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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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.