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Happy Hanukkah: Eight Movies That Make Us Say ‘L’Chaim!’

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Grab your matches and slap on your yamaka, because as of last night Hanukkah is officially in full swing. In our opinion, there’s nothing better to do after you light the menorah, eat your share of latkes and open countless presents than to sit down in front of the TV and watching a great movie with whoever you’re sharing the holiday with.

Sure, there are probably countless lists out there spouting out the best Christmas movies for the season, but we here at IFC wanted to help you celebrate the great miracle of Hanukkah and the story of Judah Maccabee with all the Jews in your life. We’ve compiled a list of eight of our favorite movies that we feel honor the spirit of Hanukkah, albeit some in more convoluted ways than others. L’chaim!


“The Hebrew Hammer”

Without a doubt, the Hebrew Hammer is the best Jewish crime fighter to ever get his own Comedy Central movie. The Blaxploitation parody tells the story of Hammer (Adam Goldberg) as he fights to save Hanukkah from the evil son of Santa Claus (Andy Dick). And how does Damian Claus plan on corrupting the young, unsuspecting Jewish children? By brainwashing them through bootleg copies of “It’s A Wonderful Life,” of course. Because why not?


“A Serious Man”

Somehow we doubt that “l’chaim!” were the words Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) was thinking as “A Serious Man” came to a close, but we’ll include his darkly hilarious story here anyways. The 2009 Coen brothers film follows a Jewish physics professor as his life progressively gets worse and worse and worse. And yet somehow we keep watching. I guess this makes us schmucks?


“Independence Day”

There’s no one we would like to celebrate Chanukah with during an alien invasion more than David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) and his father Julius (Judd Hirsch). So what if “Independence Day” took place over the Fourth of July? Julius managed to get in some of the most hilarious Jewish digs we’ve ever heard over the course of this movie, and to that we toast him with our glass of Manischewitz and include him on this list.


“Eight Crazy Nights”

Adam Sandler managed to create the most popular Chanukah song since “Dreidel, Dreidel” when he first released “The Chanukah Song” in 1994. After that, he became the poster boy for the holiday, and subsequently released a film slightly inspired by the song in 2002 called “Eight Crazy Nights.” Sure, the way the film uses a single thumbtack puncturing eight tires on a bus to remind its main character of the miracle of Chanukah isn’t the most religious thing we’ve ever head of, but the movie gets the general gist of the holiday across with some good laughs along the way.

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As the Spoof Turns

15 Hilarious Soap Opera Parodies

Catch the classic sitcom Soap Saturday mornings on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures Television

The soap opera is the indestructible core of television fandom. We celebrate modern series like The Wire and Breaking Bad with their ongoing storylines, but soap operas have been tangling more plot threads than a quilt for decades. Which is why pop culture enjoys parodying them so much.

Check out some of the funniest soap opera parodies below, and be sure to catch Soap Saturday mornings on IFC.

1. Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman

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Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman was a cult hit soap parody from the mind of Norman Lear that poked daily fun at the genre with epic twists and WTF moments. The first season culminated in a perfect satire of ratings stunts, with Mary being both confined to a psychiatric facility and chosen to be part of a Nielsen ratings family.


2. IKEA Heights

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IKEA Heights proves that the soap opera is alive and well, even if it has to be filmed undercover at a ready-to-assemble furniture store totally unaware of what’s happening. This unique webseries brought the classic formula to a new medium. Even IKEA saw the funny side — but has asked that future filmmakers apply through proper channels.


3. Fresno

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When you’re parodying ’80s nighttime soaps like Dallas and Dynasty , everything about your show has to equally sumptuous. The 1986 CBS miniseries Fresno delivered with a high-powered cast (Carol Burnett, Teri Garr and more in haute couture clothes!) locked in the struggle for the survival of a raisin cartel.


4. Soap

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Soap was the nighttime response to daytime soap operas: a primetime skewering of everything both silly and satisfying about the source material. Plots including demonic possession and alien abduction made it a cult favorite, and necessitated the first televised “viewer discretion” disclaimer. It also broke ground for featuring one of the first gay characters on television in the form of Billy Crystal’s Jodie Dallas. Revisit (or discover for the first time) this classic sitcom every Saturday morning on IFC.


5. Too Many Cooks

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Possibly the most perfect viral video ever made, Too Many Cooks distilled almost every style of television in a single intro sequence. The soap opera elements are maybe the most hilarious, with more characters and sudden shocking twists in an intro than most TV scribes manage in an entire season.


6. Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace

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Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace was more mockery than any one medium could handle. The endless complications of Darkplace Hospital are presented as an ongoing horror soap opera with behind-the-scenes anecdotes from writer, director, star, and self-described “dreamweaver visionary” Garth Marenghi and astoundingly incompetent actor/producer Dean Learner.


