DID YOU READ

A film festival judge takes us behind the scenes of how awards are dolled out

The Sarasota Film Festival

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By Jordan Hoffman

At some point in mid-February one of the many publicists I deal with on a regular basis in New York asked if I was planning on going to the Sarasota Film Festival in April. If I had my druthers, I’d go, I said. I love film festivals. You watch movies all day and eat prosciutto-wrapped asparagus all night. But it didn’t look like it was in the cards.

My superpower, however, is getting publicists to think I am far more important than I actually am. Seriously, if it were an Olympic event I’d be a five-time medalist. I was soon offered a position on one of the three juries at this prestigious fest, which meant a couple of days down in Florida on someone else’s dime. Who was I to say no?

I’ve been on a festival jury before (2011 Fantastic Fest) and I have been a working critic for five years, but what the folks making the offer may not have known was that, in a previous life, I was (and hope to one day be again) an independent filmmaker. Two of my films have gone off to various corners of the Earth and each came back with their fair share of laurel wreaths for the poster. Did it make me rich and famous? No. But it kept me from hitting rock bottom a few times, as family members and girlfriends could remind me that, hey, at least we won that audience award up in Rhode Island.

Considering that I’d been “on the other side,” I was going to take my job as a juror very seriously. There were nine films in my section, a division dedicated to low budget and, in some cases, first time films. Five of the films were being sent to me on DVD, the remainder I’d see down during fest.

When the package came I popped ’em without doing any research. The first film I watched was called “In Our Nature,” and when the opening credits ran I was surprised to see some known Hollywood actors. Jena Malone (whom I’ve been fond of since “Contact”) and Gabrielle Union play opposite Zach Gilford and John Slattery.

The movie is awful. It’s everything you worry an independent movie is going to be. A bunch of whiners go up to a cabin in the woods to sit around and talk their feelings to one another. The camera doesn’t move, the scenes are endless and I immediately regretted saying yes to being on the jury. What if the other 8 movies were this bad?

The next movie I put it was called “Richard’s Wedding.” It starts with two people walking down a street in Brooklyn just yapping. The scene doesn’t end, but they’re being a little funny. It has a neo-Seinfeld vibe. Then I notice that some of zings get really good. Still there’s hardly anything resembling a plot and the camera and sound work make it seem like this flick cost 89 cents to make, but I find myself laughing out loud quite a bit, then really starting to like the characters.

“Richard’s Wedding” soon presents itself as something of a three-act play. In the first act, a man and a women walk to an apartment to meet up with others before going to a wedding. In the second act they hang out at the apartment and rib one another and drink. In the third act they all go to the park where the wedding is, of course, a disaster.

Something odd happened when they got to that apartment, however. When the actor opened the door my skin got cold. I KNOW that guy! The actor playing the douchey rich guy was actually someone I worked with for two years back in the early aughts. We both worked part time at a horrible place and made fun of our dipshit boss. In fact, he even showed up for one quick line of dialogue in my first film.

I was devastated. Clearly this was a conflict of interest, no? I mean, I would be rooting for my friend, right? But the thing is, I was really digging “Richard’s Wedding” on its own merits – and I haven’t seen this actor in at least five years. I pressed on.

The third film was called “Welcome to Pine Hill” and it grabbed me from the first scene. It is a moody and evocative film about an African-American from Brooklyn trying to sever the ties to his criminal past by working a boring job in Manhattan. He discovers he has inoperable cancer and decides he must settle his old debts before he can find peace.

Wow, I just made the movie sound really maudlin, and I swear it is anything but. It is artfully shot and understated – and loaded with natural performances and finely observed set pieces. I’m instantly smitten with this film and don’t see how anything else could top it.

Then I see the next film and think, hey, this one is pretty good, too. It is called “The Unspeakable Act,” and my mind is somewhat blown. The titular act is incest, but this is no exploitation film. It’s like Eric Rohmer’s “The Green Ray” meets Whit Stillman’s “Damsels in Distress.” It has mannered, almost surreal dialogue and is shot with bright colors in one of those gorgeous Victorian Brooklyn homes like in “Sophie’s Choice.” It is one of the most steadfastly true to its own peculiar vision things I’ve seen in quite a long time.

