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America’s Next Top Oscar Winner


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In a great piece called “I like/hate ‘The Artist:’ How the Academy Awards slant our views of movies,” Scott Tobias over at The A.V. Club has done a superb job of putting into words a lot of my own feelings about this Oscar season, namely the fact that “The Artist” — which is cheerful, charming, and very lightweight — has been cast as this year’s presumptive Oscar favorite. Which, in turn, forces us to project intense feelings onto a movie that was designed specifically not to engender intense feelings of any kind.

Here’s what Tobias says:

“Such is the tyranny of Oscar season, an all-consuming three-or-four-month siege — and yearlong cottage industry — that frames the discussion in ways that can be perverse and often unjust to the films in that discussion, to say nothing of the future classics peering in from the cold. Take ‘The Artist:’ I would guess [director Michel] Hazanavicius, in his wildest flights of fancy, could not have imagined his happy little soufflé as the presumptive favorite to win Best Picture. Even its most vocal detractors — who would likely not be vocal at all about it under normal circumstances — would have to confess that the film is not some bloated sop to the Academy, like so many other major studio productions crafted specifically for year-end consideration. Its goals are modest, its pleasures refined — not a whiff of self-importance or middlebrow grandeur… And yet the resentment is there.”

In other words, “The Artist” is the cinematic equivalent of a bubble bath: warm, relaxing, sudsy, fun to luxuriate in for a while, and then instantly forgettable the second it’s over. As such, it is completely effective. Casting it as “THE BEST PICTURE OF THE YEAR” in big bold letters to be stamped into a plaque on the bottom of a small gold man throws a big bucket of cold water on everything it stands for.

As Tobias notes, “The Artist,” was not destined for a Best Picture Oscar, and it surely must not have been conceived with one in mind. So how did we get here? “The Oscars—and to varying degrees, all awards,” Tobias writes, “are not about greatness, but about consensus. And ‘The Artist’ is a point of agreement, much like a bill that’s been haggled over, kicked around by powerful special interests, watered down in committee, and passed to the majority’s tempered contentment.” Very well said.

Thinking about this perspective made me realize what else the Oscar race is like, and that’s the amazing/terrible reality game show “America’s Next Top Model.” If you’ve never seen “Top Model,” it’s pretty simple. Each season, model, talk show host, and Tyra Banks fan Tyra Banks convenes a few notable tastemakers from the world of fashion to pick our nation’s next great supermodel from a roster of a dozen or so candidates. Now in theory you would think that such a competition would be solely performance based: who takes the best photographs, who does the best runaway walk. But in execution that is rarely how it plays out.

Banks and her fellow judges often reject more talented candidates who show no progress over the course of the competition in favor of models who are, as Banks often puts it on the show, “on the journey.” Being “on the journey” can mean a few things — either the model had untapped potential which the show has developed and exploited (which Banks can then take credit for discovering), or the model had some sort of traumatic mental block — say, the death of a family member or the lingering mental scars from some form of abuse — which the show helped her overcome (which Banks can then take credit for resolving). On “Top Model” you better be more than pretty. You better be “on the journey.”

The same goes for the Oscars. The special interests and committees Tobias describes aren’t necessarily looking for the most viscerally exciting, or technically dynamic, or hysterically funny movie. They want the one that’s “on the journey.” The films that win Oscars are the ones that can best sell that journey to voters. And in the case of the Academy Awards, the journey can be a woman becoming the first winner of the Best Director Oscar while telling an important story in an easily digestible way. Or the journey can be the conclusion of a monumental feat of epic storytelling and a Hollywood gamble that paid off. Or the journey can be a Hollywood fixture makes good. Or the journey can be the return of a long-forgotten genre. “The Artist” — with its homage to the silent film period — certainly has a little of that. But it also has the journey of the plucky underdog surprisingly winning the hearts of everyone. It has the journey of the foreign filmmaker coming to America to validate the studio system by making a movie about how awesome Hollywood is. It has a lot of journeys. No wonder it’s the favorite.

What makes the journey so frustrating for cineastes is the fact that its predictability flies in the face of what the Oscars seemingly should be about: the new, exciting, and unpredictable in the world of cinema. Instead, the race eliminates contenders with idiosyncrasies, because the weird and the wonderful don’t build consensuses and they certainly don’t fit into easy categories. Sometimes the best movies are the ones that take us on the bumpiest rides. If only the journey to the Oscars didn’t need to be so smooth.

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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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