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<p>2011 was marked by strong examples of voice from filmmakers, some we expected it from, and some who took us by surprise</p>

2011 was marked by strong examples of voice from filmmakers, some we expected it from, and some who took us by surprise

Credit: Lionsgate/Magnolia/Paramount

Watch: The Ten Best Films Of The Year feature bad seeds, brutal border wars, and battling brothers

An eclectic collection of titles marks 2011 as a striking year of film

For the past few days, I've been dropping hints about which films did make it onto my list of the best 20 films of the year by sending out tweets of the titles that didn't make the list.

Look, this whole thing is absurd anyway, so why not have some fun with it?  Lists aren't definitive in any way, because they can't be.  I can't tell you what movies will mean the most to you in any given year… only which ones meant the most to me.  Lists are really the best way for you to gauge a critic, because it's the most revealing moment in a year.  This is where every critic lays their tastes bare and says, "This is what ultimately mattered to me about this year."  This is the moment where people line up to say, "Wow, I'm glad you included that" and "I'm not sure what that is" and "Are you stupid or drunk or both?"

We do the top ten as a video piece now, and Alex Dorn has put together another knockout look back at my ten favorite films of the year.  Remember, I included anything that played any public screening I attended, whether theatrical or at a festival, so some of what I include this year may not hit screens near you until 2012, and some of what you guys saw theatrically this year may have qualified for last year's list for me.

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<p>Detail from the international poster of Andrey Zvyagintsev's &quot;Elena.&quot;</p>

Detail from the international poster of Andrey Zvyagintsev's "Elena."

Credit: Palace Films

Superb Cannes winner 'Elena' gets a new trailer and poster

Andrei Zvyagintsev's fine-cut moral drama will also play Sundance 2012

[UPDATE: The film has indeed secured US distribution.] Since a few of you have been asking, my Best of 2011 list will go up on December 26 -- and for regular readers of my festival coverage over the year, I don't think it's much of a spoiler to say this film will be on it. "Elena," the third feature from Andrei Zvyagintsev ("The Return"), premiered at Cannes, inexplicably in the Un Certain Regard section rather than in Competition, where the director's lesser sophomore film did get a berth. Still, it won a Special Jury Prize and a slew of critical raves, while star Nadezhda Markina was recently nominated at the European Film Awards, so it all comes out in the wash.

"Elena" played Toronto in the fall; and is set to pop up again at Sundance next month -- Zeitgeist Pictures will release the film Stateside in May. (It was one of the quality films cheated out of an Oscar play when Russia questionably selected the critical and commercial failure "Burnt by the Sun 2" as its foreign-language submission.) It's a brilliantly equivocal, morally fragile fable of guilt and obligation, drawn with the stark elegance of a Chekhov short story; I'll enthuse more in a couple of days, but for now, a brand-new trailer and exquisite poster are after the jump. (Thanks to Palace Films.) 

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<p>Dylan McDermott and/or Connie Britton might appear in &quot;American Horror Story&quot;&nbsp;season 2, but they won't be playing the Harmons again if they do.</p>

Dylan McDermott and/or Connie Britton might appear in "American Horror Story" season 2, but they won't be playing the Harmons again if they do.

Credit: FX

'American Horror Story' will reboot for season 2

Ryan Murphy and company will say goodbye to the Harmons and tell a brand-new story

So remember how this morning, I suggested that "American Horror Story" might want to start fresh with a new cast of characters and a new story for the second season? 

Well, that's exactly what's going to happen.

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<p>Tim&nbsp; Burton examines a stop motion figure for Sparky at the offices of MacKinnon and Saunders.  The firm built over 100 puppets for &quot;Frankenweenie.&quot;</p>

Tim  Burton examines a stop motion figure for Sparky at the offices of MacKinnon and Saunders. The firm built over 100 puppets for "Frankenweenie."

Credit: Walt Disney Studios

Set Visit Sneak: Tim Burton's 'Frankenweenie'

2012 promises to be an eventful year in animation

No best animated feature nominee this year New York Film Critics Circle?  Well, we beg to differ, but something tells us 2012 might suit your peculiar tastes a bit more.  Not only is Pixar returning with "Brave," but LAIKA is back with their first feature since "Coraline," "ParaNorman."  DreamWorks also has "Rise of the Guardians" based on William Joyce's acclaimed "The Guardians of Childhood" novels, Disney Animated Studios has "Wreck-It-Ralph," Aardman returns to stop-motion with ""THe Pirates! Basednd of Misfits" and Universal brings "Dr. Seuss' The Lorax" to life.   One of the most anticipated new animated films, however, has to be Tim Burton's long awaited feature length version of "Frankenweenie."

