The Film Geek’s Guide to Oscar Surprises

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By Matt Singer
IFC News

The new issue of Newsweek has the magazine’s annual roundtable discussion with the year’s most important directors. Typically, this ritual predicts three or four of the nominees, leaving room for one or two surprises.

When the Academy Award nominations were announced this week, Newsweek proved prescient indeed: all five members of their roundtable — George Clooney (“Good Night, and Good Luck”), Paul Haggis (“Crash”), Ang Lee (“Brokeback Mountain”), Bennett Miller (“Capote”), and Steven Spielberg (“Munich”) — earned nominations. All five also directed nominees for Best Picture. Without commenting on the merit of recognizing these particular filmmakers (I’ve seen four of the five films and liked all four, though not enough to include any of them in my top ten list for 2005) this strikes me as a rather ominous indicator of just how predictable (or, if you’re more cynical, purchasable) this year’s nominations were and, to a large extent, how seemingly wrapped up most of the races are (Reese Witherspoon, please continue to walk the line straight to your Oscar).

Still, there were some pleasant surprises, of the sort that fall into the category “Yes, it really is an honor to be nominated, because you sure as hell aren’t winning.” Not surprisingly, most of these were from the independent film world, and to these proud few, an IFC News salute:

Noah Baumbach, “The Squid and the Whale”: There might have been better movies in 2005, but was there a better screenplay than Noah Baumbach’s deeply personal tale of bitter divorce amongst the ranks of Brooklyn bohemia? They — whoever they are — say writers should write what they know, and Baumbach’s familiarity with his subject matter oozes out of every frame of his carefully observed dark comedy. It’s hard to be thoughtful and funny about any subject, let alone about divorce, let alone about your own parents’ divorce, but Baumbach pulls it off time and again in “The Squid and the Whale,” from the scene where Jesse Eisenberg’s Walt passes off Pink Floyd’s “Hey You” as an original talent show composition to the sequence where Jeff Daniels as his depressed dad tags along for one of Walt’s date and insists on seeing “Blue Velvet” instead of “Short Circuit.” His characters are so real they don’t just exist as complete entities; they actually seem to change over the course of the film, as the events of the parental separation gradually affect both the children (whose allegiances are constantly shifting) and the adults (who reveal sides of themselves we can’t anticipate). My parents and my childhood couldn’t be more different than Baumbach’s but, to his credit, no 2005 movie felt more relatable.

Jake Gyllenhaal, “Brokeback Mountain”: In all the hoopla and hullabaloo surrounding his Australian co-star, Jake Gyllenhaal has been quietly, frustratingly lost. I’m not trying to diminish Ledger’s performance, merely to observe that Gyllenhaal has been strangely absent from the collective congratulations that Brokeback has been receiving for the last two months. Face it: Heath’s got it easy. He gets to act cool and tough and aloof: all hallmarks of great male performances in the Brando tradition. But watch Gyllenhaal in the key climactic scene between the two, when he has to deliver the line that’s already become the film’s contribution to the lexicon (“I wish I could quit you!”). It is Gyllenhaal who more powerfully conveys the couple’s sense of loss and, in the shots that contrast their early, happy beginnings and their sad ends, it is Gyllenhaal who more convincingly portrays a middle-aged depressive. Going against Clooney (who won the Golden Globe) and Giamatti (who could win for missing out on Sideways), Gyllenhaal is almost certainly doomed to fail, except in the case of a massive Brokeback sweep. But his nomination is an encouraging reminder that the film succeeded not because of Heath Ledger, but because of the contributions of a superb ensemble.

“It’s Hard Out Here For a Pimp” from “Hustle & Flow”: No rap song has ever come together so quickly, so creatively, and so perfectly as “It’s Hard Out Here For a Pimp” does for DJay (Terrence Howard) in his homemade studio. The way all of the elements — the beat, the hook, the lyrics, the backup singers — flow together (they probably hustle a little too) could only happen in the movies. But you know what? This is the movies! And the song, written by rap group Three 6 Mafia, provided one of the most memorable movie moments (musical or otherwise) in 2005, which is why it deserved its inclusion as a nominee for Best Original Song. I have no idea if Howard or Three 6 Mafia (who you can read a little about here) or some combination of the two will perform the song at the awards, but it always brings a smile to my face when the stodgy Oscars gets livened up by a musical performance completely out of place amongst all those uptight squares in their tuxedos. Maybe they can get Jack Valenti to sing along to “Whoop That Trick” too. I’ve got my fingers crossed.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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GIFs via Giffy

In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.


Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.


Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!



Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.


Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.


If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.