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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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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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