Nostalgia and the Academy Awards


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The Academy Awards are one week away and, at this point, it looks like the big winners will be the French silent movie tribute “The Artist,” the American tribute to French silent movies “Hugo,” and other films, like “The Help” and “Midnight in Paris,” set in or obsessed with the past. Clearly, this year’s Oscars are all about nostalgia. But why? In The Los Angeles Times, Neal Gabler locates the origin of this trend in the neurotic minds of Hollywood executives who, he writes, are “full of self-loathing”:

“We tend to think that the denizens of the film industry luxuriate in the popcorn movies they deliver to us, that they love the bombast that is now the primary reason people go to the movies. Indeed, the stereotype of the movie mogul is still a man or woman who cares more about money than prestige, and who boasts, as a writer once remarked of Columbia Pictures head Harry Cohn when Cohn said a movie wasn’t any good because he kept wiggling in his seat, that the whole world is ‘wired to his ass.’ They are us — only richer.”

Gabler believes that as the movie industry’s offerings have gotten dumber, its need for respectability has intensified. That led to the situation we have now: where, Gabler explains, the studios pump out only two kinds of movies: blockbusters and “anti-blockbusters.” These films, like “The Artist” or “Hugo” or “War Horse” don’t just steep in the world of the past, they celebrate the past in order to denigrate the present. “The Artist,” for example, is a story about the tragedy of innovation. Its hero is a silent film actor at the top of his game. When Hollywood introduces sound, and the actor — the artist! — refuses to make the transition, he is nearly destroyed. But even more importantly, the beauty of silent film was destroyed, and it’s that beauty that “The Artist” seeks to resurrect and honor.

Gabler has certainly identified a legitimate trend amongst this year’s Academy Award nominees. He’s a smart guy too; Gabler wrote “Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination,” one of the finest biographies in recent memory. But I’m not sure he’s reading this trend correctly. Is the nostalgia amongst a wide swath of 2012 Oscar nominees a reaction against mainstream Hollywood or an expansion of it?

After all, cinematic nostalgia was not simply limited to awards pictures last year: it was the predominant theme in all kinds of films. Just about everything Hollywood makes these days is indebted to something that has come before. It might be something based on an old television series or or a landmark series of books or a toy popular with children in the 1980s. Don’t forget all the prequels to sci-fi classics or comic book movies. Then there’s the big-screen adaptation of the old cartoon and the big-screen adaptation of the old cartoon and, of course, the big-screen adaptation of the old cartoon. Even so-called “original” films look like prior works, from Steven Spielberg movies to James Bond adventures. The trick is the same every time — take an existing property with a built-in fanbase and gussy it up with new effects to capture the imagination of a new audience and recapture the imagination of the old audience who loved it even before it looked good.

Gabler says that the Oscars’ “sudden burst of nostalgia” may be “a demonstration of the self-contempt of an industry that is finally tired of itself.” But the same impulse fueling a film like “War Horse” — which Gabler cites as an example of an old-fashioned anti-blockbuster — is basically the same impulse fueling a film like “Cowboys & Aliens” — a new-fangled action spectacular. Like “War Horse,” “Cowboys & Aliens” is indebted to the works of John Ford (as well as the works of other nostalgia icons like George Pal and Ray Harryhausen) — and like “War Horse” it’s also about “primal communions” between boy and father, man and horse. “War Horse” might be soppy melodrama and “Cowboys & Aliens” might be a noisy bore, but the cloth they’re cut from is not all that different. And both came from the same man: director and executive producer (respectively) Steven Spielberg.

Maybe Hollywood is full of self-loathing; in my experience, most people and most industries are. But I’m not sure the presumed popularity amongst Oscar voters of “The Artist,” “Hugo,” and others is indicative of that self-loathing. It seems equally likely that nostalgia’s Oscar dominance this year simply reflects nostalgia’s dominance across all kinds of filmmaking disciplines. Most of the nostalgic movies mentioned above were huge hits; I selected them from this list of the highest grossing films of 2011. If we looked back over the past couple years, we’d find similar results. Old is the new new. And money is still money.

