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When the Honorary Oscar was cool.

When the Honorary Oscar was cool. (photo)

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Writing in appreciation of why Doris Day deserves to receive an honorary Oscar, the New York Times Douglas McGrath decides there are basically three kinds of honorary Oscars: those for inexplicably overlooked legends (Welles, Chaplin); those created by top-down friendship (Karl Malden lobbying for an honorary Oscar for Elia Kazan when he’d already won two); and those for people whose strengths were invaluable but hard to recognize within the existing categories (Fred Astaire’s dancing, Stanley Donen’s resilient musicals).

Looking through the Honorary Oscars list, though, it’s possible to see something much more interesting than just validations of Hollywood’s past. In the ’30s, the Honorary Oscars tended to be less pretentious than the actual Best Picture winners, better capturing what was popular and making waves.

Honorary Oscars were given out to people whose importance has outlasted their year’s actual winners: Shirley Temple, Walt Disney, Mack Sennett, MoMA’s Film Department and a group of then-ubiquitous, now-ephemeral celebrities (Edgar Bergen, reigning newsreel champs “March of Time”).

In 1938, an Honorary Oscar went to “Spawn of the North,” a movie about two lifelong fisherman buddies (played by Henry Fonda and George Raft) whose fortunes diverge in 1890s Alaska as a fight develops with Russian poachers. The salute was for effects, but it sounds far more promising than that year’s toxic Best Picture winner “You Can’t Take It With You.”

In the ’40s, the honorary awards took note of war efforts (like Colonel Nathan Levinson, who helped put together army training films), child actors and foreign films. The mix continued through the ’50s, when a still-vital Danny Kaye could get an Honorary Oscar at the height of his fame alongside already celebrated Greta Garbo. Current stars were being equated with past legends; Hollywood felt secure about the past and present.

01112010_corman1.jpgShortly after that, the Honorary Oscars starting become what they are today, almost exclusively the province of the soon-to-be-embalmed and no longer professionally viable, indicating a (correct) uneasy premonition that Hollywood would soon no longer be the universal center of American pop culture. Eddie Cantor, Buster Keaton, Stan Laurel: the ’30s and ’40s stars started filing through neatly.

And so it went on year after year, with a few pleasant anomalies — Henri Langlois, hero of the French New Wave, and a trio of foreign giants (Satyajit Ray, Antonioni and Fellini) — but largely recognizing former Hollywood stars of increasingly vintage legends.

This past year’s awardees — Day Lauren Bacall, cinematographer Gordon Willis and producer/director Roger Corman — were all unquestionably worthy, but they’re all also giants whose best work was done long ago. The Academy no longer seems to feel comfortable singling out someone of the present for contributions, because they’re not sure what will last. They’re predictable now, but they’re also safe.

[Photos: Doris Day in “Pillow Talk,” Universal Pictures, 1959; Roger Corman, courtesy of JaSunni at PicasaWeb]

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Rev Up

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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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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