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Dissecting the Oscar doc shortlist.

Dissecting the Oscar doc shortlist. (photo)

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Bemoaning the failures of the Oscars in the Best Documentary department has become an annual ritual, like spazzing about filing your income taxes or dusting off stale jokes about March Madness obsessions. So the news that this year’s doc shortlist of 15 potential nominees is full of omissions and small obscurities is not a surprise.

Many folks would’ve liked to have seen “Anvil! The Story Of Anvil,” “Collapse,” “Crude,” “Tyson,” “We Live In Public,” “The September Issue” or “It Might Get Loud” on the list. So it goes. Some of those omissions are reasonable — there’s not much in “Tyson” you can’t find on YouTube, and “Collapse” wasn’t eligible — others, not so much. But this category has a long history of leaving out prime picks. Not nominated in the past: “Grey Gardens,” “Gimme Shelter,” “Don’t Look Back,” “The Thin Blue Line,” “Shoah,” “Hoop Dreams,” “Crumb.” You know, the very bricks and mortar of a burgeoning appreciation of documentary film.

What’s on the list is the usual hodgepodge. Delightful to see “The Beaches of Agnes” on there: Agnes Varda’s essay on her life is twisty and Gondry-esque in all the right ways, even if it’s barely a “documentary” in the traditional Academy sense. I’m pleased, too, that “The Cove” — populist activism done right — is there, and will probably win. (Right?)

11192009_facingali.jpgI’d like to see “Burma VJ” and “Facing Ali,” but much of the rest seems middling — based on the Academy’s track record, I feel reasonably safe in saying that. I walked out of “Garbage Dreams” after 15 minutes at SXSW: I never need to see another movie with wailing female vocals and sad-eyed children digging through trash. I get it, that’s a bad thing. “Under Our Skin” is a reasonably dull documentary about how Lyme’s Disease is probably one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse that’ll kill us all. Gina Telaroli — who watches more docs than anyone I know — assures me “Which Way Home” is “more exploitative than informative” (and lazily jacks the score from “The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford” to boot), so there’s more token liberal-guilt porn.

The big lesson here seems to be that the so-called documentary renaissance of 2002-06 — when movies like “Bowling for Columbine,” “Spellbound,” “Super Size Me,” “March of the Penguins” and “An Inconvenient Truth” took box-office prisoners and got nominations — is definitely over. Of the 15 short-listees, only three made over $1 million. Two of those, “Valentino: The Last Emperor” (about the fashion designer) and “Every Little Step” (about “A Chorus Line”) had built-in constituencies who would’ve seen them no matter what. (The other was “Food Inc.,” which apparently is a cut above your usual activist doc.)

We may never know why the public decided, for five years, that they were actually okay with some (admittedly pretty slick) non-fiction movies, but that’s done. So we’re back to the status quo in more ways than one now, wondering about what does go on in that selection process? I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to figure it out.

[Photo: Dropped — “Anvil! The Story of Anvil,” VH1, 2008. In — “Facing Ali,” Lionsgate, 2009]

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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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