What do you make of all the nostalgic films at this year’s Academy Awards? Tell us in the comments below or write to us on Facebook and Twitter.

Portlandia Season 5

Is It January Yet???

Portlandia Returns With Danzig, Louis C.K. and More on January 21

Portlandia returns January 21st, 2016 at 10P ET/PT.

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Circle the day on your calendar and mark your sundial, because Portlandia is returning to IFC for its sixth season on Thursday, January 21st at 10P ET/PT for ten all-new episodes.

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In season six, Fred and Carrie embark on all new Portland-based adventures, including inadvertently creating a ramen noodle monster that wreaks havoc on the city.

Other things to look forward to this season: Doug and Claire break up, only to wind up frustrated by a way-younger party girl and an overly caring feminist, respectively. Dave and Kath decide to run a marathon that takes place the following day. Fred turns grey overnight and, in seeking answers from the universe, gets sucked into a black hole. Kyle MacLachlan, reprising his role as the Mayor, tries to lure a tech company to Portland and also puts the moves on Carrie with a canister of frozen sperm from his office refrigerator.

Guest stars coming to Portlandia this season include Jillian Bell (Workaholics), Louis C.K. (Louie), musician Wayne Coyne and The Flaming Lips, rocker Glenn Danzig, Gregory Gourdet (Top Chef), Mitchell Hurwitz (Arrested Development), Moshe Kasher (Another Period), Zoe Kravitz (Dope, Mad Max), John Levenstein (Kroll Show), NPR’s Kai Ryssdal, Alia Shawkat (Arrested Development), Robert Smigel (Saturday Night Live), and Bitsie Tulloch (rimm).

Returning guest stars include Steve Buscemi (Boardwalk Empire), Natasha Lyonne (Orange Is the New Black), and Kumail Nanjiani (Silicon Valley). Be sure to catch Seasons 1-5 of Portlandia on iTunes and Netflix and check back here for more announcements before the season six premiere on January 21st.

Walking Dead

Zombie Killers

10 Weapons You Definitely Want in the Zombie Apocalypse

Catch Robert Kirkman on Comedy Bang! Bang!

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How do you kill that which is already dead? Spectacularly. Zombies aren’t just cannon-fodder — they’re guilt-free target practice for every weapon you can imagine. In celebration of The Walking Dead‘s Robert Kirkman on tonight’s Comedy Bang! Bang!, here are 10 items you definitely want when the inevitable zombie outbreak happens.

10. The Boomstick, Evil Dead franchise


Ash’s trusty sawed-off shotgun, aka the boomstick, is the perfect tool for winning any argument with the undead.

9. Double-Double-Barrelled Sawed-Off Shotguns, Resident Evil: Afterlife

Resident Evil

The only thing better than a double-barrelled shotgun? Double-double-barrelled shotguns! Resident Evil‘s Alice shows off her inhuman ex-human killing powers by loading four barrels with quarters for maximum enemy-shredding effect.

8. Chainsaw Hand, Evil Dead franchise


Ash’s chainsaw enhancement gives new meaning to the phrase “lend a hand.”

7. Machine Gun/Grenade Launcher Combo Leg, Planet Terror

Planet Terror Rose McGowan

When Cherry Darling gets a gun as a replacement left leg she uses it to kick dead ass far harder than any human limb. Especially when she launches the most epic crotch shot of all time.

6. Cricket Bat, Shaun of the Dead

Shaun of the Dead

Shaun of the Dead‘s characters attack incoming zombies with anything at hand, be it a handy cricket bat or a box of old vinyl records.

5. Morgan’s Bo staff, The Walking Dead

You can’t get much lower tech than a stick, making Morgan’s weapon the most easily maintained in any post-apocalyptic situation. It’s also the only weapon with a non-lethal option, enabling Morgan to maintain his respect for all living humans while still beating any of those humans idiotic enough to attack him.

4. Grand Piano, Zombieland

Zombieland has a magnificent musical moment when an old lady baits a zombie into a Looney Tunes-esque death by crushing underneath a grand piano. With Woody Harrelson banjoing another brain-eater into oblivion, the movie is an entire orchestra of undead-enders.

