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<p>Philip Seymour Hoffman in &quot;Capote,&quot; winner of the Best Actor Oscar in 2005.</p>

Philip Seymour Hoffman in "Capote," winner of the Best Actor Oscar in 2005.

Credit: Sony Pictures Classics

The Lists: Top 10 Oscar-winning biopic performances

Who do this year's biopic Oscar hopefuls have to live up to?

Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe. Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher. Leonardo DiCaprio as J. Edgar Hoover. All of them heading to our screens in the next few weeks, all of them looking to join the long list of actors to strike Oscar gold for playing real-life figures.

It’s a list that’s grown particularly rapidly in recent years: in the past decade alone, 12 of the 20 winners in the lead acting categories have triumphed for biopics. Meanwhile, you have to go all the way back to the 1997 Oscar race to find a year where all four acting winners played fictional characters. It’s a trend that often prompts complaints from hardened Oscar-watchers like myself: it’s no less difficult to create a character from scratch than it is to embody a previously existing one, but voters don’t all seem to agree.

Still, biopic bait needn’t always be bad news: for every actor who coasts to victory for doing a superficially impressive but soulless impersonation of an iconic figure, there’s at least one other who accepts the challenge to craft a fresh, inspired character from a real-life source, and succeeds. Which is what today’s list is about: I’ve rounded up the 10 Oscar-winning biopic performances that most excitingly avoid the obvious, and most insistently stick in my memory.

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<p>Gil Cates</p>

Gil Cates

Credit: AMPAS

Academy issues statement on passing of longtime Oscar producer Gil Cates

Veteran oversaw 14 Oscar shows between 1990 and 2008

Gil Cates, longtime Academy Awards producer and governor of the organization's Director's branch, passed away at the age of 77.  The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences released the following after the news became public.

"Gil was our colleague, our friend and a former governor of the Academy," said Academy President Tom Sherak. "He was a consummate professional who gave the Academy and the world some of the most memorable moments in Oscar history. His passing is a tremendous loss to the entertainment industry, and our thoughts go out to his family."

Cates produced the show 14 times between 1990 and 2008, more than any other individual producer.  He was also responsible for bringing in some of the show's most popular hosts including Billy Crystal, Whoopi Goldberg, David Letterman, Steve Martin, Chris Rock and Jon Stewart. 

Martin tweeted this morning, "So sorry to hear Gil Cates has died. He helmed two Oscar shows I hosted. He was delightful, wise, canny and unperturbed. A great fellow."

Cates served three consecutive terms as a governor of the Academy's Directors Branch, from 1984 to 1993. He returned to the board for another term beginning in 2002, and held the post of vice president from 2003 to 2005.

Outside of Oscar, Cates directed a number of features including "The Last Married Couple in America" and "Oh God, Book II."

 

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<p>&nbsp;Jason Aldean</p>
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 Jason Aldean

Hitfix Interview: Jason Aldean on Lady Gaga, Adele, boxers and prosthetics

The country superstar celebrates double platinum 'My Kinda Party's' year at the top

This week marks Jason Aldean’s first anniversary. No, not to his wife. On Wednesday, his fourth album “My Kinda Party” celebrates its 52nd week on the charts. In that time, the double-platinum title has never dropped out of the top 20 on the all-genre Billboard 200 chart or below the top 5 on Billboard’s country albums chart. It’s spawned four hits, including the smash “Dirt Road Anthem.”

Those numbers please Aldean, but as he sits backstage at the Universal Amphitheater, a few days before Halloween, he’s way more concerned with the night’s sold-out show, and the next album, which he starts recording this month.

Sitting on a black leather couch, Aldean, who will headline the Stagecoach Festvial this spring, has his creature comforts around him: the iconic photo of Johnny Cash flipping the bird sits atop a piano, surrounded by candles; a Georgia Bulldogs banner waves, and the album cover from Alabama’s “Mountain Music.”

Aldean, who grew more relaxed as the interview wore on, talked about what he thinks about Lady Gaga—both artists will perform at the Grammy nominations concert on CBS Nov. 30, which CMA Award means the most to him, tattoos, and his weirdest interactions with fans: think boxers and prosthetics.

