Welcome to the Wild Card Oscars

Welcome to the Wild Card Oscars (photo)

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Every year, critics come up with their lists of the top ten films of the past 12 months. Ideally an eclectic mix of arthouse fare, Hollywood auteurs and the occasional wild card (say, last year’s appearance of Ben Stiller’s “Tropic Thunder”), these decalogues of cinephilia tend to be capricious, political and painstakingly strategized for maximum effect, not to mention their impact on the final results of consensus-building critics’ polls.

Now think of that power in the hands of the more than 6,000 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences as they choose this year’s ten Best Picture nominees, and watch the chaos unfold. The expansion from five to ten nominees isn’t the only major game-changer — there’s also the switch back to instant runoff voting, in which the films must be ranked in order of preference, to keep in mind. Imagine the wide expanse of options this year’s voters will encounter for the first time: Is “Up” ranked #2 or #3? “A Serious Man” a #6 or #7? And what crazy movie might be placed at #10? “Antichrist”? “The Hangover”?

It’s those 7s, 8s, 9s and 10s that could turn out to have a significant effect on the livelihood of low-budget films made completely outside of the Hollywood system, which in previous years have been acknowledged, somewhat condescendingly, as mere best original screenplay nominees, but ignored within the bigger categories (see “Frozen River,” “Happy Go Lucky”). This year, perhaps for the first time, a number of uber-indies have the chance to enter the vaunted ranks of Hollywood’s biggest promotional platform: Best Picture.

“Statistically, the race has changed,” says Iain Pardoe, an associate professor of statistics at the University of Oregon, who devised a statistical algorithm for predicting Oscar winners. “And with a lower threshold for winning, dark horses could win more often in the future.” (For a deeper look at the mathematical complexities of the new voting system, check out this post from a film blogger based in Ireland, one of the few countries which employs a similar preferential voting system. Mathematicians say no voting system is perfect, but the one that the Academy now employs — called Single Transferable Voting — is contentious because the diversity of first-place votes or even no votes can actually hurt a contender, while getting fewer votes can sometimes help.)

Still, it’s not like any movie can win on Oscar night. As Pardoe adds, “Since there are typically one or two frontrunners each year, this aspect is unlikely to change much, and so the best picture winner will continue to be fairly predictable.”

That won’t keep several unlikely contenders from trying to crack the top ten. Veteran Oscar campaigner Cynthia Swartz, for example, is working on award season pushes for a diverse group of films, including Kathryn Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker,” Jean-Marc Vallée’s period film “The Young Victoria,” Nora Ephron’s “Julie & Julia,” Oren Moverman’s post-war drama “The Messenger” and two documentaries, “Valentino: The Last Emperor” and “Anvil! The True Story of Anvil.” “Obviously, you only have to reach fewer people with ten spots,” Swartz says. “In the past, you had to reach a fifth of the Academy; now you only have to reach a tenth.”

10122009_Nine.jpgIf the new rule change presumably happened to help mainstream studio films make the Best Picture cut — the oft-cited example being last year’s slight of “The Dark Knight,” while early talk this year is circling “District 9” and “Avatar” as big-budget possibilities — the shift may inevitably favor indies, because studios are making fewer and fewer of the sorts of prestige movies that are typically Oscar fodder, according to Swartz.

“Who’s vying for these [10] spots? Nobody is,” she says. “Look what’s going on in the film business. The studios aren’t in this business and the specialty players don’t really exist, so there’s so few films released in that middle range, specialty sector. I’m curious to see what happens next year,” she adds, “when there might not be any more ‘Nine’s.”


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.