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<p>William Shimell and Juliette Binoche in &quot;Certified Copy.&quot;</p>

William Shimell and Juliette Binoche in "Certified Copy."

Credit: IFC Films

First-Half FYC: Best Actress and Actor

From Wiig to Wilson, 10 leading turns from early 2011 that deserve a shot

If you've read the first two parts of this column series, you'll know by now what the drill is. Every year, the Oscar race is overwhelmingly tilted in favor of films released later in the year (one need only observe the surprising Guild performance of "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" to realize the see the side effects of voters' short memories), as numerous early-year standouts struggle to remain in the conversation. These columns, then, aim to remind you of certain deserving but time-faded contenders from films released from January to June 2011, their buzz largely fading if they ever had it in the first place.

We've already covered the supporting and screenplay races: this week, it's the turn of the leading actors and actresses. Combing through the list of first-half releases, I was pleased to encounter enough worthy names that restricting myself to the traditional five-wide ballot proved rather a challenge: Best Actress, in particular, served up a number of far tastier options than the more recent ones we're currently considering in the Oscar race. I wanted to find room for Catherine Deneuve ("Potiche"), Saoirse Ronan ("Hanna"), Brad Pitt ("The Tree of Life"), Clive Owen ("Trust") and even Johnny Depp ("Rango"); unfortunately (or fortunately, from a film viewer's perspective), I ran out of room.

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<p>Christopher Plummer (left)&nbsp;and Ewan McGregor in &quot;Beginners&quot;</p>

Christopher Plummer (left) and Ewan McGregor in "Beginners"

Credit: Focus Features

'Albert Nobbs,' 'Beginners' and 'Weekend' feature in Gay & Lesbian critics nominations

Pedro Almodóvar's 'The Skin I Live In' gets some love, too

The Gay & Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association has announced its list of nominees this year, and out front with two mentions apiece were "Albert Nobbs," "Beginners" and "Weekend."

The film of the year category includes several of the standard precursor favorites: “The Descendents,” “The Artist” and “The Tree of Life” among them. But it also includes a film that I feel as though I have been in an ongoing conversation with since seeing it several weeks ago, a contemporization of the myth of Pygmalion as only Pedro Almodóvar could conceive: “The Skin I Live In.” Andrew Haigh’s indie exploration of gay romance “Weekend” also got a nod.

Christopher Plummer and Janet McTeer both received nominations for Performance of the Year for their work in "Beginners" and" Albert Nobbs" respectively. Plummer is an odds-on favorite for a Best Supporting actor Oscar nomination, while Janet McTeer one-upped her film's co-star, Glenn Close. My dark horse Best Actor favorite Michael Fassbender is also included in the field for his work in “Shame.”

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"Desperate Housewives"

 "Desperate Housewives"

Credit: ABC

Press Tour: 'Desperate Housewives' creator says no to a movie version

Marc Cherry isn't interested in following in 'Sex and the City''s footsteps

It's the final season of "Desperate Housewives," and the ladies (and men) of Wisteria Lane came out for press tour along with creator Marc Cherry and Executive Producer Bob Daily to talk about the show's final days. That didn't mean, however, that Cherry was forthcoming with information (or at least not much information). When asked if original housewife Nicolette Sheridan might return, he made it clear that, despite the reporter's understanding, he'd never implied anyone in particular would be returning to the show. "What I said was that I hoped to do something that paid an homage to characters who came before. I'm so not revealing what the end is going to be. It's very much a surprise and I'm hyper-protective of it. No comment on that."

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<p>Brad Pitt in &quot;The Tree of Life&quot;</p>

Brad Pitt in "The Tree of Life"

Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures

The Lists: Top 10 bubble contenders to consider for Oscar

Our picks for potential nominees that need that extra shove

Ballots are in hand and the last push to this Friday's poll deadline is tight and spirited. The guilds have done a nice job of shaking things up somewhat, offering some nominees here and there that were a bit unexpected, but they haven't exactly turned the usual order of things on its ear, either.

Nevertheless, now is the time when you cross your fingers for completely left-field picks from the Academy's membership (most of which has likely already turned in its ballot by now), but mainly hope for some bubble contenders that are highly deserving to fall on the right side of the line come Tuesday, January 24.

Enter this installment of the lists, which is an attempt to look at the race somewhat realistically by offering up some bubble-contending suggestions to the few holdouts still staring at blanks on their ballot and hoping for inspiration.

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Interview: Norah Jones talks The Little Willies and her solo next album
Credit: Parlophone

Interview: Norah Jones talks The Little Willies and her solo next album

She and her buddies tackle classic country tunes on 'For The Good Times'

She may be best known for tunes like “Don’t Know Why,” but below that soft, jazzy exterior, Norah Jones is a cowgirl.

