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<p>Robert Pattinson in &quot;Bel Ami,&quot; which will premiere at the Berlin Film Festival.</p>

Robert Pattinson in "Bel Ami," which will premiere at the Berlin Film Festival.

Credit: Columbia Pictures

Previewing the 2012 Berlin Film Festival

Is there another 'A Separation' or 'Pina' in this year's lineup?

Tomorrow afternoon, I head off to a below-freezing Germany to cover the Berlin International Film Festival -- or the Berlinale, as you prefer -- for the third year running. As with Sundance, critics will be counting on the movies to provide a little heat against the February chill, even if they don't yet know which ones. Berlin is among the hardest of major festivals to second-guess in terms of highlights: though it ostensibly forms an elevated triad of European festivals with Cannes and Venice, it can no longer compete with its sunnier counterparts for major arthouse blockbusters. As Cannes hogs the holiest auteurs and Venice claims some of the fall awards hopefuls, the Berlinale programmers have to dig a little deeper -- and in turn, the critics there have to look a little harder.

After a slight slump at the start of the decade, the fest's quieter approach is beginning to reap rewards. Not that many people were anticipating Asghar Farhadi's "A Separation" before it premiered in last year's Berlin Competition; even during the first press screening, however, the electric ripple of surprise and excitement in the audience was palpable, as it was clear a major arthouse story was being born.

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<p>Adele in &quot;Rolling in the Deep&quot;</p>

Adele in "Rolling in the Deep"

Predicting the 2012 Grammy Awards: Song of the Year

Adele and Kanye West face off

The Grammy for Song of the Year is one of the most coveted awards. Unlike Record of the Year, which salutes the performer and producer, Song of the Year goes to the songwriter. Therefore, a good rule of thumb when trying to differentiate between the two often-confused categories is to think about how the nominated song sounds stripped down to just a singer and a piano or acoustic guitar. Does it still work on that level with all bells and whistles removed? If so, it’s a good candidate. Below are this year’s contenders.

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<p>Chase Williamson and Rob Mayes seemed to be right at home during their first Sundance Film Festival in support of 'John Dies At The End'</p>

Chase Williamson and Rob Mayes seemed to be right at home during their first Sundance Film Festival in support of 'John Dies At The End'

Credit: HitFix

Watch: Meet the young stars of surreal horror-comedy 'John Dies At The End'

Two new actors caught in the midst of their first Sundance

I'll be curious to see what happens with "John Dies At The End" as the year progresses. 

It's got to find a distributor… it's just too singular an audience experience.  I understand that the William S. Burroughs version of "Ghostbusters" is a hard audience sell, but I also think there's real value in it for the right distributor.  Someone's going to have to give it some TLC if they plan to open it, but with the right campaign, the film's weirdness could be an asset, not something to run from.

While we were at Sundance, I published a conversation I had with Don Coscarelli, the director of the iconic "Phantasm" films, about adapting and directing the book by David Wong as a film.  He was joined by his co-producer Paul Giamatti, who helped produce the film.  I had a blast with those two, and of all the formal interviews we did at Sundance, that's the one that I could have sat there continuing all day.   Their enthusiasm for the film they made was infectious.

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Scott Speedman of "The Vow"

 Scott Speedman of "The Vow"

Credit: HitFix

Watch: Scott Speedman talks 'The Vow' and his ideas for a 'Felicity' reunion

The star has his own dark ideas about what Ben would be like

In "The Vow," Scott Speedman plays the unlucky Jeremy, whom Paige (Rachel McAdams) was engaged to before finding a new life with Leo (Channing Tatum). But when a car accident wipes out her memory of the last five years, Jeremy has another shot at love -- and gets into his share of trouble when Leo is unwilling to let go. I talked to Speedman about playing the other man, getting socked by Tatum in a key scene, and, of course, whether or not he'd do a "Felicity" reunion. It turns out he's not only thought about it, but has his own ideas of where Ben Covington would be twenty years after senior year. 

