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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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The poster for Ridley Scott's "Prometheus"
The poster for Ridley Scott's "Prometheus"
Credit: 20th Century Fox

A look at science fiction in 2012

‘Prometheus,’ ‘Looper,’ and ‘Gravity’ promise a strong year for the genre

The trailer for Ridley Scott’s “Prometheus” was released last week and, as many have noted, it bears a striking resemblance to the original teaser for the film that acts as its foundation: Scott’s 1979 sci-fi classic “Alien.” For science-fiction appreciators, the trailer served as a reminder that 2012 has the potential to be one of the strongest years for smart sci-fi in recent memory.

Certainly, there have been intelligent science-fiction films released in the past decade: “Moon,” “District 9,” “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” “Children of Men” and “Primer” among them. But 2012’s landscape is distinct in that each of the offerings under discussion are fairly high-concept and have notable directors at the helm.

“Prometheus” marks Scott’s first endeavor in the genre since the release of “Blade Runner” in 1982. He created what was to become one of sci-fi’s most well known and defining franchise and now returns to revisit the universe (if not the story and characters) he designed.

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Listen: Firewall & Iceberg Podcast No. 109 - Worst of 2011

Listen: Firewall & Iceberg Podcast No. 109 - Worst of 2011

Dan and Alan go through the year's TV lowlights


Happy Tuesday, Boys & Girls!
In our final Firewall & Iceberg Podcast of 2011, Sepinwall and I celebrate the year's worst TV. While our "Best Of..." podcast had the structure of our respective Top 10s, this "Worst Of..." is just us going back and forth tearing into some of our least favorite shows of the year. 
We also reviewed HBO's "Angry Boys," which I liked a bit more than Alan did, but still didn't enjoy all that much.
As a warning, there are very few big spoilers in this podcast, *but* there was no way to talk about the "Dexter" finale and its awfulness without getting specific.
If you're a "Dexter" viewer, but haven't watched the end of this season, that discussion takes place between 48:00 and 52:50.
Here's the broad breakdown:
TV's Worst of 2011 (02:30 - 01:02:00)
"Angry Boys" (01:02:05 - 01:11:10)

As always, you can subscribe to The Firewall & Iceberg Podcast over at the iTunes Store, where you can also rate us and comment on us. [Or you can always follow our RSS Feed.] 

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Firewall & Iceberg Podcast, episode 109: Worst TV of 2011, plus 'Angry Boys'

Firewall & Iceberg Podcast, episode 109: Worst TV of 2011, plus 'Angry Boys'

What shows made Dan and Alan mad this year? And why is Chris Lilley so 'Angry'?


We spent last week's Firewall & Iceberg Podcast counting down our favorite shows of 2011. Now it's time for the reverse, as Dan and I discuss some of our least favorite shows of the year. Think Dan might have a few more words to say on the subject of Mario Lopez? At the end, we also review HBO's new Chris Lilley mockumentary series "Angry Boys," and even if you're not a Lilley fan, I would suggest listening to the end for some good end of the year wisdom from Dan.

[The only real spoilers are for "Dexter" between 48:00 and 52:50.]

The line-up: 

TV's Worst of 2011 (02:30 - 01:02:00)
"Angry Boys" (01:02:05 - 01:11:10)
As always, you can subscribe to The Firewall & Iceberg Podcast over at the iTunes Store, where you can also rate us and comment on us. Or you can always follow our RSS Feed, download the MP3 file or stream it on Dan's blog.
And as always, feel free to e-mail us at and/or if you have questions you want answered on the show. Please put the word "podcast" in your subject line to make it easy to track them down amid the hundreds of random press releases we get every day.
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<p>A scene from &quot;Empire of the Sun&quot;</p>

A scene from "Empire of the Sun"

Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

The Lists: Top 10 Steven Spielberg films

With 'War Horse' and 'Tintin' in theaters, we rank the director's best

For the fifth time in his career, director Steven Spielberg has offered up a drama ("War Horse") and an entertainment ("The Adventures of Tintin") in the same year. But for the first time ever, he has two films in theaters at the same time.

On top of all of that, 2011 has very much been "The Year of The Beard." In addition to his own work, he has lended his check book and his talent as a producer to films like "Transformers: Dark of the Moon," "Super 8" and "Cowboys & Aliens," while having a presence on television via programs like "Falling Skies" and "Terra Nova."

So with the man so much a force in entertainment this year, it seems like now is as good a time as any to take stock of his portfolio and offer up a list ranking the best he's had to offer over the last four decades.

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<p>Adele and Katy Perry</p>

Adele and Katy Perry

Watch: Relive the year in music with Earworm's 2011 United State of Pop mashup

Hear Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Britney Spears and Adele in one place

The year is officially over: the 2011 United State of Pop (World Go Boom) mash-up has arrived! Produced by Jordan Roseman, aka DJ Earworm, this year’s edition features snippets of Billboard's top 25 songs on the year including Maroon5’s  “Moves Like Jagger,” Katy Perry’s “E.T.,” Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way,” Foster The People’s “Pumped Up Kicks,” Nicki Minaj’s “Super Bass,” and, of course, Adele’s  “Rolling In The Deep” and LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem.” This year's bed is built around (and takes its name from)  Perry's "Firework."

We can only imagine how many hours it takes to assemble this montage of seemingly disparate songs and images into a collage that doesn’t hurt to listen to. If you’re interested in more, DJ Earworm has written a book on “mash-up construction,” according to his website.

[More after the jump...]

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<p>&quot;The Hunger Games'&quot; Katniss, played by Jennifer Lawrence</p>

"The Hunger Games'" Katniss, played by Jennifer Lawrence

The Decemberists and Arcade Fire join Taylor Swift on 'Hunger Games' album

Who else does producer T Bone Burnett have up his sleeve?

Last week Taylor Swift surprised fans with her collaboration with the Civil Wars on “ Safe and Sound,” from the soundtrack to “The Hunger Games.”  It turns out she’ll be joined by Arcade Fire, the Decemberists on what’s being called a “companion album” to the movie, which opens March 23.

As you’ll recall from past usages of the term, a companion album usually means that many of the songs were “inspired by” the film, but don’t necessarily appear in it. In this case, Grammy winning producer T Bone Burnett is overseeing the companion album: he co-wrote “Safe and Sound” with Swift and the Civil Wars, which already hit No. 1 on iTunes. The Arcade Fire’s Win Butler and Regine Chassagne wrote “Horn of Plenty” with Burnett, while the Decemberists penned a track called “One Engine.”

No word on the actual release date of the album other than that it will come out on Universal Republic Records in March before the Lionsgate film, which stars Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson, hits theaters.

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<p>Lady Gaga</p>

Lady Gaga

Songs you missed on Christmas: Lady Gaga, Frank Ocean, Cat Power

Lady Gaga wrote and sang a song on a bus for you

Welcome to the last working week of 2011, where we realize at least a few stars were working for the holiday. Frank Ocean, Lady Gaga and Cat Power were all on the move.

First, as the Odd Future singer explained: "I don't cry at all... but when the sun sets just right, I might shed a tear." Ocean, who is readying his Def Jam album for 2012, posted a little track to his tumblr called "4 Tears." In it, he eplains how he spends his quota, doing a little algebra (a la Beyonce).

"[I] just listened to this a few times for myself. [F]igured maybe some else needed to hear it," he posted. 

It's not lyrical calculus, but quick and pretty.

Meanwhile, Chan Marshall is a little more confrontational on "King Rides By," her charity single. The song -- originally much shorter on her 1996 album "What Would the Community Think" -- is fully fleshed out courtesy Manny Pacquiao, past the 7-minute mark.

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