DID YOU READ

America’s Next Top Oscar Winner

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In a great piece called “I like/hate ‘The Artist:’ How the Academy Awards slant our views of movies,” Scott Tobias over at The A.V. Club has done a superb job of putting into words a lot of my own feelings about this Oscar season, namely the fact that “The Artist” — which is cheerful, charming, and very lightweight — has been cast as this year’s presumptive Oscar favorite. Which, in turn, forces us to project intense feelings onto a movie that was designed specifically not to engender intense feelings of any kind.

Here’s what Tobias says:

“Such is the tyranny of Oscar season, an all-consuming three-or-four-month siege — and yearlong cottage industry — that frames the discussion in ways that can be perverse and often unjust to the films in that discussion, to say nothing of the future classics peering in from the cold. Take ‘The Artist:’ I would guess [director Michel] Hazanavicius, in his wildest flights of fancy, could not have imagined his happy little soufflé as the presumptive favorite to win Best Picture. Even its most vocal detractors — who would likely not be vocal at all about it under normal circumstances — would have to confess that the film is not some bloated sop to the Academy, like so many other major studio productions crafted specifically for year-end consideration. Its goals are modest, its pleasures refined — not a whiff of self-importance or middlebrow grandeur… And yet the resentment is there.”

In other words, “The Artist” is the cinematic equivalent of a bubble bath: warm, relaxing, sudsy, fun to luxuriate in for a while, and then instantly forgettable the second it’s over. As such, it is completely effective. Casting it as “THE BEST PICTURE OF THE YEAR” in big bold letters to be stamped into a plaque on the bottom of a small gold man throws a big bucket of cold water on everything it stands for.

As Tobias notes, “The Artist,” was not destined for a Best Picture Oscar, and it surely must not have been conceived with one in mind. So how did we get here? “The Oscars—and to varying degrees, all awards,” Tobias writes, “are not about greatness, but about consensus. And ‘The Artist’ is a point of agreement, much like a bill that’s been haggled over, kicked around by powerful special interests, watered down in committee, and passed to the majority’s tempered contentment.” Very well said.

Thinking about this perspective made me realize what else the Oscar race is like, and that’s the amazing/terrible reality game show “America’s Next Top Model.” If you’ve never seen “Top Model,” it’s pretty simple. Each season, model, talk show host, and Tyra Banks fan Tyra Banks convenes a few notable tastemakers from the world of fashion to pick our nation’s next great supermodel from a roster of a dozen or so candidates. Now in theory you would think that such a competition would be solely performance based: who takes the best photographs, who does the best runaway walk. But in execution that is rarely how it plays out.

Banks and her fellow judges often reject more talented candidates who show no progress over the course of the competition in favor of models who are, as Banks often puts it on the show, “on the journey.” Being “on the journey” can mean a few things — either the model had untapped potential which the show has developed and exploited (which Banks can then take credit for discovering), or the model had some sort of traumatic mental block — say, the death of a family member or the lingering mental scars from some form of abuse — which the show helped her overcome (which Banks can then take credit for resolving). On “Top Model” you better be more than pretty. You better be “on the journey.”

The same goes for the Oscars. The special interests and committees Tobias describes aren’t necessarily looking for the most viscerally exciting, or technically dynamic, or hysterically funny movie. They want the one that’s “on the journey.” The films that win Oscars are the ones that can best sell that journey to voters. And in the case of the Academy Awards, the journey can be a woman becoming the first winner of the Best Director Oscar while telling an important story in an easily digestible way. Or the journey can be the conclusion of a monumental feat of epic storytelling and a Hollywood gamble that paid off. Or the journey can be a Hollywood fixture makes good. Or the journey can be the return of a long-forgotten genre. “The Artist” — with its homage to the silent film period — certainly has a little of that. But it also has the journey of the plucky underdog surprisingly winning the hearts of everyone. It has the journey of the foreign filmmaker coming to America to validate the studio system by making a movie about how awesome Hollywood is. It has a lot of journeys. No wonder it’s the favorite.

What makes the journey so frustrating for cineastes is the fact that its predictability flies in the face of what the Oscars seemingly should be about: the new, exciting, and unpredictable in the world of cinema. Instead, the race eliminates contenders with idiosyncrasies, because the weird and the wonderful don’t build consensuses and they certainly don’t fit into easy categories. Sometimes the best movies are the ones that take us on the bumpiest rides. If only the journey to the Oscars didn’t need to be so smooth.

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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.
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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.
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Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
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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.
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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.
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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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