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2009’s Most Memorable Critical Dust-Ups

2009’s Most Memorable Critical Dust-Ups (photo)

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Just as the Tiger Woods scandal snuck up on sports writers in this tail end of ’09, New York Times critic Manohla Dargis’ f-bomb filled interview on the state of women in Hollywood has become the gift that has just kept giving this holiday season for those who still enjoy a good old fashioned critical beatdown.

It’s a worthy capper for a year that began with Variety critic John Anderson literally punching producer’s rep Jeff Dowd at Sundance over his negative opinion of “Dirt! The Movie.” (He never wrote the review after the incident or the parody videos that followed.)

Overall, it’s been an interesting year for criticism and film writing in general, as massive media layoffs have led to established names making their mark online. With fewer positions, more writers are having to become a jack-of-all-trades and then compete with those who understood this as a fact of life long ago.

With that in mind, some of the most thought-provoking film writing of the year hasn’t been done on film at all, but on how film writing is changing, where film journalists begin to consider themselves as film activists and critics engage in discussions that don’t end with the final period of their reviews. These are a few of those ongoing conversations that became must-reads this year.

12172009_KennySwanberg.jpgGlenn Kenny vs. Joe Swanberg (February 5)

The former Premiere critic’s site has been a haven for cinephiles, so it was no surprise to see the heated exchanges that followed a post in February that questioned the cinematic validity of Joe Swanberg’s work and Mumblecore at large. In the midst of posts revisiting Manny Farber’s favorite films of 1951, his supporting role in Steven Soderbergh’s “The Girlfriend Experience” and his enduring love of The Feelies, Kenny would take the occasional shot at Swanberg, who for better or worse has become poster child for Mumblecore (a term that is still being debated endlessly).

A David Denby rave for Swanberg’s “Alexander the Last” didn’t go unnoticed, nor did a reference to Swanberg’s shooting methods in an article about “Humpday” star Justin Leonard’s directorial debut, and even Kenny’s giveaway of a “My Dinner With Andre” DVD revolved around a photo caption contest based on an image of Swanberg setting up a camera for one of the disc’s special features that led so many to send in entries about the young filmmaker’s penchant for nudity that Kenny had to cut off them off at the pass.

Still, Kenny laid down the real gauntlet with a Film Comment-worthy post entitled “The Cinema of Contingency: Notes on Swanberg,” where he mentioned the caveat of sharing 51 Facebook friends with Swanberg before tearing into the director’s filmography and criticizing the banality of the conversations, the laziness of the imagery and the overall “slackness” of the acting and direction. What followed in the comments section was a vibrant discussion of yes, who was really responsible for the “Mumblecore” label, but also the “reality” of Swanberg’s films, whether Swanberg is a model of a low-budget filmmaker and what constitutes a film these days.

12172009_WellsOxford.jpgJeffrey Wells at the Oxford Film Festival (February 9)

Hollywood Elsewhere‘s Jeffrey Wells is known for both his boundless enthusiasm for the films he loves (see any of his posts related to “An Education”) and his sometimes curmudgeonly attitude (see his post on attempting to eat a piece of cake from a restaurant that refused to give him a dessert fork since it wasn’t from the restaurant) that make his site a compulsive read. When Wells was invited to the Oxford Film Festival, he was given a hotel room with crummy wi-fi, fell into a “mood pocket” and bailed out on a panel on film criticism he was supposed to attend as a result, alienating some of his would-be fellow panelists, including Cinematical‘s Eric D. Snider, who called him out on a series of posts on his personal site for taking advantage of the small-sized festival who paid for his stay. (Wells later said he reimbursed the festival.) [Update: After the publication of this article, a representative of the Oxford Film Festival contacted us to say they have in fact not been reimbursed for Wells’ airfare.]

Writing for the dearly departed SpoutBlog, Karina Longworth expanded the conversation to ask what obligation a journalist has when their trip is fully financed and whether Wells had a point when he defended himself by arguing that he brought more attention to Oxford with his temper tantrum than if he had actually written about the festival’s films. The comments section of her post brought out not only those who witnessed the event like new Movies.com critic Jen Yamato and Scott Weinberg, but brought together old rivals Wells and Movie City NewsDavid Poland for an intriguing discussion about the line where film writing can become a paid advertisement and the ethical minefield of being a film writer today.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….

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IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.

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IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

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

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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