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<p>Killing a dragon in face-to-face combat may be one of the highlights of 'Skyrim,' but it is hardly the sole reason to recommend the game, which is as close to role-playing virtual reality as I've encountered so far</p>

Killing a dragon in face-to-face combat may be one of the highlights of 'Skyrim,' but it is hardly the sole reason to recommend the game, which is as close to role-playing virtual reality as I've encountered so far

Credit: Bethesda Studios

2011's Best Of The Rest includes dragon-killing and the world's dirtiest podcast

Louis CK changes the world, fantasy football gets funny, and more as we look back

I made a mention of a Girl Talk concert the other night on Twitter… well, actually, that's not true.  I RT'd someone else's mention of the show, and I got a surprised response from someone who seemed amazed by the idea that I have any other interests than film, which is fair.  When you spend as much time writing and talking about one subject, it would seem to be the defining thing about you.

But of course, there are other ways I spend my time, and other things I give my mental real estate to, and music and games and books are all part of what I feel keeps me sane and interesting and engaged each and every year, all of them ingested for different reasons and in different ways and in different quantities.  I decided that the last thing I run every year should be this article, the one that bats clean-up for all the other End-Of-The-Year pieces.

The big one, of course, in terms of time spent putting it together and considering it, is my Ten Best Films of 2011 list.  And I think that turned out pretty well.  My piece about the next ten film, the Runners-Up, was also solid, I thought.  And then there was my list of The Ten Worst Films of 2011 as well.  All of those took time.

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<p>Fireworks erupt over the Kremlin (alive and well despite what you saw in &quot;Mission:&nbsp;Impossible - Ghost Protocol&quot;), signaling the start of a new year.</p>

Fireworks erupt over the Kremlin (alive and well despite what you saw in "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol"), signaling the start of a new year.

Credit: AP Photo/Mikhail Metzel

Ringing out the old with hope for the new

So long, 2011

'Twas a year of change to say the least at In Contention. A little more than three months into our new arrangement with HitFix and we're going strong as ever. A new voice in Roth's unique perspective has added another dimension, as Guy and Gerard continue firing on all cylinders in their roles.

So as 2012 slowly creeps westward across the globe, greeting any number of international readers before finally making its way to Los Angeles, allow me to wish everyone a happy and healthy new year. Thanks for reading, for sticking with us through the growing pains, for engaging and being respectful amid lively debate and for making In Contention unique and rich with the spirit of community.

See you next year.

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Oscar Talk: Ep. 75 -- Critics' picks so far, 'War Horse' box office, PGA/WGA preview, boiling down Best Actress and more

Oscar Talk: Ep. 75 -- Critics' picks so far, 'War Horse' box office, PGA/WGA preview, boiling down Best Actress and more

Also: Would Jessica Chastain be riding such a high without a large body of work this year?

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 took a week off around Christmas to refocus and leave all this madness behind for a moment, but we're back on the case today ready to chew on the few morsels left in the year to discuss. The clock is ticking on 2011, so let's see what's on the docket today...

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<p>The cover of Adele's &quot;21&quot;</p>
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The cover of Adele's "21"

Will Adele ring in the New Year headed back to No. 1 on the Billboard 200?

Buble and Bieber likely go bye bye

Bye bye, Buble, bye bye Bieber. If next week’s Billboard 200 follows the usual pattern, most, if not all, of the holiday titles will fall out of the Top 10 next week.

As Michael Buble’s “Christmas” likely vacates the top spot, early signs indicate that Adele’s “21” will move back into No. 1. If so, it will mark her 14th non-consecutive week in the pole position. Billboard projects sales of around 150,000.  “21” is on target to surpass “Titantic,” which spent 16 weeks at No. 1 in 1998.

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<p>Yvonne Strahovski got a Sarah spotlight on tonight's &quot;Chuck.&quot;</p>
<br />

Yvonne Strahovski got a Sarah spotlight on tonight's "Chuck."


Credit: NBC

'Chuck' - 'Chuck vs. the Baby': The mother and child reunion

Yvonne Strahovski kicks ass in another strong Sarah spotlight

A review of tonight's "Chuck" coming up just as soon as we actively waste our babysitter...

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<p>To be honest, that's usually how Elijah&nbsp;Wood looks at the end of a long night of movies at Fantastic Fest, but in this case, it's the climax of 'Return Of The King' we're looking at</p>

To be honest, that's usually how Elijah Wood looks at the end of a long night of movies at Fantastic Fest, but in this case, it's the climax of 'Return Of The King' we're looking at

Credit: New Line Home Video

A Return To Middle-Earth, Part III: Liveblogging 'Return of The King' on Blu-ray

Everything wraps up in the most important of the extended home video cuts

The mail from you guys about the liveblogging this week has been interesting, and if it's something you'd like to do on some sort of regular schedule, we can try that in the new year.  I would happily pick some of my favorite movies on Blu-ray and a time when we can watch them together.  Or newer movies.  Or movies I've never seen, but should have, which could be interesting as well. 

