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<p>Zooey Deschanel and Jake Johnson in &quot;New Girl.&quot;</p>

Zooey Deschanel and Jake Johnson in "New Girl."

Credit: FOX

Review: 'New Girl' - 'Fluffer'

Jess uses Nick as an emotional surrogate, and Schmidt impersonates a Romney

A review of last night's "New Girl" coming up just as soon as I'm going through a Taylor Swift-like range of emotions...

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Best Actor 2013: Potential nominees from Ben Affleck to Denzel Washington

Best Actor 2013: Potential nominees from Ben Affleck to Denzel Washington

Surveying the year's leading men as the season commences

As the Oscar season slowly begins cranking up its machinery, we at HitFix are continuing our broad warm-up survey of the possible contenders in each major category, all gathered in a pretty photo gallery for your reference. We kicked off last week with Best Picture, and this week we move on to what -- at this point, at least -- looks to be the most stacked of the performance categories.

Sad to say, due to the way Hollywood works, it seems there are always more baity male roles out there to choose from, but this year looks particularly competitive, ranging from acclaimed known quantities like John Hawkes in "The Sessions" to presumed behemoths like Daniel Day-Lewis's "Lincoln" -- with alternatives including another veteran actor's interpretation of a US president, a former Oscar host looking to prove himself as a dramatic heavyweight, and no fewer than three French-language standouts. (We've left out "Cloud Atlas" only because we're waiting on category confirmation.) Check out the gallery below as we weigh up their individual pros and cons. You can also keep up with the ups and downs of this race at In Contention's Best Actor Contenders page.  

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<p>A scene from &quot;Rise of the Guardians.&quot;&nbsp;</p>

A scene from "Rise of the Guardians." 

Credit: DreamWorks

Roundup: 'Rise of the Guardians' to be rewarded in Rome

Also: Ford on dressing Bond, and 'Looper' for Best Picture

As we were saying the other day, the Best Animated Feature Oscar -- usually sewn up by this time of year -- is still very much up for grabs. Chief among the contenders yet to be unveiled is DreamWorks' "Rise of the Guardians," which I'll probably stop confusing with that Zack Snyder owl movie sometime around 2015. Expectations are high, and the film has just added a small but shiny feather to its cap with the news that it will receive the inaugural Vanity Fair International Award for Cinematic Excellence at the Rome Film Festival next month -- I don't quite know what that means, but it sounds impressive enough. It's also a nice publicity opportunity for the fest itself, which is hosting the film's international premiere. Rome is under the management of former Venice head Marco Mueller, who is looking to make the lesser Italian festival a rival to the Lido in terms of prestige and press. That's a long way off, but he's going about it in the right way. [Rome Film Festival]

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<p>A&nbsp;poignant moment from Ang Lee's &quot;Life of Pi.&quot;</p>

A poignant moment from Ang Lee's "Life of Pi."

Credit: 20th Century Fox

Contender Countdown: A slice of 'Pi' for Oscar

Plus: The Gurus of Gold make some post-TIFF predictions

Last week Ang Lee's long awaited adaptation of the popular novel "Life of Pi" opened the 50th New York Film Festival to wide critical acclaim.  Richard Corliss of Time called it "a giant leap forward" for filmmaking.  Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter referred to it as "gorgeous and accomplished."  Justin Chang of Variety was less enthusiastic, but praised the epic as a "harrowing high-seas adventure."  HitFix's own Kris Tapley called it "affecting" and praised its "univeralist heart."  At the same time, Tapley also noted the picture's clunky first act, and having recently seen "Pi" I have to agree with him.

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Ashley Tisdale and Charlie Hunnam in 'Sons of Anarchy'

Ashley Tisdale and Charlie Hunnam in "Sons of Anarchy"

Credit: FX

'Sons of Anarchy' recap: 'Stolen Huffy' mourns a fallen Son

Keep your grief to a minimum, we've got things to do here

After last week's stunning, brutal and divisive installment, it would've been a surprise to see "Sons of Anarchy" deliver a follow-up quite as memorable. But I wasn't expecting an episode that felt so... hollow.

There were two major things that needed to be achieved in "Stolen Huffy": send off Opie in a fitting way and keep the story moving forward. While the hour attempted both, the results were merely OK.

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<p>Dax Shepard and Joy Bryant in &quot;Parenthood.&quot;</p>

Dax Shepard and Joy Bryant in "Parenthood."

Credit: NBC

Review: 'Parenthood' - 'The Talk'

Some unheralded members of the ensemble get their turn at bat in a terrific episode

A review of tonight's "Parenthood" coming up just as soon as I report you to the House Un-American Activities Committee...

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"Dancing with the Stars"

 "Dancing with the Stars"

Credit: ABC

Recap: 'Dancing with the Stars' shoves another celeb to the curb

Will Drew Lachey be in the bottom two again?

While I will say that the dancing is exponentially better this season, there were still a few shaky performances to be singled out from last night -- Joey, Kirstie and Bristol all struggled a bit, though I couldn't say any one of them was bad. Well, Bristol and Kirstie struggled a lot -- but as we well know, that doesn't mean much this season (or any season), as people vote for the personalities they like. Really, there's almost no reason to watch the show, right? Just kidding. 

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<p>Mindy Kaling and Chris Messina in &quot;The Mindy Project.&quot;</p>

Mindy Kaling and Chris Messina in "The Mindy Project."

