Now I have to warn you, that when it comes to comedy I’m pretty demanding. The massive amounts of mainstream comedy that Hollywood regurgitates every year are too packed with predictable plots, flat jokes and performances to amuse me. Anything starring Will Ferrell (with one exception), Ben Stiller (with some exceptions), Steve Carrel or Mathew McConaughey, I find hard to stomach, and I’m not even talking about flicks starring J. Lo and the like. So you see, my options are quite narrow. Still now and then my way comes a comedy that I find original, genuinely funny and well-acted – because frankly, that’s all ask. So I bring you a list of my very personal comedy favorites released in 2009-2010 (and already available on DVD, BluRay or both), that would make great Christmas presents for your friends, family, and perhaps, yourself.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera), a 22-year-old slacker living in Toronto, sharing an apartment with a gay roommate (Kieran Culkin), dating a highschooler (they almost held hands once) and playing a bass-guitar for an unknown band Sex Bomb-Omb. But everything changes when along comes a girl of (literally) his dreams – mysterious and “hardcore” Ramona Flowers (Mary Elisabeth Winstead), who changes the color of her crazy hair every week and has a rather turbulent dating history.
Pilgrim finds all about it quite soon – when Ramona’s evil exes lineup to fight him. The latter include a deranged Hindu, an action film star, a vegan-psychic bass-guitarist, a mad lesbian, Japanese twins … and a music industry mogul played by Jason Schwartzman – all of whom Pilgrim must defeat for a chance to date Ramona. Directed by Brit Edgar Wright (“Shaun of the Dead, “Hot Fuzz”), it’s the most unusual take on a comic book movie, or teen comedy for that matter. Mixing elements of a computer game, a music video, sci-fi flick and romantic comedy, with scenes seamlessly cutting into each other, snappy dialogue and youthful dynamics, “Scott Pilgrim” is fireworks of action, color, music and youngster’s lust for life.
Even those who won’t appreciate its game references, won’t get a chance to get bored – the film is a joyride from the start to the end, slowing down only on a final showdown scene. Michael Cera here is just a bit more clueless, confused and inarticulate than usual, but instead of trying hard to lose his virginity (as in his previous flicks), he actually kicks some ass.
Get Him to the Greek Russell Brand’s rockstar Aldous Snow and Jonah Hill’s waiter had a few scenes together in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” (which I, by the way, found overhyped, Jasons Segel’s acting – strictly sitcom). In “Get Him to the Greek” Brand reprises his role in a much more expanded version, while Hill plays a different and more mature character – Aaron Green, an intern of a record company run by Sean ‘P. Diddy’ Combs himself (as Sergio Roma), living with a nurse-girlfriend played by Mad Men’s Elisabeth Moss.
When he comes up with the idea to stage a big comeback show for Aldous Snow – his own idol and a major rockstar until substance abuse and a god-awful record drove him off the stage, he’s charged with the task of transporting him from London to the arranged concert at the Greek Theater. However it proves to be easier said than done, since Snow is impulsive and totally unpredictable, constantly acting on a whim, and his drug habits complicate things even further.
Green is torn apart between the alluring attraction of the rockstar lifestyle that he’s being involuntarily drawn into, getting the job done (and thus keeping his place at the company) and saving his relationship. The film is not exactly unpredictable, and I wouldn’t call it genius, but both Hill and Brand are strong screen presences, and have good chemistry as a duet, while a string of celebrity cameos helps to keep things moving. Combs is fun as a wisecracking producer who knows exactly how to pull the strings of those naughty stars, and Brand balances between ridiculous and quite authentic – after all, he’s had his share of drag-induced rockstar lifestyle and Snow’s experiences are quite familiar to him.
Lascars French cartoon comedy “Lascars” mixes wonderful caricature animation, great lines and humor, while offering an authentic depiction of the Parisian lifestyle, which is very different from how the usual romantic flicks paint the city. The story focuses on two friends – slackers and petty crooks Jose and Tony (voiced by Vicent Cassel), who seems to be a walking magnet for trouble. When Tony’s mistake blows their common summer trip, unemployed hip-hopper Jose is forced to take up a job building a Finnish sauna in the house of a rich judge, and instantly falls for his blond daughter Clemence (Diane Kruger). Tony, however, prefers quick and easy money, and volunteers to sell some drugs for a mean and creepy crime boss Zoran. Soon he loses both drugs and money, and to make matters voice, his crazy girlfriend Manuella, who works for police, wants to marry him and won’t take “no” for an answer.
Things quickly get out of hand, and end in a complete mayhem. “Lascars” is basically a plain hilarious French comedy with all the right elements – hapless heroes, criminals, hot babes, fights, parties, near-death experiences, inside jokes and lots of idiotic, but not improbable, situations – only animated. It would work even as a regular feature film, but in that case some of the charm will inevitably be lost.
