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<p>Amy Poehler as Leslie Knope in &quot;Parks and Recreation.&quot;</p>

Amy Poehler as Leslie Knope in "Parks and Recreation."

Credit: NBC

TV Top 10 of 2011: The best 10 returning shows

A great year for veteran series

Yesterday, we published my video essay on my favorite overall shows of 2011. Now it's time to present the first of two written lists, this one focusing on the best returning shows of the year. If you watched the video, you know that 9 of the 11 shows (there was a tie) were returning series, and that therefore there's not going to be much change to the returning shows list. Still, I add one show, get to expand a bit on my thoughts on some others, and also add a list of honorable mentions at the end.

Tomorrow, I'll deal with the new shows in a slightly different way, as there are lots of 2011 rookies I liked but few I loved.
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<p>Meryl Streep in &quot;Adaptation.&quot;</p>

Meryl Streep in "Adaptation."

Credit: Columbia Pictures

The Lists: Top 10 Meryl Streep performances

With 'The Iron Lady' on the way, we look back on the actress's career highlights

What is there left to say about Meryl Streep at this point that someone else hasn’t said already? At the age of 62, the actress who was already earning ‘all-time greatest’ citations decades earlier, has the career most of her contemporaries can only dream of.

Still in favor with critics, recently celebrated with a Kennedy Center honor and working like a demon, she is, even more remarkably, a bigger box-office draw than she ever was: pulling vast and varied audiences into the theater for such commercial juggernauts as “The Devil Wears Prada” and “Mamma Mia!,” she breaks every conceivable rule that has been established for middle-aged women in Hollywood. (One imagines Madeline Ashton, the vain, ageing, largely untalented leading lady she played nearly 20 years ago in “Death Becomes Her,” veritably seething with envy.)

She has, of course, broken her own record many times over to amass an astonishing 16 Oscar nominations: a 17th is undoubtedly on the way for her latest headlining role, as the reviled, long-serving British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in Phyllida Lloyd’s biopic “The Iron Lady.” The performance has already netted her a fifth New York Film Critics’ Circle Award – another rare distinction in a career not short of them, and an obvious subject for another installment of The Lists.

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<p>Sacha Baron Cohen's definitely got some serious beard going on in the first trailer for his new comedy 'The Dictator'</p>

Sacha Baron Cohen's definitely got some serious beard going on in the first trailer for his new comedy 'The Dictator'

Credit: Paramount Pictures

Watch: Sacha Baron Cohen returns to big character comedy in 'The Dictator' trailer

Can he and Larry Charles pull it off again?

I have a feeling "The Dictator" is going to be an important movie for Sacha Baron Cohen.

"Borat" was lightning in a bottle.  He'd been building up to that moment for a while, and 20th Century Fox did everything right in releasing the film.  They turned it into a moment where you had to see what it was, even if you didn't want to, just so you could be part of the conversation.

With "Bruno," there was an entirely different set of expectations placed on the film and its performance, and it was harder for Cohen to shoot because people were aware of him and aware of his techniques.  And while I think it's a very funny film, I also think there's only so far you can go in ambush comedy.  What makes me respect Cohen's work isn't the "gotcha" element of springing something on an unsuspecting person, but rather the depth of character work he does in creating these comic personas.

Lately, he's been taking roles in other people's movies, and he's doing very good work.  I liked him a lot in "Hugo," and I'm excited to see what he does with the character of Scotty in Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained."  The things I've heard about the work he's been doing on the Freddie Mercury film he's been trying to get made gives me real hope that it's going to be something special.

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<p>Louis CK&nbsp;in his &quot;Live at the Beacon Theater&quot;&nbsp;comedy special.</p>

Louis CK in his "Live at the Beacon Theater" comedy special.

Will Louis CK's download experiment be followed by others?

What's the future for independently produced and distributed content?

Over the weekend, Louis CK released his latest stand-up comedy special, "Louis CK: Live at the Beacon Theater," an hour of all-new material in which he talks about parenting, sex, God, the environment and more. It is, unsurprisingly, a very funny hour of entertainment, as you might expect by the man who currently stands at the top of the stand-up pyramid.

Also unsurprisingly, given the circumstances behind the production of his great FX show "Louie," CK has used the special as an excuse to try out a new business model. "Live at the Beacon Theater" had no theatrical run, no DVD release, nor even a partnership with a large online media company. You simply go to CK's own website, spend the more-than-reasonable sum of 5 bucks, and you can download a copy of the special without any kind of restrictions as to what method you use to view it, how you want to copy it, or anything.