I get a return of the queasy feeling again when I realize that the director, Dan Sallit, is someone else I know. He, at least, I haven’t seen since around 1997, but way back when I met him when I was working for an independent producer in New York.

The last film I watch on DVD called “See Girl Run” also has some known stars, Robin Tunney and Adam Scott, and it might even be worse than “In Our Nature.” And I really like Adam Scott, so this was particularly annoying.

A few days later I fly down to Sarasota and immediately proceed to get my ass kissed by volunteers and filmmakers who see the word “jury” on my badge. I’m a married man and don’t get out that much, so this was a very gratifying experience.

I quickly confess to the fest director that I kinda-sorta know some of the people involved in some of the films. I expect to be sent back to New York on a bus. I’m told, however, to just be fair, and be a professional, and let everyone else on the jury know.

I meet my two fellow jurors. One is an old friend, Keith Uhlich of Time Out New York, whose tastes often align with mine, and a fella I don’t know named Michael Dunaway from Paste Magazine. (After fifteen minutes, however, I feel like I’ve known him for years. He may be the most gregarious person I’ve met.) We were three not at all angry men.

On my own I see Kris wife-of-Joe Swanberg’s “Empire Builder.” Another story about people going up to a cabin in the woods, but this one stars the current low budget it-girl Kate Lyn Sheil, and that alone makes it stand out. It is a really emotionally reserved and subtle film about marital infidelity, but it doesn’t get too hysterical. How could it have time, it is only 72 minutes? I like the movie a great deal, but I’m not bananas for it.

After this came a real joy, Jonathan Lisecki’s “Gayby.” The premise may not jump out as the most original idea in the world – gay man and straight woman decide to have a kid, shenanigans ensue – but the writing is really hilarious and the extended supporting cast is simply fantastic. We jurors watch this as a group and everyone has a good time.

After this came another Kate Lyn Sheil vehicle, “Sun Don’t Shine.” This time she’s on the lam with her boyfriend after stabbing her husband. Even though there’s a lot more stuff going on in it, I find myself more intrigued by “Empire Buildier.” But, really, it shouldn’t be a contest. Oh, wait! Actually, it IS a contest! And I’m the judge! Pressure!

The last film we saw was called. . . um. . .oh, crap I can’t remember the name. And I can barely remember the movie. Hold on, let me look it up again. Ah, it was called “Leave Me Like You Found Me.” It’s about people walking around the woods being mad at each other.

So we’d seen our nine films. (And I snuck in two other ones not in our category, too.) Then we had to hammer it out. Where best to decide? Brunch!

The nine jurors (three panels each with three people) gathered and the head of the festival (the esteemed Tom Hall) quietly observed the discussion, fingers poised over an iPad ready to take the names of the winner.

The only rule was that we pick at least one winner. We could give jury prizes, too, but we should restrict it to only two. So this meant we could honor three films.

From my point of view, I wanted to give the awards to the movies I liked best, but also the ones that could really benefit from an additional laurel leaf on the poster.

I really loved “Welcome to Pine Hill,” and it won the best film at Slamdance. An additional award would make it seem like a mandate, and, hopefully, help the film get distribution. “The Unspeakable Act,” however, is a really challenging film, and this was its debut. An award first out of the gate could help this uncompromising film get programmed elsewhere. Then there was “Gayby” and “Richard’s Wedding,” both very funny and crowdpleasing.

Of the three groups there, we were the first to reach a decision that everyone could sign-off on. I’d like to believe that it is because we picked the right winners.

It would be unfair to my fellow jurors to lift the veil back too far, but we came up with a compromise we could live with. “The Unspeakable Act” is a movie that is intense and unique and wholly original. It would win best film. We all loved “Welcome to Pine Hill” (though, I may have been its strongest booster) and felt a special jury prize was in order. Much of what makes that film so memorable is its lead role, so we gave a prize for performance to its lead actor Shannon Harper. Next we wanted to award something for writing, and, at the end of the day, we felt we had to salute the zing-tastic “Richard’s Wedding.” We felt a little guilty about leaving “Gayby” out to dry, but just a few days later it landed a distribution deal, so I think it may have all worked out in the end.