[More after the jump...]

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<p>&quot;Win Win&quot;&nbsp;director Tom McCarthy, left, with Paul Giamatti and Alex Shaffer.</p>

"Win Win" director Tom McCarthy, left, with Paul Giamatti and Alex Shaffer.

Credit: Fox Searchlight

Interview: 'Win Win' director Tom McCarthy

Talking Jersey suburbs, high school wrestling and a great cast with the actor turned indie filmmaker

As I've frequently mentioned, because of my job and because I have young kids, I don't go to the movies very much anymore. But one of the directors whose films I've learned to make an effort to get out of the house to see is Tom McCarthy, the man responsible for "The Station Agent," "The Visitor" and, most recently, "Win Win."

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"Long Island Medium"

 "Long Island Medium"

Credit: TLC

'Long Island Medium' gets picked up for season two

The 'average mom' will get twelve more episode to talk to the dead

As I said before in my review of the show, it's hard to resist "Long Island Medium" -- whether or not you believe Theresa Caputo's psychic readings are the real thing. Apparently viewers agree, as TLC has announced it will be giving the show a second season beginning March 2012 with 12 half-hour episodes. Of course, you didn't need to be psychic to see why TLC might make that decision, as "Medium" brought in an average 1.3 million viewers per episode for its season one premiere episodes. 

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"Cars 2" will obviously qualify for this year's animated feature race, but does it have enough in the tank to secure a nod after a critical thrashing?
"Cars 2" will obviously qualify for this year's animated feature race, but does it have enough in the tank to secure a nod after a critical thrashing?
Credit: Walt Disney Pictures

Oscarweb Round-up: Crunch time for toons

Also: Savannah festivities with Ellen Barkin and Albert Brooks still on the circuit

Today is the deadline for animated feature contenders to submit paperwork for consideration. At 5pm PT today, to be precise. So far I'm seeing enough possibilities on the radar to warrant a full slate of five nominations, should they all qualify, that is. Meanwhile, "The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn" is set to close AFI Fest, "Puss in Boots" has just hit theaters, "Happy Feet 2" is on the way and "Arthur Christmas" is screening for press. so animation is very much at the forefront of discussion these days. We'll see how it all shakes down. [Oscars.org]

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"The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills"

 "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills"

Credit: Bravi

Recap: 'The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills' - 'Otherwise Engaged'

Pandora's engagement party gets wild and Kim reveals a big secret

I guess we're supposed to get excited about the big engagement party Mohammed is throwing for Pandora, Lisa's daughter, but really, I couldn't care less. I'm sure Pandora is a lovely girl, but she and her fiance Jason seem about as exciting as unbuttered toast or small California avocados, lacking any of Lisa's wry humor or Ken's veddy British eccentricity. They don't even have a small dog that they dress in ridiculous little outfits, so really, I just can't be bothered. I'd much rather see what our crazy ass housewives are up to, which is usually no good. We can only hope for a catfight breaking out next to the camels and bellydancers at Mohammed's, I suppose.

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"Dancing with the Stars"

 "Dancing with the Stars"

Credit: ABC

Recap: It's Halloween hijinks on 'Dancing with the Stars'

A leader takes a misstep, a judge gets bleeped, and a star grapples with injury

It’s a Halloween version of “Dancing with the Stars,” which is different from a regular version of “Dancing with the Stars” because this show has pumpkins and green lighting. Oh, and zombie back-up singers. Really, an added Halloween slant to "DWTS" is barely noticeable, as everyone dresses up in costume every week. But this does give Tom Bergeron ample opportunity to pun his way through his opening. This seems to give him great joy, so far be it from me to begrudge him. 

