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<p>The 2012 HitFix&nbsp;Oscar ballot</p>

The 2012 HitFix Oscar ballot

Credit: HitFix

Join the In Contention Oscar pool and print out the HitFix Oscar ballot!

With a few days to go in Oscar season, it's time to make your picks

(Bringing this back around one more time with all the pertinent stuff for today. Think I'm settled on the points system.)

For the third-straight year it looks like we'll be using Picktainment's set-up for our annual Oscar pool. Some of you may still be members of the site from previous years, but if not, you have to first join up here. After you've done that, go ahead and go to In Contention's Oscar pool here and join the group. After that, you're all ready to make your picks, which you can do by clicking on the "edit my picks" link there.

Meanwhile, HitFix has you all squared away if you're looking for a printable Oscar ballot. You can download ours here and check off your picks to follow along on Oscar night. You can also join the site-wide Oscar pool here. There will be a separate prize for the winner there.

Lastly, Oscar predictions: mine, Guy's, Gerard's, Greg Ellwood's and my Oscar Talk colleague Anne Thompson's. See you in the live blog, which will kick off in a few hours.

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<p>Tom&nbsp;Cruise in &quot;Mission:&nbsp;Impossible - Ghost Protocol&quot;</p>

Tom Cruise in "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol"

Credit: Paramount Pictures

Does Oscar hate genre?

With ‘Extremely Loud’ in and ‘Drive’ out, Seth Rogen asks the question

Tonight brings us the final sparkly conclusion to the 2012 awards season. We’ve mourned the exclusion of films and performances we championed (“Margaret,” “Shame,” “Drive” and so on) and we’ve acquiesced to the inevitable wins and losses of those that were nominated.

Or have we?

As The Guardian notes, Seth Rogen, who’s best known for his work as a broad comedic actor (though he broke some new-ish ground this year with “50/50” and “The Green Hornet”) spoke out in defense of genre films in a recent interview with Film News. "I honestly thought ‘Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol’ was one of the best movies of the year,” he said. “It got no love from awards, whatsoever. I loved that fucking movie! It was great! And, I thought ‘Drive’ was awesome too. That got nominated for an Independent Spirit award, but didn't get any Oscar nominations."

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<p>&quot;The Help' set itself up as an awards player early on by becoming a box office success story.</p>

"The Help' set itself up as an awards player early on by becoming a box office success story.

Credit: Walt Disney Pictures

Box office and Oscar, from 'Deathly Hallows' to 'Tree of Life'

How did this year's nominees do at the domestic box office?

It's Oscar Sunday and by tonight, it'll all be over but the cryin', as they say. But as we gear up for today's festivities, I thought I'd take a look at the box office of this year's Oscar nominees for the first time this season.

I was happy to quietly do away with our already thin box office coverage a few months back because it's just not an element of the business I can invest in too much. Often times, even more so than observing an Oscar race, it can be pretty disheartening.

Of course, the biggest box office champ of the year was "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2," which raked in over $380 million at the domestic box office this year. That was good enough to significantly top the previous top money-grabber of the franchise, 2001's "The Sorcerer's Stone," and it also marked the first time a Potter film topped a "Transformers" entry.

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<p>Guess they decided not to drape anything over the &quot;Kodak Theater&quot;&nbsp;part of the entrance for the 84th Academy Awards.&nbsp; Sort of strange since host Billy Crystal has been instructed not to refer to it as the Kodak and instead the Hollywood and HIghland Complex or something like that.</p>

Guess they decided not to drape anything over the "Kodak Theater" part of the entrance for the 84th Academy Awards.  Sort of strange since host Billy Crystal has been instructed not to refer to it as the Kodak and instead the Hollywood and HIghland Complex or something like that.

Credit: AP Photo/Matt Sayles

2012 Oscar Predictions: Why I picked what I picked

What categories won't 'The Artist' win?