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10 shorts advance in Oscar's live action shorts race
Credit: AMPAS

10 shorts advance in Oscar's live action shorts race

Three to five nominees will be revealed on Jan 2r

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced this morning that 10 short films have advanced to the next round of voting for the 2012 Live Action Academy Award.  107 short films originally qualified and out of that pool the following 10 were selected.

"Je Pourrais Être Votre Grand-Mère (I Could Be Your Grandmother)," Bernard Tanguy, director-producer (Rézina Productions)

"Love at First Sight," Michael Davies, director and Sandra Gorel, producer (Spellbound Films)

"Pentecost," Peter McDonald, director (EMU Productions)

"Raju," Max Zähle, director and Stefan Gieren, producer (Hamburg Media School/Filmwerkstatt)

"The Road Home," Rahul Gandotra, director-producer and Ameenah Ayub, producer (London Film School)

"The Roar of the Sea," Ana Rocha Fernandes and Torsten Truscheit, directors (Niama Filmproduktion GmbH)

"Sailcloth," Elfar Adalsteins, director-producer (Berserk Films)

"The Shore," Terry George, director-producer (All Ashore Productions Limited"

"Time Freak," Andrew Bowler, director and Gigi Causey, producer (Team Toad)

"Tuba Atlantic," Hallvar Witzø, director (The Norwegian Film School/Den Norske Filmskolen)

At this point, the Academy's Short Films and Feature Animation Branch members will now review the finalists and select three to five nominees from among the 10 titles on the shortlist for nomination. Branch screenings will be held in Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco next month.

The 84th Academy Awards nominations will be announced live on Tuesday, January 24, 2012, at 5:30 AM, 8:30 AM PT.

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<p>&quot;The&nbsp;Tree of Life&quot;&nbsp;had the most notices with 11.</p>

"The Tree of Life" had the most notices with 11.

Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures

The 2011 Longlists

Widening the net in our annual year in review

With today's Screen Actors Guild announcement, we've officially moved onto the next stage of awards season, when the industry has its say and shares the spotlight a bit with the critics. I was happy to see that a few extraneous elements of the season (Demián Bichir, Jonah Hill) got some recognition and kept things fresh, because that's precisely why I decided to transition the annual "If I Had a Ballot" feature into something more thorough.

In its stead, The Longlists are just that: a series of lists in various categories featuring what I thought was the top echelon of each. I trotted out 10, rather than the Oscar-centric five, throughout.

If you missed it, Monday I wrote up my list of the year's 10 best films. Friday brings a final wrap-up with year-end superlatives in the categories below as well as a few others. And soon enough, it'll be 2012 and the year will officially be a memory. But the season will forge on.

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<p>Max von&nbsp;Sydow in Ingmar Bergman's &quot;The Seventh&nbsp;Seal&quot;</p>

Max von Sydow in Ingmar Bergman's "The Seventh Seal"

Credit: Janus Films

Max von Sydow remembers his relationship with director Ingmar Bergman

The actor recently commented on losing his long-time friend and mentor

Somehow the embargo on "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" ended up extending at the last minute to the post-screening Q&A that accompanied last week's screening at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, a first, as far as I can recall. I couldn't even pass along this nugget, completely unrelated to the film.

Bizarre, I know, but I'll dig it up for you now in any case. I figure some comments made by Max von Sydow will be of some interest to cinephiles.

The line-up consisted of stars von Sydow, Thomas Horn and Sandra Bullock, as well as director Stephen Daldry and screenwriter Eric Roth. Daldry commandeered the Q&A from moderator Pete Hammond for a bit at one point and, amid discussion about where each of them were on 9/11 and considerations of grieving (ugh), he asked von Sydow about how he was able to handle the loss of long-time collaborator, mentor and friend, director Ingmar Bergman, in 2007.

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<p>&quot;The Descendants&quot; is realistically one of only two pictures - including &quot;The Artist&quot;&nbsp;- who can win best picture this year after landing an outstanding motion picture ensemble nomination.</p>

"The Descendants" is realistically one of only two pictures - including "The Artist" - who can win best picture this year after landing an outstanding motion picture ensemble nomination.

