<p>Sean Astin as Sam, Elijah Wood as&nbsp;Frodo, and Gollum as himself in a scene from the second part of the 'Lord Of The Rings' trilogy, 'The Two Towers,' the subject of tonight's liveblog</p>

Sean Astin as Sam, Elijah Wood as Frodo, and Gollum as himself in a scene from the second part of the 'Lord Of The Rings' trilogy, 'The Two Towers,' the subject of tonight's liveblog

Credit: New Line Home Video

A Return To Middle-Earth, Part II: Liveblogging 'The Two Towers' on Blu-ray

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Gollum arrives, trees talk, and Helm's Deep goes to war in the second 'LOTR' film

Sorry we missed the second night, but a horrifying stomach flu raced through the McWeeny household over the last 36 hours or so, and last night was my turn to transform into some sort of horrifying Slurpee Machine From Hell.  Now that we've conquered that and banished the illness, it's time to dive back in with a second round of liveblogging our Return To Middle-Earth.

Two quick notes.  First, I promise to spell Ian McKellen's name correctly tonight.  And second, I am startled to realize that I remember very little about the way these next two films actually work.  I know I've seen them, I know I've reviewed not only the theatrical but the Extended cuts before, and I know the general shape of things.  But when it comes to remembering the specific beats and scenes, I'm drawing a bit of a blank...

... and I LOVE that.

I love that these return viewings are fresh for me.  As fresh as possible, anyway, considering how many times it feels like I watched everything the first time around.  In this case, they're so massive that it feels like I'm wading into something new all over again.  I'm excited.  And now the disc is in the player and here we go...

We just wrapped up a Film Nerd 2.0 screening of "The Muppet Movie," and the boys are irritated that they have to leave the room now.  I love that they're excited about these movies, and they know the time is coming that they'll see them.  But this time through is all about me enjoying them anew and getting a better sense of them as movies, something that's been a long time coming.

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<p>This image always sums up the first film for me, as destiny claims Frodo Baggins and kicks off a huge adventure.</p>

This image always sums up the first film for me, as destiny claims Frodo Baggins and kicks off a huge adventure.

Credit: New Line Home Video

A Return To Middle-Earth, Part I: Liveblogging the 'Lord Of The Rings' on Blu-ray

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Why are we heading back now, and what will we find when we get there?

So why now?

That's the question that seems most appropriate as we begin the journey.  It's 6:00 PST on December 27, and we just hit play on "Fellowship Of The Ring" for the first time since mid-2004.

After all, "The World Has Changed."  That first line seems very appropriate now.  It's been ten years since this was released, and the landscape of the modern blockbuster seems very different.  It's strange to see a new production diary for "The Hobbit" or to see the first trailer and to see how well Jackson appears to be recapturing the exact vibe of his first trip to Middle-Earth.  I wasnt sure he'd be able to do it, but more importantly, I wasn't sure audiences would still want to see it.  As acclaimed as these three films were, and deservedly so, I still think this is one of the great weird flukes in film history.

Watching the prologue play out again, I'm amazed they were able to start the films this way, kicking off with this crazy infodump, but he makes this history lesson feel positively lyrical.  It helps when you have a voice as hypnotic as Cate Blanchett's telling you this tale of how the Ring was created and changed hands.  I think it's also smart because it sets up that there is magic and the scale of the world and the darkness that is possible in the series, and it lets you know up front what sort of ride you're in for.

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<p>George Clooney, Jason Segel, The Muppets, and 'Hugo' all made 2011 a wonderful year to spend in the dark, and we celebrate their work with this list of the Runners-Up.</p>

George Clooney, Jason Segel, The Muppets, and 'Hugo' all made 2011 a wonderful year to spend in the dark, and we celebrate their work with this list of the Runners-Up.

Credit: Fox Searchlight, Disney, Paramount

The Runners-Up for 2011 include damaged souls and family issues to spare

Twice the Segel, twice the Greer, and twice the Considine? We're just as surprised as you.

I find that the act of making a Top Ten list each year probably takes up way more headspace than it should for me.  I sweat over it.  I wrestle with each spot on that list.  I spend days moving things up and down the list until I feel like there's nothing that I can movie anywhere else.

And the films that just narrowly miss that Top Ten are almost always films I love just as much as the films that made the Top Ten.  It's just that the order shook out in a way that often leaves me tied in knots.  How can I love a film this much and not find a spot for it in that top ten?  It's a good problem to have, and 2011 was a year where I could easily have made three totally different Top Ten lists and each one would have been equally valid and filled with things I adore.  I'll leave it at 20, though.  There's the main Top Ten that we ran the other day, and now this, my list of the runners-up.  And what a strange and diverse group of titles it is.

As with the Top Ten list, if it showed at a public screening this year, it qualifies for my list, and I think this represents a pretty strange and wonderful range of experiences that were possible to have for ticket-buyers this year.

