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<p>Josh Lawson, Kristen Bell, Don Cheadle,&nbsp;Dawn Olivieri and Ben Schwartz in Showtime's &quot;House of Lies.&quot;</p>

Josh Lawson, Kristen Bell, Don Cheadle, Dawn Olivieri and Ben Schwartz in Showtime's "House of Lies."

Credit: Showtime

Review: Don Cheadle and Kristen Bell are hustling in Showtime's 'House of Lies'

Comedy about management consultants has strong leads but needs to work on its perspective
A few years back, Matthew Carnahan created a series that couldn't have seemed more timely. In FX's "Dirt," Courteney Cox played the editor of a celebrity tabloid, and the show came on just as gossip was beginning to drive most entertainment news (and news, period, in some cases). But "Dirt" never seemed to know what kind of show it wanted to be when it grew up, and Cox's character wavered between villainous and virtuous.
 
"House of Lies," Carnahan's new Showtime dramedy (it premieres Sunday night at 10), also feels incredibly timely. In this age of Occupy Wall Street, it's a show ostensibly lampooning the 1%, as we follow a team of management consultants who travel around the country trying to fix - or, at least, hustle fees out of - one large, inhumane corporation after another.
 
And while it's more entertaining than "Dirt" - thanks primarily to the chemistry of a cast headed by Don Cheadle and Kristen Bell - it suffers from the same wobbly sense of tone and direction. It's in the right place and the right time, but it's not necessarily the right show.
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<p>Tate Taylor&nbsp;(center)&nbsp;directs Emma Stone (left) and Viola Davis (right) on the set of &quot;The Help.&quot;</p>

Tate Taylor (center) directs Emma Stone (left) and Viola Davis (right) on the set of "The Help."

Credit: Walt Disney Pictures

Predicting the 2011 DGA nominees

All eyes are on Monday's announcement

On Monday, the most important precursor announcement of them all drops: the Directors Guild of America offers up its list of nominees for excellence in directing.

Except it isn't really about "excellence in directing" for this crowd. It really never has been. It's a chance for the organization to speak up on its picks for the "Best Picture" of the year.

There have been happy aberrations along the way, like Cameron Crowe getting recognized for "Almost Famous" or Christopher Nolan getting a surprising tip of the hat for "Memento." But while the group has dipped into "lone director" territory before (Mike Figgis, Ridley Scott), largely this has been about picking the five top films of the year, which often go on to be the eventual Best Picture nominees with the Academy. So the question is, why has the DGA's announcement so often been a reliable indicator of where the Academy will go with Best Picture?

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Taking questions for 1/6 Oscar Talk

Offer up your burning queries

Alright, you know the drill. Toss out your need-to-knows and we'll try to address a few on the first podcast of the new year tomorrow. As always, try to keep it fresh and stay away from stuff mulled over to death.

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<p>Demi&aacute;n Bichir in &quot;A&nbsp;Better Life&quot;</p>

Demián Bichir in "A Better Life"

Credit: Summit Entertainment

Santa Barbara fest taps Bichir, Mara, McCarthy, Oswalt, Serkis and Woodley for Virtuosos Award

Presentation to take place on February 3

The Santa Barbara International Film Festival has announced, along with its film schedule, the recipients of this year's Virtuosos Award. And they cast the widest net yet, honoring Demián Bichir ("A Better Life"), Rooney Mara ("The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"), Melissa McCarthy ("Bridesmaids"), Patton Oswalt ("Young Adult"), Andy Serkis ("Rise of the Planet of the Apes," "The Adventures of Tintin") and Shailene Woodley ("The Descendants").

The Virtuosos Award is meant to recognize a select group of actors who have distinguished themselves through their work in a given year. In the press release, festival director Roger Durling praises the honorees for their "indelible performances."

You can't really argue with the list. Though I feel like Serkis stands out a bit and probably could have used some kind of singular achievement notice. Then again, rounding him up with a number of other actors is probably just how he'd like it to be. Performance capture is just a way of recording performance and it all still boils down to the elements of acting for him.

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<p>&quot;Midnight in Paris&quot;&nbsp;won the group's Best Comedy award.</p>

"Midnight in Paris" won the group's Best Comedy award.

