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<p>A camera captures the Valletta townscape ahead of yesterday's European Film Awards in the Maltese capital.</p>

A camera captures the Valletta townscape ahead of yesterday's European Film Awards in the Maltese capital.

Credit: Guy Lodge

A postcard from Malta: Celebration and solemnity at the European Film Awards

Europe's Oscars capture a rich film culture at a crossroads

VALLETTA, Malta -- There’s a certain advantage to holding an awards ceremony in a different city every year: with the practical and cultural conditions of the event different each time, tradition doesn’t quite congeal into formula. This was my first trip to the European Film Awards, but this year’s Malta-set edition of the continent’s translation of the Oscars had details to surprise even seasoned attendees, whether it was the rowdy Maltese house band – a Gogol Bordello-type collective whose lead singer bore a striking resemblance to Captain Haddock – jamming on stage at regular intervals, or the venue itself, a cavernous former hospital at the sea’s edge, its dense stone walls roughened with several centuries’ worth of harder use than a mere red-carpet shindig.

If the surroundings rather humbled the awards themselves, then, that seemed appropriate in an intelligent, enjoyable ceremony that nonetheless seemed torn between honoring European film culture and reading its last rites – leaving a solemn aftertaste that coincidentally complemented a top-category sweep for Michael Haneke’s stern mortality study “Amour.”

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<p>Anne Hathaway in &quot;Les Miserables&quot;</p>

Anne Hathaway in "Les Miserables"

Watch: Four examples of why 'Les Miserables' is generating major Oscar hype

Scenes featuring Anne Hathaway, Eddie Redmayne, Amanda Seyfried, Hugh Jackman and newcomer Samantha Barks

NEW YORK -- Having just come from interviewing the cast of "Les Miserables," I can tell you there is a genuine excitement in the air. Tom Hooper's adaptation of the long-running and now classic musical was a difficult gig for everyone involved and the almost unanimous enthusiasm over the finished product has clearly lifted a weight off their shoulders (you'd have to assume Hooper's as well, but he was still in Los Angeles where he attended last night's Governors Awards). 

Many moviegoers don't like to watch clips before seeing a film, but if you're still unsure what the hype is all about these four should make it incredibly clear.  Hooper's decision to have his actors sing live is close to a game changer and are one reason "Les Miz" is going to be part of the Oscar discussion for quite some time. Universal Pictures was also smart in making sure each preview was over a minute long so viewers could appreciate the performances and music at work.

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<p>Hal&nbsp;Needham and Quentin Tarantino at the Governors Awards</p>

Hal Needham and Quentin Tarantino at the Governors Awards

Credit: AMPAS

AMPAS honors Pennebaker, Stevens, Needham, Katzenberg at fourth annual Governors Awards

Will Smith, Quentin Tarantino Steven Spielberg and more turn out

HOLLYWOOD -- The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences honored its own tonight in the fourth annual Governors Awards. A satellite ceremony dedicated to Honorary Oscar presentations (voted on by the AMPAS Board of Governors), the program was moved off the annual Academy Awards telecast in 2009 and given its own space in the middle of awards season.

This year's Honorary Oscar recipients were documentary filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker, AFI and Kennedy Center Honors founder George Stevens Jr. and stunt coordinator Hal Needham, while Jeffrey Katzenberg received the Jean Hersholt Award for his fundraising and philanthropy.

The evening began with Pennebaker's presentation, as Senator Al Franken took to the stage to assist in the introduction. "We have big issues to confront," Franken said, noting many of the pressing matters of today -- fiscal crisis, healthcare, etc. "And we can't do it unless we're willing to tell the truth…[Pennebaker's] films succeed because of his commitment to telling the truth."

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<p>Rihanna</p>

Rihanna

Credit: John Shearer/AP

Music Power Rankings: Rihanna, Michael Jackson, and Adele top the list

Dr. Dre makes the list too, but not for making music

1. Rihanna: It took seven albums in seven years to get there, but Rihanna finally grabs the brass ring:  “Unapologetic” is her first album to land at No. 1 on the Billboard 200.

2. Michael Jackson:
“Thriller” turns 30. The best-selling U.S. studio album of all time has aged remarkably gracefully. The way it makes us feel? Still thrilling after all these years.

3. Dr. Dre: He tops Forbes list of the highest-paid musicians in 2012 with $110 million. Did he achieve this feat by putting out an album or touring this year? No, he did not. He did it from selling his Beats headphone line. There’s a lesson to be learned there.

