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Best bets: America storms 'Downton Abbey'

It's time, at last, to return to that towering English manor house known as "Downton Abbey." This season, America meets England, as Shirley MacLaine muscles her way into the mansion, playing Cora's mother. Also this week: The chilling and engrossing "Zero Dark Thirty" opens, and the fascinating "Looper" hits home video.


MONDAY: 'Looper' on home video
"Looper" put a chilling twist on time travel. In the future, it exists, but is only used by mobsters looking to dump enemies into the past and have them shot by "loopers." Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a looper who's pretty good at his job, until the inevitable day when the mob sends his own future self (in the form of Bruce Willis) back for the fatal shot. It's a twisty, tricky film that's fun to watch. (On DVD and Blu-ray Dec. 31.)

FRIDAY: 'Zero Dark Thirty'
If you're in New York or Los Angeles, "Zero Dark Thirty" may already be playing, but the rest of us get a chance to see this early favorite for best picture this week. It's not for everyone. As you may have heard, the film opens with raw phone conversations from 9/11, and moves on quickly to detainees being tortured at CIA black sites. If you get through that, Kathryn Bigelow's film rewards with perhaps the best final hour put on film this year, as Navy SEALs pour into the Abbottabad, Pakistan, compound looking for Osama bin Laden. Jessica Chastain shines as a CIA agent who's determined to find the terrorist mastermind, and Jason Clarke, who plays a fellow agent, has come a long way from "Brotherhood." (Opens Jan. 4 in many cities.)

SUNDAY: 'Downton Abbey'
Finally! The Brits have been watching season three ("series 3" to them) for months now, but we Yanks can finally get caught up. (Hope you've avoided the Internet spoilers!) It's certainly not a spoiler to say that Shirley MacLaine is sweeping in as the mother of Cora, Countess of Grantham, and is sure to have more than one run-in with the imposing Dowager Countess. And Lady Mary and Matthew are preparing for their wedding. Here's to the bride -- and the grandmother-in-law-to-be.

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