So that’s how the sausage gets made. I left out all the stuff about the parties that included Mexican wrestlers, the Flying Wallendas and David Carr, but to experience an extended weekend at a place as welcoming and enriching as the Sarasota Film Festival is really something you need to do on your own. I also recommend wearing the coveted purple lanyard because it can get you in ANYWHERE.

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The Breakfast Club Paul Gleason

The Mean Team

The 10 Biggest Jerks From ’80s Teen Movies

Catch Footloose and The Breakfast Club during IFC's '80s Weekend.

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Photo Credit: Universal Pictures/Everett Collection

The ’80s gifted us with many glorious things like “Thriller,” dance aerobics, and Tab, but none quite as glorious as the teen movie jerk. Often a gentleman, but occasionally a lady, these deliciously douche-y antagonists sauntered around the halls of our favorite cinematic high schools with perfectly feathered hair, popped collars, and a general air of smugness. Before you travel back in time to the Reagan Era for IFC’s ’80s Weekend, check out our list of the biggest jerks from ’80s teen movies. Shoulder pads and Aquanet are totally optional.

1. Steff, Pretty in Pink

No man rocked a linen suit and loafers in the ’80s (or really SINCE the ’80s) quite as well as James Spader’s hunky, “richie” bad guy from Pretty in Pink. Steff looks old enough to be in grad school, which may explain why he’s always seen idling in the halls with a cigarette coolly hanging off his lips instead of actually going to class. He’s also the kind of guy who has house parties where he roams around in open silk robes, rolling joints, and condescending to pretty much everyone including his supposed best friend Blane. Steff may harbor a secret crush on polar opposite Andie, but we’ve always had a love/hate crush on him and his ridiculously great hair.


2. Troy, The Goonies

Yes, the Fratellis are the real villains in our favorite flick about a ragtag group of teens searching for pirate treasure, but without number one tool, Troy (Steve Antin), and his equally terrible father trying to turn The Goondocks into a country club expansion, there’d be no reason for the pirate treasure search in the first place. Troy is the epitome of the Letterman jacket-wearing, convertible-driving preppy jerk we’ve come to know and hate from ’80s films. His sole aim is to “make it” with girl-next-door Andy (Kerri Green) so when she refuses to ride up his wishing well bucket (in more ways than one) and sends up his embroidered cardigan instead, he angrily yells, “ANDY, YOU GOONIE!” At least he has his sweater back to keep him warm from the cold shoulder Andy just gave him.


3. Hardy, Some Kind of Wonderful

The highly attractive Hardy Jenns (Craig Sheffer) has many less-than-attractive traits including being cruel, misogynistic (“She’s gonna have to beg!”), cheating on girlfriend Amanda (Lea Thompson), and being a total rich snob. Like fellow John Hughes movie tool, Steff, Mr. Jenns also loves a beautifully cut suit and perfect hair, which may be the only thing bigger than his oversized ego. But none of that is enough to keep him from losing two things he can’t just buy back with his gobs of money: his pride and ex Amanda. Looks like THIS Hardy boy has more than a few mysteries to solve, starting with how to become a less terrible person.


4. Heather Chandler, Heathers

New World Pictures
New World Pictures

Lunchtime poll: would you rather be Heather Chandler or kill Heather Chandler? Such is the dilemma faced by frenemy Veronica (Winona Ryder) whose life (and everyone else’s for that matter) is made a living hell by the resident queen bee of the Heathers clique. Ever stylish, Heather Chandler (Kim Walker) favors violently red power suits with huge shoulder pads and matching hair scrunchies. She’s as ruthless about tormenting anyone who gets in her way or barfs on her designer shoes (ahem, Veronica) as she is her croquet game, and frankly, her acid-tongued, NSFW comebacks (some involving chainsaws) are totally legendary. What’s her damage? Oh, just ruling Westerberg like she’s the queen of Westeros. How very.