Okay, that may be a bit of a stretch, but the New York-born, Texas-raised Jones grew up listening to country music and it’s the genre she returns to when she needs a little dose of home. 

“It reminds me of my childhood and my grandparents and growing up in Texas and spending Christmases in Oklahoma and listening to Dolly Parton on my grandma’s record player,” Jones says. “It just feels good, I guess.”

Given her love of traditional country, it’s no surprise that Jones reunited with her buddies in The Little Willies for a second serving of country tunes. On “For The Good Times,” out today, The Little Willies twang through such tunes as Loretta Lynn’s “Fist City” or “Remember Me,” made famous by Willie Nelson and written by Scott Wiseman.

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<p>&nbsp;Parker Posey winning her special acting prize for &quot;The House of Yes&quot; in 1997.</p>

 Parker Posey winning her special acting prize for "The House of Yes" in 1997.

Credit: AP Photo

Sundance Queen Parker Posey's royal visit to Park City is now official

Julia Ormond, Justin Lin, Cliff Martinez among festival jury members


There have been many pretenders of the years, but there is only one Queen of Sundance and after a two-year absences she's finally returning to her kingdom.  

Parker Posey became the face of Sundance in the late '90s early '00s thanks to acclaimed roles in films such as the indie classic "Party Girl," "The House of Yes" and "Personal Velocity." The irony of course, is that those were the only three features she had at the festival in that period, but boy did they hit a nerve.  But the moniker has stuck mostly because she represents a time when the festival hit a tipping point in recognition amongst the media and its peer festivals.  Posey has returned since then, most notably with the under-appreciated "Broken English" in 2007, but is back for one more go around this year with the out-of-competition comedy "Price Check."  In an attempt to possibly keep press or sponsors in town past the traditional mid-week departure date, the festival announced today that Posey will host this year's Awards Ceremony, set to take place on Sunday, January 28.  It also means Posey will be around the fest a good chunk of the week which can only be a good thing.

The Festival also announced this year's competitive juries and, as always, it's an intriguing and political mix (and by that we mean festival politics). Finding appropriate jury members is never easy, but the festival seems to have found enough indie cred amongst the selections to satisfy most.

The grand jury dramatic will include Anthony Mackie who starred in Sundance selections "Night Catches Us," "Half Nelson" and "Brother to Brother"; acclaimed composer Cliff Martinez; previous jury prize winner Lynn Shelton ("Humpday") who returns with "Your Sister's Sister" out of competition; cinematographer Amy Vincent ("Eve's Bayou," "Hustle & Flow"); and Justin Lin.  The latter is best known for directing "Fast Five" and "Fast & Furious," but got his start with Sundance selection "Better Luck Tomorrow" in 2002. 

The documentary jury features filmmakers Fenton Bailey ("Party Monster," "Becoming Chaz"), Shari Berman ("American Splendor"), Charles Ferguson ("No End in Sight"), Kim Roberts ("Waiting for Superman," "Food, Inc.") and noted UK doc programmer Heather Croall.

The world dramatic jury is a bit smaller with Julia Ormond ("Legends of the Fall," "My Week with Marilyn"), screenwriter Alexei Popogrebsky and New York Film Festival director Richard Pena judging the field. 

The world documentary jury includes journalist Nick Fraser, film curator Clara Kim and filmmaker and professor Jean-Marie Teno. 

The jury for the Alfred P. Sloan award - given to films showcasing science and technology - will include screenwriter Scott Burns ("Contagion"), journalist and programmer Tracy Day and biological Anthropologist Helen Fisher.

The short film jury includes Mike Judge (yes, the "Beavis and Butthead" one), director and screenwriter Dee Rees ("Paraiah") and Toronto International Film Festival programmer Shane Smith.

Look for complete coverage of the 2012 Sundance Film Festival beginning Thursday, Jan. 19 on HitFix.

For year round entertainment commentary and awards season news follow @HitFixGregory on Twitter.


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<p>Leonard Cohen's &quot;Old Ideas&quot;</p>

Leonard Cohen's "Old Ideas"

Credit: Columbia

Listen: Leonard Cohen goes into the 'Darkness' in new 'Old' song

Does he need a choir of angels?

Go in with some certain expectations when Leonard Cohen titles a song "Darkness."

This morose, devoted songwriter has sung his fair share of shaded tunes. This one, off of his forthcoming "Old Ideas," layers a little bounce over a traditional blues-structure. There's nothing terribly personalized or confessional locked in the lyrics, but the close mix on the bass notes and his rumbly mumble lay the mood down right.