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<p>The Fray</p>

The Fray

Credit: AP Photo

Hitfix Interview: The Fray's Isaac Slade on what he learned from U2's Bono

Why new album, 'Scars & Stories,' almost never was

As The Fray came together to work on what would become its third Epic album, “Scars & Stories,” the quartet had a collective dark night of the soul; one that could have spelled the end for the multi-platinum piano rock act best known for radio smashes such as “How To Save A Life” and “Over My Head (Cable Car).”

They were in the studio working up songs for “S&S,” out today, and “all four of us were coming of age,” says co-founder/lead singer Isaac Slade. “I was turning 30. We were trying to figure out who we are, what we want to do, how long we want to be in a band. We were partly excited that we get another chance, but partly afraid we were going to be irrelevant. It was a bad, bad week.”

[More after the jump...]

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<p>Lars Ulrich during Metallica's LiveStream</p>

Lars Ulrich during Metallica's LiveStream

Metallica launching their own weekend-long Orion Music + More festival

Veteran metal trouple playing the Black Album in its entirety; Avenged Sevenfold, Modest Mouse on the bill

For years, Metallica has brought their music directly to the fans with endless tours. Now, with the launch of the metal act's own festival Orion Music + More, the fans can come to them.

Today, the quartet took to LiveStream to announce their weekend-long event, to take place in Atlantic City, N.J., on June 23-24. The band will close out both nights, and have tapped other bands like Arctic Monkeys, Avenged Sevenfold and Modest Mouse to play throughout. The band has also promised to play "Ride the Lightning" and the eponymous "Black album" in their entirety -- that marks the first time they've done the latter on U.S. soil.

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<p>A nice distillation of the micro/macro theme running through &quot;The Tree of Life&quot;</p>

A nice distillation of the micro/macro theme running through "The Tree of Life"

Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Why it should be 'Tree of Life'

For the first time in ages, a true landmark is in the running for Best Picture

When the nominations for this year's Academy Awards were announced two weeks ago, there was one Best Picture nominee that yielded a great sigh of relief from me. It was less that I felt it was deserving (it unquestionably is, but to quote "Unforgiven," deserve's got nothing to do with it when it comes to the Oscars) than the fact that I was actually going to have something to passionately champion.

The line-up that was settling into place until that time, I have to say, was lackluster. I mean, I think "Midnight in Paris" is delightful. I'm incredibly happy for Martin Scorsese and his personal ode in "Hugo." "The Help" really did affect me emotionally when I saw it in August. "The Artist" is charming. But none of it is really enough for me. Elsewhere, "War Horse," well, I don't really have any strong feelings on it. And "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" fit like a square peg in a round hole for me. "Moneyball" was really the closest I could have come to having a rally cry, but it still wasn't on the proper echelon for me.

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<p>Jason Segel and Jim Parsons performing &quot;Man or Muppet&quot; with The Muppets.</p>

Jason Segel and Jim Parsons performing "Man or Muppet" with The Muppets.

Credit: Walt Disney Pictures

Best Original Song performances scrapped again from Oscar telecast

No room for production numbers from 'The Muppets' and 'Rio'

At this point, one has to say to Oscar: if you're that embarrassed by the Best Original Song category, just get rid of it. Yes, it's recognized some great movie moments -- and given us some great Oscarcast moments -- over the last 77 years, involving everyone from Rodgers and Hammerstein to Springsteen to Sondheim to Eminem. But it's clear the Academy feels the award has had its day, as evinced this year by the embarrassing all-time low of a two-nominee field, and now, the decision to drop performances of the nominated songs from the ceremony -- for the second time in three years.   

I wrote just yesterday that The Muppets had already been somewhat edged out of the show: with almost everyone predicting two song nominations for their latest screen outing, with the infectious group number "Life's a Happy Song" favored to win, the Academy's music branch wound up nominating only the lower-key ballad "Man or Muppet," a showcase for new Muppet recruit Walter and his non-felt screen partner Jason Segel.

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<p>John&nbsp;Williams received his 46th and 47th Oscar nominations this year, one of them for &quot;The Adventures of Tintin.&quot;</p>

John Williams received his 46th and 47th Oscar nominations this year, one of them for "The Adventures of Tintin."

