Friday, December 31, 2010

The Year In Funny

year in review parts 1-7
tear-jerkers, music videos, worst films, gay characters and more... 
Four Lions

Michael C. from Serious Film here for a few good laughs.

Any future film historians examining the tail end of 2010 will likely mark this year as dark days for screen comedy. Comedy icons Woody Allen and James L Brooks rolled twin gutter balls, while mainstream audiences lined up around the block to watch the star of Taxi Driver do 98 minutes of boner jokes. As if to rub salt in the wound, the Golden Globes saw fit to nominate an inexplicable slate of comedies that were, with few exceptions, unfunny, unexceptional, or in some cases downright awful.

Still, if you managed to look beyond the large pile of high profile duds there were plenty of laughs to be had in 2010. So here for your consideration is the year in comedy. Not the best movies overall, but purely those films and performances that most moved the needle on the laugh-o-meter.

Funniest Leading Man - Most movie funny men neatly divide their comedic and dramatic work. Kevin Kline will be a goofball in A Fish Called Wanda then it's goodbye mustache and hello serious face in Grand Canyon. With his daring work in I Love You Phillip Morris, Jim Carrey managed the best of both worlds delivering one of his fullest performances to date while still scoring big laughs as the relentlessly dishonest con man Steven Russell. Bonus Points: Though his character can barely go a full minute without lying, Carrey is able to let the audience see just how sincerely smitten he is, keeping his character from becoming a one-note huckster.

Funniest Leading Lady - Easy A may have been a formulaic piece of slick Hollywood fluff but that didn't keep Emma Stone from rising above the material to show just what formidable comedic chops she's packing. Stone pulls every laugh possible from this familiar material and then adds a few of her own. Bonus Points: Stone's minute-long soliloquy on the subject of aphrodisiacs was a symphony of first date awkwardness that had me guffawing out loud. Riffing wildly on oysters and Spanish fly, Stone makes a rapid series of funny faces, giggles at her own jokes, and manages to include both the phrases "painful urination" and "bloody discharge". A star is born. [previous posts]

Funniest Supporting Performance - I'm as surprised as you are, but damned if no supporting performance of 2010 made me laugh as much as Sean Combs playing Sergio, Get Him to the Greek's egomaniacal, hard-partying, half-crazed music executive. To merely dismiss this performance as a thinly veiled version of himself is, I think, to sell short a genuinely funny comedic showcase. Combs manages to steals scenes from two of the biggest names in comedy today - no minor feat.

Funniest Animated Performance - A three-way tie. Toy Story 3's Spanish Buzz Lightyear was a bolt of comic relief in the middle of the nerve-wracking climax. His mating dance for Jessie may be the comedic high point of 2010. The Illusionist managed to resurrect the gentle comic spirit of Jacques Tati in its protagonist, and like the live action version, his animated counterpart provides a movie's worth of warm smiles. Finally, in Tangled  [previous posts] Disney gave us one of their best supporting characters in ages with Maximus, the horse worth an entire squadron of royal guards.

Funniest Stare - Perched somewhere between a barn owl and Hannibal Lecter, Jonah Hill's level gaze is enough to reduce John C Reilly to cold sweats in Cyrus. Hill's oddball performance was the best thing about a film that often felt half-baked.

Funniest Parents - There are few roles more thankless than that of the parents in a teen movie. With the pressure off, Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson [interview] took Easy A as an opportunity to crank up the zany charm and transform their limited screen time into a series of self-contained comic vignettes. Name another teen comedy where the audiences is hoping for more scenes where the lead goes home to talk it over with her parents.

Funniest Movie (From a Certain Angle) - It would be hard to argue with anyone who came out of Noah Baumbach's Greenberg asking, "What the hell was so funny about that?" But if you can summon a little pity for Stiller's filter-less malcontent, then you can see the humor in unleashing this out of control man-child on the greater Los Angeles area.

Funniest Movie That Is Not A Comedy - The Social Network is a unquestionably a drama, but it also has one of the highest laugh counts of the year. One could hear the audience actually pausing for a moment to absorb the sheer cleverness of a line before bursting out laughing. Bonus points for being the most quotable movie of the year.

Most Welcome Presence - Welcome back, Michael Keaton! How we missed you. He turned up to get laughs as both The Other Guys oblivious TLC-quoting police captain and as Toy Story's totally not a girl's toy, Ken. Here's hoping Hollywood keeps right on casting this comedic MVP.

Funniest Mystery Science Theater Fodder - Attention must be paid to the lovers of unintentional comedy, and those folks received a big gift with The Last Airbender. M. Night Shyamalan's epic mess hit the sweet spot of boundless silliness told with completely stone-faced solemnity. How many years until live audience-participation showings of Airbender spring up?

Biggest Waste of a Great Cast - Date Night. How can you gather a cast that includes Carrell, Fey, Franco, Kunis, Liotta, Fichtner, Wahlberg, Wiig, Ruffalo, and Taraji P Henson and still manage only minimal laughs? Put them through the motions of an exhausted plot nobody cares about involving stolen flash drives, car chases, and mobsters, that's how.

Somebody Get This Guy a Script -  Last year Flight of the Conchord's Jemaine Clements was wasted  in the universally hated Gentlemen Broncos. This year he is wasted in Dinner for Schmucks. One of my fondest 2011 wishes is that Clement gets a vehicle worthy of his priceless comic presence.

