DID YOU READ

The rowdiest awards show of all.

The rowdiest awards show of all. (photo)

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We’re deep in awards season, bunkered down for the next three months in a landslide of commendations and speeches soon to be lost to history. So let’s take a second to salute the British Independent Film Awards, which took place Sunday night, and which celebrate movies costing less than £10 million — the UK equivalent, that is, of the Gotham and Spirit Awards. And, like them, kind of boozy.

Recipients included Andrea Arnold, who was named Best Director for “Fish Tank,” “Moon” (which I like to refer to as “Michael Clayton In Space”) which got Best Picture, and Carey Milligan, who took another lay-up Best Actress award for “An Education.” But who cares who won? What sets the BIFAs is a pleasing air of disheveled eccentricity that makes the allegedly carefree Golden Globes look like a trial at The Hague.

It’s not just that, for example, Arnold decided early on from table placement she hadn’t won and proceeded to get ragingly drunk, then giving a speech where she said “That’s a really big thing. Well, it’s a little glass thing, but it’s a big thing.”

12082009_bifa.jpgNo, it’s built into the awards themselves, which have all kinds of lovely names. There are two honorary awards I particularly like. The award “for outstanding contribution to British film” (presented to Michael Caine this year), named for the late Richard Harris, known as an actor but better known (perhaps even primarily so) as one of the 20th century’s outstanding drinkers, and who founded Alcoholics Unanimous: “If you don’t feel like a drink, you ring another member and he comes over to persuade you.”

The award for Best Debut Director is named for Douglas Hickox — it was his annual bequest that helped kick-start the ceremony in the first place. As a director, he’s best known for making do with the shoddy scripts he was given — the campy but fun Vincent Price vehicle “Theater of Blood,” the John Wayne-vs.-England spectacle “Brannigan,” three episodes of “Dirty Dozen: The Series.” A career derailed by circumstances beyond his control, surely, but it’s nice to see that, in this way, he lives on.

[Photo: “Fish Tank,” IFC Films, 2009; the 2008 BIFAs, courtesy of bifa.org.uk]

Soap tv show

As the Spoof Turns

15 Hilarious Soap Opera Parodies

Catch the classic sitcom Soap Saturday mornings on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures Television

The soap opera is the indestructible core of television fandom. We celebrate modern series like The Wire and Breaking Bad with their ongoing storylines, but soap operas have been tangling more plot threads than a quilt for decades. Which is why pop culture enjoys parodying them so much.

Check out some of the funniest soap opera parodies below, and be sure to catch Soap Saturday mornings on IFC.

1. Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman

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Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman was a cult hit soap parody from the mind of Norman Lear that poked daily fun at the genre with epic twists and WTF moments. The first season culminated in a perfect satire of ratings stunts, with Mary being both confined to a psychiatric facility and chosen to be part of a Nielsen ratings family.


2. IKEA Heights

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IKEA Heights proves that the soap opera is alive and well, even if it has to be filmed undercover at a ready-to-assemble furniture store totally unaware of what’s happening. This unique webseries brought the classic formula to a new medium. Even IKEA saw the funny side — but has asked that future filmmakers apply through proper channels.


3. Fresno

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When you’re parodying ’80s nighttime soaps like Dallas and Dynasty , everything about your show has to equally sumptuous. The 1986 CBS miniseries Fresno delivered with a high-powered cast (Carol Burnett, Teri Garr and more in haute couture clothes!) locked in the struggle for the survival of a raisin cartel.


4. Soap

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Soap was the nighttime response to daytime soap operas: a primetime skewering of everything both silly and satisfying about the source material. Plots including demonic possession and alien abduction made it a cult favorite, and necessitated the first televised “viewer discretion” disclaimer. It also broke ground for featuring one of the first gay characters on television in the form of Billy Crystal’s Jodie Dallas. Revisit (or discover for the first time) this classic sitcom every Saturday morning on IFC.


5. Too Many Cooks

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Possibly the most perfect viral video ever made, Too Many Cooks distilled almost every style of television in a single intro sequence. The soap opera elements are maybe the most hilarious, with more characters and sudden shocking twists in an intro than most TV scribes manage in an entire season.


6. Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace

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Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace was more mockery than any one medium could handle. The endless complications of Darkplace Hospital are presented as an ongoing horror soap opera with behind-the-scenes anecdotes from writer, director, star, and self-described “dreamweaver visionary” Garth Marenghi and astoundingly incompetent actor/producer Dean Learner.


7. “Attitudes and Feelings, Both Desirable and Sometimes Secretive,” MadTV

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Soap opera connoisseurs know that the most melodramatic plots are found in Korea. MADtv‘s parody Tae Do  (translation: Attitudes and Feelings, Both Desirable and Sometimes Secretive) features the struggles of mild-mannered characters with far more feelings than their souls, or subtitles, could ever cope with.


