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Countdown to Top Ten 2K11: “Margin Call”

Countdown to Top Ten 2K11: “Margin Call” (photo)

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Countdown to Top Ten 2K11 is a column with one simple goal: to help you decide what films you need to see before making your end of the year top ten list. Each installment features my thoughts on a critically acclaimed 2011 movie, a sampling of other critics’ reactions, the odds of the film making my own list, and the reasons why it might make yours.

This week, we’re covering one of the biggest hits on the festival circuit this year, the financial collapse drama “Margin Call.” Is it more entertaining than watching your retirement fund vanish in an afternoon? Let’s find out.

Movie: “Margin Call”

Director: J.C. Chandor
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 85%
Plot Synopsis: Twenty-four hours inside a powerful investment bank on the eve of the 2008 financial collapse. A young analyst (Zachary Quinto) stumbles onto a formula that forecasts doom for his firm, then watches as the news makes its way up the corporate ladder to the very top of the company. Did they catch disaster in time to prevent it? And if they did, will they even try?
What the Critics Said: “It’s a hell of a picture,” David Edelstein, New York
“Feels like the ‘Fail Safe’ of our time,” Scott Tobias, The AV Club
“The best Wall Street movie ever made,” David Denby, The New Yorker

Were They Right? I don’t know if it’s the best Wall Street movie ever made, but it is a hell of a film. It’s a hell of an unusual one too; I can’t recall the last time I watched a movie this engrossing in which, moment to moment, I had no earthly idea what anyone was saying. The characters in “Margin Call” talk like (and in some cases literally are) rocket scientists. Though some of their colleagues occasionally ask them to dumb their math talk down, they never really do. Most of the specifics pass over our heads. All we know is things are bad and they’re about to get much worse.

And that’s all we need to know. The 2008 financial collapse is a fait accompli from the second “Margin Call” begins with a bunch of people, including risk management analyst Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci), losing their jobs. As he’s escorted out of the building, Dale gives his former subordinate, Peter Sullivan (Quinto), a flash drive and a two-word warning: “Be careful.” Sullivan pops in the drive, crunches a few numbers, and realizes what we already know: the end is nigh.

The apocalyptic overtones would be hard to shake in any film set in this time and place, but writer/director J.C. Chandor really plays up parallels between his story and the Biblical end of the world. When Dale and three out of every seven people at the firm are all let go on the same morning, that’s the Rapture. Those left behind are initially relieved to still have jobs. But Sullivan’s discovery means those that got fired were lucky; the survivors now have to face Armageddon.

With meltdown a foregone conclusion, “Margin Call” is less of a thriller than an ethnographic study of what happens to people of a small, insular world as it crumbles around them. We can follow the story even if we can’t follow the math because the root of the problem goes deeper than a misguided algorithm; it’s the people and their uncontrollable urges toward self-enrichment and self-preservation that are truly to blame. In their tower high above Manhattan — Chandor repeatedly frames the players in this drama in front of enormous windows that overlook the serene, oblivious skyline — Sullivan’s bosses have found ways to divorce themselves from the moral implications of their work. “It’s just money. Made up. Pieces of paper of pictures on it so we don’t have to kill each other to get something to eat,” says Jeremy Irons‘ chairman of the board as he nonchalantly plots to destroy the an entire global economy just to save his own skin. The perverted ethics of this company are utterly believable and totally terrifying.

Chandor’s script occasionally goes overboard with heavy-handed metaphors; for a bunch of characters who communicate almost entirely in incomprehensible arithmegibberish, they’re weirdly prone to poetic observations. But his film is almost as ruthlessly effective as the executives it follows. My favorite scene comes in the third act; for several scenes, characters have pressured Kevin Spacey‘s character into acquiescing to Irons’ plan and encouraging his team to participate in a truly heinous act. We know he’s going to motivate his team to perform an unsavory task and we’re wondering how he’s going to do it. The answer, in or any world, is so simple: just offer them a shit-ton of money.

Could Get Oscar Nominated For: Best Supporting Actor, Kevin Spacey. Also if they gave an award for Best Screenplay That I Couldn’t Understand Half the Time, it’d be a mortal lock.
Chances of Making My Top Ten: Slim, but that says more about the overall caliber of movies this year than it does the caliber of this movie.
It Might Make Your Top Ten List If: you love character dramas with great ensembles; impenetrable financial jargon turns you on.

“Margin Call” is now playing in limited release. It is also available on VOD and iTunes. If you see it, tell us what you think; leave us a comment below or write to us on Facebook and Twitter.

Previously in Countdown to Top Ten 2K11
“Bill Cunningham New York,” directed by Richard Press
“Hanna,” directed by Joe Wright

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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.
Die Hard restroom

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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