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First-Time Nominees, Longtime Excellence

First-Time Nominees, Longtime Excellence (photo)

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It’s hard to imagine such veterans of the stage and screen as Natalie Portman, Nicole Kidman, and Annette Bening being called newcomers in any situation nowadays, but would you believe this is the first time they’ve been nominated for Spirit Awards? They will be joining bona fide newcomers like Jennifer Lawrence (“Winter’s Bone”) Lena Dunham (“Tiny Furniture”), Ronald Bronstein (“Daddy Longlegs”) and Ashley Bell (“The Last Exorcism”) on the beach for this year’s ceremony, with all reaching a pinnacle in their careers with the work in their latest film. In many cases, these are not discoveries, so much as rediscoveries – an acknowledgement of all the fine work they’ve been doing for so long as well as a signifier what’s new and next in their careers.

In the case of Bening and Kidman, there’s not much left to prove as two of the most dynamic actresses of the era, so it’s telling that their first Spirit Award nominations arrive with some of the most ordinary roles of their careers, both as mothers just trying to deal with domestic stress. For Bening, “The Kids Are All Right,” in which she plays a mother just trying to keep her family together, was only the second half of a one-two punch year which also saw the actress turn in a devastating performance in Rodrigo Garcia’s “Mother and Child,” where she played a woman who gave up her daughter for adoption after an unwanted pregnancy years earlier, demonstrating a range between the two that has unfortunately become a luxury almost exclusive to independent film these days. No wonder then that Kidman had to go outside the system to produce just her second film “Rabbit Hole” to star in herself as the grieving mother of a child that died in a car accident. One would argue both actresses, having had considerable success in Hollywood, are simply creating their own opportunities nowadays and are paving the way for others to follow.

Incidentally, one of those actresses could easily be Portman, whose character in “Black Swan” undergoes a radical transformation, but as an actress has long embraced independent film from one of her early breakthrough performances in 1996’s “Beautiful Girls” to turns in Amos Gitai’s “Free Zone” and Wong Kar-wai’s “My Blueberry Nights.” While she has transformed from a young girl to a woman in front of our eyes on the big screen, what is lesser known is how she’s set up her own production company Handsome Charlie Films, which could position Portman for a Spirit Award next year not only as an actress, but as a producer of the drama “Hesher” and that she’s been nominated now for her thrilling performance in “Black Swan” is just a glimpse of things to come.

Another actor surprisingly making his Spirit Awards debut as a nominee is Ben Stiller, who helped bring down the house last year as last year’s honorary chair who presented the evening’s final award for best feature and at the time wondered why he was asked since as he recalled he hadn’t made an indie since the 1990s. Well, his first crack at it in quite some time was his deeply felt performance as the easily irritable Roger Greenberg in Noah Baumbach’s sad and funny character study “Greenberg.” Stiller actually took over the role from Mark Ruffalo, who of course would go on to make “The Kids Are All Right,” and it gave the actor an opportunity to explore some of his darker impulses as he did in his early career with “Permanent Midnight” and Neil LaBute’s “Your Friends and Neighbors.” While the role won’t likely change the direction of Stiller’s career – as you might’ve noticed, he’s enjoying quite the streak of wide-reaching crowdpleasers – it did have implications for the film’s writer/director Baumbach, who has since been brought on to write or rewrite Stiller’s bigger budget films in the year that’s followed, suggesting that a fruitful new director/actor collaboration was born.

In fact, a usual common denominator amongst all of this year’s first-time nominated actors is how their directors tapped into something that had always existed yet was rarely exploited, something that was particularly true with the Spirit Award-nominated “Jack Goes Boating” and “Winter’s Bone,” which both boasted their share of longtime character actors who are long overdue for recognition. Philip Seymour Hoffman knew what he had with John Ortiz and Daphne Rubin-Vega on “Jack Goes Boating” since they had originated their roles on stage in 2007 before Hoffman decided to adapt the play for the screen, but gave both actors a chance to show off a different side than what they’ve often been pegged for before – Ortiz has been a villain of choice in Hollywood blockbusters of late such as “American Gangster” and “Fast & Furious,” while Rubin-Vega may best be known for her fierce Tony Award-nominated turn as part of the original cast of “Rent” – and in each case, they handle their parts beautifully as a married couple who try to set up friends, resulting in supporting Spirit Award nods for them both.

As for “Winter’s Bone”‘s John Hawkes and Dale Dickey, who also scored Spirit Award nominations for Best Supporting Male and Female, respectively, the nods mark a turning point of two of the great faces of TV and film in recent years. Given the room to really inhabit the roles of the fearsome denizens of the Ozarks in Debra Granik’s harrowing drama, Hawkes and Dickey pounced on the opportunity to chew on a meaty role on the big screen after being best known for creating indelible characters on the small screen in “Deadwood” and “My Name is Earl.” Like the rest of this year’s acting nominees, Hawkes and Dickey presented a different vision of the world, and by extension could be seen in a whole new light themselves, representing what’s next for audiences as they and many more from the 2010 Spirit Award class will be reinventing themselves and gracing screens for years to come.

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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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