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The Mavericks of 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.


To be a great independent filmmaker, you have to be a maverick. Writing, financing, producing, and directing your personal cinematic vision without the backing of the Hollywood studio system requires a combination of dedication, talent, inspiration, and madness, not to mention one serious pair of cojones, that very few people possess.

They’re just called the Spirit Awards now, but for most of their 25 year history, they were known as the Independent Spirit Awards. And that’s what they’re all about: the filmmakers with the most independent spirit. Maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise then that so many of the actors nominated for Spirit Awards this year got there by playing mavericks, be they charismatic cult leaders, paranoid prophets of ecological doom, ethically confused wheelmen, or one of the biggest sex symbols in the history of mankind. When an indie filmmaker makes a movie about a character like that, no matter how divorced that character might seem from their own life, they’re really making a movie about themselves. The Mavericks of the Spirit Awards aren’t just the characters; they’re the directors themselves.

Take someone like Nicolas Winding Refn, the Danish-born director of crime thrillers like “Pusher” and “Bronson” who made a huge splash on the American art house scene last year with his romantic crime film “Drive.” Everything about Refn’s approach to the film was unorthodox, right down to the film’s unusual ad campaign, which promoted a violent action film about a psychotic criminal with posters that scrawled out the film’s title in bright pink letters. You don’t see pink mixed into the color palette of a lot of action movies — gun metal gray is the more conventional choice — but Refn told me in an interview last fall that he was dead-set on it from the beginning. “I wanted that kind of font because it’s timeless, in a way. It’s like a hand drawn logo, which is also like old fairy tales,” he told me. Though the film is about a stunt driver for movies and his night job working for gangsters, you might say that the title of “Drive” refers ultimately to Refn himself, and his all-consuming need to express his one-of-a-kind cinematic vision.

Refn’s intensity, passion, and iconoclastic tendencies are reflected in “Drive”‘s protagonist, the nameless wheelman played by Ryan Gosling. A maverick in his own field, The Driver commits crimes, but only within certain very specific parameters: his clients hire his services for a very specific amount of time. Anything that happens within that time frame is cool. Anything outside of that time, he’s gone. He doesn’t join in the heists, he doesn’t carry a gun: he just drives. The Driver’s unusual moral code gets him an audience with a merciless mobster (played by Albert Brooks, another 2012 Spirit Awards nominee) who hires him to pilot his new race car. Unfortunately, it also compels him to help the lowlife husband of his new neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan) out of a jam, a decision with disastrous consequences for almost everyone involved. On the surface, “Drive” is a beautiful and bloody crime film. But it’s also a cautionary tale about all kinds of mavericks, including artistic ones. The lesson The Driver learns is one every independent filmmaker learns at some point: be careful who you get into business with.

Though we never see the origins of his agrarian cult, it seems like that kind of ambivalence, if not outright suspicion, about big capitalism is what moved John Hawkes’ character in “Martha Marcy May Marlene” to found the communal farm where half of the film is set. Hawkes, a Spirit Award winner last year for his chilling performance in the Ozark-set mystery movie “Winter’s Bone,” plays Patrick, the unquestioned patriarch of the group to which the title character — three names all belonging to the same woman, played by Elizabeth Olsen, at various points in the picture — joins and then escapes. Hawkes’ Patrick is not your run of the mill “evil” religious leader. He doesn’t brutalize his flock. He rarely even raises his voice. He seduces his minions with flattery, serenades, and sinister mind games. He sexually assaults every new female member of the group, then brainwashes his victims into helping him recruit and assault new women.

Actually, the lack of an origin for Patrick and his group, or a full explanation of his worldview or theological platform makes his character — and the film as a whole — that much more of a maverick. It makes “Martha Marcy May Marlene” less of a “cult film” (as in a film about a cult, not a movie watched at midnight by weirdos in their underwear) and more of a film about a person grappling with the emotional damage done to her by a cult. Hawkes told Collider that was part of what appealed to him about the part and the screenplay. “I liked the idea that the character is a bit of cipher to the audience,” he said. “I thought that, if he was a bit of a mystery to me, that might be interesting. I think we’re all mysteries to ourselves.”

Michael Shannon’s Curtis, the troubled hero of Jeff Nichols’ “Take Shelter” is certainly a mystery to himself. A happily married man with a wife (Jessica Chastain, also Spirit Award nominated for the film) and daughter, Curtis is suddenly and inexplicably blighted with troubling dreams. In them, Curtis is at home when, without warning, the skies darken and apocalyptic storm clouds appear on the horizon. Curtis shakes off the first couple dreams as bad nightmares, but then they start happening more, and soon they’re a nightly occurrence. For Curtis, it is a mystery with no happy solution. His mother developed paranoid schizophrenia at right around the same age he is now — might it run in the family? Or is he experiencing visions of the future? And if so, what can he do to protect his family and his mental health? Curtis’ home contains a storm shelter; like a mad Noah building his own private ark, he begins to invest what little money his family has to expand it into a emergency bunker.

Nichols’ film, one of the very best of last year, is about the dark side of being a maverick. Sometimes it’s not cool or seductive or badass to be independent; sometimes it means sweating and ranting in a VFW hall about a storm coming that will destroy everything and everyone you know. Ignorance really can be bliss; the knowledge that the end might be coming proves almost as dangerous to Curtis and his family as any impending apocalypse. Nichols told me that he gives all the credit for Curtis’ astounding transformation to Shannon, an actor, he said, who requires very little direction. “We don’t talk much,” Nichols explained of his working relationship with Shannon. “He just shows up with things intact… He just gets it, and I trust that he gets it. You don’t worry about Mike Shannon very much. I don’t worry about him at all.”

Directors also have little to worry about when they hire Michelle Williams for their film. The remarkably talented actress rose to fame as a member of the ensemble of the teen soap opera “Dawson’s Creek.” She could have parlayed “Dawson’s” into a long and comfortable career on television, but Williams exposed her own maverick streak by transitioning to the world of independent film, where she quickly established herself as one of the finest actresses of her generation with stellar work in movies like “Brokeback Mountain,” “Wendy and Lucy,” and “Blue Valentine.” In “My Week With Marilyn,” Williams plays Marilyn Monroe — actress, sex symbol, and authentic maverick — as she is explores Britain during a break in the production of her 1957 film “The Prince and the Showgirl.”

Playing Monroe, one of the most photographed, idolized, and imitated figures of the 20th century, would be a challenge for any actress. How do you live up to Marilyn Monroe, much less play her onscreen, without resorting to cheap “Saturday Night Live”-level caricature? According to Roger Ebert in his wise review of “My Week With Marilyn,” Williams pulled it off with skill and exactitude, writing that “the movie seems to be a fairly accurate re-creation of the making of a film at Pinewood Studios at that time. It hardly matters… what matters is the performance by Michelle Williams. She evokes so many Marilyns, public and private, real and make-believe. We didn’t know Monroe, but we believe she must have been something like his. We’re probably looking at one of this year’s Oscar nominees.”

We were, but we were also looking at one of this year’s Spirit Award nominees. I don’t have a crystal ball; I can’t tell you whether Williams will win either the Oscar or the Spirit. But here’s a radical thought in honor of Williams, Gosling, Shannon, Hawkes, and the rest of the true independents nominated this year: winning doesn’t matter. What’s most important is staying true to the attitude that got you the nomination in the first place, looking massive success in the face and remaining a maverick in spite of it.


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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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

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Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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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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