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<p>Helen&nbsp;Mirren in &quot;Hitchcock&quot;</p>

Helen Mirren in "Hitchcock"

Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Off the Carpet: Academy members have numerous tight races to mull over this season

The major categories have rarely been this competitive

As members of the Academy hurry through the last screeners they need to see before committing an opinion on the year's best (for those who bother trying to get as deep into the stack as possible, that is), a number of races hang in the balance as extremely tight categories are sure to leave a number of contenders feeling the sting of "also-ran" on Thursday, January 10.

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<p>Frank Ocean</p>

Frank Ocean

Credit: NBC

Listen to Frank Ocean's song left out of 'Django Unchained'

Would 'Wisemen' have been a good fit?

Frank Ocean has released  “Wisemen,” the song that he wrote for “Django Unchained” after director Quentin Tarantino, regretfully, left it out of the film.

Ocean put the song up on Tumblr with little fanfare over the weekend. Hear it here.

The song is a midtempo, atmospheric track with a hypnotic effects-laden guitar line running through it.  Lyrically, Ocean sings   “I bet your mother would be proud of you” over and over again as he runs through various scenarios about evil and good men and life and death in an emotional, but restrained vocal delivery.

Just as Tarentino was gracious about not using the song, telling Pitchfork, “Frank Ocean wrote a fantastic ballad that was truly lovely and poetic in every way, there just wasn’t a scene for it.”  Ocean is similarly respectful. His only text with the song is “Django was ill without it.”

"Django Unchained" includes new music from Anthony Hamilton, John Legend and Rick Ross. Below is a gallery of Tarantino's "greatest hits" from his previous works.

What do you think of "Wisemen?"


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<p>&quot;The Cabin in the Woods&quot; nabbed a screenplay nod.</p>

"The Cabin in the Woods" nabbed a screenplay nod.

Credit: Lionsgate

'The Master' leads Online Film Critics' Society nominations

'Holy Motors' nabs a Best Picture nod

I had thought we were done with critics' awards until the holidays subside, but the Online Film Critics Society decided to make us a Christmas present of their nominations -- or perhaps that should be a gift for "The Master," which underlined its status as a critical darling with a field-leading eight nominations. "Argo" and "Zero Dark Thirty" were a distant second with five each.

It's a strong list, the most distinctive feature of which is a Best Picture nod for "Holy Motors," the first such citation I can recall this season. Also relatively unique: a double shot of genre fare in the Best Original Screenplay category, with "The Cabin in the Woods" joining the more frequently cited "Looper"; David Cronenberg's slavishly faithful "Cosmopolis" screenplay scoring in the adapted race, and foreign-language nod for Oscar-shortlisted doc "This Is Not A Film."

Check out the full list below and, of course, at The Circuit.

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<p>Happy holidays, everybody!</p>

Happy holidays, everybody!

Credit: ABC

Home for the holidays

This blog is taking the week off

Happy Monday, folks, and an early Merry Christmas to those of you who celebrate it.

I'm taking the next week off to spend some time with the family, rest, recuperate, and prepare myself for the onslaught of new shows coming up in early 2013.

There'll be a bit of new content from me during the week, including a pre-recorded Firewall & Iceberg Podcast later today where Dan and I talk about some of our least favorite shows of 2012, plus some galleries I co-wrote looking back at some big TV stories of 2012 and forward at some potentially big stories of 2013.

Have fun, stay safe, be good to each other, and I'll see you either on New Year's Eve day, or else right after the new year, as I start packing up for the winter TV critics press tour.

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"The Real Housewives of Atlanta"

 "The Real Housewives of Atlanta"

Credit: Bravo

Is 'Real Housewives of Atlanta''s Kenya the queen of denial or did Walter lie?

Kenya's quest for a ring goes awry, but whose fault is it?

Before we get into the issue of The Proposal That Never Was, we might as well address the fact that the world wideness of the Interweb is crackling with the suggestion that the whole relationship between Kenya Moore and Walter Jackson is (gasp!) fake. Quelle horreur! How could a reality TV show present something that isn't 100 percent true? That was, yes, manufactured for our entertainment? I'm having a touch of the vapors, I tell you! Someone fetch me a fan! 

Actually, if this is true, it would be a huge relief. Walter seems so thoroughly bored as Kenya flutters and twirls around him like a psychotic Disney princess that I want to believe she's humiliating herself on national television for a greater goal than a crappy ring and a bad marriage. If she's doing it for money and a book deal like every other woman on these shows? Well, then she's just one of the gang!

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<p>Spike Lee at a New York Knicks game last week, looking suitably festive.</p>

Spike Lee at a New York Knicks game last week, looking suitably festive.

