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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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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