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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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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.