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The five-albums test for movies

The five-albums test for movies (photo)

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At The AV Club, Steven Hyden wrote a really interesting piece today calling for a new measurement of excellence in the world of popular music. In addition to judging a band’s “popularity” and “critical respectibility” he suggests you apply “the five-album test” to determine musical greatness. If an artist puts out five great albums in a row, they pass.

“Lots of artists have five or more classic albums (not including EPs or live records), but the ability to string them together back-to-back means being in the kind of zone that’s normally associated with dominant college women’s basketball dynasties.”

It’s a really fun test to apply to music — The Replacements make the cut but The Rolling Stones don’t — which made me think that it would be equally fun to apply it to film. The five-movies test, though, is arguably even harder to pass than the five-albums test.

Many of the usual suspects for title of greatest director in historydon’t even rate. Alfred Hitchcock has four classics back-to-back: “Veritgo,” “North by Northwest,” “Psycho,” and “The Birds,” but unless you’re about to go all Robin Wood on me and hail “Marnie” as a film the equal of those other masterpieces, that’s as close as he gets. Steven Spielberg never does better than two in a row: “Jurassic Park” and “Schindler’s List” are bookended by “Hook” and “The Lost World;” “Raiders” and “E.T.” are surrounded by “1941” and “The Twilight Zone: The Movie.” Then again that last one is an anthology which might not count — anthology films or TV work are probably the directorial equivalent of EPs or live records for musicians. But even if we bypass “Twilight Zone” Spielberg’s next movie is “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.” Not as bad as its reputation, but a great film? No way.

So who does pass the five-movies test? The first guy I thought of was Stanley Kubrick, who not only passes the test, he aces it: “Dr. Strangelove,” “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “A Clockwork Orange,” “Barry Lyndon,” “The Shining,” “Full Metal Jacket,” and “Eyes Wide Shut” make seven great films in a row. Some might disagree on “Barry Lyndon,” though I’d bet a lot of that some have never even seen it. What might be a better argument against Kubrick being the champion of the five-movies test is the fact that he did it over the course of thirty-five years. He never made a dud, but he also spent an inordinate amount of time crafting each movie. If every filmmaker had that luxury, they might make the cut too.

In my opinion, there are a few other guys who pass. Martin Scorsese, definitely (for “The Last Waltz,” “Raging Bull,” “The King of Comedy,” “After Hours,” and “The Color of Money”); Godard as well (“Alphaville,” “Pierrot le Fou,” “Masculin Feminin,” “Made in USA,” “2 or 3 Things I Know About Her”). Tarantino’s in too, if you give him a pass for his part in “Four Rooms” (“Reservoir Dogs,” “Pulp Fiction,” “Jackie Brown,” “Kill Bill Vols. I and II”) and so is Carpenter, if “Elvis” gets ignored because it’s a TV movie (“Assault on Precinct 13,” “Halloween,” “The Fog,” “Escape From New York,” “The Thing”). James Cameron and the Coen Brothers are really close, but you’d have to elevate “True Lies” and “The Hudsucker Proxy” from very good status to great status to pass them, and, as much as I like both those films, I’m not sure that we really can in the interest of absolute fairness.

Other than that, I’m hard pressed to find too many more directors up to the challenge. Francis Ford Coppola has maybe the best four movies in a row of any director ever — “The Godfather,” “The Conversation,” “The Godfather Part II,” and “Apocalypse Now” — but “The Rain People” and “One From the Heart” are never going to be mistaken for masterpieces. I’ve never seen “Home Movies” or “Wise Guys” but I have a feeling they’re not up to the level of craftsmanship on display in the four movies Brian De Palma made in between: “Dressed to Kill,” “Blow Out,” “Scarface,” and “Body Double.” Sergio Leone has the “Dollars” trilogy and “Once Upon a Time in the West” and then “Duck You Sucker.” Peter Bogdanovich has “Targets,” “The Last Picture Show,” “What’s Up Doc?” “Paper Moon” and then “Daisy Miller.” Clint Eastwood has “Mystic River,” “Million Dollar Baby,” two great World War II films and then “Changeling.” Five great movies in a row is really, really hard.

It’s also expensive. If there’s one difference between musicians and directors in this regard it’s that no pop star makes an album for a paycheck. Okay, yes, every album is made for a paycheck. But directors do work-for-hire, and rock bands, for the most part, do not. They may sell a song to a beer commercial, they might appear on an episode of “90210,” but — with the exception of, say, corporately engineered boy bands who wouldn’t factor into this discussion anyway — they don’t make albums without a hefty amount of creative imput. Directors, on the other hand, might, and frequently do; a lot follow the model of “one for me, one for them” because they can’t supplement their income by touring and selling t-shirts. Today indie-minded filmmakers ike Steven Soderbergh take high profile gigs like “Ocean’s Eleven” to off-set the costs of more personal projects like “Bubble.” In the Golden Age, guys like John Ford and Howard Hawks had multipicture contracts with studios, and they couldn’t always control what they were assigned. Doing five great movies in a row requires a certain amount of financial freedom along with creative inspiration.

Of course, I’m sure there are directors I didn’t think of that pass the test, and others I considered but couldn’t let through because I haven’t seen enough of their films (I’ll give you two in particular: Preston Sturges and Yasujiro Ozu. But that’s why this sort of thing is so much fun. It’s the start of the discussion, not the end of it.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

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

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.

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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.