Best/Worst Of The Decade: Comedy

We continue our look back at the past cinematic decade by genre with a list that contains two titles that have the word “Dynamite” in them.

Best:

The 40-Year Old Virgin (2005)

With a title like this one, you would be safe to expect a racy sex comedy that pokes fun at its central character. You would expect the character to be a pathetic nerd with little to redeem himself. But this is a film that defies expectations.

What you get is a thoughtful comedy where the main character is portrayed with dignity and respect. Steve Carell gives a performance that doesn’t make Andy a stereotypical geek but a human being with a shyness and awkwardness that makes us laugh with the character instead of just at him. There is a lot of ribald humor in here, much of it improvised by the cast, so the film is laugh out loud funny. But it is never cruel or heartless. Instead, it is touching and heart-warming.

The film not only launched the careers of many of today’s biggest stars and made Judd Apatow a major player in the film industry; it also stands as a revolutionary force in film comedy. You can be wild and raucous yet still have an emotional core. – William Gatevackes

The Aristocrats (2005)

“The Aristocrats” isn’t so much a joke as it is a playground for comics to flex their humor muscles and to push boundaries. It’s comedic jazz, allowing it’s teller to improvise on any number of themes before coming back around to the punchline. And like great jazz, there are a number of differing interpretations – from the straightforward to variations where the joke is told as a card trick (see the NSFW clip below), through mime and even clever inversions of the joke’s premise and punchline.

Comics Paul Prevenza and Penn Gillette (of Penn and Teller) have turned cameras on their numerous friends in the industry to talk about the joke and tell their favorite version of it. At once a crash course on comedy theory and the raunchiest stand-up show ever, The Aristocrats will most likely both entertain and offend you. – Rich Drees

Black Dynamite (2009)

At once a loving tribute and a send-up of 1970s blaxploitation flicks, Black Dynamite is simply the best genre spoof since Airplane!. Michael Jai White is perfect as the titular hero, an ex-CIA agent/ pimp who brings his own brand of justice to the streets as he takes on the Man trying to keep the brothers down. The key to the film’s success is that it plays things absolutely, dead-pan straight. Presenting itself as a forgotten film produced 35 years ago, with all the flaws inherent in many of those low-budget productions, the film is filled with visible boom mics, hilariously stilted dialogue, gratuitous violence and nudity and more. Like the perfect wording of a joke, it’s that extra attention to detail that sells the comedy. – RD

The Hangover (2009)
Four men go to Las Vegas to celebrate one of their number’s impending nuptials. They wake the next morning to find their suite trashed, a tiger in the bathroom, a baby in the closet and the groom-to-be among the missing. They need to retrace their steps to find out what happened.

This wacky aftermath could very easily been played for a weak farce. Logic could have been sacrificed for a cheap laugh. But the tight script provides a believable reason for the carnage inflicted on these characters. The events of the night before might not be plausible but they were possible.

That being said, it would be hard to see the film done with a different cast. Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, and Zach Galifianakis played three radically different people, friendly only due to a flimsy association, who bond as the undertake their mission of discovery. But each actor brings his own brand of charm and likability to the role, and that’s what makes us stay interested. – WG

Napoleon Dynamite (2004)

I first saw Napoleon Dynamite at one of those advanced screenings that M-TV was using to build buss for the film in the months leading up to its general release. After spending the next day discussing the movie with my girlfriend for longer than the film’s runtime, I knew that this quirky, awkward comedy could very well be a “big thing.” And while I don’t think that director Jared Hess has yet to really live up to the potential promised with this debut film, there is no denying that for a brief moment the film was the “big thing.”

Of course, as what often happens with popular comedies, everyone soon began quoting the film in an attempt to appear funny themselves. The only result was that the public burned out on the film fairly quickly. I call this “Austin Powers ‘Yeah baby!’ Syndrome.”But no matter how the public reacted, there is no mistaking that Jon Heder’s performance as the awkward, curl-haired and clueless Napoleon is one for the ages. – RD

Ocean’s Eleven (2001)

When it was announced that they were doing a remake of the original Ocean’s Eleven, one had to question the logic of it. After all, that movie was more an excuse for the Rat Pack to appear on film together than a cinematic masterpiece. And since there was no equal to the Rat Pack around today, the idea seemed rather superfluous.

But what Steven Soderbergh did was do a remake faithful to the spirit of the original, but with a better plot and a lot of humor. The all-star cast was full of some of the most charming actors in Hollywood, and their witty bantering made you think they were as close as the Rat Pack were. And the caper kept you guessing right to the end with its twists and turns. It was a good time movie, meaning that you put down your money and left the theater feeling you had a good time. Who could ask anything more from a crime caper? – WG

Worst:

Epic Movie (2007)

Purveyors of quality parody get a bad rap. People think that parody is easy. Take “Weird Al” Yankovic. He will never get into the Rock ‘N Roll Hall of Fame, but compare his work to the litany of parody songs made by drive-time radio jocks of morning zoos and you see how talented he really is.

This film is the drive-time jock/morning zoo of parody movies. Films such as Blazing Saddles, the Airplane films, Young Frankenstein and the Naked Gun films were done by creators who were familiar with the genres they were aping, know the trademarks of each film style, and were smart enough to mock them in a funny way. The creators of Epic Movie believe all you had to do was get the costumes right, load up the movie with a bunch of pee jokes, and it would be funny.

But it isn’t. It is aggressively unfunny. The plot, which is only there to hang the numerous film and pop culture characters they “parody” on, is based on The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. But it says nothing about that film or any of the films it parodies. It barely qualifies as a film. – WG

Borat (2006)

I was never a fan of the “Candid Camera” school of comedy. I never found humiliating complete strangers to be funny. So if Borat was only that style, which it is, I would still think of it as one of the worst films of the decade.

But critics and Sasha Baron Cohen himself have intimated that Borat was a way to point out the rampant racism and anti-Semitism in America. Even if you are willing to let the fact that the British Cohen has enough knowledge about the everyday life of the American people to make that determination, he goes about this mission by presenting an offensive immigrant stereotype for us to mock and laugh at. He is pointing out our insensitivity to people who are different then ourselves by presenting an insensitive portrayal of someone who is different than the American he visited.

By presenting a stereotypical character spouting racist dogma, he is failing in his mission to enlighten us. He is providing confirmation to the racists, anti-Semites and xenophobes in words and in deeds. Which is the polar opposite of what he states his goal is. And that makes Borat a failure in my eyes. – WG

The Tuxedo (2002)

I’m not sure why, but every now and then, a Hollywood-produced Jackie Chan film feels compelled to explain the amazing physical prowess of his character. This, as The Tuxedo so ably demonstrates, is a stupid mistake. Let’s just accept that whatever character Jackie is playing can do some amazing martial arts and gymnastic stunts. We don’t need some ridiculous explanation like some teched-out tuxedo designed for a super spy. A collection of witless slapstick and embarrassing mugging for the camera, this movie is the summation of why Jackie Chan was better off making films in Hong Kong, where he had complete creative control over the final product. Sure he may have made a clunker or two there, but they were never the epic badness that this was.- RD

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