Credit: Sony Pictures Classics

Internet Film Critics award 'Tree of Life,' 'Midnight in Paris,' 'Attack the Block,' 'Drive'

George Clooney and Rooney Mara win top acting honors

The Internet Film Critics Society has jumped into the fray with a list of winners this year. It's a nifty list because rather than just a "Best Picture" field, things are divided into a couple genres (drama, comedy, action, horror/sci-fi). Though I don't qualify "Drive" as "action." Check out the full list below.

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<p>It's things like this which make me happy to hear that Joost and Schulman will return for the fourth 'Paranormal Activity'</p>

It's things like this which make me happy to hear that Joost and Schulman will return for the fourth 'Paranormal Activity'

Credit: Paramount Pictures

Schulman and Joost return to direct 'Parnormal Activity 4' for this Halloween

Paramount's got this one humming along at this point

This makes sense.

Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman adapted to the particular demands of making a "Paranormal Activity" movie with real aplomb this year, working quickly on a demanding schedule and turning in a film that absolutely extended the life of what is becoming one of Paramount's favorite franchises, teeny tiny cheap little movies that earn giant bags of cash for the studio each year.

So why wouldn't Paramount want to bring them back for another one?  After all, they've demonstrated that they understand the rhythms of the series, and that they have a head for the increasingly-complicated mythology that is evolving from film to film.  I talked to them this year about their work on the film, and they described the process to me as something that was difficult but also really exciting and fun, and it resulted in a movie that I think works very well.

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<p>Josh Lucas as Mitch McDeere in the new &quot;The Firm.&quot;</p>

Josh Lucas as Mitch McDeere in the new "The Firm."

Credit: NBC

Review: NBC puts Josh Lucas in 'The Firm'

Belated sequel to Cruise/Grisham legal thriller falls flat

Watching the two-hour pilot episode of NBC's "The Firm" (Sunday at 9 p.m.), my mind was filled with many questions, such as:

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<p>Charlize Theron in &quot;Young Adult,&quot;&nbsp;one of the WGA&nbsp;nominees for Best Original&nbsp;Screenplay</p>

Charlize Theron in "Young Adult," one of the WGA nominees for Best Original Screenplay

Credit: Paramount Pictures

WGA nominees include 'Bridesmaids,' '50/50,' 'Dragon Tattoo' and 'Young Adult'

'War Horse' gets snubbed again

Well, yesterday's WGA predictions weren't far off at all. Sub in "Young Adult" for "Contagion" and "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" for "The Ides of March" and there you have it.

We've been very clear that ineligibilities were always going to limit the scope of these nominations. So don't expect this to be the Oscar line-up. The Academy could spring for a foreign entry, like "A Separation," or an animated one, like "Rango." Neither was eligible here. Meanwhile, others that weren't eligible here but that could get a decent amount of votes from the Academy's writers branch include "Martha Marcy May Marlene," "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy," "Drive," "Margin Call" and "Beginners."

And, just like "The King's Speech" last year, expect "The Artist" (which wasn't eligible here) to slide right on in to the Best Original Screenplay field. It's not hurt at all by missing here. "War Horse," on the other hand (which I expected to miss with WGA on nothing more than a hunch) could be in an iffy spot. Check out the full list of narrative and documentary nominees below.

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<p>Entertainment Weekly declares George Clooney and Viola Davis &quot;frontrunners&quot; in this week's Oscar-focused issue.&nbsp;</p>

Entertainment Weekly declares George Clooney and Viola Davis "frontrunners" in this week's Oscar-focused issue. 

Credit: Entertainment Weekly

Round-up: Davis and Clooney are EW's Oscar cover stars

Also: Farewell to Hoberman, and Hollywood's fear of gay sex

I'm always interested to see who lands on the cover of Entertainment Weekly's Oscar-themed issue. While their picks are hardly influential, they can be a good indication of where popular opinion lies -- something that becomes less clear when you cover this beat too thoroughly. Last year, they anticipated one winner by placing Natalie Portman and James Franco front and center; this year, they seem to feel they have two, declaring Viola Davis and George Clooney "frontrunners." (I say they've still got one out of two there.) It's a nice pairing, not only because the two actors are firm friends, but because Davis is the kind of minority character actress who deserves more magazines covers of her own; as she pointedly reminds EW, she stands to become only the second black actress to score a second Oscar nomination. [Entertainment Weekly]

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<p>Mr. Bates (Brendan Coyle)&nbsp;and his Anna (Joanne Froggatt)&nbsp;in season 2 of &quot;Downton Abbey.&quot;</p>
<p>&nbsp;</p>

Mr. Bates (Brendan Coyle) and his Anna (Joanne Froggatt) in season 2 of "Downton Abbey."

