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10 great comedies that premiered at Cannes

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On May 15, the 66th edition of the Cannes Film Festival will begin, kicking off 12 days of premieres of some of the year’s most heavily anticipated movies, including “Only God Forgives” (the new thriller from “Drive” director Nicolas Winding Refn) and the Coen brothers’ “Inside Llewyn Davis.” Because of its prestige among cineastes, Cannes has a reputation for featuring the crème de la crème of world cinema, playing host to towering, ambitious movies like “The Tree of Life” or “Amour.” As a result, some might assume that the festival turns its nose up at comedies, which isn’t true at all. Here’s a look back at 10 stellar comedies that got their official world premiere at Cannes, leaving off such classics as “M*A*S*H,” “Ed Wood” and “Being There,” which all screened at the festival after their theatrical release. As you’ll notice from this list, the Croisette prefers their laughs with a dark edge.

“Barton Fink” (1991)

Coen brothers movies are a frequent sight at Cannes, and while many of them have had comedic elements, the funniest of the bunch was “Barton Fink,” which was awarded Best Director, Best Actor (for John Turturro) and the Palme d’Or for the best film in the competition. Its central character probably wouldn’t consider it a comedy, though. Fink (Turturro), a celebrated East Coast playwright recently moved to Hollywood to become a screenwriter, discovers that his dreams of making easy riches in the movie business are obstructed by writer’s block, murder, and a creepily friendly neighbor (Coen regular John Goodman). A cutting satire of ego and ambition, “Barton Fink” was written by the Coens while they were stuck on their script for “Miller’s Crossing.” Rarely has creative exhaustion been this exhilarating.

“About Schmidt” (2002)

The Schmidt in question is Warren Schmidt (Jack Nicholson), a professional paper-pusher who’s approaching his retirement with a lot more dread than excitement. Life only gets worse after his wife dies suddenly, he discovers that she was having an affair, and his distant daughter (Hope Davis) announces she’s marrying a total moron (Dermot Mulroney). What could be a tragedy is instead turned into a deft, sneakily touching comedy in the hands of “Election” and “The Descendants” director Alexander Payne. Containing one of Nicholson’s best late-career performances, “About Schmidt” even makes writing letters to starving kids in Africa hilarious.

“Punch-Drunk Love” (2002)

This Paul Thomas Anderson film will probably be the only time Adam Sandler shows up at Cannes. “Punch-Drunk Love” is a deeply anxious romantic comedy about a Valley man (Sandler) suffering from extreme emotional issues who falls into an unlikely courtship with a woman (Emily Watson) who seems slightly off in her own way. A precursor to last year’s “Silver Linings Playbook,” which also dealt with love among misfits, “Punch-Drunk Love” was misunderstood and underrated at the time, but its jittery score, unpredictable performances and confident idiosyncrasies paved the way for Anderson’s bold follow-up films, “There Will Be Blood” and “The Master.”

“Broken Flowers” (2005)

Filmmaker Jim Jarmusch has made several appearances at Cannes. (This year, he brings “Only Lovers Left Alive,” a vampire drama with Tilda Swinton.) His 2005 entry, “Broken Flowers,” is a deadpan comedy that makes you laugh so you don’t cry. It follows what happens when an aging ladies’ man (Bill Murray) gets an anonymous note in the mail stating that he’s the father of her son. This quirky road movie draws lots of smart, subtle laughs out of Murray’s reunion with several former lovers (including Sharon Stone and Jessica Lange), suggesting that sometimes it’s best not to revisit the past.

“The Death of Mr. Lazarescu” (2005)

Director Cristi Puiu’s dark comedy helped launch a wave of Romanian films that became the toast of international cinema. (Another entry, 2007’s “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” from director Christian Mungiu, won the Palme d’Or.) “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu” tells the seemingly sad story of retiree Lazarescu (Ioan Fiscuteanu) over the course of one harrowing night as he tries to receive medical care for extreme stomach pains. An indictment of government bureaucracy, the film quickly becomes a nightmare of indifference and incompetence that is incredibly funny, no matter how bleak the points are that Puiu is making.

“Dogtooth” (2009)

You’ll never see “Rocky IV” the same after watching this twisted Greek film about one of cinema’s strangest families. The father (Christos Stergioglou) has decided that he wants to “protect” his three children from the outside world, building a fence around their yard and creating elaborate stories to make them believe that there are dangers beyond the borders of their property. (“Rocky IV” is one of the few films they’ve seen.) The only problem is that the older kids are well into puberty and so … well, let’s just say that a father’s influence can only go so far. Director Yorgos Lanthimos created a film that you’d describe as a jet-black comedy or one freaky psychological horror movie — and you’d be right either way.

“Up” (2009)

“Shrek” made history in 2001 by being the first animated movie in almost 50 years to premiere at Cannes. But with all due respect to the green ogre, “Up” is the better comedy, serving as the festival’s opening film eight years later. Though it’s fair to complain that the movie peaks with its beautifully moving opening sequence, which chronicles the decades-long romance between Carl and Ellie, “Up” is an endless visual wonder that represents Pixar’s customary balance of laughs and soul.

“The Artist” (2011)

“The Artist” defied a few movie truisms, including the belief that Cannes doesn’t have much interest in comedies or that the Academy Awards wouldn’t give their top prize to one. Before this film, director Michel Hazanavicius and star Jean Dujardin were simply the men responsible for the cult-hit “OSS 117” spy-movie spoofs. That all changed with “The Artist,” a sweet homage to the bygone silent-movie era as Dujardin played a beloved leading man swept aside by the advent of talkies. Perhaps the movie was nothing more than a one-joke premise done with boundless affection, but audiences simply couldn’t resist.

“Midnight in Paris” (2011)

Woody Allen famously refuses to let his films be part of a festival’s competition slate, a principled decision that might have cost his acclaimed 2005 Cannes entry “Match Point” a prize or two. Unperturbed, he screened “Midnight in Paris” as Cannes’ opening night film six years later, an appropriate choice for a festival that takes place in France. Winning Allen his fourth Oscar, for Best Original Screenplay, “Midnight in Paris” became his biggest hit in America by a wide margin, chronicling the exploits of a struggling modern-day writer (Owen Wilson at his best) who finds himself magically transported to Paris in the 1920s, a period the writer has always adored. Allen’s textbook mixture of wistful romance and funny one-liners ensues.

“Moonrise Kingdom” (2012)

Following up his underrated animated gem “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” director Wes Anderson returned to live action with this gentle love story about two tweens — Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward) — who decide to ditch their elders and run off together. “Moonrise Kingdom” features big names like Bruce Willis, Bill Murray and Edward Norton, but they seem completely superfluous in comparison to the touching, awkward romance that sprouts between Sam and Suzy. Because it’s Anderson, the movie looks like nothing else out there, and its wry comic tone is just right.

You can follow Tim Grierson on Twitter.

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

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Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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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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