8. Twin Peaks

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Twin Peaks, the twisted parody of small town soaps like Peyton Place whose own creator repeatedly insists is not a parody, has endured through pop culture since it changed television forever when it debuted in 1990. The show even had it’s own soap within in a soap called…


9. “Invitation to Love,” Twin Peaks

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Twin Peaks didn’t just parody soap operas — it parodied itself parodying soap operas with the in-universe show Invitation to Love. That’s more layers of deceit and drama than most televised love triangles.


10. “As The Stomach Turns,” The Carol Burnett Show

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The Carol Burnett Show poked fun at soaps with this enduring take on As The World Turns. In a case of life imitating art, one story involving demonic possession would go on to happen for “real” on Days of Our Lives.


11. Days of our Lives (Friends Edition)

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Still airing today, Days of Our Lives is one of the most famous soap operas of all time. They’re also excellent sports, as they allowed Friends star Joey Tribbiani to star as Dr Drake Ramoray, the only doctor to date his own stalker (while pretending to be his own evil twin). And then return after a brain-transplant.

And let’s not forget the greatest soap opera parody line ever written: “Come on Joey, you’re going up against a guy who survived his own cremation!”


12. Acorn Antiques

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First appearing on the BBC sketch comedy series Victoria Wood As Seen on TV, Acorn Antiques combines almost every low-budget soap opera trope into one amazing whole. The staff of a small town antique store suffer a disproportional number of amnesiac love-triangles, while entire storylines suddenly appear and disappear without warning or resolution. Acorn Antiques was so popular, it went on to become a hit West End musical.


13. “Point Place,” That 70s Show

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In a memorable That ’70s Show episode, an unemployed Red is reduced to watching soaps all day. He becomes obsessed despite the usual Red common-sense objections (like complaining that it’s impossible to fall in love with someone in a coma). His dreams render his own life as Point Place, a melodramatic nightmare where Kitty leaves him because he’s unemployed. (Click here to see all airings of That ’70s Show on IFC.)


14. The Spoils of Babylon

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Bursting from the minds of Will Ferrell and creators Andrew Steele and Matt Piedmont, The Spoils of Babylon was a spectacular parody of soap operas and epic mini-series like The Thorn Birds. Taking the parody even further, Ferrell himself played Eric Jonrosh, the author of the book on which the series was based. Jonrosh returned in The Spoils Before Dying, a jazzy murder mystery with its own share of soapy twists and turns.

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15. All My Children Finale, SNL

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SNL‘s final celebration of one of the biggest soaps of all time is interrupted by a relentless series of revelations from stage managers, lighting designers, make-up artists, and more. All of whom seem to have been married to or murdered by (or both) each other.

The 2010 Spirit Award nominees.

The 2010 Spirit Award nominees. (photo)

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Matt Dillon and Taraji P. Henson announced the 2010 Spirit Award nominees this morning.

“The Last Station” (left), Michael Hoffman’s film about the last year in the life of Leo Tolstoy, snagged five nominations, as did everyone’s favorite Oscar frontrunner prediction “Precious,” while homefront drama “The Messenger” got four — but the big surprise has to be low-budget horror phenom “Paranormal Activity”‘s Best First Feature nod.

The Spirit Awards will be airing live on IFC Friday, March 5th at 11pm ET/8pm PT. Check out some photos from last year’s red carpet.

Best Feature
“(500) Days of Summer”
“Amreeka”
“Precious”
“Sin Nombre”
“The Last Station”

Best Director
Ethan and Joel Coen, “A Serious Man”
Lee Daniels, “Precious”
Cary Fukunaga, “Sin Nombre”
James Gray, “Two Lovers”
Michael Hoffman, “The Last Station”

Best First Feature
“A Single Man”
“Crazy Heart”
“Easier With Practice”
“The Messenger”
“Paranormal Activity”

12012009_downloadingnancy.jpgBest Lead Female
Maria Bello, “Downloading Nancy”
Nisreen Faour, “Amreeka”
Helen Mirren, “The Last Station”
Gwyneth Paltrow, “Two Lovers”
Gabourey Sidibe, “Precious”

Best Lead Male
Jeff Bridges, “Crazy Heart”
Colin Firth, “A Single Man”
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, “(500) Days of Summer”
Souleymane Sy Savane, “Goodbye Solo”
Adam Scott, “The Vicious Kind”

Best Supporting Female
Mo’Nique, “Precious”
Dina Korzun, “Cold Souls”
Samantha Morton, “The Messenger”
Natalie Press, “Fifty Dead Men Walking”
Mia Wasikowska, “That Evening Sun”

Best Supporting Male
Jemaine Clement, “Gentlemen Broncos”
Woody Harrelson, “The Messenger”
Christian McKay, “Me and Orson Welles”
Ray McKinnon, “That Evening Sun”
Christopher Plummer, “The Last Station”

