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<p>&nbsp;Maggie Smith</p>

 Maggie Smith

Credit: PBS

Review: 'Downton Abbey' returns to PBS for season 3

Shirley MacLaine vs. Maggie Smith! More class conflicts! Tuxedos?
Late in the third season of “Downton Abbey,” loyal butler Mr. Carson is horrified to learn of a breach of etiquette committed by the ladies of Downton when they choose decency over decorum.
 
“Perhaps the world is becoming a kinder place,” suggests Downton’s housekeeper, Mrs. Hughes.
 
“You say ‘kinder,’” Mr. Carson huffs. “I say ‘weaker and less disciplined.’”
 
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<p>Ewan McGregor in &quot;The Impossible.&quot;</p>

Ewan McGregor in "The Impossible."

Credit: Summit Entertainment

Roundup: The oblivious politics of 'The Impossible'

Also: Dressing 'Django Unchained,' and the sexism of 'Les Mis'

Under-the-radar Oscar hopeful "The Impossible" may be one of the year's most emotionally battering films, but not everyone's feeling it -- as the adjusted true-life tale of surviving the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami continues to take flak for overwhelming focus on the white tourists affected by the tragedy. British historian Alex von Tunzelmann is among the least impressed, acknowledging the film's skilful construction, but writing: "The film seems unaware of its own politics – though it certainly has some ... Both at the beach and in the hospital, almost all the victims of this disaster appear to be white. The Alvárez-Belón family's story is moving, dramatic and true, and there's no reason it shouldn't be told; but it's a shame that that the film excludes any meaningful acknowledgment of the disaster's Asian victims while doing so." [The Guardian]   

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<p>&quot;Cloud Atlas&quot;</p>

"Cloud Atlas"

Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

'Anna Karenina,' 'Cloud Atlas,' 'Skyfall' among Art Directors Guild nominees

'The Master' takes another hit

The Art Directors Guild has announced nominees for excellence in production design for 2012. A wide cross-section of work was selected, though high-profile exclusions include "The Master" and "Moonrise Kingdom."

In the period category, Oscar frontrunners such as "Anna Karenina," "Les Miserables" and "Lincoln" were chalked up alongside "Argo" (which is likely to keep burning it up with industry awards) and "Django Unchained" (more support for Quentin Tarantino's film).

Meanwhile, in the fantasy field (which is likely to offer up one or a few Oscar nominees itself), PGA nominee "Life of Pi" made a showing, as did Ridley Scott's "Alien" prequel "Prometheus." Warner Bros. ought to be happy with the films rounding it out, as "Cloud Atlas," "The Dark Knight Rises" and "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" all come from their stable.

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"Top Chef: Seattle"

 "Top Chef: Seattle"

Credit: Bravo

'Top Chef: Seattle' recap: 'Past Suppers'

Will the risotto curse strike again as the chefs recreate past recipes?

Before we get started, a real moment with the chefs. Sheldon sharpens his knives every day. Stefan applies wrinkle cream every day. Discuss.

Anyway, Padma welcomes the chefs to a Quickfire Challenge with Master Bladesmith Bob Kramer. He makes custom knives that sell for $500 an inch. So yeah, you're not picking up any of these at Williams Sonoma anytime soon. To prove they're worth the money, Kramer demonstrates that he can cut an inch-thick knife with a single thwack. Holy crap. These would be great murder weapons for the discerning serial killer. 

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"American Horror Story"

 "American Horror Story"

Credit: FX

'American Horror Story' recap: 'The Name Game'

Monsignor Timothy and Sister Mary Eunice go head-to-head
As the proverb goes, it's always darkest before the dawn, but I suspect dawn will never come to Briarcliff. Instead, the asylum seems pitched into an eternal state of gloom, and while some brave souls try to fight the system, I don't hold out a lot of hope for them. The darkness of this place is so oppressive, so unrelentingly black, it overwhelms at least one character this week. No spoilers here, but I will say this is one episode that demands your full attention, even as it skips over more details than I would have liked. 
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<p>Joseph Gordon-Levitt in &quot;Looper.&quot;</p>

Joseph Gordon-Levitt in "Looper."

