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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.”


Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.


Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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GIFs via Giphy

Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:


The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.


They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!


Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.


Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

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

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.