4. Adele: “21,” the British singer’s sophomore set, hits Diamond status in the U.S. for sales of more than 10 million. In a lovely bit of synchronicity, it is the 21st album to achieve that milestone since the launch of SoundScan in 1991.

5. Psy: The S. Korean rapper ponies his way to the top of YouTube as “Gangnam Style” becomes the most watched video ever on the internet channel, surpassing 830 million. Dropping to second place? Justin Bieber’s “Baby.” Oh baby, baby, baby.

6. Pussy Riot: The jailed Russian trio are up for Time’s Person of the Year. We don’t think they should win, but we certainly hope they beat fellow nominee “Shades of Grey” author E.L. James.
 
7. Gotye: In addition to sweeping the Australian ARIA Awards, his breakthrough hit, “Somebody That I Used to Know,”  is Spotify’s top song of the year. Somebody just make an extra .95 cents in streaming royalties.

8. Rolling Stones: The Glimmer Twins, plus some Stones old and new, kick off their very limited 50th anniversary tour in London and they all are still standing...even Keef.

9. Rod Stewart: His “Merry Christmas Baby” is looking like the holiday album of the season for 60+ crowd. Now get off my lawn and pass the eggnog.

10. Swizz Beatz:
The producer/recording artist announces that he will just release singles from now on instead of albums. Wait, he’s released albums before?

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<p>Jean-Louis Trintignant in &quot;Amour.&quot;</p>

Jean-Louis Trintignant in "Amour."

Credit: Sony Pictures Classics

'Amour' reigns supreme at European Film Awards

The Oscar hopeful wins for Film, Director, Actor and Actress of the Year

VALLETTA, Malta -- As predicted, it was a very big night for "Amour" at the European Film Awards, as Michael Haneke's universally revered Palme d'Or winner swept the four top awards at the ceremony: European Film of the Year and Director of the Year, plus the two acting prizes for its octogenarian leads Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva.

Neither of the actors, sadly, were in attendance (Riva, stricken with flu, is unable to travel), but Haneke was -- "jubilant" could never be the appropriate word to describe the solemn Austrian formalist's reaction to anything, but he looked close to overcome as he accept the night's final award, limiting his acceptance speech to a simple "thank you, thank you, thank you."

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<p>A scene from &quot;Lincoln&quot;</p>

A scene from "Lincoln"

Credit: Touchstone Pictures

Tech Support: Janusz Kaminski and Rick Carter on establishing a time and place in 'Lincoln'

The cinematographer and production designer discuss their work on Steven Spielberg's latest

As "Lincoln" enters its fourth weekend at the box office, numerous commentators have noted how realistic the film is in its portrayal of politics and history. It resonates even today.

That realism didn't end with the story and performances, as the look of the film meticulously recreated a sense of time and place. Cinematographer Janusz Kaminski and production designer Rick Carter were responsible in large part for that realism. The duo, who have three Oscars and eight nominations between them, are longtime collaborators with Steven Spielberg and I recently spoke with them about their work on the film, with Spielberg and with each other.

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'Gatekeepers,' 'Sugar Man' among list of PGA documentary feature nominees

'Gatekeepers,' 'Sugar Man' among list of PGA documentary feature nominees

'The Island President,' 'The Other Dream Team' and 'A People Uncounted' round it out

Anne and I discussed the documentary feature category at length on yesterday's podcast, commenting on a wide array of movies. Naturally, then, most of them were featured in the PGA's list of nominees in the category.

The two that were -- "The Gatekeepers" and "Searching for Sugar Man" -- are easily two of the best in the field this year. The former, though, hasn't gotten a lot of discussion, but with a qualifying release this week, talk should start circulating. I saw it at Telluride in September, noting that it "provides an invaluable perspective on evolving methods of anti-terrorism while treading the philosophical waters of playing God and having the power to extinguish another life with the push of a button."

"Searching for Sugar Man," meanwhile, is potentially the most popular film of the lot this year, and that actually counts this time around, as the documentary feature category's process now allows for that kind of wide-spread appeal to register.

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<p>Jeff Probst snuffs Jonathan Penner's torch on &quot;Survivor: Philippines&quot;</p>

Jeff Probst snuffs Jonathan Penner's torch on "Survivor: Philippines"

Credit: CBS

Interview: Jonathan Penner talks 'Survivor: Philippines'

The third time wasn't the charm for this returning favorite
As "Survivor" contestants go, Jonathan Penner is one of a kind. 
 