7. “Attitudes and Feelings, Both Desirable and Sometimes Secretive,” MadTV

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Soap opera connoisseurs know that the most melodramatic plots are found in Korea. MADtv‘s parody Tae Do  (translation: Attitudes and Feelings, Both Desirable and Sometimes Secretive) features the struggles of mild-mannered characters with far more feelings than their souls, or subtitles, could ever cope with.


8. Twin Peaks

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Twin Peaks, the twisted parody of small town soaps like Peyton Place whose own creator repeatedly insists is not a parody, has endured through pop culture since it changed television forever when it debuted in 1990. The show even had it’s own soap within in a soap called…


9. “Invitation to Love,” Twin Peaks

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Twin Peaks didn’t just parody soap operas — it parodied itself parodying soap operas with the in-universe show Invitation to Love. That’s more layers of deceit and drama than most televised love triangles.


10. “As The Stomach Turns,” The Carol Burnett Show

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The Carol Burnett Show poked fun at soaps with this enduring take on As The World Turns. In a case of life imitating art, one story involving demonic possession would go on to happen for “real” on Days of Our Lives.


11. Days of our Lives (Friends Edition)

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Still airing today, Days of Our Lives is one of the most famous soap operas of all time. They’re also excellent sports, as they allowed Friends star Joey Tribbiani to star as Dr Drake Ramoray, the only doctor to date his own stalker (while pretending to be his own evil twin). And then return after a brain-transplant.

And let’s not forget the greatest soap opera parody line ever written: “Come on Joey, you’re going up against a guy who survived his own cremation!”


12. Acorn Antiques

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First appearing on the BBC sketch comedy series Victoria Wood As Seen on TV, Acorn Antiques combines almost every low-budget soap opera trope into one amazing whole. The staff of a small town antique store suffer a disproportional number of amnesiac love-triangles, while entire storylines suddenly appear and disappear without warning or resolution. Acorn Antiques was so popular, it went on to become a hit West End musical.


13. “Point Place,” That 70s Show

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In a memorable That ’70s Show episode, an unemployed Red is reduced to watching soaps all day. He becomes obsessed despite the usual Red common-sense objections (like complaining that it’s impossible to fall in love with someone in a coma). His dreams render his own life as Point Place, a melodramatic nightmare where Kitty leaves him because he’s unemployed. (Click here to see all airings of That ’70s Show on IFC.)


14. The Spoils of Babylon

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Bursting from the minds of Will Ferrell and creators Andrew Steele and Matt Piedmont, The Spoils of Babylon was a spectacular parody of soap operas and epic mini-series like The Thorn Birds. Taking the parody even further, Ferrell himself played Eric Jonrosh, the author of the book on which the series was based. Jonrosh returned in The Spoils Before Dying, a jazzy murder mystery with its own share of soapy twists and turns.

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15. All My Children Finale, SNL

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SNL‘s final celebration of one of the biggest soaps of all time is interrupted by a relentless series of revelations from stage managers, lighting designers, make-up artists, and more. All of whom seem to have been married to or murdered by (or both) each other.

The outstanding independent films of 2011

The outstanding independent films of 2011 (photo)

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It is impossible to argue against the fact that 2011, though not terribly good for Hollywood, was a particularly smashing year for smaller, specialty films. “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” “Midnight in Paris” – Woody’s biggest hit to date — “Tree of Life,” “Shame,” “Melancholia,” “The Artist” and “We Need to Talk About Kevin” are just some of the standout films that were released this year.

“This is going to be one of those movie years like 1939 and 1968. It’ll take about 20 years, and people will look back and realize all of the little quiet revolutions that changed everything,” Patton Oswalt, a cineaste and the star of Young Adult, told the Village Voice. “If you look at movies like ‘Bellflower,’ ‘Septien,’ and ‘Martha Marcy May Marlene,’ this was the first year that people really started going: ‘Fuck it, I’m going to shoot a film. I don’t know what I’m going to do with it; I just want to make a movie.'”

“Bellflower” really is one of the most fascinating movies of the year, if not the top grossing specialty film.

Time ultimately will tell if Oswalt is correct. Indie actresses, however, like Elizabeth Olsen – hereafter, everyone’s favorite Olsen sister – as well as Tilda Swinton and Melissa Leo clearly put in what can only be properly construed as breathtaking performances. Olsen, generating a lot of Oscar buzz at the moment, is probably the biggest breakout star of the year. Michael Fassbender, who was named Best Actor by the LA Critics, was another winner (particularly for his intense portrayal of Jung in David Cronenberg’s “A Dangerous Method”).

Though the year is not quite over, some clear winners and losers in specialty cinema have emerged. “Shame,” also starring the ubiquitous Fassbender, is already the 14th highest grossing NC-17 movie ever – and a something of late night cult favorite. “Jane Eyre,” released early in the year, was a winner, grossing over $11 million. Emilio Estevez’s “The Way,” starring his dad Martin Sheen, has been a modest success, already grossing nearly $4 million. Finally, the tiny indie Bill Cunningham’s New York garnered a lot of buzz among the chattering classes, and healthily grossed $1.5 million.