When you cover awards season every year for months on end it would be disingenuous to be extremely excited on Oscar Sunday.  Sure, every few years there is a major horse race and potential upsets at stake, but 2012 is going to be about as predictable as you can get. At this point in the season the winners of all the major categories are pretty much known and this year we weren't even provided a silly scandal ("Hurt Locker" producer's E-mails, Melissa Leo's own trade ads, etc.) to tempt us to change our picks. Instead, we've had more publicity about whether Sacha Baron Cohen is going to dress up as "The Dictator" on the red carpet than whether the show will be any good (yeah, we know Billy Crystal's back but...).

Still, it's been a busy week and while I made my final predictions on Friday along with In Contention's Kris Tapley and Guy Lodge, I didn't have time to post my justifications for said picks. So, before you fill out your own ballot or participate in HitFIx's free prediction pool take a few minutes and read up on some (hopefully) spot on analysis. I'll certainly be eating crow for what I get wrong.

Also, check out these Oscar reports the HitFix team worked on for Hulu.  Good stuff.

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<p>Could &quot;A Morning Stroll&quot; upset the pundits' favorite in the Best Animated Short category?</p>

Could "A Morning Stroll" upset the pundits' favorite in the Best Animated Short category?

Credit: ShortsHD/Magnolia Pictures

Last-minute prediction switches, plus a 'should win' list

Changing tack in those pesky short categories

I'm usually pretty disciplined about this, but with the Academy Awards only 11 hours away, I couldn't resist making two, well, eleventh-hour changes to my predictions -- both in the perennially tricky short categories.

I initially went with the flow in the Best Animated Short category, siding with most pundits with "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore" on the basis of its careful craft and worthy message, and trying to ignore my own reservations about the short's tweeness and relative overlength. (It's the "Hugo" of the animated short category for me: I feel guilty for not liking it more, but there's something about how very improving it is that keeps me at arm's length.)

Finally, however safe the choice seems, I just can't believe in it. So, with memories of 2009's hip, against-the-grain victory for "Logorama" on my mind, I'm switching my prediction to BAFTA and Sundance winner "A Morning Stroll." Not the best or most artful of the nominees, but the most amusingly singular -- and its triptych of animation techniques is a snazzy gimmick that I expect will tickle some voters.

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<p>Misa &amp; Maiya at the &quot;Amazing Race&quot; Pit Stop</p>
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Misa & Maiya at the "Amazing Race" Pit Stop

Credit: CBS

HitFix Interview: Misa & Maiya talk 'The Amazing Race'

What went wrong and how did they miss Phil at the Pit Stop?
Misa and Maiya Tanaka finished the season's opening "Amazing Race" challenge, a balloon search in a Santa Barbara vineyard, in last. That wasn't why they were eliminated.
They also finished the season's first Roadblock, a combination of skydiving and map-based navigation, in last. That wasn't why they were eliminated.
Instead, Misa & Maiya sped through an empanada-making challenge in Argentina and seemed to be on the verge of surviving an astounding number of opening leg missteps to remain in the Race ahead of Joey "Fitness" & Danny.
But after recovering their bags from a nearby cab and heading in the direction of the Pit Stop, the San Diego-based sisters were unable to spot host Phil Keoghan waiting for them patiently at the mat. As Phil stood and watched in sad confusion, Misa & Maiya ran off in a different direction and, finding nothing there, eventually returned, by which time it was too late. 
A couple days after their elimination episode aired, I caught up with car buyer Misa and professional golfer Maiya for the season's first "Amazing Race" exit interview. 
Click through for the full transcript...
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<p>Taylor Swift</p>
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Taylor Swift

Credit: Dan Steinberg/AP

Music Power Rankings: Adele, Whitney Houston and Taylor Swift makes us go 'Awwwww'

Rihanna and Chris Brown also make the list

1) Adele: She keeps breaking records on an hourly basis as “21” celebrates its first year on the chart with its biggest-selling week yet as she sweeps the Brits. Note to M.I.A.: When Adele gives the finger people think it’s charming. Learn from that.

2) Whitney Houston:
The adage that death is a good career move, sadly, rings true once again. Two weeks after her death, her sales rise 144%.

