DID YOU READ

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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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.
Die Hard wedding

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.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

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.
Die Hard thank you

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.
Die Hard thank you

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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