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Cannes Dispatch 3: A Good Year For The Americans

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By Dennis Lim

One easy conclusion to draw so far: the Americans are having a good year. The films of David Fincher, Quentin Tarantino and the Coens have been among the most warmly received competition entries. Down the Croissette, the Quinzaine is screening two of the best films from Sundance 07 — Robinson Devor’s “Zoo” and Gregg Araki’s “Smiley Face” — and has world-premiered two more fine American indies: Tom Kalin’s unerringly intelligent true-crime provocation “Savage Grace” and Ramin Bahrani’s Queens-set street-kid slice of life “Chop Shop.”

My favorite film by an American director so far — although it was shot and financed in Italy — is Abel Ferrara’s “Go Go Tales,” screening out of competition as a midnight selection. A wild and wildly allegorical comedy, it’s set in the course of one long, eventful night at the declining Paradise Lounge strip club. Beleagured proprietor-emcee Ray Ruby (Willem Dafoe) is behind on the rent (landlady Sylvia Miles is threatening to turn the premises over to Bed Bath & Beyond) and facing a nearly mutinous crew of go-go dancers (among them Asia Argento, who gets to tongue-kiss a dog). But he continues to dream big, holding on with a mix of tenacity, blind optimism and belief in community that are, more than ever, the necessary traits of the struggling artist.

The charmingly sleazy cabaret ambience evokes “Killing of a Chinese Bookie,” but with its overt melancholy and warm communal vibe, this could almost be Ferrara’s “Prairie Home Companion,” ending not with a graceful fade-out but on a note of crazy defiance. Ray’s funny, rousing final speech — peppered with heart-on-sleeve avowals (“I love to gamble!” “I played to win!” “What do you want from me? You wanna kill my dream? Take my heart?”) — is, of course, Ferrara’s own manifesto, a message to audiences and investors who may have lost faith. American distributors take note.

Another film that will hopefully have a U.S. home before the week is out, “Paranoid Park,” Gus Van Sant’s first film after the Death Trilogy that recharged his creative batteries and relaunched his arthouse career, is both modest and masterful, the work of a wholly relaxed filmmaker in peak form. The formal experiments of “Elephant” and “Last Days” — trippy subjective audio, fractured chronology, obsessive Rashomonic replays — are further refined here and by now seem like second nature.

Based on a novel by Blake Nelson about a teenage skate kid who accidentally kills a security guard, the story would seem to locate Van Sant in predictable territory (not to mention in the vicinity of Larry Clark). But every element of this supremely intuitive film — the credible cast (recruited via MySpace), the lovely, moody cinematography (credited to Rain Kathy Li and Christopher Doyle, who has a brief cameo as “Uncle Tommy”), Leslie Shatz’s delicately textured soundscape, the emotive soundtrack (heavy on Nino Rota and Elliott Smith) — is designed to tune you into the wavelength of its young protagonist (Gabe Nevins). Few films have ever conveyed so keenly the panicky dread and numb estrangement of adolescence. As a coming-of-age story, it’s at once incredibly specific and cosmic in scope.

A Palme d’Or favorite judging by their past win (for 1991’s “Barton Fink”) and three director awards, not to mention the critical response, Joel and Ethan Coen’s skillfully directed adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy novel “No Country for Old Men” is, without a doubt, their best since “The Big Lebowski.” It’s also shaping up as the most overrated film of the festival. The Coens have fully exploited the cinematic potential of McCarthy’s tense, tersely described action sequences, but they’ve also exacerbated the book’s tonal problems and questionable politics (i.e., its apparently face-value conservatism). It’s hard to give credence to the late bid for seriousness (which takes the form of a few windy philosophical bouts), given the expert flippancy and nastiness of what came before.

Michael Moore’s “Sicko,” on the other hand, could have done with a little more seriousness. Not that the filmmaker doesn’t convey the urgency and gravity of his subject. Moore hammers home his basic, inarugable thesis — that the profit-motivated U.S. health care industry is immoral and inhumane — with a lack of finesse that can be both cathartic and frustrating. Considering what’s at stake, you can’t help feeling this should have been a less reductive, more scrupulous film.

Strictly in terms of information, “Sicko” does little besides confirm what most reasonably well-informed Americans already know. With its glib, utopian views of foreign health care systems, it’s also a feel-good palliative for Moore’s overseas fan base. Given that his central argument is pretty much a no-brainer, he tips the balance toward tearjerking manipulations. “Sicko” is sometimes enraging, often upsetting, but as a polemic, it could have used less mawkish sentiment, more lucid outrage.

[Photo: Gus Van Sant’s “Paranoid Park,” MK2 Productions, 2007]

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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