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<p>Stephen Lang and Jason O'Mara of &quot;Terra Nova&quot;</p>
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Stephen Lang and Jason O'Mara of "Terra Nova"

Credit: FOX

Recap: 'Terra Nova' - 'Bylaw'

An episode with all of the old flaws, but a few new wrinkles that offer hope

Let’s state this up front: telling a long-form narrative is incredibly, incredibly hard. When it’s done well, it represents a monumental achievement. So saying “Terra Nova” is pretty terrible at it isn’t quite the slam it might seem. It just means the show is just as bad as the majority of other television shows currently on right now. By now, it’s abundantly clear that the show barely thought past the pilot in terms of creating a far-reaching story that would sustain a single season, never mind a multitude of them. But that need not be a deal breaker for the show, so long as it recognizes its own limitations. But as long as it fails to do so, this will be an expensive misfire for FOX.

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<p>Sean Durkin and actress Elizabeth Olsen at the London premiere of &quot;Martha Marcy May Marlene.&quot;</p>

Sean Durkin and actress Elizabeth Olsen at the London premiere of "Martha Marcy May Marlene."

Credit: AP Photo/Joel Ryan

Interview: Sean Durkin on confronting his fears in 'Martha Marcy May Marlene'

Debut writer-director reveals the thinking behind his alternative horror movie

Sean Durkin is okay with the fact that his quiet, delicate, elegantly assembled debut feature freaks the living shit out of any number of viewers who encounter it. That’s the way the mild-mannered, genially bearded young writer-director wants it.

“I’ve read some critics describe it as a horror film, and I’m happy with that,” he says of “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” the cool, slippery psychological drama that won him a Best Director award at Sundance in January, and has been preying on the minds of US arthouse cinemagoers for the past week. “I love horror films, but I hate when they get bloody. I love the build-up, I love the fear. I got really addicted to fear when I was a child. The way I approach filmmaking, it’s a way to confront my fears. To create them is to confront them.”

“Martha Marcy May Marlene,” a time-shifting study of the attempted self-rehabilitation of Martha (first-time actress Elizabeth Olsen), a pretty, suggestible young woman recently escaped from a dangerous Catskills cult, certainly revels in build-up, teasingly withholding key details of the character’s circumstances across its broken-mirror narrative – leaving some unaddressed altogether. If the filmmaker is working through personal anxieties in this story, it’s certainly not evident in the crisp control with which he braids this material.

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<p>Katie Holmes and Josh Radnor in &quot;How I&nbsp;Met Your Mother.&quot;</p>

Katie Holmes and Josh Radnor in "How I Met Your Mother."

Credit: CBS

'How I Met Your Mother' - 'The Slutty Pumpkin Returns': Oh, Canada

Katie Holmes underwhelms in the title role, but the subplots make up for her

A review of tonight's "How I Met Your Mother" coming up just as soon as I'm as serious as a poutine shortage...

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<p>Miranda Lambert, &quot;Four the Record&quot;</p>

Miranda Lambert, "Four the Record"

Album Review: Miranda Lambert sets it straight on 'Four the Record'

Has marriage to Blake Shelton softened the country superstar?

Miranda Lambert has gone from “Nashville Star” contestant — and not even a winner at that — to country queen in the span of six short years. 

With “Four the Record,” her fourth album— get it? — she shows why. The reigning CMA female vocalist has always adored her country sisters who came before — Tammy Wynette, Loretta Lynn and Emmylou Harris — but she draws just as much inspiration and grit from Merle Haggard and Waylon Jennings. This Texan loves her red meat, her guns, her liquor, her country, and her man, when he treats her right.

Jennings once joked that he “couldn’t go pop with a mouthful of firecrackers,” and the same holds true of Lambert. Her success has only made her stronger in her country convictions. Though there are touches of blues and rock on the Nov. 1 release,  country blazes through every song here, which are drenched in mandolins, fiddles, pedal steel and a well-placed mournful organ every now and then.

Smartly, Lambert doesn’t try to replicate her modern classic, the tearjerker “The House That Built Me,” from 2009’s “Revolution.” If nothing on “Four” reaches the heights of “House,” the project scores as a  consistently more even affair than her past three sets, full of  heartache, betrayal, and, above all, attitude.  Vocally, the 27-year old Lambert’s twang can sound boastful, regretful and torn all in the same song.

[More after the jump...]

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