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Why it’s so hard to say what’s good when it comes to movies.

Why it’s so hard to say what’s good when it comes to movies. (photo)

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Barring whatever Artforum cooks up, you’re unlikely to find a more uncompromisingly festival/arthouse/”difficult”-centric best-of-the-decade list than the TIFF Cinematheque’s Top 30 of the decade — which is actually 54 films long due to a truly staggering number of ties, but who’s counting?

The most “popular” movies on the list — I use that word advisedly — are probably “The Royal Tenenbaums,” “A History of Violence” and “Pan’s Labyrinth.” I’ve seen all but nine of the rest — the list tops out with Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s “Syndromes and a Century,” the definitive beloved-by-critics-and-seen-by-almost-no-one-else 2006 film.

All the movies on the list are worth taking seriously. Some of them I love viscerally, some of them I respect abstractly and some of them I frankly despise (looking at you, “Colossal Youth”). But is the whole thing a bit airless? Definitely.

It’s tough enough to get the festival world’s elite to agree on what the best non-festival movies might be (try to get ten reasonable people to agree about “Zodiac” or, hell, “Spider-Man 2”) but it is a bit surprising that the cineastes of the world couldn’t get it together to at least, I dunno, champion something perverse like “Speed Racer.”

Guess the highbrow world really has given up on trying to find signs of life in the studio system, which is a shame. It really is harder work. Art films announce themselves and, at a certain level, have an easier time breeding consensus on what’s “the best” than finding common ground on more popular fare.

11252009_pulpfiction.jpgThere’s just something a little lazy and presumptive about the TIFF list, even though it does reflect where my head’s at a lot of the time. These are not movies anyone has to defend: even if they aren’t all as great as the list says, they do come pre-packaged with the label of greatness. (Most of them, incidentally, also screened at TIFF, the Toronto International Film Festival, itself — the festival circuit is more and more of a closed loop when it comes to launching works that can be seen in enough places to get word of mouth out. TIFF’s list confirms its status as the key place for critical respect, if not commercial success.)

Maybe future high-brow film historians will have to put more effort into re-excavating and re-evaluating Hollywood and mainstream fare than they will to identify the great arthouse hits of the aughts. Even in the ’90s most of us could agree on, I dunno, “Pulp Fiction” or “Unforgiven.” 20 years from now, I hope “The Devil’s Rejects” is rediscovered and venerated.

Incidentally, TIFF’s list makes no discriminations between shorts and features. So if you haven’t seen one of the entries for #23 — Guy Maddin’s “The Heart of the World” — now is a perfect time to do so. In a just world, this would’ve been broadcast and beloved on Adult Swim, where it would’ve fit in perfectly:

[Photos: “A History of Violence,” New Line Cinema, 2005; “Pulp Fiction,” Miramax Films, 1994]

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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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