Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Top Ten: Best in Show's Funniest Lines

Hey, folks. This is Michael C. here from Serious Film, thrilled to be helping fill in for Nathaniel this week while he takes his well-earned vacation.

Now that I have free rein to spend a few days smudging my finger prints all over The Film Experience, item one on my to-do list is to make sure this year doesn't zip by without us commemorating a notable anniversary. 2010 year marks ten years since Christopher Guest's Best in Show came along to blow the lid off dog shows and answer such burning questions as, "If you were making an all-dog football team, which breed would you want as wide receiver?" So to mark this anniversary here are my top ten funniest lines from the movie. I am sure you will inform me in the comments which of the few hundred equally funny lines I overlooked.

Ten Funniest Lines From Best In Show

10. "We're so lucky to have been raised amongst catalogues."
If I have a favorite part of Best in Show it might be the materialistic, fashion-obsessed Swans, played by Parker Posey and Michael Hitchcock. Guest's improvisational techniques are firing on all cylinders with these characters. Like a comedic cousin to Mike Leigh, they have been built from the ground up, and there is a wealth of hilarious details to show for their efforts. From their matching sets of braces to the way they speak in catalogue shorthand to the way they let their tone of voice addressing the dog bleed into their dialogue with each other, the Swans are unforgettable comic creations.

09. "On the marquee, big letters: Us!"
This line from John Michael Higgins perfectly captures the mentality of those who have been behaving as if they are on camera long before the documentary crew showed up. Guest's films have coincided neatly with the rise of reality television, and have proven prophetic in a lot of ways. What, after all, are the opening rounds of American Idol other than a less affectionate version of Waiting for Guffman. And how often do the competition shows bring Best in Show to mind when the eccentric personalities of the competitors take center stage over the finer points of the competition.

08. "The judge in his mind...because he can pick up on the telepathy...will sometimes give...blue ribbon..."
Christopher Guest's characterization of bloodhound enthusiast Harlan Pepper is notable for being such a subtle performance in the midst of all the improvisational fireworks. Being the director, Guest didn't have to worry about vying for the spotlight so it freed him to focus entirely on getting into the skin of his character. It's quietly astonishing work; there's not a trace of Corky St. Clair to be found. In this line from Harlan, Guest zeros in on the heart of the material as he slowly drifts away from simple praise for his dog until he has convinced himself that his animal can communicate telepathically with the judge.

07. "Is there some process by which they physically miniaturize the dogs?"
If I'm not careful this whole list could easily turn into a collection of Fred Willard quotes. Looking back ten years it's clear what a perfect pairing of actor and role Buck Laughlin was for Willard. All he had to do was wait for the signal from Guest and let loose with his seemingly bottomless supply of nonsense. From speculating about miniature jockeys racing the dogs, to wondering aloud why nobody thinks to dress the hounds like Sherlock Holmes, Willard give the impression he could fill the whole of the movie with this inspired drivel without a moment's pause.

06. "The Pom broke his gait. He may as well have taken a dump."
I think I speak for most viewers when I say I could watch dog shows all day and never spot the slightest difference between the best and worst dogs in competition. That's why lines like this from John Michael Higgins are such a hoot. Best in Show wisely never pushes the events of the competition outside the plausible. Rather, Guest and company understand dog shows are innately funny with their teeny tiny details inflated to ridiculous importance. The fact that Higgins' character is positively gleeful at the Pomeranian's misfortune only adds to the funny.

05. "I'm gonna punch you in the eye 'til it turns to jelly. I'll stab you with forks 'til you bleed, how 'bout that?"
Part of the pleasure of Guest's films is that he finds room for lots of comedy pros to come in as ringers and absolutely nail a scene or two (think David Cross's UFO expert in Guffman). The blue ribbon for Show's funniest one-scene wonder has to go to Larry Miller as the aggressively unskilled crisis negotiator. A pessimistic negotiator is a funny enough idea on its own ("They always jump") but it crosses into uproarious when we get to hear him in action letting loose with this stream of graphically brutal threats.

04. "He went after her like she was made out of ham!"
You couldn't expect me to limit myself to just one Fred Willard line, could you? This one, arriving at the sad finale to the busy bee incident, may be the single biggest laugh of the movie. Aside from his ingenious idiocy, I think part of the reason Willard so thoroughly runs away with his scenes is the fact that, for all his stupidity, Buck is the only cast member who refuses to take the proceedings seriously. He can't ignore what he knows, and what those of us watching the movie know: that they are, after all, just dogs.

03. "A pet store downstairs? What are you a wizard? A genius? Why didn't you tell me that before, you stupid HOTEL MANAGER!"
This line, shouted by an enraged Meg Swan at the height of the busy bee meltdown, never fails to inspire fits of laughter in me. At the risk of analyzing all the funny out of it, let me count the ways this is brilliant. First, the way Posey somehow manages to turn "hotel manager" into an obscenity. Second, the perfection with which she portrays the limits of egomaniacal stage parent lunacy ("You obviously don't know my dog!") Finally, the way it highlights the benefits of the improvisation. Somehow I doubt a writer sitting at a laptop could have accessed the desperation that inspired Posey to reach for "wizard" in the heat of the moment.

02. "Awww!"
That line, in case you didn't recognize it written out, is the sound of Catherine O'Hara's Cookie Fleck injuring herself by tripping over absolutely nothing. Comedians often measure a performer's commitment to a bit as a mark of their ability. By that standard O'Hara stands with the best in the business. So much so that they didn't even need to write a gag to sideline her character for the finale. Guest simply had O'Hara go down like a ton of bricks and O'Hara sold it like the pro she is.

01. "I remember you said that last year."
The competition is killer, but I've got to award best in show to this line from Jim Piddock's poor Trevor Beckwith, uttered in response to yet another tasteless joke from the albatross around his neck, Buck Laughlin. As co-commentator for the Mayflower Dog Show, Beckwith is the model of class and professionalism. So naturally his performance is a study in slow-burning indignation at being saddled with a blithering, uninformed nitwit as a co-host. This line is a throw-away that grows into a gut-buster on repeat viewings. It suggests a long-suffering history for the horribly mismatched pair. How long has he been putting up with this dim bulb's cheerful "observations"? How many times has poor Trevor been cajoled into guessing how much Buck could bench press? In one deft stroke it makes an already hilarious segment exponentially funnier.

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