Whether we continue it or not, though, I'm glad to have finally sat down to see these movies again.  Time had diminished them somewhat in my mind, reduced them to the set pieces and the spectacle and the hype, and I had forgotten what really makes them special, the human and emotional content of the movies.  And now, as I gear up for "Return Of The King," I'm nearly as excited as I was before I saw the film for the first time in 2003, eager to see everything tied together.

Tonight's going to be a long one, so I just had a sandwich, I've got a few drinks set aside, and I'm powdered and primped and ready to go.  We've got over four hours of movie ahead, which will make this an Oscar-length live-blog.  A marathon.  And as I said last night before "The Two Towers," it's been long enough that I really have forgotten much of this movie already.

I'm amazed at how many remarkable moments I'd forgotten.  That whole bit at the end of "Towers" between Frodo and the Nazgul is gorgeous and creepy and bizarre, and I'd totally forgotten it, and I'd forgotten the way Frodo almost attacks Sam for stopping him, furious at the idea that he didn't get to hand the Ring over.  Wonderful, and this revisit is giving me all of these moments anew, which is one of the reasons I intentionally set them aside for a while.

Toshi has been arguing his case like he's appealing his own death sentence, passionate and determined, absolutely ready to sit down and watch all three films with me right now.  Only... he's not.  Not really.  He gets images in his head and treats them as nightmare fuel in a way that even Allen doesn't.  Toshi tends to really feel the movies he watches, engaging with them deeply, and I think these films are full of stuff he's really not equipped to see yet.

But the interest is there, and so I showed him the trailer for "The Hobbit."  He immediately understood that it was "more" of "Lord Of The Rings," and I made him a deal.  He can see the movie in theaters next Christmas with me, but only if we read the book (as in I read, he listens and discusses) before the film comes out.  He says he's up for it, and if so, this should be a real treat of a year.

But for now... let's press play and start the final steps of this giant journey...

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<p>Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher in &quot;The Iron Lady.&quot;</p>

Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher in "The Iron Lady."

Credit: The Weinstein Company

Is it time for 'The Iron Lady's' Meryl Streep to win a third Oscar?

Contrary to critics of the picture its certainly deserved

The hype surrounding Meryl Streep's turn as former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in Phyllida Lloyd's "The Iron Lady" has been relatively constant since her involvement in the project was announced in July, 2010.  Beyond the fact Streep's involvement in any drama immediately makes it Oscar bait, Thatcher was an incredibly polarizing figure in Great Britain.  She broke new ground as the country's first female PM and stood firm by Ronald Reagan in the last days of the Cold War, but was despised by the members of the opposition party (Labour) for her economic and Union-busting policies (among other issues).  So, in many ways, it wasn't a surprise that the initial reviews for the awards season player were mixed when the film was first screened for critics in London. As Lloyd noted in a conversation we had about the film before the holiday, she found her own friends questioning why she'd direct such a film.

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<p>&nbsp;Justin Bieber and LMFAO may not share the stage again on New Year's Eve, but you never know...</p>

 Justin Bieber and LMFAO may not share the stage again on New Year's Eve, but you never know...

Credit: AP Photo

Hitfix's New Year's Eve musical guide featuring Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, Nicki Minaj and more

Plus, where can you find Coldplay, Drake, and Blake Shelton?

Repeat after me: There is no shame in staying home on New Year’s Eve. There is no shame in staying home on New Year’s Eve.

If you are hanging at home as 2011 rolls over into 2012, here’s a list of artists you can see on various New Year’s Eve specials as the ball drops. By the way, did you know that Dick Clark started “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” in 1972 so that the crazy kids would have something to watch on TV besides bandleader Guy Lombardo’s Dec. 31 specials?  If none of these appeal, there’s always “The Walking Dead” marathon on AMC or perennial favorite the “Twilight Zone” marathon on Syfy. A number of the programs below break for local news from 11 p.m.-11:30 p.m.

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<p>James Dean in &quot;Giant,&quot;&nbsp;one of the films featured on the new poster for the 84th annual Academy Awards.</p>

James Dean in "Giant," one of the films featured on the new poster for the 84th annual Academy Awards.

Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

84th Oscars poster could have been better

Films like 'Gone with the Wind,' 'Forrest Gump' and 'Giant' are featured

Greg Ellwood over at Awards Campaign has already posted and criticized this year's official Oscar poster for being "instantly forgettable" and looking akin to "a home video cover for the best of an Oscar ceremony compilation."

