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



Andy Buckle said...

I agree with you here. Four Lions was definitely the funniest film of the year. I also loved Scott Pilgrim. and i thought The Social Network produced a lot of laughs also.

Nikhat said...

I honestly think I laughed the most Social Network..."The Winklevii".
I quite loved Easy A, Scott Pilgrim and Toy Story 3.
Tangled was okay. I was really surprised by Date Night, it was so bleh.

cal roth said...

Jim Carrey is marvelous, awesome and genius in I Love You Philip Morris.

Dave said...


I can't believe you omitted the 'heckling' scene in "Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work"...

When the audience member chastises Rivers for making a joke about deaf children, Rivers strikes back instantaneously with a 5 minute tirade of zingers that brings down the house and has the audience both in the crowd and watching on dvd/in theaters peeing themselves!!

"He lost his leg in the war, and then went back to get it, cus thats f*cking littering"

Cut em with words Joan!! Cut em with words!!!

One of the best comedy high points of the year!!


Dave -- Michael ("Unsung Heroes") wrote this one :) That LITTER line you mention was indeed inspired, LOL worthy. But I actually felt more than a little uncomfortable when she went after that guy with claws out. Yeesh! Anyone else?

Heckling and fighitng back always freaks me out though. Jackie Beat is one of my favorite live performers and she just destroys people if they heckle but it still feels violent somehow. I'm always like GET ME OUTTA HERE.

Michael -- g-r-e-a-t choice to stick Social Network in there. It's not something many people would think to include in a comedy review but it's humor is just so sharp (and really elevates the film considering so much of it is otherwise deadly serious in filmmaking tone / mood)


oh and also thumbs down on the three way tie for animated performance ;) that award SO belongs to Maximus with no runner up!

stella said...

Clash of the Titans, in that so-horrible-it's-hilarious way. During Gemma Arterton's "death", my friend was practically weeping with mirth. We actually reenacted some of the more ridiculous scenes afterwards for sheer enjoyment. At least it was kind of worth the ticket price....kind of.

Anonymous said...

I thought True Grit was pretty funny. It is a Coen Bros movie, after all. "If you would like to sleep in a coffin, it would be all right...."

Anonymous said...

I thought Greenberg was hilarious.

OtherRobert said...

I laughed at Machete, but I also had my mind ready for a halfway decent throwback exploit film, which often featured ham-fisted political commentary and wooden acting.

Michael said...

I expected to get torched for leaving off Please Give. Maybe nobody's noticed yet. Better keep quiet.

Andy - Glad to see more Lions love. Hope people check that one out.

Nikhat - Truth be told Date Night was better than I thought it would be, but that's only due to my exceedingly low expectations with director Shawn Levy. I expected zero laughs and Fey got me a few times with her ad-libs. "I'm going to go home and fart in a shoebox."

Nat - Had to give a special shout to Spanish Buzz. HIs Spanish soap opera delivery of "The Cowboy..." kills me.

Other Robert - Fair point about Machete. But I would have forgiven all of that if I had laughed more. I got the impression that they were so in love with the idea of their film that they didn't step back to see if it was as outrageously funny as it was supposed to be.

Rob T. said...

Please Give is very good, funny but not ostentatiously so. For me, however, your most surprising omission was Exit Through the Gift Shop; I laughed more with this movie than any others this year, except for some of the animated movies and the first half of The Social Network.

Did you leave Gift Shop out because of the debate as to whether the movie is a put-on or not? I personally lean toward "not", except to the extent that some of the people involved are obviously putting themselves on about the worth of some of the "art". Regardless of whether the film is 100% real, Gift Shop still touches on truths about the meaning and worth of art, and is a laugh riot either way you look at it.

Incidentally, I Love You Phillip Morris premieres in my hometown next week (at the same theater that showed Gift Shop); I've been debating whether to see it amid all the Oscar-bait I have yet to get to, but you've helped convince me it might be worth making time to see it. Thanks for the tip!

Anonymous said...

By putting FOUR LIONS first, you are obviously someone cut from the same funny-bone gene pool as I. Which means I will need to suggest the film that equalled 4L for me as 2010's funniest, and enquire as to whether you have seen it yet - RARE EXPORTS: A CHRISTMAS TALE. (If you haven't, I suggest rectifying that soon.)

Paul Baterina said...

I would have to say Tangled was the funniest this year for me.

Andrew R. said...

Four Lions = great.

Get Him to the Greek was overrated and really, really, REALLY inconsistent. Brand and Combs were funny, but the rest of the film fell flat.

Glenn said...

Four Lions and I Love You Phillip Morris are right side by side for me as funniest. I'd perhaps give the edge to Morris, but...

I'd also say Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work is hilarious when it's not being serious (and even then, too, sometimes) and one title I didn't see listed which was City Island. Julianna Margules is terrific and Andy Garcia gives his best performance is... gosh, who knows how long?

Michael said...

wellslud - Rare Exports, eh? I confess I have not seen it nor heard much about it. But if you say it was equal to Lions I will have to seek it out.

jen said...

OT :
So Kidman is better in Rabbit Hole than in Margot At The Wedding ? I don't think that's humanly possible.

spanish fly said...

I am a big fan of spanish fly...glad that you love them too

Craig Kell said...

As a Brit who loves Four Lions, I salute you sir!

"Bollocks, I'm a liability! I am the Invisible Jihadi! They seek him here, they seek him there, but here's not there, he's blowing up your slag sister!"

Easily this year's In The Loop! :D

Mikey said...

I'm glad that "The Social Network" placed in a comedy line-up. It's one of the funniest films of the year (in a good way).

gabrieloak said...

Several of the movies mentioned didn't make me laugh much. But one film which made me laugh nonstop was The Other Guys, a film I wasn't expecting to like.

I also thought Youth in Revolt was laugh inducing in a good way.

Another very funny movie that I saw in Toronto but probably won't be released in the US is The Trip, directed by Michael Winterbottom.

The comedy that was most disappointing for me in 2010 was Dinner for Schmucks.

And one movie that made me laugh for the wrong reasons was Black Swan, a truly ludicrous film that is being taken seriously by critics.

Kurtis O said...

I loved "Hot Tub Time Machine"

Scott said...

"Four Lions" is a perfect pick. Not only is it brilliantly funny, it's also such a deeply meaningful film. The film lingered in my mind for days. Great choice.

Spanish Buzz was truly brilliant!

Anonymous said...

Four Lions, YES! I'm so glad it did well, it gives light to a dark situation. I hated that some people took it so seriously.

Erin said...

Totally random thought: I would have LOVED to see (or...hear, I suppose) Lesley Ann Warren as Grotel in Tanlged. How I miss her so.

Hal said...

Michael Keaton seems to have been born to play the role of a goofy-cop-who-isn't-trying-to-be-goofy. Jackie Brown and Out of Sight come to mind..