Yes, there have been other three-time "Survivor" players and of the three-time players, Penner presumably goes down as one of the least accomplished within the game itself, right? He finished seventh in "Survivor: Cook Islands," was medically evacuated from "Survivor: Micronesia" and just earned a repeat seventh place finish for "Survivor: Philippines."
 
But how many of those three-time players can also say that they were nominated for an Oscar (for the short "Down on the Waterfront") and part of the inciting event that launched the sitcom classic "The Nanny"? 
 
Only Penner.
 
In addition, Penner has gained a reputation as a "Survivor" strategist and quotable talking head that goes well beyond whether or not he ever won the million bucks.
 
That Penner made it to seventh place on "Survivor: Philippines" is a minor miracle, since he was on a tribe with former MLB star Jeff Kent, who immediately announced it was his mission in the game to send all of the returning players home. But thanks to an Immunity Idol and some savvy dealing, Penner outlasted Kent, at least by a few days. 
 
And he could have lasted even longer except for two things: First, much maligned Abi chose Wednesday's episode to put forth her first effort of the season, winning Immunity when her elimination was a foregone conclusion otherwise. And second, Penner refused to make any Final 4 deals within his Top 6 alliance and by failing to lock down the vote of former "Facts of Life" character Blair Warner, he allowed her to become part of a different foursome, leaving him on the outside and heading home.
 
In a lively exit interview, Penner discusses his colorful Tribal Council exit, his simultaneous understanding and misreading of Blair Warner and handicaps Abi's chances as a "Survivor" villain. He also talks about the possibility of a fourth run on "Survivor" in the future.
 
It's a good interview. Click through...
 
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<p>Alicia Keys performs</p>

Alicia Keys performs

Credit: Michael Probst/AP

Alicia Keys is a 'Girl On Fire' atop next week's Billboard 200

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas in the top 10

Alicia Keys’ “Girl On Fire” will be the only new entry into Billboard 200’s Top 10 next week, but it will enter with style, debuting at No. 1 with sales of up to 160,000.

Rod Stewart’s holiday album, “Merry Christmas Baby,” is looking like the holiday hit of the season as it climbs to No. 2, racking up another 140,000 copies to add to its already impressive three-week tally of close to 280,000, according to Hits Daily Double. ‘Tis the season as three other Christmas titles are also in the top 10: a new edition of Michael Buble’s “Christmas” will likely be at No. 7 with sales of 75,000, closely followed by Lady Antebellum’s “On This Winter’s Night” at No. 8 (65,000-70,000) and Blake Shelton’s “Cheers, It’s Christmas” at No. 9 (60,000). Shelton’s album will likely see a nice bump the following week after his NBC Christmas special airs on Dec. 3.

This week’s No. 1 album, Rihanna’s “Unapologetic,” tumbles five places to No. 6 (or possibly No. 7; she and Buble are too close to project). Taylor Swift’s “Red” will be at No. 3 with sales of up to 130,000.

“American Idol” champ Phillip Phillips’ debut, “The World From The Side of The Moon,” continues to sell well to last at No. 4, outpacing One Direction’s “Take Me Home,” which falls to No. 5. Rounding out the top 10 is Kid Rock’s “Rebel Soul,” which drops to No. 10.

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Emmanuelle Riva in "Amour," tipped to win big at tomorrow's European Film Awards.
Emmanuelle Riva in "Amour," tipped to win big at tomorrow's European Film Awards.
Credit: Sony Pictures Classics

Previewing the European Film Awards: will 'Amour' find love?

What will win, and what should, at Europe's answer to the Oscars

I'm writing this from my hotel suite in Valletta, Malta, where the view from my balcony is foregrounded by scattered yachts sleeping on a still sea as the sleepy Maltese capital -- all hybrid Euro grandeur in honey-colored stone -- turns silently in for the night. Earlier, I spotted Michael Haneke and Mads Mikkelsen, among others, enjoying a gentle nightcap in a neighboring hotel bar, unbothered by press or publicists.