Credit: TriStar Pictures

Previewing the WGA Award nominees

Don't expect the Academy to mirror them too closely

The Producers' Guild of America caught us unawares this afternoon by announcing their nominees a day ahead of schedule, and while we're currently expecting the Writers' Guild to reveal their picks on Friday, it seems safest to preview them two days in advance. Guild award season is upon us (the Art Directors' Guild also offers its own list tomorrow), so we're trying not to be caught out.

As any practised awards-watcher knows, while the Guilds are generally the most reliable of all precursors when it comes to anticipating Oscars fortunes, the WGA are a notable exception -- not least because, every year, much of the heavyweight competition in the screenplay categories is disqualified.

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<p>Leonardo DiCaprio in &quot;Django Unchained&quot;</p>

Leonardo DiCaprio in "Django Unchained"

Credit: The Weinstein Company

'Django Unchained' star Leonardo DiCaprio to receive Santa Barbara's American Riviera Award

Event to take place on February 1

The Santa Barbara International Film Festival has announced that "Django Unchained" star Leonardo DiCaprio will received its American Riviera Award.

It's a nice bit of recognition for one of the film's more dynamic performances. Christoph Waltz has received the bulk of the precursor awards attention, owed plenty to his co-lead status, while DiCaprio and co-star Samuel L. Jackson have been largely ignored. DiCaprio did, however, pick up an early prize from the National Board of Review.

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<p>Real-life heroes, Earth-bound gods, and hyperviolent hockey stars all made 2012 a year worth remembering at the movie theater.</p>

Real-life heroes, Earth-bound gods, and hyperviolent hockey stars all made 2012 a year worth remembering at the movie theater.

Credit: Warner Bros/Marvel Studios/Magnolia Pictures

When 'The Avengers,' Ben Affleck, and 'Damsels' are all runners-up, it's been a good year

Our comprehensive look back at 2012 continues

So 2012 is over.  Done.  Gone for good.

All that's left now is to put one final list together, and I love this time of year because it allows us to look back at the whole year and celebrate all the things that made the year special.  Often we just look at our top picks, though, and the truth is that there were way more than ten films that made my time in the theater worthwhile.  Now that I've published my list of my ten favorite films this year, it's time to dig deeper and look at all the other moments I'll remember when I think back on 2012.

This year, I've done something a little different.  First, I'll list my ten runners-up, which I always view as the alternate top ten list.  I would have been happy with any or all of these in the top ten, which is why I consider these the runners-up.  They were all in play while I was trying to sort out the list.  After that, we're going to look at the other films that made this year worthwhile, a much longer list, and point out what made each of them special.

This may take a while, so get comfortable.

11. "The Avengers"

Joy, pure and simple. In an age where even our blockbusters seem to focus on the dark and dour, "The Avengers" was a celebration of the pop iconography of the Marvel universe, a movie where Joss Whedon's strengths finally found their perfect expression. So far, television seemed like his perfect storytelling forum, but the truth is that Joss Whedon is the grown-up version of The Kid Who Is Most Fun To Play Action Figures With, a pop culture Dungeon Master, and Marvel should thank their lucky stars that he was the guy to carry the football across the finish line.  As much as I've enjoyed the other movies in the Marvel universe, this is the moment where every character finally came into perfect focus, where the humor was right, where the action was right… and the best part of all? He made it look easy.

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Listen: Azealia Banks rings in the New Year with 'BBD'

Listen: Azealia Banks rings in the New Year with 'BBD'

From rapper's forthcoming album debut 'Broke with Expensive Taste'

It's crunch-time for Azealia Banks' album promotion cycle behind her forthcoming full-length, and to bring in the new year and the new set is fresh "BBD."

While the rapper does name check the original BBD -- Bel Biv Devoe -- she's coining the abbreviation for Bad B*tches Do It with this upbeat track. Her raps are mixed low, letting the marching production take the front, and that at least sounds good. She's got ADHD more than BBD here, but it's arrived at a time where she's just looking to whet whistles.

"BBD" will be featured on Interscope debut "Broke with Expensive Taste," due Feb. 13, right around Grammys. You think she's ready for primetime and, if so, will she be at the show?

Azealia Banks was among our Most Anticipated for 2013 artists, check those below.

