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Tim Grierson on the Five Good Things That Came Out of Oscar Season

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Oscar season, which starts approximately at the beginning of September, at long last came to an end last night. Even someone like myself who finds much to enjoy about this time of year has to admit that the past five months of constantly tracking which movies and performances have “heat” or “buzz” has been incredibly tiring. Still, optimist that I am, I’d like to think that there’s still some net good that comes out of the seemingly endless buildup to the Oscars. The Academy Awards may still reward the wrong people and overlook the truly worthy, but this year, as always, they also had their positives…

1. They inspired people to see small movies they might not have otherwise.

Films like “Argo” or “Les Miserables” would probably have been hits even without a Best Picture nomination. But nominations for other films helped elevate them to must-see status for people who are choosier in their viewing habits. “Amour” might have seemed too depressing, “Lincoln” could have looked too dry, “Beasts of the Southern Wild” might have seemed too strange, and “Zero Dark Thirty” could have felt too difficult. But hearing that these movies were in the running for the Oscars’ big prize no doubt helped push folks to give these movies a try. Encouraging audiences to seek out challenging fare can never be a bad thing.

2. They raised awareness for worthwhile social and political issues.

The Best Documentary nominees often cover a vast array of important topics, and this year’s crop was no different, whether it was relations between Israel and Palestine (“The Gatekeepers,” “5 Broken Cameras”), sexual assault within the U.S. military (“The Invisible War”), or the history of the AIDS-awareness organization ACT UP (“How to Survive a Plague”). But even the Best Picture field had its share of meaningful films, including “Amour,” which is an unsentimental look at aging and mortality. Perhaps the most important discussion prompted by any Oscar film this year, though, came from “Zero Dark Thirty,” a sobering, absorbing examination of the U.S. government’s 10-year pursuit of Osama bin Laden. Director Kathryn Bigelow’s thriller raised complaints from some, including a few U.S. senators, that the movie celebrated the use of torture — or suggested that it was an effective tool for hunting down terrorists. The debate may have ultimately been more about political posturing, but at least it opened a wider discussion about U.S. policy in the aftermath of 9/11 than any film had been able to do before. (And for the record, anyone who watches “Zero Dark Thirty” will see that the movie is far more nuanced and ambiguous in its commentary than its critics will acknowledge.)

3. They provoked some memorable social-media moments.

Because the Oscar campaigning goes on so long, there are inevitably unexpected side effects. For instance, the creation of memes that are very funny at the moment by may not have a long shelf life. (Angelina Jolie’s Leg was good for some chuckles a year ago. But now?) This year had its share of parodies and homages, their effectiveness very much a question of personal taste. Plenty of friends love the fake Michael Haneke Twitter account where the austere Austrian filmmaker is turned into a cat-loving, spellcheck-deficient goofball. (Me, I think it’s just the same joke repeated over and over again.) And then there was the parody of Anne Hathaway’s “I Dreamed a Dream” performance from “Les Miserables.” But my favorite is probably from comedian Paul F. Tompkins, who took to the stage of Largo in Los Angeles in December to perform an utterly sincere rendition of Adele’s “Skyfall” theme. Soon, it hit YouTube, becoming a viral hit. The comedian’s “Skyfall” rendition represented the best of pop cultural referencing, honoring what made the original so fantastic while adding a new, fun dimension to it.

4. They actually had a little suspense.

In the early months of award season, there’s always a little uncertainty about who the frontrunners might be, but eventually the clear-cut favorites assert themselves, and by the time of the actual ceremony, everybody knows who’s going to win Best Picture and most of the major categories. This year, that didn’t happen, as “Les Miserables,” “Lincoln,” “Zero Dark Thirty,” “Argo” and even “The Master” were discussed as being possible winners at one point or another. This, of course, is great news for Oscar bloggers and other awards handicappers who want to keep us interested, but for those of us who actually like the Academy Awards telecast, it also created a lot of suspense. That doesn’t happen that often. Their value isn’t in telling us what’s the best

5. They’ll never replace your own preferences for the year’s best films.

From your perspective, any collection of individuals voting on the best anything will ultimately fail to get it right unless they completely agree with you. That’s why I’ve never understood getting that annoyed with the Oscars (or the Independent Spirit Awards or the Golden Globes) when they don’t line up with your individual tastes. If nothing else, the Academy Awards are a way to make each of us consider what constitutes the greatest films and the greatest performances. The Oscars can have their definition — we each have our own.

You can follow Tim Grierson on Twitter.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….

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IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.

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IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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