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Tim Grierson Defends the Never-Ending Oscar Season

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Summer movie season is over, but before you can even catch your breath, boom, we find ourselves in the midst of the major fall film festivals: Venice, Telluride and Toronto. These festivals are the launching pad for some of the year’s first serious Academy Award contenders, which might seem ridiculous since the Oscars take place February 24. (That’s more than five months from now.) Nonetheless, from here on out we’re going to be hearing nonstop discussion about what movies and what performances have the inside track for awards. It’s a tiring, silly season. And yet, all in all, I still think it’s pretty terrific.

While most people happily go about their lives not caring a lick about the Oscars until the night of the broadcast, there are whole industries (and several websites) devoted to a year-round obsession with who might win those prizes. It starts in January with the Sundance Film Festival, which this year unveiled the critically acclaimed indie hit “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” and then picks up a little steam in May when the Cannes Film Festival occurs. But early September is when award-mania really begins, and in the last few days there have been glowing reviews for the likes of Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master” and Ben Affleck’s “Argo.” But beyond discussing how good these movies are, there’s also a lot of idle speculation about these films’ Oscar chances, as if such a thing could (or should) be quantified.

It’s this element of award handicapping that film critics like me find distasteful. Rather than debating an ambitious movie’s merits or dissecting its thematic intentions, the media spends an inordinate amount of time trying to guess how the approximately 5,500 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will feel about the film. The Oscar season reduces an art form to a popularity contest, rewarding movies that are, by consensus, deemed to be “good,” which often disqualifies stronger, nervier films simply because they’re too divisive.

So why do I look forward to this season more than any other?

In part, it’s because Oscar season is the one time of year when a movie’s quality really matters. We’re inundated with awards in the buildup to the Academy Awards — everything from the Golden Globes to prizes from critics’ organizations (including the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, of which I’m a member) — which can make the fall feel like an interminable slog of endless trophies and speeches. But in their own way, each stop on the award-season calendar is an attempt to celebrate the best in filmmaking. Rather than focusing on box office or celebrities, awards are supposed to be based on artistic quality, and while we can all argue about how successful any of these groups are in picking what the “best” movies are, it does shift the focus back to the craftsmanship and skill of the work.

That should be obvious, but sadly it’s not. Anyone who follows film at all knows that it’s a business like any other — it exists to make money. This isn’t something that suddenly happened in Hollywood — from its beginning, the industry wanted to reap profits through any means that it could. That’s why, as frustratingly imperfect as it is, I’m grateful that the endless award season does at least serve as a reminder that movies should be about more than just grosses. The season creates a conversation about what constitutes greatness: Is it a film that stirs your soul? Is it one that leaves you feeling good? Is it one that challenges you? Audiences and critics alike debate these questions all the time, but it’s only really when we get close to the Oscars that those debates take center stage. Let’s not be naïve: The Oscars are about money as well. But, in theory, award season focuses on movies that are actually good, and I’m always in favor of discussing good movies as opposed to wasting time yapping about bad sequels and tired reboots.

Since I tend to be an Oscar apologist, it probably won’t surprise you to learn that I grew up watching the Academy Awards. From an early age, I was attracted to this notion of a group of seemingly wise, seasoned professionals deciding what the best movies were. As you get older, you realize that these professionals are no wiser than anybody else, but what has stayed with me is this notion that the Academy Awards matter — that they coronate films and performances, giving them an immortality they might not otherwise have. (And, of course, that can be a double-edged sword: We all have our own list of movies we can’t believe won Best Picture.) Maybe I’m holding onto that childhood idealism a little too tightly, but nonetheless I take award season seriously because, at the end of it, there are going to be Oscars given out, and I’m concerned that they go to the right people. I realize how ridiculous that is to say: I have no control over the process. But because I’ve loved movies all my life, I feel like I have a stake in how the Academy makes their decisions. I think we all do, despite being powerless to affect the outcome. That’s why I’m less interested in all the endless handicapping — I just care that the voters get it right.

Cynics and realists will probably scoff at this. It’s stupid to care what a bunch of people I’ve never met think is Best Picture. What makes a movie “best” anyway? I don’t know, and nobody else does, either. But I think that’s the point. The completely ludicrous impossibility of deciding what movie is best is what makes it so fascinating. It is, by nature, subjective — no movie beats another movie in the Super Bowl to decide the champion — so it comes down to our biases and preferences. When we’re discussing what movies we love, we’re really talking about what we love and who we are. For all the money and hoopla surrounding the Oscars, I find that I’m less interested in a specific movie winning than I am in getting to the heart of our love for great movies. Award season isn’t so much about that, I realize, but for me it is. I just hope I’m not alone in feeling that way.

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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

via GIPHY

Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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