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First-Time Nominees, Longtime Excellence

First-Time Nominees, Longtime Excellence (photo)

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It’s hard to imagine such veterans of the stage and screen as Natalie Portman, Nicole Kidman, and Annette Bening being called newcomers in any situation nowadays, but would you believe this is the first time they’ve been nominated for Spirit Awards? They will be joining bona fide newcomers like Jennifer Lawrence (“Winter’s Bone”) Lena Dunham (“Tiny Furniture”), Ronald Bronstein (“Daddy Longlegs”) and Ashley Bell (“The Last Exorcism”) on the beach for this year’s ceremony, with all reaching a pinnacle in their careers with the work in their latest film. In many cases, these are not discoveries, so much as rediscoveries – an acknowledgement of all the fine work they’ve been doing for so long as well as a signifier what’s new and next in their careers.

In the case of Bening and Kidman, there’s not much left to prove as two of the most dynamic actresses of the era, so it’s telling that their first Spirit Award nominations arrive with some of the most ordinary roles of their careers, both as mothers just trying to deal with domestic stress. For Bening, “The Kids Are All Right,” in which she plays a mother just trying to keep her family together, was only the second half of a one-two punch year which also saw the actress turn in a devastating performance in Rodrigo Garcia’s “Mother and Child,” where she played a woman who gave up her daughter for adoption after an unwanted pregnancy years earlier, demonstrating a range between the two that has unfortunately become a luxury almost exclusive to independent film these days. No wonder then that Kidman had to go outside the system to produce just her second film “Rabbit Hole” to star in herself as the grieving mother of a child that died in a car accident. One would argue both actresses, having had considerable success in Hollywood, are simply creating their own opportunities nowadays and are paving the way for others to follow.

Incidentally, one of those actresses could easily be Portman, whose character in “Black Swan” undergoes a radical transformation, but as an actress has long embraced independent film from one of her early breakthrough performances in 1996’s “Beautiful Girls” to turns in Amos Gitai’s “Free Zone” and Wong Kar-wai’s “My Blueberry Nights.” While she has transformed from a young girl to a woman in front of our eyes on the big screen, what is lesser known is how she’s set up her own production company Handsome Charlie Films, which could position Portman for a Spirit Award next year not only as an actress, but as a producer of the drama “Hesher” and that she’s been nominated now for her thrilling performance in “Black Swan” is just a glimpse of things to come.

Another actor surprisingly making his Spirit Awards debut as a nominee is Ben Stiller, who helped bring down the house last year as last year’s honorary chair who presented the evening’s final award for best feature and at the time wondered why he was asked since as he recalled he hadn’t made an indie since the 1990s. Well, his first crack at it in quite some time was his deeply felt performance as the easily irritable Roger Greenberg in Noah Baumbach’s sad and funny character study “Greenberg.” Stiller actually took over the role from Mark Ruffalo, who of course would go on to make “The Kids Are All Right,” and it gave the actor an opportunity to explore some of his darker impulses as he did in his early career with “Permanent Midnight” and Neil LaBute’s “Your Friends and Neighbors.” While the role won’t likely change the direction of Stiller’s career – as you might’ve noticed, he’s enjoying quite the streak of wide-reaching crowdpleasers – it did have implications for the film’s writer/director Baumbach, who has since been brought on to write or rewrite Stiller’s bigger budget films in the year that’s followed, suggesting that a fruitful new director/actor collaboration was born.

In fact, a usual common denominator amongst all of this year’s first-time nominated actors is how their directors tapped into something that had always existed yet was rarely exploited, something that was particularly true with the Spirit Award-nominated “Jack Goes Boating” and “Winter’s Bone,” which both boasted their share of longtime character actors who are long overdue for recognition. Philip Seymour Hoffman knew what he had with John Ortiz and Daphne Rubin-Vega on “Jack Goes Boating” since they had originated their roles on stage in 2007 before Hoffman decided to adapt the play for the screen, but gave both actors a chance to show off a different side than what they’ve often been pegged for before – Ortiz has been a villain of choice in Hollywood blockbusters of late such as “American Gangster” and “Fast & Furious,” while Rubin-Vega may best be known for her fierce Tony Award-nominated turn as part of the original cast of “Rent” – and in each case, they handle their parts beautifully as a married couple who try to set up friends, resulting in supporting Spirit Award nods for them both.

As for “Winter’s Bone”‘s John Hawkes and Dale Dickey, who also scored Spirit Award nominations for Best Supporting Male and Female, respectively, the nods mark a turning point of two of the great faces of TV and film in recent years. Given the room to really inhabit the roles of the fearsome denizens of the Ozarks in Debra Granik’s harrowing drama, Hawkes and Dickey pounced on the opportunity to chew on a meaty role on the big screen after being best known for creating indelible characters on the small screen in “Deadwood” and “My Name is Earl.” Like the rest of this year’s acting nominees, Hawkes and Dickey presented a different vision of the world, and by extension could be seen in a whole new light themselves, representing what’s next for audiences as they and many more from the 2010 Spirit Award class will be reinventing themselves and gracing screens for years to come.

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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.