Credit: Paramount Pictures

Oscar Guide 2011: Best Music (Original Score)

'Tintin,' 'The Artist,' 'Hugo,' 'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy' and 'War Horse' square off

(The Oscar Guide will be your chaperone through the Academy's 24 categories awarding excellence in film. A new installment will hit every weekday in the run-up to the Oscars on February 26, with the Best Picture finale on Saturday, February 25.)

While the music branch’s choices (or lack thereof) in Best Original Song could be considered shocking, the opposite was true about their final five in Best Original Score. Three of the titles are Best Picture nominees, the branch’s favorite composer of all time is double-nominated yet again and all but one of the finalists have been nominated previously. Moreover, that newcomer worked on the Best Picture frontrunner. These are hardly surprising statistics.

The only film that could reasonably be considered “snubbed” was “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” as last year’s winners Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross were unable to return despite BFCA, Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations. Even so, they produce the sort of music the branch normally does not go for, so even that is not shocking. Ten of the last 11 winners in this category, meanwhile, have been Best Picture nominees, including the last eight. I fully expect that trend to continue this year and I am reasonably confident in which of the three will triumph, though the other two cannot be completely discounted.

The nominees are…

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<p>Paul McCartney's &quot;Kisses on the Bottom&quot;</p>

Paul McCartney's "Kisses on the Bottom"

Album Review: Paul McCartney's 'Kisses On The Bottom'

Does his standards album rise to the top?

With the impeccable pedigree of Diana Krall and Tommy LiPuma behind the boards as producers (and with Krall’s band backing Sir Paul), there’s no question that Paul McCartney’s new album, “Kisses On The Bottom,” is going to sound tasteful and smooth. And it does. At times, so much it hurts. It’s as if you can hear every bristle on the brushes as they hit the drums and every plucked upright bass string. There is not a note out of place.

This is your grandfather’s McCartney: forget about imagining any cute head shaking, that he still, improbably, pulls off at 69. Focused primarily on songs from the ‘20s-‘50s, McCartney is paying homage to the music his father loved and that he grew up listening to. Plus, he penned two originals.  That means we hear  McCartney crooning, which, quite frankly, he doesn’t seem particularly comfortable doing at times, such as on  “It’s Only a Paper Moon.” "Kisses," which takes its cheeky title from a line in the opening track, Fats Domino's “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself A Letter," is out today.

[More after the jump...]

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<p>Best Actor hopefuls Jean Dujardin, Brad Pitt and George Clooney at yesterday's Oscar nominees luncheon.</p>

Best Actor hopefuls Jean Dujardin, Brad Pitt and George Clooney at yesterday's Oscar nominees luncheon.

Credit: AP Photo/Chris Pizzello

Round-up: The Oscar nominees do lunch

Also: 'Hugo' producer woes, and Dujardin slays 'em on Leno

I have to say, if I ran the Academy, I'd bar press from the Oscar Nominees Luncheon. Established as a relaxed event to foster a spirit of mutual appreciation and camaraderie among the nominees, away from the tedium of the campaign trail, the lunch has grown into just another PR pit-stop: the nominees remain switched on, while journalists monitor applause levels like hawks to gauge which contenders are more popular than others. The latter seems both a distasteful and unreliable practice: some pundits are getting excited that Best Supporting Actor dark horse Max von Sydow was the only nominee to receive a standing ovation, but then, frontrunner Christopher Plummer wasn't even in attendance. Anyway, Steve Pond, whose approach is to proceedings is more healthily sceptical than most, paints the clearest picture of the event. [The Odds]   

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<p>Martin Short and Josh Radnor got into it last night on &quot;How I&nbsp;Met Your Mother.&quot;</p>

Martin Short and Josh Radnor got into it last night on "How I Met Your Mother."

Credit: CBS

'How I Met Your Mother' - 'The Burning Beekeeper': The internet is for cheese

Marshall and Lily's housewarming party goes awry in a well-structured but unfunny episode

A review of last night's "How I Met Your Mother" coming up just as soon as my breath reeks of shredded carrots and deceit...

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