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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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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.

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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.