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Where our greatest actresses fit in at the multiplex and at the arthouse.

Where our greatest actresses fit in at the multiplex and at the arthouse. (photo)

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Shortly after the Cannes awards were over, the London Times‘ Kate Muir sat down with Best Actress winner Juliette Binoche to conduct an interesting interview.

Muir makes the observation that Binoche “is one of the few actors to cross, undamaged, from mainstream to arthouse and back.” That’s a select club — one whose female population might be argued to include Penelope Cruz, Nicole Kidman, Naomi Watts, Julianne Moore, Tilda Swinton and few others.

That cluster doesn’t have much in common, except that all were big stars of the past decade without big hits. Watts and Moore can be a little more hit-or-miss with the scripts they choose, while Swinton isn’t as well-known, which gives her more liberty to dip into both paycheck supporting roles (“The Chronicles of Narnia”) and hardcore arthouse exercises (“The Man From London”). Penelope Cruz has more charisma than chops, but she’s never boring to watch. Regardless, we have a lot of talented actresses distinguished by their dedication to small films, perhaps by necessity.

It’s considered smart for all but the most infallible stars to, from time to time, diversify their resumes with low-budget parts presumably designed to shore up their cred. Binoche, uniquely, seems to have almost never taken the paycheck in the first place. With the exceptions of “Chocolat” and, uh, “Dan In Real Life” (which I’ve heard is above average anyway), she’s managed to be One Of The Few French Actresses People Know By Name while barely coming anywhere near the multiplex. It’s an impressive trick.

05252010_flight.jpgPart of the reason Binoche seems not to belong anywhere near the multiplex is simple: aside from Swinton on the above list, few performers take so much trouble to actively alienate their audiences. Watching her is to see cerebrality in action.

Which is precisely why I like her. Binoche is a chilly actress. As a harridan in “Cache,” she rocked; as a self-absorbed thespian (making up most of her dialogue!) in “Flight of the Red Balloon,” she gave arguably the definitive portrait of what it means to try to be a good single mother while maintaining a career. She’s chilly, much more so than Kidman or her fellow arthouse standbyes, which makes her fascinating. She’s a crossover star best known for her possibly worst movie (“The English Patient”) well recognized without having a mainstream career.

Globally, our best female actors (such as Binoche, who rules) tend to be given parts that take out everything that made them interesting in the first place. If they’re safely famous outside the blockbuster circuit, that gives them the liberty to ignore their presumably star-making roles (never a safe bet there days) and cred to go back and forth. The franchise rarely rests on them: Gwyneth Paltrow gave both “Iron Man” movies some juice, but apparently that doesn’t matter no matter how much better she made the movies.

Sexism doesn’t exist in an overt form; it’s just there in the proof that talented female actors settle for indie films far more than they should. Binoche could’ve been a star (or at least starlet) in a previous age; now she just takes serious parts because, honestly, why not. Writers are plentiful; good female parts, not so much.

[Photos: “Certified Copy,” IFC Films, 2010; “Flight of the Red Balloon,” IFC Films, 2007]

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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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