5. Biff, Back to the Future

Universal
Universal Studios

Biff Tannen (Thomas F. Wilson) is basically your typical school bully: pushy, a little dumb, and egged on by a gang of equally pushy, dimwit friends in Converse sneakers and 3D glasses. He also can’t take a hint from pretty Lorraine (Lea Thompson) who clearly wants nothing to do with him either inside or outside of a car. Like most bullies, Biff’s main target is resident school nerd, George “HEY McFly!” McFly (Crispin Glover), whom he forces to do all his homework and beats the crap out of on a regular basis. Speaking of crap, though, Biff gets a truckload dumped on him during a game of chicken with George’s son, Marty (Michael J. Fox). Hey, Biff — if you need us to help you clean up, we’re gonna make like a tree, and get out of here.


6. Johnny Lawrence, The Karate Kid

Columbia
Columbia Pictures

No list of ’80s teen movie villains would be complete without mentioning the weirdly prolific William “Billy” Zabka. Johnny Lawrence is, without question, the greatest of his bad guy personas. A top karate student at Cobra Kai, blond jerk Johnny immediately dislikes grasshopper Daniel (Ralph Macchio) after he notices him getting a little too chummy with ex-girlfriend Ali (Elisabeth Shue) at a party. Naturally, this is the catalyst for the showdown to end all karate showdowns, and Johnny will do anything to win; even an illegal move against an already injured Daniel. In his leather jackets and karate bandanas, Johnny is the ultimate dreamy bad boy you love to hate and hate to love. Sweep the leg? More like he swept us all off our feet.


7. Principal Vernon, The Breakfast Club

Universal
Universal Studios

Good ol’ Richard Vernon (Paul Gleason) — or Dick, as Bender (Judd Nelson) would call him — and his 1,000-word essay during Saturday detention are all that stand between our Brain (Anthony Michael Hall), Athlete (Emilio Estevez), Basket Case (Ally Sheedy), Princess (Molly Ringwald), and Criminal (Nelson) and freedom. With a wardrobe possibly raided from Barry Manilow, Vernon is overly stern and harsh, especially to John Bender, whom he locks in a closet and gives detentions to as freely as Oprah gives away cars. Hey, you mess with the bull, you get the horns, right? (Click here to see all airings of The Breakfast Club on IFC.)


8. Reverend Moore, Footloose

There are overly-protective fathers and then there is Reverend Shaw Moore (John Lithgow). Stubborn and pious, Moore refuses to lift the ban on dancing and rock music in Bomont, putting an even bigger wedge between himself and wild daughter Ariel (Lori Singer). Moore is all fire and brimstone in the pulpit, preaching against the very things — like sex, drugs, dancing, and alcohol — he believes led to son Bobby’s death in a car accident. When Ren (Kevin Bacon) stands up to him during a town council meeting and quotes joyful passages about dancing from the Bible, Moore’s demeanor begins to change. Come on, Reverend. No one can resist a slice of Bacon! (Click here to see all airings of Footloose on IFC.)


9. Jeanie, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

Paramount
Paramount Pictures

Much like Principal Rooney (Jeffrey Jones), Jeanie (Jennifer Grey) is less-than-amused by brother Ferris’ (Matthew Broderick) shenanigans, especially considering he never seems to get in trouble for anything with either their parents or school. But Jeanie’s attempts to catch her brother in the act wind up landing her in the police station where she finds time to make out with a drug dealer and throw some serious shade before speeding off with her mother to try to beat Ferris home. Jeanie Bueller’s day off is decidedly not quite as fun as Ferris’.


10. Stan Gable, Revenge of the Nerds

26 year-old Ted McGinley was cast as cardigan-wearing jock Stan Gable partially based on a calendar-modeling gig he’d had, which explains a lot about what you need to know about Stan. The alpha male of the Alpha Beta fraternity pretty much coasts by on his good looks and athletic abilities while delegating all his dirty work to doofus best friend Ogre (Donald Gibb). But make no mistake, Stan has it out for any and all nerds who try to steal both his spot as big man on campus and his girl. Never cross a man in a cardigan.

Flashback with IFC’s ’80s Weekend July 29-31st!

