2007: Five Shamefully Overlooked Performances

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By Aaron Hillis

IFC News

[Photo: Carice van Houten in “Black Book,” Sony Pictures Classics, 2007]

If we don’t award Oscars to stand-up comedians for their celebrity impersonations, why is Cate Blanchett’s fun but one-dimensional, gender-bending Dylan gag considered by some to be a lock? What is it about a thick Boston accent and coked-up trashiness that have critics’ circles going gaga for “Gone Baby Gone” costar Amy Ryan? And whether he’s a neurotic brother (“The Savages”) or the desperate kind (“Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead”), hasn’t Philip Seymour Hoffman been praised enough, and for juicier roles? Awards politics be damned, here are some outstanding performances that deserve a second look.

Carice van Houten (“Black Book”), Best Actress

As the keystone of Paul Verhoeven’s sensationalist Dutch Resistance epic, the Dutch beauty won a Rembrandt and was nominated for a European Film Award, yet on American soil, her war-weary poker face and plucky physicality have been quickly dismissed by those who cheekily reduced the film to “Schindler’s Showgirls.” Baring her body and soul to the head of the Gestapo, van Houten is “a regular Mata Hari, Greta Garbo in the flesh,” as she dives into icy waters while bullets whizz by, gets groped by the drunken naked slob who ordered said shooting, bleaches her pubes to hide her Jewish identity and dramatically eats a chocolate bar to counteract a fatal poisoning before leaping off a balcony while drugged — all in the name of survival. Yet it’s not about selling pity. We may cringe when a cauldron of shit is poured on her head (which reportedly caused the poor actress to vomit between takes), but she finds empowerment not only by outsmarting the enemy but in seizing hedonistic pleasure for herself in an existence of constant strife. Now that’s liberation!

Thomas Turgoose (“This is England”), Best Actor

Another anchoring lead getting more kudos overseas is Britain’s now-teenaged Turgoose, whose turn as a fatherless 12-year-old in Shane Meadows’ semi-autobiographical drama earned him the British Independent Film Award for Best Newcomer. Though “Tommo” lacks prior acting experience, he’s eerily instinctual and drips charisma as Shaun, a boy who is folded into a surrogate family of ska-loving skinheads during the Thatcher years. Far from your garden variety precocious kid star who can overenunciate grown-up dialogue on cue, Turgoose expresses his developmental curiosity through his eyes as if he weren’t performing at all — he’s sensitive yet skeptically hardened, and in ways far more so than others his age. When Turgoose’s young Shaun is eased into shaving his head onscreen, he blurts “Just freakin’ do it” and instantly, we long for Doc Martens and initiation, too. As he makes out with a girl much older than him, it’s only creepy for a beat before we stop second-guessing his maturity. After falling out with the non-racist skins and falling into a hornet’s nest of National Front hatemongers, his self-actualization about growing up too quickly is almost palpable. When was the last time a child actor could make you feel your own innocence lost?

Kate Winslet (“Romance & Cigarettes”), Best Supporting Actress

Fine, fine, Mrs. Mendes is no slouch in her field with five Oscar noms and counting, but that’s no reason to disavow each time she’s worthy of some gold shine on her mantle. Instead of the usual playing down of her loveliness as the smart alterna-frump, Winslet’s redheaded Scottish lass in Queens is the living embodiment of carnal fantasy in John Turturro’s ambitious, flamboyantly depressing musical. “God, you are one crude broad,” observes Winslet’s lover, a married fireman played by James Gandolfini, upon hearing her bedroom request to take it up her, uh… “stovepipe.” Unlike her hilariously callous meta-cameo on HBO’s “Extras,” there’s more depth here than just potty-mouthed shock. Maybe her knockdown catfight with Susan Sarandon in a lingerie store will only seem silly in the context of Christopher Walken’s hammy emergence from a dressing room, but other musical numbers offer telling moments: Winslet’s poorly supported breasts undulating not-so-erotically while she croons along with Connie Francis in a hotel bed and hallway convey a symbolic vulnerability, and a break-up sequence proves unexpectedly bruising given that the actress sings of her heartbreak from underwater.

Paul Dano (“There Will Be Blood”), Best Supporting Actor

Paul Thomas Anderson’s honest-to-god masterpiece (this writer’s favorite of the year) has so much meat on its bones — Daniel Day-Lewis’ byzantine antihero-cum-villain, Robert Elswit’s cinematography, Jack Fisk’s production design, Jonny Greenwood’s mesmerizing score, et al.) — that Paul Dano’s single voice in the collaboration is sure to be overshadowed. Paradoxically unassuming and shifty when he first tells Day-Lewis’ self-made oil baron about the bubblin’ crude below his family’s ranch, Dano soon resurfaces as his own twin brother (or are they the same person? Debates continue!), who is a young fanatical prophet whose fire-and-brimstone sermonizing belies his boyish frame. Whether he is the object of a megalomaniac’s humiliation or subtly relishing in the role of humiliator himself, Dano can fiercely hold his own family hostage at dinner time, then stand his onscreen ground against a language-chewing monster of depthless intensity — not Day-Lewis’s character Plainview, but the method actor himself, who is let off his leash by Anderson in a final scene that might leave a less secure thesp permanently scarred. With just this role, Dano shakes the quirky “Little Miss Sunshine” tweeness off his persona, guaranteeing we won’t ever lump him together with lightweight indie twerps like Zach Braff.

Dominique Abel, Fiona Gordon, Bruno Romy (“L’Iceberg”), Best Ensemble

Make that six overlooked performances both in front of and behind the camera, since there’s no way to separate this Belgian filmmaking and co-starring trio who bring their respective circus backgrounds to this sweet, vibrant and inventive gem of a comedy. Gordon plays a suburban fast food manager who, after accidentally locking herself in the walk-in fridge overnight, leaves her unattentive husband (Abel) and kids behind in a life-resetting quest to find a real iceberg. Although Romy plays a smaller and insignificant role in the film, his co-directors Abel and Gordon anchor the unmistakably Tati-esque “L’Iceberg” with their highly theatrical and often wordless performances. Awkwardly accentuating her Olive Oyl stature as gracefully as the best Silent Era comedians, Gordon dances, runs, crawls, pulls, stretches, pivots, stumbles and otherwise contorts with a deadpan precision incomparable to anyone off the top of my head. That isn’t to discredit Abel, who butters his bread or yawns for what seems like half an eternity, or dresses himself while half-asleep so that his penis flops out of his shirt sleeve; here’s a skilled technician in the art of comic repetition and long drawn-out gags.

[Additional photos: “Black Book,” Sony Pictures Classics; “This Is England,” IFC First Take; “Romance & Cigarettes,” Boroturro; “There Will Be Blood,” Paramount Vantage; “L’Iceberg,” First Run Features]


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.