12012009_themessenger.jpgBest Screenplay
Alessandro Camon and Oren Moverman, “The Messenger”
Michael Hoffman, “The Last Station”
Lee Toland Krieger, “The Vicious Kind”
Greg Mottola, “Adventureland”
Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, “(500) Days of Summer”

Best First Screenplay
Sophie Barthes, “Cold Souls”
Scott Cooper, “Crazy Heart”
Cherien Dabis, “Amreeka”
Geoffrey Fletcher, “Precious”
Tom Ford, “A Single Man”

Best Foreign Film
“A Prophet,” directed by Jacques Audiard
“An Education,” directed by Lone Scherfig
“Everlasting Moments,” directed by Jan Troell
“Mother,” directed by Bong Joon-ho
“The Maid,” directed by Sebastián Silva

Best Documentary Feature
“Anvil! The Story of Anvil”
“Food, Inc”
“More Than A Game”
“October Country”
“Which Way Home”

12012009_treelessmountain.jpgBest Cinematography
Roger Deakins , “A Serious Man”
Adriano Goldman, “Sin Nombre”
Anne Misawa, “Treeless Mountain”
Andrij Parekh, “Cold Souls”
Peter Zeitlinger, “The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans”

John Cassavetes Award
“Big Fan”
“Humpday”
“The New Year Parade”
“Treeless Mountain”
“Zero Bridge”

Robert Altman Award
“A Serious Man”

Acura Someone to Watch Award
Kyle Patrick Alvarez, “Easier With Practice”
Tariq Tapa, “Zero Bridge”
Asiel Norton, “Redland”

Piaget Producers Award
Karin Chien, “Santa Mesa” and “The Exploding Girl”
Larry Fessenden, “I Sell the Dead” and “House of the Devil”
Dia Sokol, “Beeswax,” “Nights and Weekends”

Truer than Fiction Award
Natalia Almada, “El General”
Bill and Turner Ross, “45365”
Jessica Oreck, “Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo”

[Photos: “The Last Station,” Sony Classics, 2009; “The Messenger,” Oscilloscope, 2009; “Treeless Mountain,” Oscilloscope, 2009; “Downloading Nancy,” Strand Releasing, 2009]

Watch the Gotham Awards. Online!

Watch the Gotham Awards. Online! (photo)

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Didn’t get your invite to the Gotham Awards? Well, neither did we. Fortunately, the self-proclaimed start to awards season will be streaming live online tonight for the first time — you can watch them below, kicking off at 7:30pm ET/4:30pm PT.

Scarfing Chinese food from the carton while leaning over your laptop may not quite channel the experience of being at Cipriani, but at least you’ll be able to wear your comfortable pants. Plus, Alec Baldwin, Ellen Burstyn, the Coen brothers, Willem Dafoe, Natalie Portman, Chris Rock, Ryan Reynolds, Meryl Streep and Kristen Wiig are amongst the glitterati expected to attend and be spottable online.

[Photo: Harvey Weinstein and Mickey Rourke at the 2008 Gotham Awards, courtesy of IFP]

Welcome to the Wild Card Oscars

Welcome to the Wild Card Oscars (photo)

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Swartz is referring, of course, to Rob Marshall’s as yet unseen Oscar-buzzworthy musical, “Nine,” which was financed and produced during a very different economic time — when the brothers Weinstein could raise millions for a big-budget musical based on Fellini’s “8 1/2.” With studios like the Weinstein Company in trouble and their former business, Miramax, recently downsized to near oblivion, the time may be right for a film not just like Lee Daniels’ gritty low-budget drama “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire,” now considered a lock for one of the ten spots, but, for that matter, “Anvil!,” Sacha Gervasi’s heartfelt stranger-than-fiction portrait of two Canadian headbangers mounting a fruitless comeback tour; it’s one of the first DVD screeners to arrive in Academy member’s mailboxes.

“It would be so ‘Anvil!,’ wouldn’t it?” says the film’s producer Rebecca Yeldham. “When the Academy opened the category, we realized that we’re one of the best reviewed films of the year and there’s a love for this film like no other in Hollywood, so why not dare the dream?”

While the documentary made less than a million dollars in theaters, and hence, would likely be the lowest box office performer to ever receive Oscar’s recognition, Yeldham says the movie has enough Hollywood establishment support to make it a contender. “We’ve had some prominent, well-positioned friends in the mix who’ve been spreading the word,” she says. For example, a screening last week to promote the “Anvil!” DVD launch was hosted by Tilda Swinton, Michel Gondry, Catherine Keener and Rainn Wilson, and featured a Q&A moderated by Oscar-winning screenwriter Steve Zaillian (“Schinder’s List”), a friend of Gervasi’s.

