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Welcome to the Wild Card Oscars

Welcome to the Wild Card Oscars (photo)

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Every year, critics come up with their lists of the top ten films of the past 12 months. Ideally an eclectic mix of arthouse fare, Hollywood auteurs and the occasional wild card (say, last year’s appearance of Ben Stiller’s “Tropic Thunder”), these decalogues of cinephilia tend to be capricious, political and painstakingly strategized for maximum effect, not to mention their impact on the final results of consensus-building critics’ polls.

Now think of that power in the hands of the more than 6,000 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences as they choose this year’s ten Best Picture nominees, and watch the chaos unfold. The expansion from five to ten nominees isn’t the only major game-changer — there’s also the switch back to instant runoff voting, in which the films must be ranked in order of preference, to keep in mind. Imagine the wide expanse of options this year’s voters will encounter for the first time: Is “Up” ranked #2 or #3? “A Serious Man” a #6 or #7? And what crazy movie might be placed at #10? “Antichrist”? “The Hangover”?

It’s those 7s, 8s, 9s and 10s that could turn out to have a significant effect on the livelihood of low-budget films made completely outside of the Hollywood system, which in previous years have been acknowledged, somewhat condescendingly, as mere best original screenplay nominees, but ignored within the bigger categories (see “Frozen River,” “Happy Go Lucky”). This year, perhaps for the first time, a number of uber-indies have the chance to enter the vaunted ranks of Hollywood’s biggest promotional platform: Best Picture.

“Statistically, the race has changed,” says Iain Pardoe, an associate professor of statistics at the University of Oregon, who devised a statistical algorithm for predicting Oscar winners. “And with a lower threshold for winning, dark horses could win more often in the future.” (For a deeper look at the mathematical complexities of the new voting system, check out this post from a film blogger based in Ireland, one of the few countries which employs a similar preferential voting system. Mathematicians say no voting system is perfect, but the one that the Academy now employs — called Single Transferable Voting — is contentious because the diversity of first-place votes or even no votes can actually hurt a contender, while getting fewer votes can sometimes help.)

Still, it’s not like any movie can win on Oscar night. As Pardoe adds, “Since there are typically one or two frontrunners each year, this aspect is unlikely to change much, and so the best picture winner will continue to be fairly predictable.”

That won’t keep several unlikely contenders from trying to crack the top ten. Veteran Oscar campaigner Cynthia Swartz, for example, is working on award season pushes for a diverse group of films, including Kathryn Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker,” Jean-Marc Vallée’s period film “The Young Victoria,” Nora Ephron’s “Julie & Julia,” Oren Moverman’s post-war drama “The Messenger” and two documentaries, “Valentino: The Last Emperor” and “Anvil! The True Story of Anvil.” “Obviously, you only have to reach fewer people with ten spots,” Swartz says. “In the past, you had to reach a fifth of the Academy; now you only have to reach a tenth.”

10122009_Nine.jpgIf the new rule change presumably happened to help mainstream studio films make the Best Picture cut — the oft-cited example being last year’s slight of “The Dark Knight,” while early talk this year is circling “District 9” and “Avatar” as big-budget possibilities — the shift may inevitably favor indies, because studios are making fewer and fewer of the sorts of prestige movies that are typically Oscar fodder, according to Swartz.

“Who’s vying for these [10] spots? Nobody is,” she says. “Look what’s going on in the film business. The studios aren’t in this business and the specialty players don’t really exist, so there’s so few films released in that middle range, specialty sector. I’m curious to see what happens next year,” she adds, “when there might not be any more ‘Nine’s.”

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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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