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DID YOU READ

Hollywood’s journey to the 2012 Independent Spirit Awards

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Watch Seth Rogen host the 2012 Spirit Awards on Saturday, February 25 at 10/9c on IFC. And while you’re tuning in, don’t forget to log into IFC.com chat with our movie experts LIVE via IFC Sync, presented by Capital One.


Everyone enjoys a pat on the back for a job well-done. But some might need that pat on the back more than others. Sure, Meryl Streep was great in “The Iron Lady” — she’s great in everything. She’s won two Academy Awards and been nominated an astonishing fifteen other times. Even if Streep deserves recognition, does she really need it at this point? If she didn’t get that record seventeenth nomination for “The Iron Lady” would she have been despondent, yelling at her handlers, trashing hotel rooms, demanding mason jars full of brown M&Ms? Probably not. Ditto George Clooney, a seven-time nominee and one-time winner; ditto Glenn Close, a six-time nominee, and Brad Pitt, a four-time nominee.

Awards are wonderful, but they’re best used to recognize the people and films who can most benefit from the spotlight that comes with those awards. The journeyman who’s worked in relative obscurity for years; the comic actress who surprised us with a range we never knew she had; the foreign superstar who showed that charm is an international language; the ingenue from a famous show business family who leapt out of her sisters’ shadow with a devastating debut. The wonderful thing about the Spirit Awards is the fact that every year Film Independent finds these sorts of mind-blowing performances and brings them to the attention of the masses. Whether these nominations were months or decades in the making, these actors’ journey to the Spirit Awards were hard-fought and richly earned.

For actress Rachael Harris, that journey took place both on and off-screen. Her nomination for Best Female Lead came in director Robbie Pickerling’s acclaimed debut “Natural Selection,” the story of a woman on a road trip that turns into a voyage of self-discovery. Harris plays Linda, a devoutly Christian woman who’s unable to conceive a child, which means her equally religious husband won’t touch her, since sex without the possibility of procreation is a sin. After an accident, Linda discovers a shocking truth about her husband, and sets off to find a man she believes holds the key to her happiness.

Fittingly, given “Natural Selection”‘s title, the role represents a major evolution in Harris’ career. A comedienne best known for her roles as uptight shrews in films like “The Hangover” (she played Ed Helms’ killjoy fiancé), Harris might seem like an unlikely choice for a sexually repressed Bible Belter, or for a film, like “Natural Selection,” that deftly blends both humor and drama. But Harris’ impressive performance contains just as many surprises as the film itself.

Speaking with Indiewire at last year’s Los Angeles Film Festival, Harris explained that she was far from Pickerling’s first choice to play Linda. Very, very far. “Originally, he didn’t want to meet me,” she said, “But he was doing meetings with back-ups in case the person he really wanted pulled out. I knew if I could get in the room I could change his perception of me, if not the casting.” Recently divorced, Harris related to Linda’s struggles and felt the character was the perfect outlet for skills she knew she possessed but had never been given a chance to utilize onscreen. Harris got in the room, and won the part — and then the film went on to win seven awards at the 2011 South by Southwest Film Festival, including the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature, and a Breakthrough Performance Award for Harris.

The road to the Spirit Awards for French actor Jean Dujardin began not in Texas but France, where “The Artist” premiered to widespread acclaim, a Best Actor award, and a distribution deal with The Weinstein Company. Like Harris, Dujardin is a comedian by trade; first as a stand-up and later as the star of TV shows and then “The Artist” director Michel Hazanavicius’ ’60s spy spoofs “OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies” and “OSS 117: Lost in Rio.” To play “The Artist”‘s silent film star George Valentin, Dujardin’s task, like Harris’ in “Natural Selection,” was to meld his comedic timing with scenes full of soul-searching emotions. George is unprepared for the transition from silent to sound film, and as Hollywood moves into the future, George gets trapped in his own past glories.

Dujardin, a well-known star in France but previously a virtual unknown in the United States, seems to share more than his characters’ charm and good looks — he might even have a bit of his self-doubt as well. Speaking with Time Out, Dujardin said that he’s his own toughest critic, and he’s at his happiest — like George — on a movie set. “[There] I’m someone else,” he added. “The mustache, the dinner jacket. It’s not me. You’re always this sort of double, and it’s liberating. Imagine being stuck with yourself… all those doubts…”

Doubts and doubles also haunt the protagonist of the fascinating thriller “Martha Marcy May Marlene.” Martha — or is it Marcy May? — wakes early one morning on an idyllic-looking farm, but something is clearly amiss. Before anyone notices, she sneaks away and calls her sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson) to beg her to come pick her up. After moving in with Lucy and her husband at their beautiful lake house, Martha struggles to come to grips with her time at the farm, which we slowly come to realize was actually a cult that routinely abused and then brainwashed its female residents. Mentally beaten-down by her time as the cult’s “Marcy May,” Martha keeps flashing back and forth between past and present, often unsure of where, or even who, she really is.

In reality, Martha is actress Elizabeth Olsen, the younger sister of famous “Full House” twins Mary-Kate and Ashley. “Martha Marcy May Marlene” director Sean Durkin cast Olsen after meeting more than 50 other actresses for the role. Coming in on the last day of auditions, she blew Durkin away with a reading that was more complex than any other actress he saw. Back in November, Durkin told me that what set Olsen apart from the pack was her ability to “convey a lot of feeling with her eyes without trying. She was totally effortless.” Durkin was nervous about casting an unknown actor, for fear that even with all her raw talent, he would have to work to pull a great performance out of her on set. Those fears were ultimately unfounded. “She was as prepared from the first take of the first scene as someone like John [Hawkes] or Hugh [Dancy],” Durkin noted.

Mexican actor Demián Bichir prepared for his journey to the 2012 Spirit Awards with an acting career than spans more than thirty years. After starting out in telenovelas while still a teenager, Bichir eventually graduated to features; his 1999 comedy, “Sexo, Pudor y Lágrimas,” is one of the most successful Mexican films in history. American audiences might recognize Bichir as Fidel Castro in Steven Soderbergh’s two-part biopic of Che Guevara; it was that performance that brought him to the attention of “A Better Life” director Chris Weitz. He told The Hollywood Reporter that Bichir’s body of work made casting him as Carlos, an illegal immigrant and gardener looking to give his teenage son a better life, “ridiculously easy.”

Bichir’s performance, which also landed him a surprise Oscar nomination in addition to his Spirit Award nod, has the longtime actor soaking in the adulation of his better-known peers. Still, this trip hasn’t been all glamour; Bichir laughs that he got so into character as this down-on-his-luck immigrant that fans who recognized him on the street in Los Angeles were worried he’d fallen on hard times. “No, no. I’m just researching a role, I promise!” he reassured them. The research paid off, as Bichir earned hugely positive reviews and helped expose the complicated reality behind a hot-button political issue to thousands of people.

Those people also include some Spirit Award voters; on February 25, we’ll find out who they chose. It might be more established stars like Ryan Gosling or Michelle Williams. Or it could be one of these remarkable newcomers. But even if these talented underdogs don’t get to take home one of those coveted trophies, it’s been a pretty amazing journey.


Watch Seth Rogen host the 2012 Spirit Awards on Saturday, February 25 at 10/9c on IFC. And while you’re tuning in, don’t forget to log into IFC.com chat with our movie experts LIVE via IFC Sync, presented by Capital One.

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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…

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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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 IFC.com and the IFC app.

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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….

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IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.

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IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

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

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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