All told, it's hardly the circus you'd encounter the night before a major awards ceremony across the pond, but the European Film Awards have a very, well, continental way of doing things. Voted for by the European Film Academy, they may commonly be described as the transatlantic equivalent of the Oscars, but the EFAs have far less of an industry built around them. For one thing, they're something of a travelling celebration, the venue alternating every other year from their Berlin base camp to a range of more far-flung locales: it's a nifty way of honoring the continent's cultural diversity even when the nominees themselves center mostly on major European nations.

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<p>Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds</p>

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds announce first album in five years

Watch the trailer to 'Push the Sky Away'

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds are getting ready to bow their first album in five years when "Push the Sky Away" drops on Feb. 19. In between, Cave has been busy in Grinderman. In fact, two-thirds of the ensemble for "Sky" have been busy with the same thing.

Multi-instrumentalist Warren Ellis, bassist Martyn Casey and percussionist Jim Sclavunos, in addition to Cave, made up Grinderman in its last incarnation in 2011; Bad Seeds alumni Thomas Wydler (drums) and Conway Savage (vocals) return as well. Mick Harvey is still M.I.A. since he and Cave had a parting of ways after more than two dozen years in 2009.

But its Casey we hear from the most in the trailer for the album. That brrrring drone lays overtop studio jabber from Cave and his cohorts as they lay down their plans at La Fabrique in the south of France.

What the chatter won't tell you is the basic narrative that may make up most of "Push the Sky Away":

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<p>Taylor Swift</p>

Taylor Swift

Credit: AP Photo

5 Things to expect from Dec. 5's Grammy Awards nominations

Who will be the leading nominees?

When the nominations for the 55th annual Grammy Awards are announced on Wednesday, Dec. 5,  expect to hear a few names over and over.

This marks the second Grammy Awards since governing body NARAS  scaled down the number of categories from 109 to 78, which means a lot more artists are competing for a lot fewer slots. For example, instead of separate male and female pop performance categories, there is now only a best pop solo performance category.  In rock, best hard rock and best metal performance categories are now combined.

 A number of nominations will be announced during the “Grammy Nominations Concert Live!! — Countdown To Music’s Biggest Night,” which airs at 10 P.M. ET, with the whole list of nominations online immediately after the hour-long special’s conclusion. LL Cool J and Taylor Swift will host the special. Among the performers are The Who, The Band Perry, Dierks Bentley Maroon 5, Ne-Yo, Luke Bryan and fun.

Here are a few things to look out for on Wednesday:

*It will be a shoot-out at the pop corral this year.  As pure pop has come back into vogue over the last 18 months,  expect the best pop solo performance and best pop vocal album categories to both be packed with huge names and with several worthy contenders left out. Between Pink’s “Blow Me (One Last Kiss),” Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe,”  Katy Perry’s “Wide Awake,” Rihanna’s “Where Have You Been”  and/or “Diamonds,”  Phillip Phillips’ “Home,” Ne-Yo’s “Let Me Love You,” and Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” it’s an embarrassment of riches in the best pop solo performance category alone.

*Some of the year’s biggest country albums,
including Taylor Swift’s “Red” and Jason Aldean’s “Night Train,” came out after the eligibility period. The big country nominee on Dec. 5 will be Miranda Lambert. Look for “Four The Record” to snag a nod for country album of the year (and possibly album of the year), as well as best country solo performance and best country song for “Over You.” 

*Frank Ocean will be one of the leading nominees
: No, “Channel Orange” didn’t become a blockbuster seller, but it is an incredibly well-made and strong album that critics loved with a broad base of appeal spanning pop, rock, R&B and pop.  Look for Ocean to walk away with at least five nominations, including album of the year and best new artist, as well as some potential R&B nods. Also keep an eye out for Florence & The Machine, who, if the wind's blowing right, could also snag five nominations, including album of the year for "Ceremonials." 

*It hasn’t been a particularly strong year for rock groups:
Coldplay’s “Mylo Xyloto” is eligible, but there’s nothing new from such standbys as  U2 or Pearl Jam or the Foo Fighters. Look for Bruce Springsteen, The Black Keys and Mumford & Sons to dominate in the best rock performance, best rock song and best rock album categories.

*Expect potential surprises from Imagine Dragons, 2Chainz, Kendrick Lamar, fun., the Lumineers, Ellie Goulding and Miguel. Right now, I’m expecting each of these acts to get one or two nominations, but one of them could be a wild card and score up to four.

Check out my predictions for song of the year, record of the year, best new artist and album of the year.

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