Credit: AP Photo/Henny Ray Abrams

Roundup: Spike Lee (surprise!) isn't down with 'Django'

Also: Why 'It's a Wonderful Life' is 'cracked,' and less likely holiday viewing

Well, you wouldn't exactly have expected Spike Lee to be leading the cheers for "Django Unchained." The firebrand filmmaker has previously taken Quentin Tarantino to task over his use of the n-word, and while it's liberally used in QT's new slavery-era Southern western, that's far from the only thing that has Lee riled up -- even though he admits he has no intention of seeing it. "All I'm going to say is that it's disrespectful to my ancestors, to see that film," he told VIBETV. "I can't disrespect my ancestors. I can't do it. Now, that's me, I'm not speaking on behalf of anybody but myself."  He later hit Twitter to add: "American Slavery Was Not A Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western. It Was A Holocaust. My Ancestors Are Slaves. Stolen From Africa. I Will Honor Them." Of course, Lee is hardly the only opponent of a film that looks set to generate continued discussion and debate. [The Playlist]

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<p>Robert Forster in &quot;Jackie Brown&quot;</p>

Robert Forster in "Jackie Brown"

Credit: Miramax Films

With 'Django Unchained' on the way we pick Quentin Tarantino's 'Greatest Hits'

The best tracks from his filmography

The moment the guitar on Dick Dale's "Misirlou" struck on the soundtrack of "Pulp Fiction" and those giant titles slowly, methodically crawl up the screen, we knew we were in the hands of a master. And indeed, Quentin Tarantino had already established a unique ear for the songscape of his work two years prior in "Reservoir Dogs."

How about the fact that no one will ever use The Meters' "Cissy Strut" better than he did in "Jackie Brown?" Or how effectively the march of Ennio Morricone's "Rabbia E Tarantella" closes out "Inglourious Basterds?" What about Elle Driver's eerie whistling of Bernard Herrmann's "Twisted Nerve" theme in "Kill Bill" Vol. 2?"

The director's latest, "Django Unchained," takes a whole other step forward, adding four original songs to the usual mix of source music. Elayna Boynton and Anthony Hamilton's "Freedom" gets us going early on while the Morricone-penned "Ancora Qui" slows us down later.

And yet, none of these made our list of the director's "Greatest Hits" to date, showing just how expansive his work infusing music to image has been.

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Top 10 of 2012 - Reality TV by Liane Bonin Starr

Reality TV Top 10 of 2012: The year things got lowbrow and I liked it

Polygamists, conspiracists and rednecks all make the cut this year

This year, like so many years before it, was overflowing with reality TV. But, amidst the usual screaming Housewives and singing competitions, a new niche really took hold in a substantive way. Yes, 2012 was the year of redneck reality, and just as you might expect, it's something you either love or hate. I'll admit that I veer into the love end of the spectrum pretty often (and a few of these shows even made my top ten). Some of these shows do tend toward exploitation, but more often they capture something sorely lacking in so-called reality TV these days; people who don't appear to be acting. It turns out a little reality in our reality TV can be compelling. Go figure.

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Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Oklahoma critics name 'Argo' the year's best, stick to the book elsewhere

Ben Affleck's film keeps it tight with 'Zero Dark Thirty' in the race for critics' fave

The Oklahoma Film Critics Circle has also chimed in for "Argo" today, giving the film Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay honors. The group was in lock-step with the rest of the season throughout: Daniel Day-Lewis, Jessica Chastain, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Anne Hathaway, etc. Check out the full list below and keep track of the season via The Circuit.

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<p>John&nbsp;Hawkes and Helen&nbsp;Hunt in &quot;The Sessions&quot;</p>

John Hawkes and Helen Hunt in "The Sessions"

Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Nevada critics go for 'Argo,' John Hawkes, Helen Hunt

Tommy Lee Jones and Sally Field clean up the supporting fields for 'Lincoln'

The Nevada Film Critics Society has added one more notch to "Argo"'s tally of Best Picture wins. The group tied Ben Affleck with "Zero Dark Thirty" helmer Kathryn Bigelow for Best Director and went in a relatively unique direction with its Best Actor call, opting for John Hawkes in "The Sessions." Check out the full list of winners below and keep track of the season via The Circuit.

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<p>Kacey Mottet Klein and L&eacute;a Seydoux in &quot;Sister.&quot;</p>

Kacey Mottet Klein and Léa Seydoux in "Sister."

Credit: Adopt Films

A closer look at Oscar's foreign-language shortlist

Few surprises in a strong slate of contenders

I've been saying for some time now that the Academy's cull of the foreign-language field from 71 to nine contenders would be a heartbreaker, and so it was.

Among the standout films eliminated from the competition after yesterday's announcement are: Australia's vivid, perspective-bending WWII tale "Lore," Belgium's wrenching domestic drama "Our Children," Hungary's brutal Berlin Silver Bear winner "Just the Wind," Mexico's disquieting conversation piece (and Cannes Un Certain Regard champ) "After Lucia" and Germany's acclaimed, elegant Stasi-era character study "Barbara." We salute them, and many others: here's hoping they find the international audiences (and, in some cases, distributors) they deserve in spite of this setback.

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<p>Keira Knightley in &quot;Anna Karenina&quot;</p>

Keira Knightley in "Anna Karenina"

Credit: Focus Features

'Argo,' 'Lincoln' and 'Zero Dark Thirty' lead Alliance of Women Film Journalists nods

Sean Anders, Sacha Baron Cohen and Gabriele Muccino make the 'Hall of Shame'

The Alliance of Women Film Journalists has announced its list of nominees this year, with its own fair share of unique categories. The Best Film nominees were "Argo," "Lincoln" and "Zero Dark Thirty" (each also cited for Best Director). Check out the full list of nominees below. Winners will be announced next month. And, as always, keep track of the 2012-2013 film awards season via The Circuit.

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