DID YOU READ

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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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.