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2009 was an excellent year for film…just wait.

2009 was an excellent year for film…just wait. (photo)

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Let’s try to simultaneously move forward and backwards here for a moment. On Thursday, Cannes will begin announcing its lineup, which will terminate the rampant speculation about which world-class auteurs will and won’t be walking the Croisette and begin a new round of speculation about the films themselves — to be followed, subsequently, by an intense barrage of disparate, often disagreeing dispatches from the festival itself, and the slow, auto-drip downwards percolation of these films into smaller festivals and (for an increasingly lucky few) theatrical distribution, eventually trickling onto DVD and so forth.

Point being it’s awfully hard to wrap your head around the global implications and trends of a year’s worth of film within the time span of a year, even if you’re one of the fortunate few who can afford to jaunt from fest to fest. There should be some kind of moratorium on wrapping up the year in film for at least half a year afterwards. Because only in the last few weeks was it revealed that 2009 was secretly an excellent year for film, no matter how much people complained.

The problem with this proposition is that you’re going to have to agree with me about what constitutes excellence, and you’re largely going to have to take my word for it; many of 2009’s most exciting movies are decidedly not coming to a theater anytime soon, and maybe not even to a high-profile festival. And they are — and I say this as a fan — incredibly arty and not destined for any kind of high-profile success.

There were the consensus moments in blockbuster excellence enjoyed in 2009 (“Up” and, to a lesser extent, “Star Trek”), but there is more to enjoy — much more, in fact, than was initially evident. Exhibit A, if you please: Alain Guiraudie’s “The King of Escape,” which skulked out of a side-section of Cannes to less high-profile Stateside engagements (I saw it at Lincoln Center’s “Rendez-Vous with French Cinema,” the annual clearing house of French films that have evaded bigger U.S. premieres). In the genre of gay films, there’s frequently less to commend than good intentions. Not so with “The King of Escape,” Guiraudie’s lightest and most accessible film yet: imagine David Lynch’s personality-transference dream-dramas reconfigured as goofy, sexually explicit comedy and you’ll only start to get the mindbending idea at play here.

“The King of Escape” is an excellent movie that didn’t make the cut for David Hudson’s provocative and chewy attempt at starting to collate the emerging cinematic trends of this and last year. There’s a lot to wrap our head around in Hudson’s piece: the disparate parallel tracks of austerely drab realism (brought to you by the heirs of the Dardenne brothers) and extreme provocation (Lars von Trier, Gasper Noé and so on), but lost in all this are some excellent movies that aren’t getting discussed quite possibly because they don’t fit any of the dominant narratives about where arthouse film is (or isn’t) going at this moment.

04122010_coldweather.jpgWatching “The King of Escape” suggested one counter-narrative: ultra-formalistic gay arthouse filmmaking is coming into its own — a necessarily simplified reductive formula, but in the wake of Gus Van Sant’s elegant “Last Days,” filmmakers like Guiraudie and João Pedro Rodrigues (whose super-excellent transvestite drama “To Die Like A Man” rocked NYFF last year) have shifted the conversation from films that merely exist to push things forward to elegant, sexually aggressive films that can’t be ignored.

Another possible narrative that is evolving from films made during 2009 is represented well by Aaron Katz’s super-fun “Cold Weather” (still inexplicably without distribution, not that that should last long), which proves that you can make a seriously crowd-pleasing comedy without falling into the Sundance tropes of tweeness, color-coordinated quirk and indie-friendly soundtrack. Just as the Duplass brothers move ever closer to the mainstream with “Cyrus,” Katz’s latest demonstrates that crowd-pleasing need no longer be synonymous with cynical pandering. It shouldn’t hurt that ground zero for these types of films — Sundance (no matter what its self-aggrandizing airs) — is once again showcasing movies of interest as long as you’re ready to do some heavy sifting.

Because everyone seemed to have such a good time in 2007, and the following few years have been filled with economic despair for all and a great deal of navel-gazing about all matters cinematic — per Wallace Stevens, everyone’s imagination seemingly staring at the end of an era — it’s always tempting to draw conclusions about Where Film Is as quickly as possible, erring on the side of doom and gloom. And while it’s useful to slot films in taxonomical ways, always with the temptation of crowning something a trend as quickly as possible, it’s even more important to sit down, shut up and wait for a while. The movies’ll keep.

[Photos: “The King of Escape,” Les Films du Losange, 2009; “Cold Weather,” Parts and Weather, 2010.]


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.


Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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GIFs via Giphy

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:


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.


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!


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.


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.



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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GIFs via Giphy

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.”


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. 


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.