 

Credit: ITV

Review: 'Downton Abbey' returns to PBS for season 2

Class barriers start to come down, but the storytelling gets soapier
It happens all the time: someone will ask me to suggest a new show to watch, and I'll name a title and start describing it, and about 10 seconds in, the other person's face will curl up and they'll say, "Oh, I'm sure it's great, but I don't want to watch a show about high school football," or "I don't want to watch a show about a guy who cooks crystal meth," or "I don't want to watch a show with spaceships and robots and clones." And I'll shake my head and lament that they won't be able to see what I saw in "Friday Night Lights," "Breaking Bad" and "Battlestar Galactica."
 
But even I'm not immune to that line of thinking, as I discovered last year when PBS' "Masterpiece Classic" debuted "Downton Abbey," a drama about the masters and servants at a large English country estate in the years leading up to World War I. The social mores and problems of the landed gentry have never held any interest for me, and when faced with a crush of other material to watch with more appealing subject matter, I passed on "Downton" and moved on. Even rapturous reviews from most of my fellow critics wasn't enough to sway me, and I imagine they would have looked at me the same disappointment I feel at the people who didn't want to get to know Coach and Mrs. Coach.
 
Then on a whim one sleepless night a few months after the series debuted in America, I put on the first episode just to see what I was missing. And I kept watching all through the night and into the next day, eventually coming to three conclusions:
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<p>Max (Adam Pally)&nbsp;wears an embarrassing outfit on &quot;Happy Endings.&quot;</p>

Max (Adam Pally) wears an embarrassing outfit on "Happy Endings."

Credit: ABC

Wednesday night TV open thread, pre-press tour edition

What did everybody think of Wednesday's sitcoms?

Last night was mostly devoted to packing for press tour, and the only TV show I even half-saw was "Happy Endings," where Max's outfit for the bet gave me a prolonged, loud laugh.

I'll have reviews of some upcoming shows posting throughout the day today, but if anybody wants to discuss last night's "Happy Endings," "Modern Family," "Suburgatory" or "The Middle," here is the place. Just do me a favor and mention the name of the show you're going to talk about before you start talking about it, for the benefit of people who might have seen some but not all just yet.

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<p>This, of course, is the iconic cover of his recent smash hit CD release of traditional folk songs, 'Feelin' Kinda Rudd'</p>

This, of course, is the iconic cover of his recent smash hit CD release of traditional folk songs, 'Feelin' Kinda Rudd'

Credit: AP Photo/Chris Pizzello

Paul Rudd and Kristen Wiig star for Errol Morris in true-life cryogenic comedy

Some strong players join forces to tell an intriguing story from the '60s

There are days when there is just a torrent of news you're interested in, and other days where there's nothing at all.  It's almost funny when one news story has about a dozen names you're interested in, all working together, a collision of many different interests all at once.

We talked yesterday about the needless panic about the prospect of a sequel to "Bridesmaids" happening without Kristen Wiig, and one thing that renders that question moot at this point is her schedule.  She's busy nine months of the year with "Saturday Night Live," and then she's got, evidently, 40 movies she's making in those other three months.  Those better be some well-scheduled months, but I think it could be worth it.

After all, who wouldn't want to be part of the second narrative feature film from acclaimed legendary documentary filmmaker Errol Morris?  True, his first shot at making a fiction film was the adaptation of Tony Hillerman's "The Dark Wind," a 1991 film that barely got any distribution after a troubled post-production process.  Even so, this is one of those guys whose voice is so strong and who has so much to say and who has been so consistently interesting since the amazing "Gates Of Heaven" in 1978, and if anyone deserves the benefit of the doubt as a storyteller, it's him.

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