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The Year of Apolitical Cinema?

The Year of Apolitical Cinema? (photo)

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In 1989, Spike Lee picked up a trashcan and hurled it into the front window of Sal’s Pizzeria, stirring chaos in Bed-Stuy and sending movie audiences into a tizzy about race relations in America. That same year, Oliver Stone and Brian De Palma were reopening heated debates about Vietnam (“Born on the Fourth of July,” “Casualties of War”), while Steven Soderbergh and Peter Greenaway were making us squirm by challenging conventional moral codes (“sex, lies and videotape,” “The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover”). Jump ahead 20 years: today’s watercooler cinema holds nary an ounce of subversive content. On the contrary, the most talked-about upscale American films of the year uphold such conservative myths as the sanctity of family and community.

Much has already been written about the reactionary elements of Lee Daniels’ “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire,” which, despite its confrontational scenes of rape, parental abuse and fried pig’s feet, ultimately ends up just another triumphant afterschool story of social uplift and the power of a benevolent society. As New York Times critic A.O. Scott recently wrote, the conclusion of “Precious,” “fills the audience with a sense of hard-won redemption,” allowing them to ignore “the failures of institutions, programs and collective will that leave so many other Preciouses unrescued.”

Now comes Jason Reitman’s “Up in the Air,” entering the conversation with similar buzz, following its rapturous reception at this fall’s Toronto International Film Festival. The “Juno” director manages the same clever ideological reversal as in his previous cinema: Take an edgy character, insert crisis of conscience and watch all that anti-establishment chutzpah fall away into a reification of all-American suburban ideals.

For all its cynical sheen, “Up in the Air” is actually another Capra-esque journey of one man who learns close personal relationships are worth more than frequent flyer miles. The film’s potentially strong political subtext — about the ravages of unemployment, shown in heartbreaking interstitial sequences that feature interviews with real-life folks from Detroit and St. Louis who’ve lost their jobs — is easily swept away so we can feel sorry for George Clooney, an adrift bachelor longing for the permanence of hearth and home.

Even this year’s war films — “The Hurt Locker,” “The Messenger,” “Brothers” — avoid the tainted whiff of politics and instead emphasize the psychological, going out of their way to eschew the wider ramifications of American imperialism. Kathryn Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker” displaces any serious consideration of wartime trauma on U.S. soldiers or their adversaries with testosterone-fueled thrills and one-upmanship masculinity. As critic David Sterritt observed in the online newsletter Counterpunch in July, the movie’s “politics are worrisome — not because they’re wrong, but because there are no politics in a film about the most politically fraught conflict in recent memory.”

12032009_themessenger6.jpgIn comparison, “The Messenger” is far more cognizant of its political context than the others, and may be the best movie of the three because of it. The angry tirades of dead soldiers’ next of kin shatters any sense of complacency in the lives of the film’s lead characters, and the viewing audience. But even so, the movie distinctly plays to the middle in its milieu and filmmaking style — like the others — making sure not to challenge viewers too much or offend the pro-war demographic by more forcefully questioning America’s militaristic escapades. Does this signal a new era of all-embracing nonpartisan cinema? Sophisticated movies for red and blue states, alike? Or has the cinema of mavericks gone soft?

That’s not to suggest the agit-pop screeds of Michael Moore — yes, he was back this year, too, with “Capitalism: A Love Story,” his biggest box office disappointment since 1997’s “The Big One” — are preferable. But it’s a reminder that the forceful, provocative cinema of Spike Lee, John Sayles, Todd Haynes or Gregg Araki has been replaced by the bourgeois niceties of Jason Reitman and Marc Webb — director of this year’s indie sleeper “(500) Days of Summer.” (As for the latter’s tagline, “It’s official, I’m in love with Summer,” Fox Searchlight VP of marketing Stephanie Allen told Variety it was “perfect.” “It’s really inclusive,” she said. “Who’s not in love with summer?”)

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Give Back

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

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.

Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

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.


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…


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.


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).


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.


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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