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<p>Daniel Craig in &quot;Skyfall&quot;</p>

Daniel Craig in "Skyfall"

Credit: Columbia Pictures

'Skyfall' joins indies 'Beasts' and 'Moonrise' on list of PGA nominees

Money-making fare such as 'Argo' and 'Lincoln' also included

Nominees for the 24th annual PGA Awards have been announced. Expected money-makers such as "Argo" and "Lincoln" which have been mainstays in the season joined blockbuster fare such as "Skyfall" (Sony's first billion-dollar grosser to date and an over-performer overall) as well as indies such as "Beasts of the Southern Wild" and "Moonrise Kingdom."

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<p>If everyone in Hollywood wanted you for every part, you'd be smiling, too.</p>

If everyone in Hollywood wanted you for every part, you'd be smiling, too.

Credit: Todd Williamson/Invision/AP Photo

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is latest name in the mix for 'Guardians Of The Galaxy' starring role

Could he be heroes for both Marvel and DC at once?

One of the most surprising things about the evidently heated battle to see who is going to end up starring in Marvel's upcoming "Guardians Of The Galaxy" film is that there is a heated battle to see who is going to star in "Guardians Of The Galaxy."

James Gunn is directing the film, which is perhaps the riskiest of all the Marvel movies coming in the near future.  At this point, I trust Marvel's development process, and I suspect this will fit neatly into the cinematic universe they've been building since 2008.  When they were getting ready to launch "Iron Man," I remember seeing many outlets write about how it was unlikely Marvel was going to be able to sell a second-tier lesser-known hero like Iron Man to the general public, and I heard the same hesitations before the release of "Thor."  Didn't really seem to pan out that way, though, and at this point, I think Marvel's name is enough of a stamp of quality for movie audiences that they can launch pretty much anything.

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<p>Britney Spears</p>

Britney Spears

Credit: AP Photo

UPDATED: Britney Spears reveals she's 'really focused' on new music right now

Dixie Chicks' Natalie Maines also delivers solo album details

While the rest of us were ringing in the New Year and taking down the tree, some artists were hard at work.

Britney Spears took to Twitter  to tell fans that she was “really focused on my music right now.” Whether that’s a veiled reference to all the rumors that swirled over the holidays that she has been kicked off of “X Factor,” we don’t know, but it’s good news for Spears fans regardless.

In her chat, she also reveals that she’s “collaborating with some new inspiring producers,” without naming names, and that she’s “excited” about the new stuff.

Spears last album was 2011’s “Femme Fatale,” though she and will.i.am more recently dropped the tune, “Scream And Shout,” late last year. It debuted at No. 12 on Billboard's Hot 100.

In December, Elijah Blake, who’s written for Usher and Rihanna, revealed that he’s working with Spears on a new album. “I think her fans will be surprised by it,” he told thatgrapejuice.net. “I would say it’s definitely the ‘unexpected’ Britney in so many ways, in that she’s playing with new textures and stomping on new grounds and genres.” He added that “she’s definitely trying to push the envelope this time and really talk from a more personal point of view.”  

As we reported in October, it looks like Spears may be working with “Blackout” collaborator/producer Nate “Danja” Hills. 

Spears wasn’t the only one working on a new set over the holidays. The Dixie Chicks’ Natalie Maines tweeted  that she had finished her first solo album, “Mother,” which will come out May 7.  The first single is the title track, a cover of the Pink Floyd song.

Producer Ben Harper produced the rock album, according to a number of outlets. She and Harper have performed the song together live on selected Harper tour dates this past year.

The song also appears on “West Of Memphis: Voices of Justice,” a compilation album also featuring Lucinda Williams, Marilyn Manson, Band Of Horses, Eddie Vedder, Bob Dylan and others. The album is the companion to “West of Memphis,” a documentary about the West Memphis Three, three young men convicted for the murder of three 8-year old boys. Their conviction was overturned in 2011 after a number of artists, including Maines, had worked hard for their release.

The album will be Maines’ first release since the 2006 Dixie Chicks’ album, “Taking The Long Way.” While there are no plans for Dixie Chicks to record together any time soon (if ever again), they will reunite for a show on July 13at the Craven Country Jamboree in Canada. The Chicks are filling in for Lady Antebellum, who canceled the date due to Hillary Scott’s pregnancy.

UPDATE: Spears is also working with will.i.am and Hit-Boy, who has become very sought after following his collaborations with Kanye West and Jay-Z on "Ni***s in Paris" and Kendrick Lamar's "Backseat Freestyle," according to Entertainment Weekly.  A rep told EW that Spears has not worked with Blake, as we wrote above.

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