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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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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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