead" comic book and has been a writer on the TV series from the beginning — about where things stand for Rick Grimes and friends as we head into the home stretch, about some of the complaints about the relative peace of Herschel's farm, the timing of Darabont's exit and more.
Also, one word of warning for those who have watched the show but not read the comics: at one point in the interview, Kirkman brings up a character who died early in the comic but is still alive on the show, and one who suffered the opposite fate in the transition from page to screen. I've generally discouraged discussion of events in the comic that have yet to happen on the show, but in this case it's a situation where if it does eventually happen on the show, the context will have to be very different, so I left it in the transcript. If you don't want to know, don't click through.
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<p>This was just one of the ways I&nbsp;considered solving my problem tonight.</p>

This was just one of the ways I considered solving my problem tonight.

Credit: 20th Century Fox

An open letter to the worst human being to ever sit in a theater

A screening of 'This Means War' raises a question about how much is too much

I considered my options carefully.

My first impulse, one which I wrestled with for about a half-hour, was to use my elbow to strike you once in the throat, as hard as possible, hoping that if I were to crush your windpipe completely, it would silence you.

Obviously, there are drawbacks to that approach, not the least of which would be the assault charge.  I'd hate to have to deal with bail just because I went to see a review screening of "This Means War," so I restrained myself.

But I want you to know… it was not easy.

Let's back up a bit.  I'd like to try to have an actual dialogue here, and that probably isn't going to happen if I start by describing imagined violence against your person.  It's not my fault, though.  It really isn't.  You need to take some responsibility because your conduct tonight was so above and beyond horrible that I can't believe you are allowed out in public without a leash, a handler, strong medication, or some combination of the three.

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"The Vampire Diaries"

 "The Vampire Diaries"

Credit: CW

Recap: 'The Vampire Diaries' - 'Dangerous Liaisons'

It seems like a lovely evening - until Esther reveals her secret plan to Elena

Initially, this episode seems like it could be a light, frothy fantasy, a welcome respite from some of the dark drama of previous episodes. With pretty much everyone in town invited to Esther's elegant ball, it seems that life in Mystic Falls is finally going to become downright civilized. Klaus and his siblings are now defanged, the Salvatores don't have to worry about getting killed, and it seems pretty certain that Klaus isn't going to be creating any more hybrids from Elena's blood supply as long as his mom is on watch. But this is "The Vampire Diaries," so we'd best not get too attached to this happy scenario. With every promising twist we can always predict one thing -- more trouble ahead.

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