3. Michonne’s Katana, The Walking Dead

Michonne may be the most badass character in fiction. She doesn’t just defeat zombies, she slices them apart with utter contempt and keeps her own nearest and dearest undead on chains to protect her from the hordes. But only after amputating anything which would make them dangerous.

2. Decapitation Arrow Truck!, Juan of the Dead

Juan of the Dead

The decapitation arrow is one of the most glorious weapons we’ve ever seen, combining every benefit of staying alive — planning, teamwork, tool use, and the ability to shout “duck” — into a weapon that can create entire corpse circles.

1. Daryl’s crossbow, The Walking Dead

Shotguns announce your total victory over anything in front of you. They also announce your edible presence to everything in every other direction for miles. Expert hunter Daryl Dixon solves this problem with a badass crossbow. Silent, brutal, and you can even recover the bolts from collapsed corpses. Daryl knows the importance of recycling in the zombie apocalypse.

D's Best

Tenacious D’s 10 Most Insane Live Performances

Catch The D at Festival Supreme Saturday, October 10th.


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Tencious D knows how to rock. Hard. And they’ll be melting faces with the power of their rocking this Saturday, October 10th, at Festival Supreme in Los Angeles. As a tribute to The D and their awesome comedy and music festival, check out some of their most mindblowing-ly insane live performances below. How will their Festival Supreme appearance compare? Better grab tickets and find out.

10. Wonderboy on Late Night w/ Conan O’Brien

The boys get to play dress up in this classic Conan clip.

9. Ben Stiller Joins The D (NSFW)

It’s all fun and games until Ben Stiller crushes your dreams.

8. “Throw Down” on The Late Late Show

The boys’ religious history lesson is a bit more Metal than your typical Sunday school class.

7. “Dude (I Totally Miss You)” Live (NSFW)

KG threatens to leave the band, but can’t resist the silken voice of best friend Jables.

6.Tribute” feat. Dave Grohl from MADtv

You don’t often think of rock when it comes to MADtv, but when they let The D loose the result was TV gold.

5. All Jazz, All The Time in Milan

Jack announces that Tenacious D is now a jazz band, and somehow still makes it sound hardcore.

4.Roadie” at SXSW (NSFW)

“Coming to you live at the…what is this place?,” the boys take a moment to honor the unsung heroes of rock.

3.Beelzeboss” on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon

Lead guitarist John Konesky is possessed by the Devil, and the only way to save him is to rock!

2. “F*ck Her Gently” at Blizzcon (NSFW)

JB teaches us how to make love The D way in this classic performance from the 2010 Blizzcon.

1. “The Metal” Live and Uncut

The only way this could be more metal is if it were not a video clip, but a bar of iron.

This Week

This Week on IFC: Judy Greer Visits CBB, Benders Sobers Up and Gigi Strips Down

The fun starts Thursday, October 15th, starting at 10P.


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This week on an all-new Benders, Paul (Andrew Schulz) decides it’s time to renounce beer and give the sober life a whirl. There’s a first time for everything, right? And if it gives him a chance to one up Anthony (Chris Distefano) in a new hockey division, that’s even better. Meanwhile, Karen (Lindsey Broad) hosts a book club and it goes about as well as you’d expect. Who knew book clubs don’t have keggers? See what unfolds this Thursday, October 15th, starting at 10P.

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Then on Gigi Does It, everyone’s new favorite bubby decides it’s time to tackle her body image issues. And what better way than to volunteer to pose nude for a local art class? Brace yourself for Gigi’s inner (and outer) beauty Thursday at 10:30P.

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Finally, Jurassic World and Married star Judy Greer stops by Comedy Bang! Bang! to show off the unique auditioning skills that have helped her to score roles in every movie and TV show. Plus, Kid Cudi gets into a hockey rivalry. Maybe a Benders crossover is in his future? Find out by tuning into Comedy Bang! Bang! in its NEW TIME SLOT, Thursday at 11P

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