May 9, 2009

My Fave Five: Comedic Films

I love a good laugh. A movie sometimes just doesn't feel whole if there isn't a spark of humor in it. The same applies to novels.

Comedic films don't receive much praise from the hierarchy of Hollywood. How many comedies have won an Oscar? Hell, how many have been nominated? Can't be many, and those that are usually are "smart" comedies. I hate that term: smart comedy. It's spoken with such a cliquish tone by people who look down their noses at movies meant to provoke laughter—like a movie meant to draw tears is so much more meritable.

I am not a prig when it comes to comedy. I love it, I embrace it, I encourage it. If you can't laugh, you may as well cry. And, some people would dispense with both in favor of pissing and moaning (myself included at times I'm less proud). So, here are five of my all-time favorite comedies.

5) Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged MeIt's debatable exactly how many tricks Mike Myer's pony has, but there's no arguing the fact that Austin Powers is one of the most brilliant comedic characters in history. Take a Lothario from the swinging sixties and thrust him into a future completely changed, not at all like the world he envisioned he was saving during the Sexual Revolution. He's diminished and marginalized, yet he must soldier on to do the noble deeds (and a few less than noble if there's time). For some reason, I enjoy the sequel more than the original. Maybe the time travel element added even more opportunity for generational satire. Or, it may be as simple as seeing Heather Graham in go-go boots.

4) The Naked GunWithin comedy, parody is king. Throw in some physical shtick, and Leslie Nielson may go down as one of the very best comedic actors of the twentieth century. It's almost eery to see his earlier work as a straight character actor, particularly the sci-fi stuff. How could that guy be Lt. Frank Dreben? Yet, he and George Kennedy used their on-screen chemistry to create an amazing cop duo of straight man and walking punchline. Not even the evil known as OJ Simpson can ruin my appreciation for the "Police Squad" franchise. It's also nice to remember a time when Priscilla Presley hadn't been ravaged by cosmetic surgery.

3) Old SchoolThere are moments watching movies starring Vince Vaughn or Will Farrell when I wonder if they have any depth of the types of roles they can play. It's no matter really, as this movie is the benchmark of both men's comedic efforts. Forget the others, like Talladega Nights and Dodgeball. Old School set the bar very, very high for both men, and I don't think either has topped it yet. Even Wedding Crashers falls short of the mark in my opinion. I may have to admit bias, as my waining college days reminded me of being the "older" guy hanging out with the young bucks. It's easy, as a guy, to relate to the desire of hanging on the former glory in youth. And, this movie efficiently shows how ridiculous a man can look when he tries to turn back the clock.

2) Dirty Rotten ScoundrelsSteve Martin as one half of a comedic dynamic duo, I can buy. But, Michael Caine as the ying to his yang? No way. This movie is superb, however, and is as smart as the smartest "high brow" comedy. The relentless tug-of-war between the two characters, trying to outwit each other as they work together, played out flawlessly and the movie doesn't appear dated at all, which can kill the humor in so many comedies of the 1980s. If you also consider the eighties were ripe with some of the absolute worst movies ever made, comedies especially, this movie stands out as a true gem.

1) The Big LebowskiI haven't, until recently, paid attention to the directors of movies. Nowadays, when I hear the Coen brothers have a movie coming out, my ears perk. That's due in no small part to this movie. No other movie could have this much quirk and eccentricity blended within the humor, and still maintain a feeling of believability. The cast of characters would be preposterous in any other movie. The farcical nature of this movie strikes a chord with me I didn't even know I had. The world has gone crazy in it's own small way, and I'm with the Dude every step of the way, empathizing with a guy who just wants his fucking rug back.

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