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Making the Cut: A Celebration of Genre Films at the Spirit Awards

Making the Cut: A Celebration of Genre Films at the Spirit Awards (photo)

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One of the ways the Spirit Awards has continued to celebrate what’s new and next has been by honoring genre films that are typically overlooked when it comes to year-end ceremonies and top ten lists. After all, what other non-genre specific awards show would’ve had the gumption to put up “Wes Craven’s New Nightmare” for Best Feature as the Spirits did in 1995? Yet that surprising nod shouldn’t come as all that surprising to those who have followed the Spirit Awards through the years, where horror and sci-fi have long been an integral part of the proceedings, not only to highlight what’s been the best for a particular year, but what new voices are on the horizon.

Naturally, the Best First Feature category has been a hotbed for filmmakers who quickly make their mark with genre films. Although audiences didn’t immediately embrace Richard Kelly’s time-travel drama “Donnie Darko” in 2002, the Spirit Awards instantly recognized the qualities that would make it a cult classic with nods in the Best First Feature and Best First Screenplay categories. Likewise, Alex Rivera’s “Sleep Dealer,” which imagined a world where the immigration debate is reframed by companies who use technology to keep people from interacting with each other, raised its profile with a Best First Feature nomination in 2009. Last year, the biggest stir when nominations were announced came with the announcement of Oren Peli’s “Paranormal Activity,” the surprise box office hit that was made for just around $15,000 by a software programmer and went on to gross $107 million domestically with the simple premise of a couple tormented by supernatural house guests.

This year, another found footage flick found its way into the category with “The Last Exorcism,” which also earned a nomination for its star Ashley Bell in the Best Supporting Female category for her portrayal of a young woman that appears to be possessed by the Devil. Incidentally, the film isn’t actually the first from director Daniel Stamm, whose previous mock doc thriller “A Necessary Death” won an audience award at the AFI Fest in Los Angeles in 2008 and brought him to the attention of executive producer Eli Roth after the film’s original directors, screenwriters Huck Botko and Andrew Gurland had to leave to direct their other script in development, the comedy “The Virginity Hit.” That bit of luck gave Stamm the chance to show his mettle on a substantially larger (but still meager $1.8 million) budget and paired him with Roth, who has injected a much-needed sense of humor into the usually deadly serious arena of horror.

The somewhat tricky nature of Spirit Award paperwork led to a similar nomination oddity in 1997 and 1998, though it was no less prescient when Larry Fessenden picked up the Swatch Someone to Watch Award a year before the Spirit Awards would nominate him again for Best Director – the catch is they were for both for the same film “Habit.” Still, there’s no argument here about acknowledging Fessenden, who has gone on to become one of the most prominent and important promoters of independent genre films, both as a director himself on films like 2006’s Ron Perlman frightfest “The Last Winter,” but as the chief of Glass Eye Pix, which has produced such films recently as “Bitter Feast” and “The House of the Devil,” introducing the world to filmmakers like Ti West and Joe Maggio.

In general, indie filmmakers have long pushed the boundaries that often prevent even most mainstream films from presenting the world as they know it, so it only makes sense that many work in horror and science fiction, where at its best, they can offer effective social commentary in a way few other genres of films can be. That the Spirit Awards chooses to acknowledge it keeps the ceremony on the cutting edge and always ahead of what’s next.

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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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IFC: How would you describe Janice and Jeffrey to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
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Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

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Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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