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Reports of the death of the intelligent blockbuster have been greatly exaggerated.

Reports of the death of the intelligent blockbuster have been greatly exaggerated. (photo)

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Around this time every year, the blame for the death of the intelligent Hollywood film is laid at the feet of “Jaws” and/or “Star Wars.” Richard Brody over at the New Yorker rounds up this week’s batch of articles, patiently noting that “It’s always the end of the world, and things were always better before.” (As Wallace Stevens once said, the imagination is “always at the end of an era.”)

This time around, the most interesting variation on this complaint comes from Ross Douthat, the on-call Tea Party advocate of the New York Times‘ op-ed board. Taking a sort of reverse tack, Douthat argues that “An awful lot of the middlebrow blockbusters of the 1980s were really, really good,” like “the Indiana Jones saga, the ‘Back to the Future’ trilogy, ‘Ghostbusters,’ ‘Top Gun,’ ‘Beverly Hills Cop,’ ‘Alien’ and ‘Aliens,’ Tim Burton’s Batman movies, ‘Die Hard,’ ‘The Hunt for Red October’ and ‘E.T.'” “There’s no necessary reason that big-budget summer movies have to be as lousy and derivative as ‘Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,’ or ‘Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa,’ or ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End.’ “

Over at the AV Club, Leonard Pierce advances a case that we’re living in a “cultural golden age,” where the democratization of access to self-expression has made people feel harried about how much there is to take in, when instead they should be grateful. But then he says this: “Mainstream movies may be in dire straits, but the chances of a small, independent project getting released is greater than ever before.” And here I have a bone to pick.

There’s still plenty of worth to be found in blockbuster land, post-’80s: “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” “Jurassic Park,” “The Fifth Element,” “Ocean’s Eleven,” “Blade II,” “X2,” “Spider-Man 2,” the “Hellboy” saga, “The Dark Knight.” Populist entertainment did not, at some recent point, start being entirely worthless, or even go through five-year patches of the strictly horrendous. I don’t believe the state of the average Hollywood blockbuster is noticeably more dire than it was 20 years ago. The goalposts have shifted — the CGI-less action-fest is out, the buddy action-comedy barely kicking — but the best big summer movies remain as strange, idiosyncratic and well-crafted as ever.

The last 15 years have seen overqualified directors (Sam Raimi, Steven Soderbergh, Guillermo Del Toro, Christopher Nolan) put their best top-spin on a potentially weary product and walk away in a stronger commercial position than ever, able to ping back and forth between that and smaller projects. There are reasons to be cheerful right there.

[Photos: “Star Wars,” 20th Century Fox, 1977; “The Dark Knight,” Warner Bros., 2008]

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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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