I don't disagree with that. There have been some creative spins on this annual artwork over the years, but there has also always been that nagging flavor of conservative design holding things back. Still, what do you want from the Academy? All they're interested in is having a date and the Oscar as big as possible. Tune in. That's the message.

But I've been considering the film images chosen to accompany the big statue. Greg notes that "Giant" is out of place, because it's the only film featured that didn't win the Best Picture Oscar. The others are "Gone with the Wind," "Casablanca," "The Sound of Music," "The Godfather," "Driving Miss Daisy," "Forrest Gump" and "Gladiator."

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<p>A rare scene of Captain Haddock (voiced by Andy Serkis) not drinking in &quot;The Adventures of Tintin.&quot;</p>

A rare scene of Captain Haddock (voiced by Andy Serkis) not drinking in "The Adventures of Tintin."

Credit: Paramount Pictures

Round-up: Raising a glass to 'Tintin'

Also: the invisibility of Tate Taylor, and the dark horses in the Oscar race

Captain Haddock, the crusty seadog sidekick of boy-wonder reporter Tintin, has, as even casual readers of the Hergé comics know, a bit of a drinking problem. It's a weakness the books always treated as greater cause for comedy than concern, and Steven Spielberg's "The Adventures of Tintin" follows suit, hinging several gags on the Andy Serkis-voiced character's alcoholism. Fine by me, but others seem worried about treating the subject so lightly in a piece of family entertainment. David Haglund looks into the issue, also wondering if Spielberg is a more booze-friendly filmmaker than his wholesome reputation suggests. [Slate]

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<p>Jeremy Irvine as Albert Narracott with the titular character in &quot;War Horse.&quot;</p>

Jeremy Irvine as Albert Narracott with the titular character in "War Horse."

Credit: Walt Disney Pictures

Interview: Richard Curtis and Jeremy Irvine on Spielberg, ‘War Horse’ and human empathy

The writer and star call the film quintessentially anti-war but not a 'war film'

If we were to canvas 10 cineastes at random and ask them to define the term “Spielbergian,” we would likely see a similar set of responses with varied points of focus. For some, the term denotes a drive toward an inevitably bittersweet, but ultimately joyful conclusion (though this has not always been the case in his films). For others it references a number of iconic images ranging from the “The Spielberg Face” (a push in on an awe-filled gaze) to an elaborately constructed, and ultimately effective, chase sequence peppered with intermittent one-liners.

Most would agree that Spielberg has often used a non-human entity, be it an alien (or aliens), a shark, dinosaurs, a trusted family pet or, now, a horse, to highlight aspects of his perception of human nature via our response to said entity. His central characters are, in many cases, ordinary people given a set of extraordinary circumstances (with the exception of Indiana Jones, who is inherently remarkable). He is fascinated by the idea of innocence, its value, the threats it faces in the larger world and the sacrifices that are necessary to transform nativity into willfully preserved innocence. And, well, he is interested in war.

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<p>Sean Astin as Sam, Elijah Wood as&nbsp;Frodo, and Gollum as himself in a scene from the second part of the 'Lord Of The Rings' trilogy, 'The Two Towers,' the subject of tonight's liveblog</p>

Sean Astin as Sam, Elijah Wood as Frodo, and Gollum as himself in a scene from the second part of the 'Lord Of The Rings' trilogy, 'The Two Towers,' the subject of tonight's liveblog

Credit: New Line Home Video

A Return To Middle-Earth, Part II: Liveblogging 'The Two Towers' on Blu-ray

Gollum arrives, trees talk, and Helm's Deep goes to war in the second 'LOTR' film

Sorry we missed the second night, but a horrifying stomach flu raced through the McWeeny household over the last 36 hours or so, and last night was my turn to transform into some sort of horrifying Slurpee Machine From Hell.  Now that we've conquered that and banished the illness, it's time to dive back in with a second round of liveblogging our Return To Middle-Earth.

Two quick notes.  First, I promise to spell Ian McKellen's name correctly tonight.  And second, I am startled to realize that I remember very little about the way these next two films actually work.  I know I've seen them, I know I've reviewed not only the theatrical but the Extended cuts before, and I know the general shape of things.  But when it comes to remembering the specific beats and scenes, I'm drawing a bit of a blank...

... and I LOVE that.

I love that these return viewings are fresh for me.  As fresh as possible, anyway, considering how many times it feels like I watched everything the first time around.  In this case, they're so massive that it feels like I'm wading into something new all over again.  I'm excited.  And now the disc is in the player and here we go...

We just wrapped up a Film Nerd 2.0 screening of "The Muppet Movie," and the boys are irritated that they have to leave the room now.  I love that they're excited about these movies, and they know the time is coming that they'll see them.  But this time through is all about me enjoying them anew and getting a better sense of them as movies, something that's been a long time coming.

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