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The Naughts: The Actress of the ’00s

The Naughts: The Actress of the ’00s (photo)

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If time is an avenger, then the Naughts have had it both ways with Nicole Kidman. In the span of a decade, Kidman was transformed from arm candy into an artist — the rare movie star who made genuinely interesting choices — eclipsing her ex-husband, Tom Cruise, who filed for divorce in 2000, with an Oscar win and the embrace, finally, of her peers on her own terms.

However, as the ’00s limp to a close, Kidman seems to be succumbing to a personal vendetta against time: by manipulating her face into a mask — a waxworks ideal of “Nicole Kidman” — rather than continuing to deploy it as a functional instrument, an artist’s tool, Kidman is taking perhaps the most surprising risk of her career: she has chosen to age into glacial iconicity. In this, she exemplifies a decade that treated actresses with ambivalence, waving all the flags of empowerment and agency at the post-Julia Roberts cohort, who wanted to have it all without having to play the charming prostitute, only to corral them into the same old pens: ingénue, mother, old maid.

Kidman, of course, showed signs of life during her pre-Naughts career, most notably in her 1989 breakthrough “Dead Calm,” and again in “To Die For” in 1995 and “The Portrait of a Lady” in 1996. Maligned as often for her mannered, on-screen frigidity as she was dismissed for her off-screen attachment to Herr Cruise, audiences gave her her due, particularly for her turn in the Van Sant film, a blackly comic media farce, but it was grudging, as though the director had tapped into a neat utility for Kidman’s innate chill and deserved most of the credit.

12042009_MoulinRouge3.jpgEven as a very young woman, Kidman had a particular savvy for directors, aligning herself with both established and up-and-coming innovators; if her own development seemed erratic through the ’90s, her taste in directors was more consistently inspired. By contrast, Kidman’s ex appeared to be on an artistic roll when he starred alongside his wife in 1999’s “Eyes Wide Shut,” that seems to have ended only months later with his Oscar-nominated role in “Magnolia.” Looking back, it would seem that his most interesting roles were all chosen while he was with Kidman.

For her, not so much: in fact, Kidman’s first role of the decade, as the melancholy performer/courtesan Satine in Baz Luhrman’s “Moulin Rouge!,” doubled as a sort of emancipation announcement. Filmed during the split with Cruise, Kidman seemed to finally find an outlet for her talent, channeling her famously wintry form into affecting mystique, then contrasting that with a full commitment to the unabashed romanticism and goofy spectacle of Luhrman’s meta-musical. The restraint of her previous roles loosened noticeably; here was Kidman singing and dancing and believably falling in love — a triple threat that even her fans hardly suspected she had in her.

In 2001, she also starred in the psychological thriller “The Others,” working with then-29-year-old Alejandro Amenábar to create a portrait of a mother in the midst — perhaps — of a paranoid breakdown. It was the beginning of a dark period in the country; the terrain Kidman seemed compelled to explore was similarly bleak: although she had to give up the lead role in David Fincher’s “Panic Room” due to injury, Kidman took on the role of suicidal writer Virginia Woolf in 2002’s “The Hours.”

Her Oscar win for her portrayal of Woolf seems somewhat compromised by both the relative brevity of her screen time and the run of rewards (cf. Halle Berry in “Monster’s Ball” and Charlize Theron in “Monster”) given out to beautiful women willing to ugly up on film in the early part of the decade. Still, the performance confirmed Kidman’s status as a major actress who could hold her own with Meryl Streep and Julianne Moore, and as a major Hollywood player who would follow up her Academy Award-winning turn with three films in a single year — “Dogville,” “The Human Stain,” and “Cold Mountain” — that captured in microcosm the actress’ competing impulses.

12042009_Dogville.jpgBy accepting the lead role in Lars von Trier’s staid, electrifying morality play “Dogville,” Kidman furthered her commitment to working with volatile but essential directors, and in this case, submitted, quite literally, to von Trier’s strict vision of beauty as a burden and the casual conspiracies of violence and oppression just below the surface of “civilized” small-town society. With “The Human Stain,” Kidman indulged what seems to be a persistent tendency towards character roles, a need to disappear within an accent or a hairstyle at odds with her movie star genes. Her role as the mysterious janitor in this film (and that of a Russian mail order bride in “Birthday Girl”) work to the extent that Kidman has not developed a persona as strong as that of a star like George Clooney or Angelina Jolie, one that tends to overwhelm any part they’re in, and yet there is enough self-consciousness in Kidman to prevent her from pulling such roles off completely.

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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.

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Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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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:

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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SO EXCITED!!!

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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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.”

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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. 

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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.