With a campaign budget furnished by VH1, which acquired “Anvil!” in March, there will be additional Academy screenings in a few key cities — Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and possibly London – as well as the mass mailing of DVD screeners. But the filmmakers are relying more on word of mouth and “an underdog spirit,” says Yeldham. “When Academy voters get the word that this film can really be a contender, that creates a whole new level of enthusiasm.”

Similarly, David Fenkel, co-founder of Oscilloscope Laboratories, distributor of “The Messenger,” believes that the ten slots will create a larger discussion, encompassing a wider variety of films and thereby leveling the playing field. “So why not get swept up into that,” he says. “With five slots, we had a very slim shot. With ten, because of the support for the actors [Woody Harrelson, Ben Foster and Samantha Morton] and support from the critics, why not?” he says. “Why not ‘The Messenger?’ “

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Sony Pictures Classics co-president and experienced Oscar player Michael Barker feels the same way about numerous films the company will distribute between now and the end of the year. “I don’t think you can count out ‘Coco Before Chanel,’ ‘An Education,’ ‘Broken Embraces,’ ‘The Last Station’ or ‘The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus,'” he says, all of which will be getting some sort of award season push. “Like every year, there are five to six pictures that no one has seen yet, and depending on how they are received, it will tell the tale whether any of these pictures will make it in.”

If Oscar purists complain the ten nomination slots will dilute the value of the Best Picture category, many indie executives aren’t complaining. “I think it’s good for both independents and studios,” says Barker.

Then again, Academy member Fredell Pogodin, an L.A.-based publicist who’s worked on many Oscar campaigns, is a little more cynical about indies’ Best Picture prospects. “Here’s the problem with this category,” she says. “First, you have to have the means to make a mailing to the Academy at large, and then you have to generate enough interest to get Academy members to watch it to vote. But when you have 100 screeners, what are most of them going to pick up first?”

[Additional photos: “Nine,” The Weinstein Company, 2009; “The Messenger,” Oscilloscope Laboratories, 2009]

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The Education of Nick Hornby

The Education of Nick Hornby (photo)

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What was his job, exactly?

He’s a property developer, an art dealer and a semi-burglar [laughs]. In Barber’s original piece it’s clear he knew Peter Rackman, who was one of the big property developers in England at the time, and a crook. Rackman’s behavior towards little old ladies in flats was so disgraceful it led to a change in the law. “Rackmanism” is still an expression that’s used in England. And Peter’s character was one of that little gang of Jewish gangsters that was around at the time.

How did you expand ten pages into a feature film?

The piece gave me three worlds: the world of home, the world of school and the world that Peter’s character introduces Jenny to. So it’s a question of fleshing out scenes and inventing dialogue, and then trying to look at what I thought the story meant. Certainly, Jenny’s complicity in her own downfall was an important part for me. I wanted her and David to get a double act going, where they were hoodwinking her parents — those scenes needed to be invented.

You’re known in your fiction for writing about commitment-shy boy-men, like Rob in “High Fidelity.” Was it harder to write out of a girl’s point of view?

The moment you’re making something up that’s not yourself it’s all an equal challenge. It also helps that we had a woman producer and woman director as a safety net.

How do you account for your great success in fiction?

I think people recognize the characters. I’m partly a comedic writer, though I think I take the people seriously as well — maybe there’s a total mix that people respond to. And my books are not hard to read. My attitude is that I have to work hard [in writing] so you don’t have to. I don’t like books being a struggle for anyone.

So you wouldn’t recommend “Finnegans Wake” as a good read?

It depends on your time of life. If you’ve got three kids and 20 minutes to read before going to sleep, I’d say “Finnegans Wake” is not the book for you.

You’ve been called the male equivalent of chick-lit. Does that bother you?

Over the course of a career you get called a lot of different things, and you start to outlive them. There was something in England called “lad lit” — fiction about guys, I suppose. But I stopped being called that. You just write the books. I really don’t take much notice.

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With one foot in the music world yourself, you must have had a lot of input about the soundtrack of “An Education.”

We avoided rock music altogether. I used Juliette Gréco, some classical music, jazzy bits. One of the things that’s clear in the piece: this is the last time English teens were having a cultural conversation across the Channel instead of across the Atlantic. Everything then was French for those kids. The Nouvelle Vague had started, they were reading Camus, even French Elle at school. The music couldn’t be Elvis Presley, who was recording then, but had no place in this movie.

Why cast an unknown as Jenny?

How many English actresses below age 22 can anyone name? And there’s a degree of innocence about the character. I don’t think you could have chosen a 25-year-old whose face is very well known. It was supreme luck to find a girl who was right on the cusp of turning into a movie star. And Carey is going to have a long and fantastic career.

“An Education” opens in New York and Los Angeles on October 9th before expanding into limited release on October 16th.

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