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<p>What are all of these people looking at?&nbsp; Chances are, better movies than they appeared in during 2011.</p>

What are all of these people looking at?  Chances are, better movies than they appeared in during 2011.

Credit: Warner/A View Askew/Disney

Watch: Gay-baiting crazies and floundering franchises all part of the 10 Worst Films Of 2011

Some well-liked voices hit sour notes this year

Just as 2011 delivered some delirious highs, there were also some moments of jaw-dropping wrong-headedness, movies that aimed high and failed completely, and ineptitude on a level that is almost infuriating.  If we're passionate enough to pick the ten films that did everything right, you can bet we're passionate enough to pick the ten that got it all wrong.

I considered titles like "Jack and Jill," but the Happy Madison stuff is such a uniform sort of terrible that I find it hard to work up the energy to truly hate them.  I may think the "Twilight" films are terrible, but "Breaking Dawn" is so well-made that even if I don't like the text, I can respect the wrapping paper they've put it in.

No, to make this list, a film had to really spectacularly fumble it all, and if you throw in some truly nasty subtext, you've got a winning combination.  I dislike every single one of these films in an active and engaged way, and I have no interest in ever sitting through any of them again.  The great part about the end of the year is that you can put awful movies like this in your rearview mirror and move on.

But not without one more kick to the ribs...

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<p>2011 was marked by strong examples of voice from filmmakers, some we expected it from, and some who took us by surprise</p>

2011 was marked by strong examples of voice from filmmakers, some we expected it from, and some who took us by surprise

Credit: Lionsgate/Magnolia/Paramount

Watch: The Ten Best Films Of The Year feature bad seeds, brutal border wars, and battling brothers

An eclectic collection of titles marks 2011 as a striking year of film

For the past few days, I've been dropping hints about which films did make it onto my list of the best 20 films of the year by sending out tweets of the titles that didn't make the list.

Look, this whole thing is absurd anyway, so why not have some fun with it?  Lists aren't definitive in any way, because they can't be.  I can't tell you what movies will mean the most to you in any given year… only which ones meant the most to me.  Lists are really the best way for you to gauge a critic, because it's the most revealing moment in a year.  This is where every critic lays their tastes bare and says, "This is what ultimately mattered to me about this year."  This is the moment where people line up to say, "Wow, I'm glad you included that" and "I'm not sure what that is" and "Are you stupid or drunk or both?"

We do the top ten as a video piece now, and Alex Dorn has put together another knockout look back at my ten favorite films of the year.  Remember, I included anything that played any public screening I attended, whether theatrical or at a festival, so some of what I include this year may not hit screens near you until 2012, and some of what you guys saw theatrically this year may have qualified for last year's list for me.

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<p>Noomi Rapace does her best to outrun a collapsing spaceship in the first trailer for Ridley Scott's return to the SF/horror franchise he created, 'Prometheus'</p>

Noomi Rapace does her best to outrun a collapsing spaceship in the first trailer for Ridley Scott's return to the SF/horror franchise he created, 'Prometheus'

Credit: 20th Century Fox

Watch: First 'Prometheus' trailer gives a strong 'Alien' vibe and reveals little

Look fast or you'll miss Charlize Theron and Michael Fassbender

Forget the countdowns and the vague teases and the bootleg shot-on-a-cell-phone versions.  Thanks to Apple.com, the first trailer for Ridley Scott's "Prometheus" is live and online, and it's a trip.

I guess at this point, all the games that Fox and Scott have been playing about "is this an 'Alien' prequel or not?" seem silly, because it's screamingly apparent from the trailer that this is set in the same general reality.  My guess is they just don't want to use the word "prequel" because of the expectations that sets about things tying together neatly.  This does not appear to be a story all about setting up the specific incident on the Nostromo in the original 1979 film, but rather a story about what led to a world where that incident could have happened at all.

What excites me here is the scale of this and the idea that we're getting the sort of strange and heightened SF that seems to barely exist these days.  It's a chilly trailer, designed to unsettle and tantalize, and it does both quite well.

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<p>Thomas Horn and Tom Hanks make a powerful father-son combo in the emotionally wrenching 'Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close'</p>

Thomas Horn and Tom Hanks make a powerful father-son combo in the emotionally wrenching 'Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close'

Credit: Warner Bros.

Review: 'Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close' mines 9/11 and autism for emotional weight

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Sandra Bullock and Tom Hanks make great parents, but is it a great movie?

I wish I were more resistant to Stephen Daldry's movies.

He's given to the sort of grand gestures that can drive me nuts in some filmmakers who don't earn those moments, who work at the depth of a car commercial, but put to service of some fairly well-groomed material.  And I'm a guy who really liked "Everything Is Illuminated," the first film that was adapted from the work of Jonathan Safran Foer.  I think this guy writes lovely little books that filmmakers can get crazy about, gorgeous little challenges.  Here, he's crafted a narrative that depends completely on finding the right kid.  You've got to believe this kid and his relationship with his parents, and the parents have to work quickly, and you have to be ready to be sucker punched by this one, because it's going to work you, and in more ways than many people will expect.