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<p>Sinead O'Connor's new album is a strong reminder of just what a good and angry writer she is, and how her voice remains one of the strongest in pop music</p>

Sinead O'Connor's new album is a strong reminder of just what a good and angry writer she is, and how her voice remains one of the strongest in pop music

Credit: AP Photo/Matt Sayles

One Thing I Love Today: 'Queen Of Denmark' is potent reminder of Sinead O'Connor's gifts

Ready for a little good old-fashioned rage? Well, O'Connor's got it for you.

One of the uncomfortable truths of being an artist working in any media is that many times, you have an "expired by" date on your work, whether you like it or not.  It is far more common for someone to have a brief period where they are productive and part of the larger cultural conversation and then that period ends and they drop off the face of the earth than it is for someone to have a career that lasts for decades and decades and decades with them always successfully producing work and reaching their audience.

When Sinead O'Connor released her first few albums, I was as onboard as a person could be.  I still think "The Lion and the Cobra" and "I Do Not What What I Haven't Got" are two of the best records from my teenage years, and I've worn out or lost more copies of both than I can count.  There was a time when I was far more attuned to what was going on in music, and I've had to make my peace with never going to see live music in LA because I have a mortgage and am not prepared to pay scalper prices for every single thing I want to see.  Back in the '90s, I saw Sinead play a few times, and she was always impressive live, with pipes that were as good as they were on her albums if not better.

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"Top Chef"

 "Top Chef"

Credit: Bravo

Reality TV Roundup: 'Survivor' gets airheaded and 'The Bachelor' is an idiot

It's been a busy week, so get all your reality news here, now

Welcome to Reality TV Roundup -- a quick look at some of the reality TV-centric stories that have recently popped up across the fine, old Interwebs. Click away, my couch potato friends. But before you do...


SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT! One more time: SPOILER ALERT. If you watch "The X Factor," "Survivor," "Top Chef," "Project Runway," "Celebrity Apprentice" or any other competition shows, the latest elimination for each show is probably revealed in the text below. The hope is that, if you missed this week's program and would rather clear out your DVR than watch the episode, you can get a quick hit here. But don't come crying to me if you find out something you didn't want to know. You've been warned. Also note: lots of non-competition reality info lurks below, too. 






Sabrina must manage the airheads, but it's Nina who gets the boot


Nina explains why Kat was just as destructive as she said she was. 


"Survivor Africa" winner Ethan Zohn gets his second stem cell transplant as part of his treatment for a recurrence of cancer. 



Melissa Gilbert! Jack Wagner! Sherri Shepherd! And other semi-famous people may be joining the cast. Allegedly. 




We hardly got the chance to know Missy and Maiya, the sisters from Hawaii, but they're gone no, so no biggie. 


The cause of death for the freelance producer who died in Uganda may have been poisoning or may have been a cocaine overdose. All that's clear right now is that nothing is clear. 




Take a look at how the teams are shaping up in the fourth blind audition




It seems like it's been Courtney's time to go for ages, but somehow Kacie B gets tossed off the show. And yes, Ben is an idiot. 


Well, maybe not a total idiot. He apparently did the show to plug his wine. That's just good marketing!




When contestants learn that a twist will bring back those previously eliminated, they mutiny. In other news, trainer Bob Harper says most of the contestants are "mean" and "bullies," so no great loss. 




We're introduced to 14 of the final 24, then the next 10, plus one extra, just to keep you on your toes. Don't get too used to anyone!


The show's vocal coach, Debra Byrd, is out so Jimmy Iovine can bring in his "own people." 




Simon Cowell won't say whether Whitney Houston was definitely in the running to join the show, but he will say that you can expect two new hosts -- a guy and a girl. 




In a decidedly weird elimination challenge (it's hot, it's cold, it's lukewarm!), Lindsay is told to pack her knives and go. One mean girl still remains, however. 




Mila's schizoid dress earns her a one way ticket home. Guess it might have been a good idea to ask another designer for an opinion, but it would have involved being nice. 








Gretchen and Tamra just made up, but already the cracks are showing in their new, fragile friendship. Oh, and already new girl Heather is not so well-liked.




