DID YOU READ

Tim Grierson on the Great Films Already Released This Year

Fran Kranz in "The Cabin in the Woods"

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In a couple weeks, “Marvel’s The Avengers” comes out, which heralds the beginning of the summer movie season. That also means the end of the first portion of the film year — the part that people don’t like all that much. As opposed to the fall (when all the serious Oscar contenders open) and the summer (which is a haven for blockbuster action films), the early part of a new year is normally filled with films that are either being dumped by their studio or aren’t quite big enough to warrant much excitement. Sure, you’ve got your Valentine’s Day date-night movies and your major animated offerings — and, this year, the massive hit “The Hunger Games” — but the pre-summer calendar tends to get overlooked, especially late in the year when people are making their Top-10 lists.

But before “The Avengers,” “Men in Black III” and the rest lay waste to the multiplex, I’d like to point out that there actually were several great movies that have already come out this year. They may not have made it to your town, unfortunately, but they’re definitely worth seeing when they land on DVD.

On the mainstream side, you’ve got “The Cabin in the Woods.” For pure smarts and narrative ingenuity, the horror-comedy directed by Drew Goddard and written by Goddard and Joss Whedon took a potentially one-joke idea — which I won’t reveal in case you don’t know yet — and elevated it into something clever, thoughtful and consistently engaging. But that wasn’t the only superb wide release thus far in 2012: Though a disappointing underperformer commercially, director Steven Soderbergh’s “Haywire” will probably be better than most of the action movies we get this summer. Starring MMA fighter Gina Carano, the thriller was all giddy, kinetic fun as a government operative has to break a lot of skulls to figure out who double-crossed her. Soderbergh has made deeper, more “important” films, but “Haywire” has a level of craft that makes it expert escapism.

Released by Paramount Vantage in a limited number of theaters, “Jeff, Who Lives at Home” demonstrated again why writer-directors Jay and Mark Duplass (“Cyrus”) are such a valuable American filmmaking team. Dismissed by some critics because of its jokey surface, the comedy follows the super-positive loser Jeff (Jason Segel) as he goes through a seemingly normal day, only to discover that there are some cosmic coincidences taking place. Though the Duplass brothers can overdo their indie-cred bona fides — the shaking camera is awfully irritating — this is an unexpectedly graceful and generous look at lives that are out of balance. The whole cast is great, but Susan Sarandon is especially wonderful.

A very different brother tandem, acclaimed Belgian writer-directors Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, returned with another sterling offering, “The Kid With a Bike.” The Dardennes, who previously made such gems as “L’Enfant” and “La Promesse,” tell the story of an angry, abandoned young boy (Thomas Doret) failing to reconnect with his absent father, which forces him to rely on the sympathy of a local hairdresser (Cecile de France). The Dardennes prefer spare, unsentimental stories about rudderless people trying to find some direction, and even if “The Kid With a Bike” isn’t among their very finest works, it’s a beautiful and moving film that could be a great gateway drug for the uninitiated. If you’ve never seen any of their movies, try this one — and if you like it, by all means explore their earlier output.

Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan isn’t well known in the States, but his latest film, “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia,” is highly recommended to those who love their detective stories as unconventional as possible. In this atmospheric drama, a collection of men — including a prosecutor and a detective — travel by car through the night with some unsavory criminals who have confessed to a murder. The only problem is that the killers can’t remember where they buried the body in the vast countryside, putting in motion a tense and occasionally strangely comic search for the corpse. When the film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival last year, it was compared to director David Fincher’s meticulous, brilliant “Zodiac,” another procedural about how a crime slowly affects all those who cross its path. I wouldn’t put “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia” at that level of masterpiece, but for the adventurous filmgoer, it’s a gorgeously shot, emotionally troubling experience.

As you may have noticed, some of 2012’s best films have been foreign-language offerings, and I’d like to conclude with two more. The first is the terrific documentary “This Is Not a Film,” which chronicles the house arrest of Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi, who in December 2010 was given a six-year jail sentence. (In addition, the government wouldn’t allow him to give interviews or make films for 20 years.) “This Is Not a Film” points its camera at Panahi, who’s stuck in his home coming to terms with the enormity of his sentence. It’s a fascinating slice-of-life portrait of an artist who has been stripped of his ability to communicate with his audience — but who finds a way regardless.

That brings us to my favorite movie so far released this year. It’s “The Turin Horse,” from Hungarian director Bela Tarr. Slowly making its way around the country — it’ll be in Chicago in May — this austere, absolutely absorbing film dramatizes the harsh 19th century existence of an old man (Janos Derzsi) and his daughter (Erika Bok) who live in a cottage in the middle of nowhere. With very little to eat and surrounded by harsh winds and a desolate landscape, the two seem doomed. And so Tarr takes us through an eventful week in their lives — eventful not because a lot happens, but because the filmmaker’s slow, careful examination of these characters hints that something truly and terribly tragic is about to befall them. With its harsh, demanding tone, “The Turin Horse” is probably not the sort of film you’ll be wanting to see with “The Avengers” about to arrive. But the ambition and audacity of Tarr’s film, which reportedly will be the last one the 56-year-old director will ever make, is heroic and momentous in its own way. The first few months of a new film year tend to be filled with the forgettable. Hopefully, my list suggests that a few great movies managed to slip through the cracks.

Do you have a favorite film already released this year? Let us know in the comments below or on Facebook or Twitter.

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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.