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Tim Grierson Defends the Never-Ending Oscar Season

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Summer movie season is over, but before you can even catch your breath, boom, we find ourselves in the midst of the major fall film festivals: Venice, Telluride and Toronto. These festivals are the launching pad for some of the year’s first serious Academy Award contenders, which might seem ridiculous since the Oscars take place February 24. (That’s more than five months from now.) Nonetheless, from here on out we’re going to be hearing nonstop discussion about what movies and what performances have the inside track for awards. It’s a tiring, silly season. And yet, all in all, I still think it’s pretty terrific.

While most people happily go about their lives not caring a lick about the Oscars until the night of the broadcast, there are whole industries (and several websites) devoted to a year-round obsession with who might win those prizes. It starts in January with the Sundance Film Festival, which this year unveiled the critically acclaimed indie hit “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” and then picks up a little steam in May when the Cannes Film Festival occurs. But early September is when award-mania really begins, and in the last few days there have been glowing reviews for the likes of Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master” and Ben Affleck’s “Argo.” But beyond discussing how good these movies are, there’s also a lot of idle speculation about these films’ Oscar chances, as if such a thing could (or should) be quantified.

It’s this element of award handicapping that film critics like me find distasteful. Rather than debating an ambitious movie’s merits or dissecting its thematic intentions, the media spends an inordinate amount of time trying to guess how the approximately 5,500 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will feel about the film. The Oscar season reduces an art form to a popularity contest, rewarding movies that are, by consensus, deemed to be “good,” which often disqualifies stronger, nervier films simply because they’re too divisive.

So why do I look forward to this season more than any other?

In part, it’s because Oscar season is the one time of year when a movie’s quality really matters. We’re inundated with awards in the buildup to the Academy Awards — everything from the Golden Globes to prizes from critics’ organizations (including the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, of which I’m a member) — which can make the fall feel like an interminable slog of endless trophies and speeches. But in their own way, each stop on the award-season calendar is an attempt to celebrate the best in filmmaking. Rather than focusing on box office or celebrities, awards are supposed to be based on artistic quality, and while we can all argue about how successful any of these groups are in picking what the “best” movies are, it does shift the focus back to the craftsmanship and skill of the work.

That should be obvious, but sadly it’s not. Anyone who follows film at all knows that it’s a business like any other — it exists to make money. This isn’t something that suddenly happened in Hollywood — from its beginning, the industry wanted to reap profits through any means that it could. That’s why, as frustratingly imperfect as it is, I’m grateful that the endless award season does at least serve as a reminder that movies should be about more than just grosses. The season creates a conversation about what constitutes greatness: Is it a film that stirs your soul? Is it one that leaves you feeling good? Is it one that challenges you? Audiences and critics alike debate these questions all the time, but it’s only really when we get close to the Oscars that those debates take center stage. Let’s not be naïve: The Oscars are about money as well. But, in theory, award season focuses on movies that are actually good, and I’m always in favor of discussing good movies as opposed to wasting time yapping about bad sequels and tired reboots.

Since I tend to be an Oscar apologist, it probably won’t surprise you to learn that I grew up watching the Academy Awards. From an early age, I was attracted to this notion of a group of seemingly wise, seasoned professionals deciding what the best movies were. As you get older, you realize that these professionals are no wiser than anybody else, but what has stayed with me is this notion that the Academy Awards matter — that they coronate films and performances, giving them an immortality they might not otherwise have. (And, of course, that can be a double-edged sword: We all have our own list of movies we can’t believe won Best Picture.) Maybe I’m holding onto that childhood idealism a little too tightly, but nonetheless I take award season seriously because, at the end of it, there are going to be Oscars given out, and I’m concerned that they go to the right people. I realize how ridiculous that is to say: I have no control over the process. But because I’ve loved movies all my life, I feel like I have a stake in how the Academy makes their decisions. I think we all do, despite being powerless to affect the outcome. That’s why I’m less interested in all the endless handicapping — I just care that the voters get it right.

Cynics and realists will probably scoff at this. It’s stupid to care what a bunch of people I’ve never met think is Best Picture. What makes a movie “best” anyway? I don’t know, and nobody else does, either. But I think that’s the point. The completely ludicrous impossibility of deciding what movie is best is what makes it so fascinating. It is, by nature, subjective — no movie beats another movie in the Super Bowl to decide the champion — so it comes down to our biases and preferences. When we’re discussing what movies we love, we’re really talking about what we love and who we are. For all the money and hoopla surrounding the Oscars, I find that I’m less interested in a specific movie winning than I am in getting to the heart of our love for great movies. Award season isn’t so much about that, I realize, but for me it is. I just hope I’m not alone in feeling that way.

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Thank Azaria

Best. Characters. Ever.

Our favorite Hank Azaria characters.

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GIFs via Giphy

Hank Azaria may well be the most prolific voice and character actor of our time. The work he’s done for The Simpsons alone has earned him a permanent place in the pop culture zeitgeist. And now he’s bringing another character to the mainstream: a washed-up sports announcer named Jim Brockmire, in the aptly titled new series Brockmire.

