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If you’re going to fail, you might as well fail big.

If you’re going to fail, you might as well fail big. (photo)

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It’s been 50 years now since “Psycho” horrified critics, and 13 since David Lynch decided to be a smart-ass and put Siskel & Ebert’s “Two thumbs down” verdict on the poster for “Lost Highway,” a gap which tells you everything you need to know about the present inability of a single film to destroy someone’s career.

Over at the Independent, Geoffrey Macnab provides a brief (if Brit-centric) overview of critically reviled (at the time) career-killers (“Peeping Tom,” “Heaven’s Gate”) — and, more tellingly, a list of the films that prospered anyway (“2001,” “Bonnie and Clyde”) or came in time to be hailed as masterpieces (“The Rules of the Game”).

Sometime shortly after “Heaven’s Gate,” it became seemingly impossible to torpedo your career with a single big-time flop — after Elaine May imploded with “Ishtar,” we presume, though her well-publicized neurotic perfectionism surely had something to do with that. Barry Levinson was a trailblazer in the field, following up the high-profile misfire of “Toys” with more disastrous movies (“Jimmy Hollywood,” “Sphere”) without ever missing a beat.

06222010_gigli.jpgRenny Harlin basically bankrupted Carolco Pictures with “Cutthroat Island,” but he was back the next year with “The Long Kiss Goodnight” and has worked at a steady clip ever since. Four years after “Lost Highway,” Lynch had “Mulholland Drive”; even Kevin Costner was able to follow up “The Postman” with “Open Range” a mere six years later, when he should’ve been dropped in purgatory as fast as possible.

This is not a perfect rule of thumb: Martin Brest, having made “Meet Joe Death,” unwisely followed it up with “Gigli,” and then watched his entire career go to hell. But Brest was never a brand-name like those directors, who always brought something obvious to the table (Levinson his pedigree as a long-respected writer-director, Harlin a reputation for shooting fast with an eye towards maximal box-office pandering)

Inexperienced foreigners, too, are advised not to push their luck, as French effects wizard Pitof found out after “Catwoman.” On the other hand, if you’re Roland Joffé, you can make terrible movies no one sees for fifteen years straight (“The Scarlet Letter,” “Goodbye Lover,” “Vatel,” “Captivity”) and still prosper.

06222010_miamiblues2.jpgThe really interesting thing is that the directors who suffer most tend to be the low-stakes guys, the ones whose failures are modest. It will always be a mystery why George Armitage took seven years to follow-up the cultishly beloved “Miami Blues” with the even cultier “Grosse Pointe Blank,” and why the troubled but relatively inexpensive “The Big Bounce” has seemingly terminated his career.

Nor is it clear why Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan — of the generationally beloved “Can’t Hardly Wait” and “Josie and the Pussycats” — haven’t made a movie in a decade, instead writing junk like “Leap Year” and “Made of Honor” to get by. The big offenders squeak by, the little guys get squashed. Lesson learned: if you’re going to fail, fail big. Even as we speak, Joe Johnston is prepping his follow-up to “Hidalgo” and “The Wolfman”: “Captain America,” coming your way 2011.

[Photos: “Peeping Tom,” The Criterion Collection, 1960; “Gigli,” Sony, 2003; “Miami Blues,” Orion Pictures Corporation, 1990]

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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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