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Why James Cameron is no Cecil B. DeMille.

Why James Cameron is no Cecil B. DeMille. (photo)

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We’re approaching the awards season home stretch — the Golden Globes are done, the Oscar announcements are in two weeks.

Some previously surefire contenders have fallen by the wayside since critics’ associations started putting out their lists in December. “Precious” — which I wasn’t alone in thinking a “Slumdog Millionaire”-esque Best Picture contender — has topped off at just under $45 million at the box office, and no one but Mo’Nique seems to be still gunning for Oscar glory (though a friend of mine enmeshed in graduate school academia assures me black studies will be grappling with the film for years, so there’s that).

The biggest Globes news (beside the fact that host Ricky Gervais was funny but inexplicably poorly reviewed) was that “Avatar” appears on track for Best Picture, though its Golden Globe victory hardly makes that a certainty. As Xan Brooks at the Guardian points out, in the last five years only “Slumdog” got Best Picture both at the Globes and Oscars.

But you can sense the buzz around “Avatar” as an indicator of a major shift in awardsland, thought what it means depends on where you’re standing. For the cranky Brooks, the win “tarnishes” the Globes (um, they can be tarnished? I thought we just tuned in to watch the drinks manifest themselves onstage) because it’s a Hollywood circle-jerk. You really can’t win sometimes. Complain about the awards being out-of-touch with ordinary filmgoers, get awarded a populist victory and what happens? People start complaining about the self-congratulatory speeches.

Closer to home, people are thrilled — none more so than Betsy Sharkey in the Los Angeles Times, whose victory lap pretty gave me hives. Using the fact that Scorsese got the Cecil B. DeMille award as a starting point, Sharkey concludes that the awards exemplified the spirit of DeMille: “forever the populist, never the auteur.” Which is a good thing: unlike those huffy snots “De Sica, Welles, Hitchcock and the like” (the like? Would you like to try to group together three less similar filmmakers?), DeMille didn’t “push the artistic and intellectual boundaries of film.” Instead, he “never lost sight of his audience, mostly hardworking folks.”

Sometimes you have to wonder if it isn’t a good thing that the newspapers are dying; Sharkey’s language here is inadvertently pretty close to the worst kind of demagoguery. But what’s more interesting is the way the comparison becomes weirder and more instructive if you follow it. DeMille was so intensely conservative that while on the Screen Directors Guild in 1950, he tried to push through a bylaw requiring all members to sign a loyalty oath. Reflecting the climate of the ’50s, he conceived of “The Ten Commandments” as a political statement (Judeo-Christian values vs. the Communist threat) and had Ten Commandments monuments spread all over the land, as promotion and a proclamation of principles.

Cameron is the biggest showman of our time, and nothing if not an unapologetic populist. But he’s as liberal as DeMille was conservative — if you want to push that comparison to its logical conclusion, that would mean that Hollywood is every bit as liberal now as it was conservative 50 years ago. (Which, well, duh.)

Even more, DeMille’s early work (particularly the silents) has been enthusiastically reclaimed by avant-garde enthusiasts as pure, unfettered insanity, inadvertently deranged in its gonzo scale. As spectacle films decay with technological advances and the cracks start to show, excess starts to look downright surreal. So keep that in mind before blathering about populism — yesterday’s spectacle is tomorrow’s novelty.

[Photos: “Avatar,” 20th Century Fox, 2009; “The Ten Commandments,” Paramount, 1956]

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Rev Up

Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

via GIPHY

Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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