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Pokémon Go   Hollywood   YouTube

Catch 'Em All

Pokemon Go Goes Hollywood, Real Life Futurama, and More of This Week’s Funniest Videos

This week we're laughing at Indiana Jones catching Pokémon, Donald Trump meeting Grimace and more.

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Photo Credit: Lucasfilm / Nintendo / YouTube

It pains us to say this, but this summer is not even half over. Beaten on all sides by weather, current events, and anyone behind a podium, we could definitely use a breather. Luckily, we have a handful of funny videos before you break for the weekend.

From a scarily accurate real-life version of Futurama to Trump meeting a beloved McDonaldland character, here are five funny things from this week you need to watch.

1. The Best T-Shirts in Film

From Wayne and Garth to your neighborhood skateboarder, everyone loves a great T-shirt. In fact, the quickest way to humanize a character to a viewer is to put ’em in a novel-T, and there’ve been a few cinematic greats through the years — which YouTuber Travis Greenwood compiled in a supercut worthy of a mall kiosk.


2. I’m Afraid to Talk to Men

Comedian Chris Fleming has a knack for outrageous characters and bizarrely catchy earworms. Give a listen to his latest ditty about his fears that any encounter with dudes will lead to him talking about birds or mentioning Stevie Nicks. Looks like we found our 2016 summer song.


3. Real Life Futurama Fan Trailer

In a gorgeous and dazzling abuse of intellectual property rights, this teaser for Fan-O-Rama — a fan-made, real-life version of Futurama — shows a keen eye for detail and a big heart for the animated series. Cinema Relics clearly went all-out for this one, from a fully articulating Bender to a jowl-wobbling Nixon head, and it definitely has us looking forward to the full-length video.


4. Pokémon Go Hollywood

As more and more countries are invited to clog the overloaded servers, there’s no denying Pokémon Go is a cultural phenomenon. And while it didn’t take much prodding to get us all into Pidgey-wranglin’, YouTuber Darth Blender conceived of a Hollywood filled with Pokémon-sponsored product placement. Set to the cartoon theme song, Indiana Jones, Deadpool, and Mad Max are determined to catch them all.


5. Donald Trump Meets Grimace

A testament to his staunch honesty, integrity, and humility, Donald Trump continues to run a flawless presidential campaign with absolutely no cause for concern, alarm, or emigration. But despite the media’s intense vetting process that begat zero scandals or impeachable acts, Trump does have one small blemish from his past: a series of embarrassing McDonald’s ads featuring him alongside Grimace. But thankfully, for the lives and safety of this planet, this is the only regrettable thing he’s done.

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The Bad News Bears Walter Matthau

Batter Up

10 Surprising Facts About The Bad News Bears Movies

Catch the Bad News Bears movies this month on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Paramount/Everett Collection

The Bad News Bears has become one of the most popular sports comedies in movie history. For some fans it’s a classic underdog story. To others, it’s an honest depiction of kids. Regardless of what you get from the movies, you can see all four of them on IFC this month: the original Bad News Bears (1976), the Richard Linklater remake (2005), the sentimental sequel The Bad Bews Bears in Breaking Training (1977) and the bizarre cash-grab The Bad News Bears Go to Japan (1978) –- where a Little League player battles a Kaiju monster.

Before you tee up with the Bears, check out a few things you might not know about the enduring rough-and-tumble baseball movie franchise.

1. The cast got paid to ad lib.

Bad News Bears Stretcher
Paramount Pictures

The original 1976 Bad News Bears is beloved for its warts-and-all depiction of a group of rowdy youngsters. To make the dialogue feel more real and unpredictable, director Michael Ritchie would pay the actors a dollar each for the best ad-lib of the day. Some of the funniest lines were improvised, including the throwaway bit after Ahmad gets hit in the crotch. Coach Turner calls for a stretcher and Toby asks, “A stretcher for his balls?”


2. The first Bears film originally had a different ending.

Kelly Leak
Paramount Pictures

The original ending of The Bad News Bears had Kelly Leak stealing a Mercedes after he found his Mom was having an affair with Bob Whitewood (the Councilman who hired Buttermaker). There was a police chase that ended up at the stadium where a game is going on. Kelly grabbed a bat, hitting the winning home run but couldn’t go to home because the police were waiting there for him.