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<p>Noomi Rapace does her best to outrun a collapsing spaceship in the first trailer for Ridley Scott's return to the SF/horror franchise he created, 'Prometheus'</p>

Noomi Rapace does her best to outrun a collapsing spaceship in the first trailer for Ridley Scott's return to the SF/horror franchise he created, 'Prometheus'

Credit: 20th Century Fox

Watch: First 'Prometheus' trailer gives a strong 'Alien' vibe and reveals little

Look fast or you'll miss Charlize Theron and Michael Fassbender

Forget the countdowns and the vague teases and the bootleg shot-on-a-cell-phone versions.  Thanks to, the first trailer for Ridley Scott's "Prometheus" is live and online, and it's a trip.

I guess at this point, all the games that Fox and Scott have been playing about "is this an 'Alien' prequel or not?" seem silly, because it's screamingly apparent from the trailer that this is set in the same general reality.  My guess is they just don't want to use the word "prequel" because of the expectations that sets about things tying together neatly.  This does not appear to be a story all about setting up the specific incident on the Nostromo in the original 1979 film, but rather a story about what led to a world where that incident could have happened at all.

What excites me here is the scale of this and the idea that we're getting the sort of strange and heightened SF that seems to barely exist these days.  It's a chilly trailer, designed to unsettle and tantalize, and it does both quite well.

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<p>Aubrey Plaza as April on &quot;Parks and Recreation.&quot;</p>

Aubrey Plaza as April on "Parks and Recreation."

Credit: NBC

HitFix First Look: The best of Aubrey Plaza on 'Parks and Recreation'

Bask in the deadpan, misanthropic splendor of April Roberta Ludgate

When I wrote about why "Parks and Recreation" was my favorite show of 2011, I chose the clip from April and Andy's wedding ceremony to represent the reasons why. That whole episode was, to my mind, maybe the best the show has ever done, and a time capsule-worthy sitcom episode (certainly moreso than "Time Capsule" itself was). Both the episode and April and Andy's decision to get married on the spur of the moment were both incredibly silly and incredibly romantic, and the way the show turned April from a cynic sneering at everyone into someone who is reluctantly forced to acknowledge that she actually cares about a lot of people and things has been one of the best, most gratifying character evolutions the show has done. The April Ludgate of season 1 laughed at Leslie behind her back. The April Ludgate we know now thinks Leslie is awesome but doesn't like to admit it. Her heart has grown three sizes, but she keeps it hidden behind a cold, deadpan exterior. Like Nick Offerman, Aubrey Plaza's performance is all about minimalism, and because the acting is so small and quiet, any tiny deviation from the norm seems like a much bigger deal than when a louder, more emotional character like Leslie changes her mood.

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<p>Olivia Colman in &quot;Tyrannosaur.&quot;</p>

Olivia Colman in "Tyrannosaur."

Credit: Strand Releasing

Interview: Olivia Colman on seeking joy in 'Tyrannosaur' and meeting Meryl

How Paddy Considine's debut took her far from the comforts of TV comedy

The 2011 awards season may be young, with a great many breathless winners yet to soak the stage in tears, but I'm not sure we'll see another acceptance speech quite as humbly overwhelmed as Olivia Colman's at the British Independent Film Awards earlier this month. Visibly trembling and sincerely astonished at having beaten a roster of nominees including Tilda Swinton, the unassuming London-based actress managed to stammer out a brief list of thank-yous before scuttling off the stage, seemingly shaking her head in disbelief at her good fortune.

It was, of course, not the first trophy she's won for her shattering performance as a brutally abused charity worker in actor Paddy Considine's hard-bitten directorial debut "Tyrannosaur," which also won the top prize at the aforementioned BIFA Awards. Her success began nearly a year ago with an acting award (shared with co-star Peter Mullan) at the Sundance Film Festival, while a Chicago Film Festival prize followed in the fall. Earlier this week, she snagged a nomination from the London Film Critics' Circle. All through the year, Colman has remained a prominent dark horse in the Oscar conversation, fiercely championed by critics and bloggers who fear this minute UK indie will slip through the cracks: the actress isn't optimistic about her chances of being invited to that particular dance, but such talk, she finds, is its own reward.

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<p>Tilda Swinton in &quot;We Need to Talk About Kevin.&quot;</p>

Tilda Swinton in "We Need to Talk About Kevin."