There were, of course, losers in 2011. “American: The Bill Hicks Story,” grossed under $100,000 domestically, proving JFK’s quote “life’s not fair.” Max Winkler’s “Ceremony” – ever heard of it? me neither – starring Uma Thurman had a total domestic gross of just over $22,000. Yikes!

The most recently released and most memorable specialty cinema film is, IMHO, “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,” which had the third largest opening average of 2011 on the weekend of December 10. That same weekend, we cannot fail to note, was Hollywood’s worst opening for grosses since 2008, with the god-awful Gary Marshall storyline mishmash “New Year’s Eve” as the “winner.” Not the best year for big Hollywood, but 2011 – especially for Elizabeth Olsen, future Oscar winner – was a pretty good year.

Did we miss any of your favorite films? Let us know below or on Facebook or Twitter.

The 10 most underrated comedies of all time

The 10 most underrated comedies of all time (photo)

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Comedy is the hardest thing to pull off, despite what the Academy Awards would have you believe. If you want proof of that, think of how painful it is to watch an attempt at comedy that isn’t actually funny. If a drama’s not that good, and can still get a cheeky enjoyability by how seriously everybody takes it. If a comedy sucks, there’s no saving it. Now, we all love “Anchorman” and “The Big Lebowski,” but here’s a quick list of undernoticed, underseen or underrated comedies that should not be dismissed just because they don’t have huge cult followings.


1. “The Jerk” (1979)

One might argue that Steve Martin’s classic can’t be underrated, since Judd Apatow made the enjoyment of “The Jerk” the barometer about whether or not a girl is worth dating in “Freaks and Geeks,” but it makes the list because it’s impossible to overrate this absurd gem, and it should be talked about a lot more than it seems to be. It’s Martin at the top of his wild and crazy game, before he transitioned into the erudite and droll intellectual aura he cultivates today, and as much as we love him now, the gloriously ridiculous wordplay, clever satire and innocently goofy charm of Navin Johnson’s naive stumbling into the real world is what made us love Steve Martin in the first place. Back when he was carnival personnel.


2. “Johnny Dangerously” (1984)

Often (although not often enough in the right places, apparently), one hears the sentiment that Michael Keaton should be in everything – or at least, why isn’t he in more stuff? He can do it all. He’s excellent at drama (both acting and directing), as evidenced by “The Merry Gentleman,” but he cut his teeth with comedies like this truly oddball gangster parody, also featuring Peter Boyle, Marilu Henner, and the best stuff you’ll ever see out of Joe Piscopo. It’s light, it’s breezy and a whole lot of fun, and Keaton is really damn charming even though he’s playing a fargin’ icehole. We defy you not to enjoy yourself while watching this movie. And for more evidence of great Keaton comedy, check out Ron Howard’s 1982 movie “Night Shift” – also underrated. He and Henry Winkler run a brothel out of a morgue. Come on. You gotta see that one, too.


3. “The Ten” (2006)

If Entertainment Weekly hadn’t done a big profile piece on “Wet Hot American Summer,” that would be the David Wain entry on this list. But they did, so instead, we shine a spotlight on “The Ten,” directed and co-written by Wain with Ken Marino. The all-star cast (including Paul Rudd, Famke Janssen, Liev Schreiber and Jessica Alba) really establishes the tone, pacing and insanity that eventually made “Children’s Hospital” a hit – featuring Gretchen Mol having a fling in Mexico with Jesus Christ, Winona Ryder’s delirious tryst with a ventriloquist’s dummy, and a song and dance number with a great deal of naked men.


4. “The Foot Fist Way” (2006)

For those of you who might be wondering where the hell Danny McBride came from, go watch this low-budget Jody Hill movie about cuckolded North Carolina taekwondo instructor Fred Simmons and you’ll be enlightened. Word has it that “Anchorman” greats Will Ferrell and Adam McKay loved this movie so much that they made a huge push to get it distributed – and said as much in the advertising for the film. Simmons battle of wills and skills with his celebrity martial-arts-movie idol Chuck “The Truck” Wallace (who turns out to be a drunken jerkface who sleeps with Fred’s wife) , as well as his unorthodox teaching methods and hard-line dojo philosophy are what make us all understand what McBride brings to the table and why he’ll always be welcome there.


5. “Burn After Reading” (2008)

The Dude gets most of the attention as far as Coen Brothers comedy goes, and “Raising Arizona” gets the rest, and they both deserve all the attention they get. However, there’s something sublimely wonderful about taking all the banal story elements of a by-the-numbers crime thriller movie and treating them seriously, but populating the cast of characters with the biggest stars in the world playing absolutely ridiculous morons. Frances McDormand’s surgery obsession, Brad Pitt’s energetic idiocy, John Malkovich’s profane rage and George Clooney’s sleazy skullduggery just make this a joy to watch.

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