3. You can thank ‘Nam for the Bears losing in the first film.

Bad News Bears Team
Paramount Pictures

Richard Linklater (who directed the 2005 Bears remake) noted on the DVD commentary that adult test audiences wanted the Bears to win the big game, but kids loved that the Bears lost. Linklater adds that it was necessary for the Bears to lose in the original, because America was coping with the outcome of the war in Vietnam.


4. The Bears came from all over the country.

Bad News Bears
Paramount Pictures

The filmmakers saw over 1,000 kids in Los Angeles, but felt they couldn’t be natural. Director Michael Ritchie said professionally trained child actors had too many bad habits and “talked like kids in The Brady Bunch.” The filmmakers auditioned young actors in New York (where they found three Bears, including Tanner) and Texas (where they discovered Engelberg) in order to assemble the ragtag bunch.


5. Where’s Engelberg Now?

Engleberg Bad News Bears
Paramount Pictures

12-year-old Gary Lee Cavagnaro, who played Bears catcher Engelberg, had never acted before. His mother worked in the shopping center where they held the auditions and saw a sign reading: “WANTED: Kids who weigh more than 160 pounds.” Gary weighed 205, but after the movie he lost 65 pounds and grew four inches, losing his role in the sequel. He was offered a part in Jaws 2, but turned it down because he wanted to play football instead. Today he works for an electronics company in his home state of Texas.


6. Tatum O’Neal did her own pitching.

Tatum O'Neal Bad News Bears
Paramount Pictures

O’Neal, the youngest actor to ever win an Oscar, did her own pitching in the key scenes on the mound. A pitching coach from USC worked with Tatum for five weeks where she learned to throw a curveball, which she could only occasionally throw during filming. (For every one pitch that was used, there were 60 takes left on the cutting room floor.) Despite all this effort, many critics wrote that the film must’ve used a pitching double.


7. The Bears almost met Castro.

Bad News Bears Cuba
Paramount Pictures

In 1978, comedy legend Carl Reiner was approached to direct a fourth Bears movie. Paramount had arranged for Fidel Castro to co-star in The Bad News Bears Go to Cuba, featuring the Revolutionary Leader playing catch with the Little Leaguers, giving a pep talk and throwing out the first ball of the World championship game against the United States. In the script, the game ends with a tie of 0-0 and the two teams share the trophy six months at a time. (Die-hard fans will remember that the last line of The Bad News Go to Japan is Tony Curtis’ character scheming an exhibition game in Cuba.)


8. The Bears inspired a low-budget rip-off.

Bad News Bears Cuba
American International Pictures

The Bad News Bears Go to Japan opened in theaters two months after the release of Here Comes the Tigers, an obscure Bears rip-off directed by Sean S. Cunningham. (The filmmaker would later find fame with Friday the 13th, a title he’d wanted to use for a kids’ soccer comedy.) Tigers follows a reluctant coach, a juvenile delinquent, a “booger-eating moron” named Timmy and features a soundtrack of classical music. Fittingly, IMDB classifies Tigers as a remake.


9. Corey Feldman was a Bad News Bear.

Corey Feldman Bad News Bears
CBS

In 1979, the Bears came to the small screen with a cast of younger players. The TV version has Buttermaker (played by Jack Warden) coaching rather than spending a year in prison after driving a client’s Cadillac into a swimming pool. The cast included eight-year-old Corey Feldman, in what would be his first regular television role. Presumably the producers cast young actors so they wouldn’t get too old if the show proved to be successful. Unfortunately, it only lasted two seasons.


10. The Bears remake had to be booze-free.

Bad News Bears Beer
Paramount Pictures

The 2005 Bad News Bears remake established early on that Buttermaker drinks non-alcoholic beer. (Director Richard Linklater couldn’t use real beer or include actual brand names.) In the victory scene, Buttermaker hands his team bottles of non-alcoholic brew. Despite these compromises, co-screenwriter John Requa was pleased with Billy Bob Thornton’s ability to keep the film from becoming too sentimental, noting that the actor is “incapable of delivering corn.” Even if it means drinking “Goldweisen.”

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