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The Criterion conundrum.

The Criterion conundrum. (photo)

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A friend and I have a long-running argument about Criterion #40. If you’re one of those cinephiles as addicted to the “continuing series of important classic and contemporary films” as we are, you probably already know where I’m going with this.

Nestled in between Seijun Suzuki’s “Tokyo Drifter” and Laurence Olivier’s “Henry V” in the Criterion line-up is Michael Bay’s “Armageddon,” sticking out like a sore thumb, and not just because of its bulky two-disc case, popular in the early days of DVD when it was first released.

For the record, I’m no fan of “Armageddon” (if I were to pick only one of Mr. I-Blow-Shit-Up’s films for the Collection, it would be the unrestrained Bayhem of “Bad Boys II”), but I am part of the small minority that believes it deserves its place amongst the Kurosawas and the Truffauts, not because of its quality, but because of that word “important” in Criterion’s mission statement — with “Armageddon” being a film that demonstrates the bloat of the current blockbuster era.

01042010_buttondvd.jpgBut you can count Newsweek‘s Daniel D’Addario amongst the thousands who side with my friend, disappointed that the Criterion Collection dare sully its good name with the inclusion of films like “Armageddon” and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and concerned that the addition of contemporary titles like “Che” will keep older one from getting released and threaten to bring the whole enterprise down.

To support his case, D’Addario gets Criterion’s president Peter Becker to offer something of a mea culpa about “Button,” admitting the “deal is an asterisk in Criterion history” since it was done at the behest of David Fincher — which shouldn’t merit an apology, since film students will be learning from the disc’s three-hour documentary for years to come. D’Addario frames Criterion’s recent deal with IFC Films (with whom this site obviously shares a parent company) as a sell-out move since titles like “A Christmas Tale” and “Gomorrah” are “decent enough… but classics?”

While there’s no accounting for D’Addario’s personal taste, there’s far more accounting of another kind that he doesn’t allow for. The DVD boom was a mixed blessing for Criterion, which was able to blossom beyond the roots of its forebear, the world cinema distributor Janus Films, and their incredible collection of Bergman and Ozu movies, among others. Criterion was able to evolve and champion new filmmakers like Wes Anderson, David Gordon Green and “Ratcatcher”‘s Lynne Ramsay while putting together killer packages for canon-approved titles like “Rules of the Game” or the first American home video release of Visconti’s “The Leopard.”

Meanwhile, other studios realized the value of their back catalogs and were more reluctant to license their films — in the laserdisc days, Criterion was able to give their full treatment to Warner Bros.-owned titles like “Casablanca” and “Citizen Kane,” with the latter boasting an incredible collection of interviews with 35 filmmakers and collaborators that has yet to be replicated on any format since. (And don’t even ask about “The Magnificent Ambersons” laserdisc, the only place where Welles’ original vision of his butchered classic could be deciphered, still not available on DVD.)

01042009_ambersons.jpgArticles like D’Addario’s and Maclean’s writer Jaime Weinman’s would have you believe “Ambersons” and others of their ilk are getting bumped in favor of Abdellatif Kechiche’s 2007 drama “The Secret of the Grain” (one of my personal faves of the decade), but I’d argue just the opposite. Now that DVD sales have receded, it’s likely more studios will come to the table to license out films that will require a more specialized release and will find a comfort zone with Criterion.

It’s probably no coincidence that Focus Features inked a deal with them for a proper release of Ang Lee’s director’s cut of “Ride With the Devil” (as well as the recent, brilliant “Monsoon Wedding” disc with all of Mira Nair’s shorts), and their parent company Universal finally gave the go-ahead to a Criterion version of Leo McCarey’s long-neglected “Make Way for Tomorrow” (due out in February).

Just thinking of this makes me envy the years ahead for Matthew Dessem, an IT guy recently profiled by Roger Ebert who’s working his way through the Collection in order (he’s up to #95: “All That Heaven Allows”) and writing about it on his blog The Criterion Contraption.

It’s going to be a long time before he reaches titles like 2008’s “Revanche” (#502) and “Hunger” (#504), but something tells me when he does, he won’t be disappointed. Even if he is, he’s got Max Ophuls’ “Lola Montès” at #503 to keep him happy.

[Photos: Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck in “Armageddon,” Touchstone Pictures, 1998; Criterion DVD cover for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”; Criterion laserdisc cover for “The Magnificent Ambersons”]

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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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