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That Was Then, This is Now

That Was Then, This is Now (photo)

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As directors who have continually proven themselves to be at the cutting edge of what’s next and new, it’s hard to believe that all five of the nominees in this year’s Best Director category have already been to the Spirit Awards sometime, if not multiple times, over the last decade. For some, they return with radically different films than they first broke onto the scene with, while others have kept mining the same emotional terrain in new and different ways, but all have applied their vision to the films we continue to be excited about then, now and the future.

Darren Aronofsky is a prime example of this, having debuted with the Spirit Award-nominated “Pi” in 1998 and making the most of a reported $60,000 budget to tell the story of a numbers expert who stumbles upon a code he believes could unlock the secrets of the universe before descending into madness. Even though the budgets have gone up (though not nearly as much as it will on the director’s next film, the entry into the X-Men canon “The Wolverine”), Aronofsky has continued to work with many of the same key collaborators such as composer Clint Mansell and cinematographer Matthew Libatique and on “Black Swan,” which brings the director back to the psychological thriller genre after stripping down his style for the working class character study “The Wrestler,” Aronofsky appears to have put everything together for a film that pulls the wild abandon from his earlier films and the continued refinement of his technical precision.

Lisa Cholodenko was also part of the Spirit Awards class of 1999, competing against Aronofsky in the Best First Feature category where both would miss out to “The Opposite of Sex” director Don Roos. However, like her “Pi” compatriot, Cholodenko is riding high these days after making some films that were considerably different from her gritty debut, first with the glossy mother-son drama “Laurel Canyon” in 2003 and now with “The Kids Are All Right,” the first time she has had a writing partner (in Stuart Blumberg) for something more overtly comedic. Cholodenko’s commitment to realism and digging deep into characters hasn’t wavered – of course, it’s one of the reasons she continues to attract stellar casts to her work. However, her ability to handle the lighter moments in “The Kids Are All Right” as apt with comedy as drama, and though she’s found fertile territory to mine in her home of Southern California, the possibilities appear to be endless for what could be her next film.

Debra Granik is already said to be working on her next project, a reimagining of Pippi Longstocking, which would actually continue a lineage from the writer/director of films featuring strong female protagonists. It all began for Granik with the 2004 drama “Down to the Bone,” which was nominated a John Cassavetes Award at the Spirits and made a star out of Vera Farmiga as a woman struggling with both her marriage and her addiction to drugs. Granik worked similar magic with “Winter’s Bone” star Jennifer Lawrence in the adaptation of Daniel Woodrell’s novel about a young girl’s search for her father amidst the meth-addled plains of Missouri and if the trend continues, whoever will be playing Pippi can be assured of both career-making performance and yet another example of Granik’s empowerment of female characters.

When John Cameron Mitchell exploded into the consciousness of audiences and Spirit Award watchers in 2002 with “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” few would expect the director to manage a delicate, yet devastating turn out of Nicole Kidman as a grieving mother in “Rabbit Hole” after pushing the envelope first with the adaptation of bombastic musical “Hedwig” and then with the sexually-provocative ensemble dramedy “Shortbus” in 2006. With “Rabbit Hole,” Mitchell pushed in a different direction – our own personal capacity for enduring tragedy and forgiveness – in the story of two parents (Kidman and Aaron Eckhart) dealing with the death of their child. To argue that Mitchell was going for a film that was more relatable would be a misinterpretation, since his gifts as an artist so far has to bring the human experience to the screen in unique ways, but his most traditional movie to date feels next and new for the same reasons it is old-fashioned, it tells its tale well and promises that there’s really no barriers the writer/director couldn’t cross to do so.

Of the five directors nominated, Danny Boyle appears to be the veteran in this group, coming to the attention of the Spirit Awards first in 1997 with “Trainspotting,” but of all the auteurs, he’s arguably transformed the most. In the years since that classic of drug cinema, Boyle has worked in nearly every genre imaginable from romantic comedy (“A Life Less Ordinary”) to horror (“28 Days Later”) to science-fiction (“Sunshine”) to rags-to-riches tales (“Millions”) before settling into a streak of unabashedly joyous films about the human spirit in recent years with the much-awarded “Slumdog Millionaire” and his most recent Spirit Award nominee “127 Hours,” which tells the true story of adventurer Aron Ralston’s attempt to free himself from being trapped underneath a boulder. Boyle has defiantly never made the same film twice, much less carry anything on from one project to the next in his recent career except for the enthusiasm he brings to every movie, something that keeps him and the cinema as a whole constantly refreshed in terms of what’s new and next.

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.


Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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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…


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.


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).


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.


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.


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.



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 and the IFC app.

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