Machete It’s an extremely rare case when a movie exactly satisfies your expectations. It totally fulfilled the promised made in the initially fake trailer, opening “Planet Terror.” Made strictly in the grindhouse parody style of the latter, it also bursts with pretty crude political satire – enough to scare the less humored part of the white American population. But for the rest of us, who totally get all the jokes, “Machete” is a joyride of hilarious madness filled with just the right amount of violence, action, tough heroes, corrupt politicians and sexy girls.
Danny Trejo’s Machete – formerly a Mexican federal, whose family was slaughtered by a drug lord (Steven Seagul with an awful Mexican accent), is roaming Texas as a day-laborer. Local businessman Michael Booth (Jim Fahey) offers him a job – to kill senator McLaughlin (Robert DeNiro), who shoots Mexican trespassers as a sport and wants to put up an electric fence along the border. Machete agrees (after being threatened), but as he’s preparing to take a shot at the senator, he’s double crossed – there is another killer shooting at Machete. The unknown assassin also hits McLaughlin in the leg – which is just a part of Booth’s plan to boost senator’s fence campaign. Now the assassination attempt is penned on wounded Machete.
But their plan goes horribly wrong when Machete teams up with She (Michelle Rodriguez) – a Mexican rebellion leader undercover, gun-toting Padre (Cheech Marin) and eventually, Jessica Alba’s U.S. Immigration agent, who crosses over to the other side to fight for her people. Now Mexican Network is at war! Danny Trejo in his first ever (and also probably last ever) star role doesn’t act or even say much – not that he needs to really. He looks like a badass muthefucker and serves as a core that all the other characters – good and bad – are being drawn to. It’s especially true about chicks who just can’t resist him.
Fantastic Mr. Fox Unless you hate stop-motion animation or are freaked by the characters’ appearance (some of my friends were), you’re in for a fun ride. Based on Roald Dahl’s novel and directed by Wes Anderson, “Fantastic Mr. Fox” works for children just as well as for adults. For the first – it has the fun adventures of talking animals. For the second – it has allegory, good jokes, familiar family troubles and infectious free spirit. Mr. Fox steals chickens for a living, until one day he’s forced to give it all up for a family life. Seven years (twelve fox years) later, Mr. Fox leads a quiet living and works at a newspaper, but has bigger dreams. First of all, he decides to move from a traditional hole in the ground to a potentially dangerous tree house.
Secondly, he decides to go back to his old ways at least for one last time and rob three big nearby farmers. The farm jobs turn out successful, however … now the farmers are enraged and going after the whole local animal community. But of course, Mr. Fox, as fantastic as he is, will find a solution. The cast of actors voicing the characters is just gorgeous. George Clooney is instantly recognizable as Mr. Fox, Meryl Streep is gentle but firm as Mrs. Fox, while their son, a troubled teenager Ash, is voiced by Jason Schwartzman. There is also Bill Murray as Badger and Willem Dafoe as Rat – you get the picture.
The Hangover There is currently a lot of fuss around the sequel for this one but I’m pretty skeptical about it. Mainly because, whenever a movie is a surprise success, whoever is making “part 2” will be trying too hard to repeat it, while “the magic element” that lit up the original flick will be lost. Nonetheless, “The Hangover” will go down in history as one of the best comedies of 2009. The plot does sound simple – a group of friends goes to Vegas for a bachelor party. Naturally you expect them to party like monkeys in the zoo, and end up missing the wedding – or something like it. “The Hangover,” on the contrary, keeps the partying pretty much wholly out of the picture. The film starts with the men waking up in the morning with no recollection of what happened the night before.
And, perhaps, it wouldn’t really matter – but they’re missing something important – the groom himself. However they have a few clues – a crying baby in the closet, a tiger in the bathroom and stolen police car they have parked outside. The hangover trio – a school teacher Phil (Bradley Cooper), manchild-weirdo Alan (Zach Galifianakis) and dentist Stu (Ed Helms), who’s got an over-controlling bitch of a fiancée, then begin their drive around town, conducting a search, and learning the details of their shocking behavior from the previous night. In the meantime – there’s still no sign of the groom.
Zombieland A comic take on a zombiepocalypse flick, “Zombileand” may not be as smart and quick on social satire as the “Shaun of the Dead,” but it’s still a fun road-movie with an all star-cast – Jessie Eisenberg (“The Social Network”), Emma Stone (“Easy A”), Abigail Breslin (“Little Miss Sunshine”), and the ever so awesome Woody Harrelson – in his coolest role since “Natural Born Killers.” Plus – a special bonus – Bill Murray playing … himself – apparently the sole celebrity survivor in the zombie-populated Hollywood.
