DID YOU READ

Dreaming of an Armond White Christmas.

Dreaming of an Armond White Christmas. (photo)

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On the merriest, maddest day of the year, families gather around the TV-hearth to trudge through the same festive films over and over, provoking grumbling, deja vu and boredom. It’s also around this time that notorious film critic Armond White gifts us with his annual Better Than list, pitting his real top ten against movies he thinks are similar but vastly inferior.

In the spirit of the season, then, and in honor of Armond, here’s my own Christmas better-than list: slightly less curmudgeonly, but just as argumentative — and more fun for you, snowbound viewer.

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In “A Christmas Story,” little Ralphie wants his BB gun and won’t shut up about it, no matter how many times he’s told “you’ll shoot your eye out” — a line made infinitely more familiar by TNT’s perverse annual tradition of running the Bob Clark movie on a 24-hour loop. But I think “A Christmas Story” is a little too frantic and a lot obnoxious, so I’d recommend subbing it out for “Gremlins,” which ups the ante: your Christmas present will try to kill you, destroy the town and trash the department store seasonal display for good measure. The finale — Gremlin vs. boy amidst red-and-green lights — couldn’t be clearer about the dangers of holiday gifts.

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Tim Burton always joked that the ill-timed 1996 holiday release of “Mars Attacks!” made sense, since it was about green invaders from a red planet. And seeing this on Christmas day is one of my happiest memories of anti-seasonal spirit. It’s certainly a better movie about invaders destroying the security of our homes and families than the saccharine and sadistic “Home Alone,” and fuzzier too: instead of feet sliding down nails and tarring and feathering, we get festively green head explosions. Plus, the music’s better.

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You know what happens when there’s no snow for Christmas? Everyone ends up in danger, that’s what. So we learn from the interminable 1954 “White Christmas,” two hours of sludge that manage to tame even the irrepressible Danny Kaye. And it goes on and on for almost forever, or at least until we finally get that damn white Christmas. I much prefer the evil-genius coup the Weinsteins pulled in 2005 by releasing “Wolf Creek” on Christmas Day — a gleefully straightforward, evil-minded slasher that especially benefited from inviting audiences out from the cold to warm Australian beaches and wastelands, then killing everyone on screen. Guess we better stick with the chill.

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Here you have two movies about the Christmas spirit being threatened by foreigners. In one case, it’s a boring (you’re going to have to face up to it someday!) film about saccharine creatures from Halloween Town kidnapping Sandy Claws and singing songs to kill time while the flimsy plot unfolds. In the other, David Bowie gets buried up to his head in sand and receives holiday greetings in phonetically rendered English by a smiling Japanese guard. When you think about it that way, there’s really no contest.

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Truth be told, I quite like “It’s A Wonderful Life,” but I’ve only seen it once, and I was already a teenager. For those of you who have seen it umpteen times and are tired of it, but who still want that ’40s small-town feel, it’s time to move on to “The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek.” Nothing beautiful or wonderful or sacred about community and family here: it’s all sexual secrecy and frantic hypocrisy and drunkenness, plus sextuplets as a decidedly secular Christmas miracle.

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I guess “You’ve Got Mail” isn’t strictly a holiday standard, but it’s still a seasonally timed romcom (one of two involving Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks pretending to be happy under Nora Ephron’s strict thumb; she hears his voice on the radio Christmas Eve in “Sleepless In Seattle”). Far better to go with Terry Gilliam’s “Twelve Monkeys,” decidedly the anti-meet-cute, with a weird Christmas setting to boot that uses the holiday as counterpoint rather than mandating warm fuzzies.

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“Meet Me In St. Louis” is remembered as a Christmas movie primarily for Judy Garland’s definitive “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” but it’s not really a movie about the holidays so much as one about casting back to a nostalgized, warm and glowing vision of family life with the nasty parts softened or elided. So try Terence Davies “The Long Day Closes,” which does the exact same thing but keeps the glow the whole movie. The Christmas is as cuddly as they come, and the artistry is dazzling.

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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…

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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.

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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-Craft

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?”

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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).

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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.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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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.

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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.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

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.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.