Funniest Ensemble - Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. From Keiran Culkin's acid wit to Alison Pill's killer deadpan all the way down to the glorious appearance of the Vegan Police this cast is firing on all cylinders. And although everyone and their cousin have written about how Michael Cera needs to find a different role, Cera's comic timing in the title role was still spot on. [previous posts]

Biggest Waste of a Great Title - Hot Tub Time Machine. Surely we can use this title again? It's too good to blow it on these limp 80's jokes.

Biggest Let Down - I left all my critical faculties at the door and was ready for Robert Rodriguez's Machete to give me the guiltiest guilty pleasure ever, maybe this generation's answer to Kentucky Fried Movie. What I got was a movie that bored despite Lindsay Lohan in a nun's outfit shooting off a machine gun, all with a layer of deadly preachiness on top.

The Low Lows of High Concepts - When future generations ask what killed the romantic comedy I will sadly respond, "High concepts." Whether it was a magic wishing fountain in When In Rome, a special marriage proposal day in Leap Year, a sperm sample switcheroo in The Switch, or whatever was going on in Killers, Hollywood is so in love with their big ideas they forgot the little details like likable characters, relatable situations, or romantic chemistry.

I'll Pass - Grown Ups, Marmaduke, Little Fockers, The Bounty Hunter, Furry Vengeance...ugh... I can't go on. See you all at Wal Mart's 5.99 bin, or, more likely, the depths of the Netflix instant view selection.

The Ten Funniest Movies of 2010

One of the big surprises of the year. Despite an advertising campaign to the contrary we finally got an animated film that dropped the ironic Shrek-y pop culture references long enough to tell a sweet, straight-forward story. The result? Disney's best animated film in at least a decade and their funniest since The Emperor's New Groove.

It's getting more attention for Oscar-friendly tears than for laughs, but Lisa Cholodenko's heartfelt script was one of the most consistently entertaining and well observed of the year. We know the characters and their blind spots so well that we laugh and cringe in equal measure as they stumble directly into emotional land mines.

"Wait. Let me check your math."

Admittedly this is as hit or miss as most other McKay projects, but for my money the scale tips firmly in the favor of hits. And when the hits are as funny as Whalberg's ballet dancing, Ferrell on the subject of Tuna vs. Lions and Jackson and the Rock going out with a whimper instead of bang then you can't leave it off this list even though the odd gag lands with a thud (Ferrell's pimping past, I'm looking at you).

Again, not a perfect film but when a story barrels along with such confidence you just go along for the ride. Bouyed by Carrey's ferocious performance and strong supporting working by an endearingly dim Ewan McGregor and a sweet Leslie Mann, Phillip Morris plays like the funny, seedier cousin of Catch Me If You Can.

Russell Brand and company were right to think this one-off character had legs. This one was an example of that rare species: the solidly funny mainstream comedy that manages to be raunchy without being mean-spirited. Brand stakes his claim as a Hollywood star while Hill proves he can get laughs as the comic straight man. Plus it also gave the entertainment industry a good spoofing without stretching the material past believability.

Toy Story's tear-jerking scenes may be getting all the attention but the laughs here are just as big as ever. For starters, Mr. Tortilla Head is an instant classic, and Ken, Big Baby, and a group of method acting toys made for hilarious new additions. The opening fantasy sequence by itself would earn this a place on the list. By my estimation the "death by monkeys" gag alone was worth a half dozen cookie cutter Hollywood comedies.

While not the masterpiece it's most ardent fans are making it out to be, the films flaws are minor when compared to the film's successes. Whip smart gags, a witty visual style that pops, an ensemble with nary a weak link, and best of all, Edgar Wright's energetic direction which keeps the whole production rollicking along with a spirit of giddy invention. Any serious critical evaluation of the film should be prefaced with the acknowledgement that watching Scott Pilgrim is massive amounts of fun.

If you were lucky enough to catch this concert movie of Louis CK's stand up act as it toured the country last fall then you know what I know, which is that this is possibly the best stand-up special of its kind since Chris Rock exploded with Bring the Pain in '96. Louis CK does that thing that the greats do - actually getting us to see the world with new eyes. His riff on how the miracles of the modern age are wasted on today's whiney consumerists deserves comparison with the classic routines of George Carlin. Oh, and it's clutch-your-side-gasping, fall-out-of-your-chair funny.

More than any other comedy this year, Christopher Morris' Four Lions took big risks for its laughs. A comedy about a band of inept terrorists plotting attacks like a group of overgrown children playing in a treehouse, Lions is at once shocking and hilarious. Like the racial humor in Blazing Saddles it gets double laughs, one for the joke and a second one for getting away with what it did. In broad strokes these guys aren't much different than Waiting for Guffman's incompetent actors, in that the laughs come from the huge gap between their grandiose view of themselves and their stubborn lack of actual ability. There was infinite ways for this material to go wrong, but the infallible test of its success is whether or not we laugh, and I did. Loudly and often.

So let's hear it. What made you laugh the hardest this year, and which flicks left you sitting their stone-faced?

some tears to balance this out? Check out the Crybaby Countdown: Tearjerk-iest moments of 2010


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