Credit: Oscilloscope Pictures

Round-up: Oscilloscope wants us talking about 'Kevin' sooner

Also: Steve Pond predicts 8 Best Pic nominees, and Richard Curtis on Spielberg

Perhaps the most pleasant surprise for me of the awards season thus far has been the relative ease with which Tilda Swinton has slid through the precursor circuit for her searing performance in "We Need to Talk About Kevin," collecting helpful nods from SAG, the Globes and the BFCA, not to mention an NBR win. Swinton hasn't left my predicted five since I saw "Kevin" at Cannes, but I did fear her chilly, challenging vehicle would prove an obstacle. Not so, apparently. Emboldened by this success, Oscilloscope is capitalizing on the buzz by bringing forward the film's January release date, hoping to capture a younger, genre-happy audience. Could the film gain momentum in other categories where it deserves recognition, not least for the superb Ezra Miller? One can dream. [The Wrap

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<p>&quot;American Horror Story&quot;&nbsp;brought out the gimp one more time in its season finale.</p>

"American Horror Story" brought out the gimp one more time in its season finale.

Credit: FX

The 'American Horror Story' finale: And they died happily ever after?

The FX horror series ends its first season in a mostly upbeat fashion

I bailed on "American Horror Story" a half-dozen or so episodes into the first season. Just not for me. But my professional curiosity - coupled with a lack of original viewing options last night - led me to check out the season finale just to see what Murphy and Falchuk did in terms of wrapping up the season and setting the show up for the long haul. I'm mainly curious for the opinions of those who watched all the way through, but I have a couple of thoughts coming up just as soon as Lady Clairol and I get too chummy...

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<p>Jessica Chastain at the LA&nbsp;premiere for &quot;The Help&quot;&nbsp;earlier this year.</p>

Jessica Chastain at the LA premiere for "The Help" earlier this year.

Credit: AP Photo

Jessica Chastain is home just in time to celebrate 'The Help'

DreamWorks Oscar contender hits SoHo House

2011 has been the year of Ryan Gosling and Jessica Chastain, but the latter hasn't really been around much to enjoy it.  I spoke to "The Help," "Tree of Life," "Coriolanus," "The Debt," "Take Shelter," "Texas Killing Fields" actress Wednesday evening at a relaxed and holiday cocktail party DreamWorks held at SoHo House Los Angeles to celebrate "The Help."

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<p>Thomas Horn and Tom Hanks make a powerful father-son combo in the emotionally wrenching 'Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close'</p>

Thomas Horn and Tom Hanks make a powerful father-son combo in the emotionally wrenching 'Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close'

Credit: Warner Bros.

Review: 'Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close' mines 9/11 and autism for emotional weight

Sandra Bullock and Tom Hanks make great parents, but is it a great movie?

I wish I were more resistant to Stephen Daldry's movies.

He's given to the sort of grand gestures that can drive me nuts in some filmmakers who don't earn those moments, who work at the depth of a car commercial, but put to service of some fairly well-groomed material.  And I'm a guy who really liked "Everything Is Illuminated," the first film that was adapted from the work of Jonathan Safran Foer.  I think this guy writes lovely little books that filmmakers can get crazy about, gorgeous little challenges.  Here, he's crafted a narrative that depends completely on finding the right kid.  You've got to believe this kid and his relationship with his parents, and the parents have to work quickly, and you have to be ready to be sucker punched by this one, because it's going to work you, and in more ways than many people will expect.

I think any advertising for this makes it fairly clear that the main hook is "Boy loses his father, WHO HAPPENS TO BE TOM HANKS, in 9/11, and then struggles."  That's clear.  And to be fair, that sort of is the whole movie.  A boy struggles to deal with the loss of his totally awesome father in a very famous tragedy.  "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close."  Here's a U2 song.  I see this movie coming, and it makes me nervous.  It looks to me like it will be shameless.  And if you listen to some other critics, the movie is shameless.  It is that worst case scenario.

But I don't think so.

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<p>Coach of &quot;Survivor: South Pacific&quot;</p>
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Coach of "Survivor: South Pacific"

Credit: CBS

HitFix Interview: Benjamin 'Coach' Wade talks 'Survivor: South Pacific'

Why will The Dragonslayer never play 'Survivor' again?
The last time I talked to Benjamin Wade after a "Survivor" season, the man they call "Coach" was still wrestling with the identity crisis of being designated a "Villain" for the "Heroes vs. Villains" installment. 
Back then, Coach was talking up the party line of playing a game of honor and integrity, but for the season time, he was espousing those virtues after a shorter-than-desired "Survivor" run.
When I caught up with Coach this week, it was after he made it a full season on "Survivor: South Pacific," going all the way to Day 39 and seemingly creating a powerful tribal alliance unified around those honor-and-integrity principles. 
Coach finished second in the "Survivor: South Pacific" Jury vote and there was a feeling that may people on the Jury would have given him the million if he'd only admitted that at certain points this season, his honor and integrity gave way to a more traditionally cutthroat game.
In our exit interview, Coach talks about why he may not be cold-blooded enough to win "Survivor," what worked for him in this season and why he'll never play "Survivor" again.
Click through for the full interview...
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