It's official - Marlo is horrible. The other housewives aren't so great, either. Discuss amongst yourselves. 




Newark does not want the "Jersey Shore" spin-off. So there. 


Another sign we can't get rid of Tyra Banks, no matter how much we might want to -- another season of "America's Next Top Model" is in the works


Kate Gosselin is lonely. Um, okay. 

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<p>The gang's all smiles with the Best Feature award for &quot;The Artist.&quot;</p>

The gang's all smiles with the Best Feature award for "The Artist."

Credit: AP Photo/Joel Ryan

'The Artist' triumphs at 2012 Film Independent Spirit Awards

The French silent wins four while 'The Descendants' nabs two

I was really irritated sitting there in the tent on the beach in Santa Monica this year watching the Independent Spirit Awards unfold.

Things started out great, though. Seth Rogen's opening monologue killed, even though a number of the people in there apparently weren't equipped to grasp the humor. I was happy to see Christopher Plummer, however expected, take yet another supporting actor trophy for his performance in "Beginners."

Even though I called it, I was nevertheless stoked for Will Reiser surprising with a win in the Best First Screenplay category for "50/50." And even though I'd have much preferred seeing Jessica Chastain get the good will, it was hard not to be happy for Shailene Woodley, who won Best Supporting Female after she was snubbed by the Academy. Then things took a different turn. "The Artist" just started winning everything. Everyone just bowed down. Couldn't we have this one moment of solace away from that steamroller? Apparently not.

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<p>B&eacute;r&eacute;nice Bejo in &quot;The Artist.&quot;</p>

Bérénice Bejo in "The Artist."

Credit: The Weinstein Company

Why it should be 'The Artist'

Ignore the backlash: this season has got it right

Okay, I'll level with you. One fairly major reason I want "The Artist" to win Best Picture at tomorrow's Academy Awards ceremony has nothing whatsoever to do with its lithe charms as a Hollywood fable, its glistening appropriation of a long-dormant screen style, the quicksilver star turn of its leading man or even its eminently adoptable Jack Russell.

It has nothing to do with the film being a silent-cinema gateway for less informed audiences, an all-too-rare foreign crossover, or a witty marker of the distance the medium has traveled in 80-odd years.

It has nothing to do with my relative feelings about its rival nominees, or with the disproportionate critical backlash its success has inspired. Not that these aren't all factors worthy of consideration, but this reason has nothing to do with the movie at all.

It's because I have money on it.

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<p>Tristan Halilaj stars in 'Forgiveness of Blood' as Nik, a young man who finds himself trapped in his house and stir-crazy thanks to Albanian blood feud law</p>

Tristan Halilaj stars in 'Forgiveness of Blood' as Nik, a young man who finds himself trapped in his house and stir-crazy thanks to Albanian blood feud law

Credit: IFC Films

Review: 'Maria Full Of Grace' director returns with sad and angry 'Forgiveness of Blood'

Albanian blood feud drama paints a difficult picture of a country trapped in time

Making a second film can be more difficult than making a first film in many cases, and for reasons that are almost exclusively different in each case.  With a first film, you're trying to prove yourself in general.  You're simply making the case that you can, indeed, finish a film.  You can wrestle something up onto the screen.  Good, bad, whatever it is, you can do it.

If you are able to make that first film, getting it seen is a second fight, something almost totally separate from the making of the thing.  If you are fortunate enough to not only make your film but also get it seen, that's a win no matter what the film is.  And if you get it made, get it seen, and it's actually good?  Well, the world's your oyster at that point, right?

Not necessarily.  Sometimes, you set up expectations, and those expectations become a trap, and sometimes you find yourself either living up to something or living it down, but either way, you're struggling against something that can lead to real frustration, both for you and for the people you're asking to spend money on your films.  With Marston, I'm not sure what happened.  He made his breakthrough feature "Maria Full Of Grace" in 2004, and then worked a few times for TV and made another couple of shorts and did a little more TV, but It's taken until now for him to get a second feature made.  What's apparent from this second film of his is that he has a real voice and a very particular sensibility and we would certainly be better off if he was working more often.

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