Credit: Fox Searchlight

Analysis: SAG pushes 'The Artist' and 'Descendants' to the front of the Oscar race

No. 1 lesson: Don't screen late

In one respect the film nominations for the 2012 Screen Actor's Guild Awards were not that surprising.  They were broad.  They were populist.  And, for the most part, they didn't rock the boat.  Before we go through each category, however, there are some major lessons already being learned from today's results.

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<p>Even &quot;Suits&quot;&nbsp;co-star Patrick J. Adams may be puzzled by his SAG&nbsp;Awards nomination.</p>

Even "Suits" co-star Patrick J. Adams may be puzzled by his SAG Awards nomination.

Credit: USA

Analysis: SAG Awards TV nominations get weird with Patrick J. Adams and 'Dexter'

A field of nominees designed to make the Golden Globe picks look good?
Like the Golden Globe Awards, where the nominations will be announced tomorrow, the SAG Awards treat their TV categories like an afterthought. There are no supporting categories of any kind, for instance, and they mainly seem to exist to appease that branch of the Screen Actors Guild, and to possibly draw some extra audience to the telecast.
And like the Golden Globes are every year, this year's SAG nominations are so bizarre/stupid/silly that they're probably not worth getting worked up over...
... except I can't really wrap my brain around any of the following:
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<p>Demi&aacute;n Bichir landed an unexpected Best Actor SAG nod for &quot;A Better Life.&quot;</p>

Demián Bichir landed an unexpected Best Actor SAG nod for "A Better Life."

Credit: Summit Entertainment

'The Help' leads SAG nominations, Demián Bichir surprises in Best Actor

Prominent snubs for Fassbender, Theron, Brooks and Woodley

Things I correctly predicted in this morning's Screen Actors' Guild nominations list: "Midnight in Paris" and "Bridesmaids" landing nominations in an unusually comedy-heavy Best Ensemble slate; "The Help" coming out on top with four nominations, including (hurrah!) a supporting bid for multi-tasker Jessica Chastain; Glenn Close's ailing Best Actress campaign for "Albert Nobbs" getting a boost with recognition from her fellow actors; "The Descendants" breakout Shailene Woodley getting the cold shoulder in the supporting actress category; and "Young Adult," "Hugo," "War Horse" and "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" among the films frozen out entirely.

Things I (and, as far as I can tell, everyone else) did not predict: a Best Actor nomination for Mexican veteran character actor Demián Bichir, whose performance as a hard-up immigrant worker in Chris Weitz's indie "A Better Life" was praised to the skies by critics upon its release in June, but was widely considered to be a forgotten factor in the Oscar race. No more. By landing a nod ahead of more heavily buzzed dark horses, Michaels Fassbender and Shannon, Bichir is a new player to watch in a field that currently has only three surefire Oscar nominees. 

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<p>Rowan&nbsp;Atkinson in &quot;Johnny&nbsp;English Reborn,&quot;&nbsp;which was nominated for Best Song</p>

Rowan Atkinson in "Johnny English Reborn," which was nominated for Best Song

Credit: Universal Pictures

'The Artist' dominates Phoenix film critics nods

Say hello to your first critics awards notice, 'Johnny English Reborn'

The Phoenix Film Critics Society has announced a massive list of nominations in various categories, and as has become the trend, Michel Hazanavicius's "The Artist" led the way with 11 mentions. Martin Scorsese's "Hugo" wasn't far behind with 10. Check out the full list of nominees below.

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<p>A scene from&nbsp;Stanley&nbsp;Kubrick's &quot;Fear and Desire&quot;</p>

A scene from Stanley Kubrick's "Fear and Desire"

Credit: Joseph Burstyn

Oscarweb Round-up: Stanley Kubrick's 'Fear and Desire' to air on TCM tonight

Also: Close fading and what to look for in today's SAG announcement

Friendly reminder: Turner Classic Movies is going to air Stanley Kubrick's first film, "Fear and Desire," tonight at 8pm ET. I've actually never seen the film, despite Kubrick being my favorite filmmaker. I happened to see "Killer's Kiss" back in film school, a ratty video tape version (it's on the Blu-ray of "The Killing" now, though). But never this one. So you can bet I'll tune my DVR. Kubrick famously disowned the film after it was released and tried to ensure that no one would ever see it again by not re-releasing the print. Unbeknownst to him, Kodak had a policy of making an extra prints for their archives. That's the one that survives today. So, yay for Kodak. [Turner Classic Movies]

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