We’re looking forward to it. So much so that we want to look backward, too, with a short-but-sweet retrospective of some of Azaria’s important characters. Shall we begin?

Half The Recurring Simpsons Characters

He’s Comic Book Guy. He’s Chief Wiggum. He’s Apu. He’s Cletus. He’s Snake. He’s Superintendent Chalmers. He’s the Sea Captain. He’s Kurt “Can I Borrow A Feeling” Van Houten. He’s Professor Frink. He’s Carl. And he’s many more. But most importantly he’s Moe Szyslak, the staple character Azaria has voiced since his very first audition for The Simpsons.

Oh, and He’s Frank Grimes

For all the regular Simpsons characters Azaria has played over the years, his most brilliant performance may have been a one-off: Frank Grimes, the scrappy bootstrapper who worked tirelessly all his life for honest, incremental, and easily-undermined success. Azaria’s portrayal of this character was nuanced, emotional, and simply magical.

Patches O’Houlihan

Dodgeball is a “sport of violence, exclusion and degradation.” as Hank Azaria generously points out in his brief but crucial cameo in Dodgeball. That’s sage wisdom. Try applying his “five D’s” to your life on and off the court and enjoy the results.

Harold Zoid

Of Futurama fame. The crazy uncle of Dr. Zoidberg, Harold Zoid was once a lion (or lobster) of the silver screen until Smell-o-vision forced him into retirement.

Agador

The Birdcage was significant for many reasons, and the comic genius of Hank Azaria’s character “Agador” sits somewhere towards the top of that list. If you haven’t seen this movie, shame on you.

Gargamel

Nobody else could make a live-action Gargamel possible.

Ed Cochran

From Ray Donovan. Great character, great last name [editorial note: the author of this article may be bias].

Kahmunra, The Thinker, Abe Lincoln

All in the Night At The Museum: Battle Of The Smithsonian, a file that let Azaria flex his voice acting and live-action muscles in one fell swoop.

The Blue Raja

Mystery Men has everything, including a fatal case of Smash Mouth. Azaria’s iconic superhero makes the shortlist of redeemable qualities, though.

Dr. Huff

Huff put Azaria in a leading role, and it was good. So good that there is no good gif of it. Internet? More like Inter-not.

Learn more about Hank Azaria’s newest claim to fame right here, and don’t miss the premiere of Brockmire April 5 at 10P on IFC.

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Flame Out

Brockmire and Other Public Implosions

Brockmire Premieres April 5 at 10P on IFC.

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There’s less than a month until the Brockmire premiere, and to say we’re excited would be an insulting understatement. It’s not just that it stars Hank Azaria, who can do no wrong (and yes, that’s including Mystery Men, which is only cringeworthy because of Smash Mouth). It’s that the whole backstory of the titular character, Jim Brockmire, is the stuff of legends. A one-time iconic sportscaster who won the hearts of fans and players alike, he fell from grace after an unfortunate personal event triggered a seriously public meltdown. See for yourself in the NSFW Funny or Die digital short that spawned the IFC series:

See? NSFW and spectacularly catastrophic in a way that could almost be real. Which got us thinking: What are some real-life sports fails that have nothing to do with botched athletics and everything to do with going tragically off script? The internet is a dark and dirty place, friends, but these three examples are pretty special and mostly safe for work…

Disgruntled Sports Reporter

His co-anchor went offsides and he called it like he saw it.

Jim Rome vs Jim “Not Chris” Everett

You just don’t heckle a professional athlete when you’re within striking distance. Common sense.

Carl Lewis’s National Anthem

He killed it! As in murdered. It’s dead.

To see more moments just like these, we recommend spending a day in your pajamas combing through the muckiness of the internet. But to see something that’s Brockmire-level funny without having to clear your browser history, check out the sneak peeks and extras here.

Don’t miss the premiere of Brockmire April 5 at 10P on IFC.

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Mirror, Mirror

Portlandia Season 7 In Hindsight

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available Online and on the IFC App.

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Another season of Portlandia is behind us, and oh what a season it was. We laughed. We cried. And we chuckled uncomfortably while glancing nervously around the room. Like every season before it, the latest Portlandia has held a mirror up to ridiculousness of modern American life, but more than ever that same mirror has reflected our social reality in ways that are at once hysterical and sneakily thought-provoking. Here are just a few of the issues they tackled:

Nationalism

So long, America, Portland is out! And yes, the idea of Portland seceding is still less ludicrous than building a wall.

Men’s Rights

We all saw this coming. Exit gracefully, dudes.

Protests

Whatever you stand for, stand for it together. Or with at least one other person.

Free Love

No matter who we are or how we love, deep down we all have the ability to get stalky.

Social Status

Modern self-esteem basically hinges on likes, so this isn’t really a stretch at all.

These moments are just the tip of the iceberg, and much more can be found in the full seventh season of #Portlandia, available right now #online and on the #IFC app.

via GIPHY

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