An original element – all four characters avoid using names, calling themselves after American states instead. The story is told from the perspective of Columbus (Eisenberg). A boy-next-door, unpopular with girls, he managed to survive zombieland by following a simple set of rules. At some point he bumps into Harrelson’s tough cowboy, on a mission to find a fresh supply of Twinkies, and the two become reluctant travel buddies .
They soon meet Stone’s quirky vixen Wichita and her witty little sister, who introduce themselves by taking the boys hostages and stealing their car. But it’s lonely in zombieland, and wheeling across post-apocalyptic landscape, fighting off zombies, the four gradually form an awkward family.
Kick-Ass Dave Lizewksi (Aaron Johnnson), a regular school kid and an avid comic book reader, takes his superhero dreams to the city streets. He gets a ridiculous costume online and sets out to fight crime, but after his first attempt at harassing two thugs he ends up in a hospital severely wounded. Once out of the hospital, however, this masked avenger gives it another shot, coming to the aid of a stranger being beaten up by a whole gang.
Shocked at his recklessness, criminals retreat, and when the video of the whole scuffle (shot on somebody’s phone) appears on youtube, Kick-Ass wakes up a local hero. Taking the whole publicity thing much to heart, Dave tries to take down an armed drug dealer, and that incident is just about to end his superhero career for good, if not for a masked girl with purple hair who shows up out of nowhere, and literally kicks ass, leaving a pile bodies on the floor. She’s Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz), long trained by Big Daddy (Nicholas Cage) in batmanesque costume, whose goal is to take down a crime boss, who put him prison, and lead to the death of his wife.
To be honest I had mixed feelings about this one – at times hilarious, it’s also full of rather violent moments. I mean Hit Girl is a pretty ruthless killer for a kid, coming from a country which has a rather tragic history of children playing with guns. But what makes Kick-Ass really stand out is an unexpected take on a superhero story. First of all – it wasn’t based on a comic book. Secondly – its heroes have no superpowers, and initially Dave is not avenging anyone – he’s just playing cool. Finally – everything, from nicknames to costumes, is essentially a parody. With one exception – they do leave real bodies behind and cause one hell of a mayhem.
Funny People Famous comedian George Simmons (Adam Sandler) learns he might be terminally ill. This changes his perspective on life (well, kinda), but as he struggles to cope with the shock, he finds himself quite lonely – years of being an ass to everyone did pay off big time. Ira Wright (newly skinny Seth Rogen) is a supermarket employee, and a part-time stand-up comedian trying to succeed, sharing a house with sitcom actor Mark (Jason Schwartzman) and fellow beginner comedian Leo (Jonah Hill).
Through a chance encounter, George, currently in a morbid mood, hires Ira as an “assistant,” but more so – as someone to keep his company. In an attempt to correct some mistakes of the past, George tries to get back with his ex-fiancée, now married with two kids (Leslie Mann, Mrs. Judd Apatow herself), but in the end it becomes clear that sick or healthy George can’t help being kind of a swine, though this may help him do his job as comedian so well.
2009’s “Funny People” remains the latest directorial work by Judd Apatow, who has since been sticking exclusively to producing. It’s full of hilarious sequences, especially the one in which Ira and George mock his Scandinavian doctor, and Ira’s awkward relationship with his roommates has plenty of moments. Sandler and Rogen do have an interesting dynamic especially if you consider that in real life Sandler really is a comedy veteran and Rogen represents younger generation, though the career of the latter is on the rise, while Sandler made way too many identical comedies for people to care anymore.
A Town Called Panic This absolutely insane Belgian stop-motion animation is as primitive as it gets (at first it looks like watching children play with toys), but at same time as expressive as it can be by means of dialogue, voices and a totally absurd plot. Reasonable and serious Horse shares a house with two idiots – Cowboy and Indian. One fine morning the latter discover that Horse has a birthday – and they didn’t get him a present. So the two friends lure Horse out of the house and go online to order bricks – so they can build Horse a barbecue.
By mistake they order 50 million bricks instead of just 50. From then on chaos and panic ensues. But it’s not just them – the whole tiny community they reside in, including farmer and his wife, a policeman, a postman and a musical school administrator-deejay-bartender – are all decidedly panic-stricken. In course of the story Horse and his friends will travel to the center of earth, be temporarily enslaved by wacko scientists (apparently Russian) operating a giant penguin machine walking across tundra, and have a face-off with nasty green people in the underwater town. But even in all this chaos, there is a love story going on – between Horse and piano teacher Madam Longray.