I think any advertising for this makes it fairly clear that the main hook is "Boy loses his father, WHO HAPPENS TO BE TOM HANKS, in 9/11, and then struggles."  That's clear.  And to be fair, that sort of is the whole movie.  A boy struggles to deal with the loss of his totally awesome father in a very famous tragedy.  "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close."  Here's a U2 song.  I see this movie coming, and it makes me nervous.  It looks to me like it will be shameless.  And if you listen to some other critics, the movie is shameless.  It is that worst case scenario.

But I don't think so.

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<p>Martin Freeman is front and center as young Bilbo Baggins in the first trailer for Peter Jackson's highly anticipated 'The Hobbit' adaptation</p>

Martin Freeman is front and center as young Bilbo Baggins in the first trailer for Peter Jackson's highly anticipated 'The Hobbit' adaptation

Credit: Warner Bros/New Line

Watch: First 'Hobbit' trailer takes us back to the Shire and intros new faces

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Has Peter Jackson recaptured that 'Lord Of The Rings' magic?

It's hard to believe that we're a year away from the release of "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," and even harder to believe we're a full decade out from the release of "Fellowship Of The Rings."

It's bold of Warner Bros. and New Line to throw down a full year ahead of release, but there are very few films that come with as much built-in anticipation as this one.  Sequels are one thing, and most of them arrive with a certain amount of hype, but in this case, you're talking about a follow-up to one of the most beloved film trilogies of all time, and it's not someone making up some flimsy excuse to make a new movie… it's a book that may even be more beloved than the books that were the source material for the trilogy.

I know that "The Hobbit" was my gateway drug to the larger world of high fantasy, well before I read "Lord Of The Rings."  And I still think "The Hobbit" is one of the great simple beautiful books of any genre, a perfect piece of storytelling that has left seismic ripples throughout all of fiction for the last 60 years or so.  Great characters, great set pieces, a great sense of time and place… "The Hobbit" has it all.

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<p>Albert (Jeremy Irvine) is distraught when his father sells his beloved horse Joey to Captain Nicholls (Tom Hiddleston), kicking off an amazing journey in Steven Spielberg's 'War Horse'</p>

Albert (Jeremy Irvine) is distraught when his father sells his beloved horse Joey to Captain Nicholls (Tom Hiddleston), kicking off an amazing journey in Steven Spielberg's 'War Horse'

Credit: Disney/Dreamworks

Review: Spielberg's 'War Horse' offers big emotional beats in a simple story

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Spielberg is the real star here as he expertly plays his audience once again

Steven Spielberg's films are events at this point, even when he tries to go low-key, simply by virtue of who he is and what he's done.

Even if I wanted to, I'm not sure I could ever shut myself off from Spielberg's films.  His voice as a filmmaker is a crucial part of the DNA that made me into the film fan that I am today.  Early viewings of "Jaws," "Duel," "Close Encounters," and "Raiders" hardwired me to his particular emotional vocabulary, and watching his evolution over the course of my life has been fascinating.  Even if you ignore his work as a producer, his contribution to film has been rich and varied, and he's managed to remain dead center in the mainstream for longer than almost any director I can name.

It's been three years since his last film, the decidedly mixed bag of "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull," and six years since his last non-sequel, "Munich."  Now, we've got two very different new Spielberg films within a week of one another.  There's "The Adventures Of Tintin," which I reviewed earlier, and which I think is one of the most unfettered examples of his imagination as a filmmaker, breathless fun and invention.  He's also the director of "War Horse," a sprawling and intentionally old-fashioned adaptation of the novel by Michael Morpurgo, and his sensibilities are on display in a way that should prove pleasing to most viewers while driving his harshest critics up a wall.

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<p>Taking the dog for a walk evidently really sucked in the days of 'Wrath Of The Titans'</p>

Taking the dog for a walk evidently really sucked in the days of 'Wrath Of The Titans'

Credit: Warner/Legendary

Watch: 'Wrath Of The Titans' trailer promises giants and monsters a-plenty

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Sam Worthington's back, but can they deliver a better film this time?

Not long after the release of "Clash Of The Titans," I had occasion to speak to Thomas Tull, the CEO of Legendary Pictures.  He was one of the main reasons that the remake of "Clash" happened in the first place, as he holds the first film as one of his most cherished geek treasures.  He wanted to do something grand and amazing and really dig into the potential of the mythology of that world, and instead…

… well, if you saw "Clash Of The Titans," you know that didn't really work out.  And no one seemed more aware of the film's shortcomings than Tull.  Star Sam Worthington has been blunt about the film's problems as well in interviews, and so as they were gearing up for the sequel, it seemed that everyone had the same goal in mind:  they wanted to set things right.  Tull told me that he felt obligated to make a sequel just so they had another shot at making the film he had in mind the first time around, which seems to me as good a reason to make a sequel as any.

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