Credit: FOX

The Evening Round-Up: 'Ben and Kate' & 'The Mindy Project' reviews

One of FOX's new Tuesday sitcoms shows signs of improvement, the other stays the same

Some quick thoughts on tonight's second episodes of "Ben and Kate" and "The Mindy Project" coming up just as soon as I pretend to be 1/4 Inuit to get a very specific marine biology scholarship...

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<p>I'm pretty sure my vote doesn't count, but if it did, Alison Brie would have the job in 'Captain America:&nbsp;The Winter Soldier'</p>

I'm pretty sure my vote doesn't count, but if it did, Alison Brie would have the job in 'Captain America: The Winter Soldier'

Credit: AP Photo/Peter Kramer

Alison Brie and Emilia Clarke are among the names reportedly testing for 'Captain America' sequel

Will the winner of the bake-off be starring as Sharon Carter?

So are we getting a Sharon Carter in the Marvel Universe?

That's certainly a possibility as we hear reports today that Marvel is screen-testing a list of five actresses to play the female lead in "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," which is due to start shooting soon.  The subtitle is our one big clue about what we're seeing in the sequel, and I was sure they were going to be headed in this direction as soon as we saw Bucky's "death" in "Captain America."

I think Joe Johnston did a nice job of setting up enough dangling threads in the first film to leave plenty of room for Joe and Anthony Russo to play in the sequel.  The home video release of "The Avengers" has given us a glimpse at some of the scenes involving Captain America grappling with his lost past that were cut from the film.  While I liked those scenes, I can see how they decided they didn't fit in "The Avengers," but I hope they carry over the same melancholy tone for at least part of the sequel.  There's something interesting they can play with Captain America that isn't true for any of the other Marvel characters onscreen so far.

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Tim Burton

Tim Burton

Credit: HitFix

Watch: Tim Burton talks about why he's revisiting 'Frankenweenie'

The director says this movie is 'funkier' and 'rougher' than 'Corpse Bride'

"Frankenweenie" (opens Oct. 5) may be a new film to most viewers, but for director Tim Burton it was a return trip to familiar territory. He had first directed the story as a live-action short in 1984. Why did he want to take another stab at his Frankenstein-esque story, this time using stop-motion animation? "Obviously it was great to do the live action thing so many years ago, but over the years, kind of going back and looking at the drawings I did for it from the beginning and loving stop motion, and also because it was such a memory piece, I started thinking about other memories I have of other kids at school, the weirdness of certain teachers, and the monster movies and things," Burton said. "For me, with all those elements -- stop motion and black and white;  it just felt like a whole different project for me."

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<p>Cher Lloyd</p>

Cher Lloyd


Album Review: 'X Factor's' Cher Lloyd arrives stateside with 'Sticks + Stones'

Can the U.K. teen break through in the U.S.?

Cher Lloyd arrives on U.S. shores today with her debut album, “Sticks + Stones.” Followers of the U.K. version of "The X Factor" will recognize her name from her stint on that show, which led to her signing with  "X Factor" creator Simon Cowell’s Syco label.

Fellow U.S. “X Factor” judge L.A. Reid picked Lloyd up for the U.S. in hopes of having his first true breakthrough act since taking over Epic last summer. Sadly, she’s not going to be least not with this album.

Lloyd is not untalented (and yes, we realize that’s damning her with faint praise), but there are so many hands in the mix here in the desire to genetically engineer a pop star that it’s hard to tell where she ends and the producers’ studio synthetic wizardry begins.  All the A-List studio kings are here, whether it’s Max Martin, Shellback, Red One, Mike Posner or Savan Kotecha.

Producer/writers Shellback and Kotecha are responsible for first single, the stompy “Want U Back,” which has sold more than a million copies in the U.S. The song reached No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100, driven more by sales than radio play.

At various times, she’s either imitating Nicki Minaj (“Behind The Music”) or Avril Lavigne AND Ke$ha  ( “Oath”),  The Spice Girls  (“Swagger Jagger”),   Beyonce AND Rihanna (“End Up Here”) or , in perhaps the biggest stretch, M.I.A. (“With  Ur Love”).  Guess what? They all do themselves better than she does.

The 19-year old has an sassy playfulness, exhibited on the catchy “Superhero” and bouncy, rapping “Grow Up” featuring Busta Rhymes. She can also evoke a Katy Perry-like appeal on ballad “Beautiful People” featuring Carolina Liar’s Chad Wolf. However, overall “Sticks + Stones” feels like a soulless endeavor that’s so manufactured, anyone hoping to discover who Lloyd is as an artist will have to wait until the next album...if there is one. 

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Watch: 'Raising Hope' star Shannon Woodward talks fake orgasms and arachnophobia

Watch: 'Raising Hope' star Shannon Woodward talks fake orgasms and arachnophobia

FOX comedy returns on Tuesday with more Sabrina quirkiness
It isn't often that we discover a love interest on a TV show sleeps with a stocking over her head out of fear of nesting spiders, but in the world of FOX's "Raising Hope," Shannon Woodward's Sabrina is only beginning to rise to the level of eccentricity around her. 
Sabrina's growing quirkiness was one of the pleasures of "Raising Hope" both for fans and for Woodward, who tells me that she requested the opportunity to engage in some wackiness of her own. And things are only getting crazier in the third season, which introduces Oscar nominee Melanie Griffith as Sabrina's mother and threatens to take the Jimmy-Sabrina romance to the next level.
In our recent sit-down, Woodward and I discussed the very logical reasons why even a normal person would start donning hose before bed, her off-camera relationship with the twins who play Hope and her very enthusiastic "When Harry Met Sally" homage in the premiere.
Check out the full interview above...
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