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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.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…


IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.


IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).


IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.


IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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GIFs via Giphy

Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.


IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.



IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on and the IFC app.

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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….


IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.


IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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