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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Millennial Wisdom

Charles Speaks For Us All

Get to know Charles, the social media whiz of Brockmire.

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He may be an unlikely radio producer Brockmire, but Charles is #1 when it comes to delivering quips that tie a nice little bow on the absurdity of any given situation.

Charles also perfectly captures the jaded outlook of Millennials. Or at least Millennials as mythologized by marketers and news idiots. You know who you are.

Played superbly by Tyrel Jackson Williams, Charles’s quippy nuggets target just about any subject matter, from entry-level jobs in social media (“I plan on getting some experience here, then moving to New York to finally start my life.”) to the ramifications of fictional celebrity hookups (“Drake and Taylor Swift are dating! Albums y’all!”). But where he really nails the whole Millennial POV thing is when he comments on America’s second favorite past-time after type II diabetes: baseball.

Here are a few pearls.

On Baseball’s Lasting Cultural Relevance

“Baseball’s one of those old-timey things you don’t need anymore. Like cursive. Or email.”

On The Dramatic Value Of Double-Headers

“The only thing dumber than playing two boring-ass baseball games in one day is putting a two-hour delay between the boring-ass games.”

On Sartorial Tradition

“Is dressing badly just a thing for baseball, because that would explain his jacket.”

On Baseball, In A Nutshell

“Baseball is a f-cked up sport, and I want you to know it.”

Learn more about Charles in the behind-the-scenes video below.

And if you were born before the late ’80s and want to know what the kids think about Baseball, watch Brockmire Wednesdays at 10P on IFC.

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Crown Jules

Amanda Peet FTW on Brockmire

Amanda Peet brings it on Brockmire Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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GIFS via Giphy

On Brockmire, Jules is the unexpected yin to Jim Brockmire’s yang. Which is saying a lot, because Brockmire’s yang is way out there. Played by Amanda Peet, Jules is hard-drinking, truth-spewing, baseball-loving…everything Brockmire is, and perhaps what he never expected to encounter in another human.

“We’re the same level of functional alcoholic.”

But Jules takes that commonality and transforms it into something special: a new beginning. A new beginning for failing minor league baseball team “The Frackers”, who suddenly about-face into a winning streak; and a new beginning for Brockmire, whose life gets a jumpstart when Jules lures him back to baseball. As for herself, her unexpected connection with Brockmire gives her own life a surprising and much needed goose.

“You’re a Goddamn Disaster and you’re starting To look good to me.”

This palpable dynamic adds depth and complexity to the narrative and pushes the series far beyond expected comedy. See for yourself in this behind-the-scenes video (and brace yourself for a unforgettable description of Brockmire’s genitals)…

Want more about Amanda Peet? She’s all over the place, and has even penned a recent self-reflective piece in the New York Times.

And of course you can watch the Jim-Jules relationship hysterically unfold in new episodes of Brockmire, every Wednesday at 10PM on IFC.

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Draught Pick

Sam Adams “Keeps It Brockmire”

All New Brockmire airs Wednesdays at 10P on IFC.

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From baseball to beer, Jim Brockmire calls ’em like he sees ’em.


It’s no wonder at all, then, that Sam Adams would reach out to Brockmire to be their shockingly-honest (and inevitably short-term) new spokesperson. Unscripted and unrestrained, he’ll talk straight about Sam—and we’ll take his word. Check out this new testimonial for proof:

See more Brockmire Wednesdays at 10P on IFC, presented by Samuel Adams. Good f***** beer.

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