My only point of contention are the light, pretty backing vocals, which seem to soften the blow of his sub-tone growl, a kind of coldly sentimental light at the end of this tunnel of "Darkness." It's a adult-contemporary misstep, like using a Rhodes when you should use a mean, temporal organ sound or a choir when you should use a bevy saxes. But he's an old man -- I wouldn't say that out of cruelty, the guy named his album "Old Ideas," for crying out loud. He can recruit angels if he wants to.

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<p>Kirsten Dunst's performance in &quot;Melancholia&quot; won Best Actress awards from Cannes and the National Society of Film Critics.</p>

Kirsten Dunst's performance in "Melancholia" won Best Actress awards from Cannes and the National Society of Film Critics.

Credit: AP/Chris Pizzello

Interview: Kirsten Dunst on 'Melancholia,' Lars von Trier and directing her own career

NSFC and Cannes Best Actress winner discusses her career-best work

Over the course of a career not much shorter than her 29 year-old life, Kirsten Dunst has covered a lot of bases -- skipping gamely between fluorescent Hollywood blockbusters, handmade American indies, fizzy teen comedies, primetime television and the chillier climes of the European arthouse -- but there's one area the actress feels she's neglected thus far.

"I really want to do a film in another language," she says, her tone ruminative but quite serious, over the phone from Los Angeles. "My dad's from Germany, so it'd be really cool to do a film in German. I'm not quite fluent, but I can get there. And my accent's pretty good. I wouldn't feel too out of my element."

It's not just any German film she wants to work on either: Michael Haneke, that esteemed Austrian dissector of psychological trouble, currently tops her wishlist of directors to work with in the future, a group that also include Paul Thomas Anderson and Alexander Payne. The prospect of the sunny New Jersey blonde collaborating with the frosty German-born formalist isn't quite as unimaginable as it might have been a year or two ago, before another prickly European provocateur, Lars von Trier, showed everyone what Kirsten Dunst is made of in "Melancholia."

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<p>Brad Pitt won Best Actor for his performance in &quot;Moneyball.&quot;</p>

Brad Pitt won Best Actor for his performance in "Moneyball."

Credit: Columbia Pictures

'Tree of Life,' Pitt, Streep win with Denver critics

Terrence Malick and Michel Hazanavicius tie for Best Director

"The Descendants" may have led the way with the Denver Film Critics Society's nominations, but it was "The Tree of Life" that won the big prize. Still, Alexander Payne's film won a field-leading three awards, for Best Supporting Actress, Best Screenplay and Best Ensemble. Check out the full list of winners below.

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<p>James Van Der Beek and Krysten Ritter</p>
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James Van Der Beek and Krysten Ritter

Credit: Chris Pizzello/AP

Press Tour: James Van Der Beek reflects on playing James Van Der Beek in ABC's 'Apartment 23'

'Dawson's Creek' star has found a way to laugh at himself
Although he'll always be best known as Dawson Leery (or maybe as Mox from "Varsity Blues"), James Van Der Beek has never shied from showing other sides of his personality, whether he was going dark for "Criminal Minds" or "The Rules of Engagement" or engaging in shades of self-parody for "Standing Still" or a series of FunnyorDie videos.
On ABC's cumbersomely censored "Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23," Van Der Beek takes his winking screen persona to a logical extreme playing none other than James Van Der Beek, platonic best friend of Krysten Ritter's Chloe, the "b----" of the title.
At Tuesday's (January 10) Television Critics Association press tour panel for the April comedy,  the show's producers explained that they didn't really have a second choice for the role -- or a second choice for Chloe's celebrity pal -- if things hadn't worked out with Van Der Beek.
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<p>Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre</p>

Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre

10 considerations on the 2012 Coachella lineup: Pulp, Dr. Dre, Black Keys

What day is the strongest? Shouldn't that read Black SABBATH?

As my cohort Melinda Newman reported last night, the 2012 Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival lineup has been announced, with several notable reunion and rare appearances. Additionally, this is the first year the event runs over two weekend, April 13-15 and April 20-22, with identical billing.

Below are 10 things that came to mind:

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<p>Leslie Hope and Joe Anderson in &quot;The River.&quot;</p>

Leslie Hope and Joe Anderson in "The River."

Credit: ABC

Press tour: ABC's 'The River' sets out on an interesting but uncertain course

Can horror series from 'Paranormal Activity' creator work long-term?
PASADENA - The critics at press tour unsurprisingly spend a lot of time talking to each other about what they thought of this show and that show, and one of the most consistent pair of opinions I've heard expressed at this tour is as follows: 1)ABC's "The River" (it debuts on Feb. 7) is one of the best pilots of the season (fall or spring), and 2)No one's entirely sure that it will work as a series - that, like NBC's "Awake," it might work better as a movie.
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