Posts Tagged ‘Judd Apatow’

‘Twas 2012: Top Ten Movies of the Year

Did Lincoln make the list?

Did Lincoln make the list?

Although I already tried to identify the year’s “trend” in movies, I didn’t do a Top 10 list, and obviously no summation of the year is complete without a Top 10 list. Normally, I don’t do such a list for movies, because I rarely see more than 10 films in a given year. In 2012, though, for a variety of reasons—like embracing Josh’s philosophy—I saw more movies than in any other year of my life, so I finally feel qualified to make a list.*

*Of course, I didn’t see EVERY movie this year. So to clarify whether any given film missed the Top 10 because of quality or omission, here is the full list of movies I saw this year:

24) The Amazing Spider-Man

23) The Campaign

22) Zero Dark Thirty

21) Flight

20) The Five-Year Engagement

19) Jeff, Who Lives At Home

18) The Dark Knight Rises

17) The Perks of Being a Wallflower

16) Sleepwalk With Me

15) Safety Not Guaranteed

14) Skyfall

13) 21 Jump Street

12) Argo

11) Lincoln

 

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Monday Medley

What we read after knocking out Manny Pacquiao…

A Brief Explanation of Toilet Humor

The popularity of “toilet humor” is a commonly accepted, and often lamented, fact of comedy. Some—particularly fans of “smart” comedy—complain that a meticulously well-crafted punchline will sometimes get less of a laugh than a hackneyed fart joke.

People also tend to read a lot into the popularity of crass humor, citing it as an example of society’s declining intelligence, or its immaturity. They accuse a certain type of comedian of pandering, or doing cheap jokes.

A scene from Bridesmaids provides a perfect recent example: Nearly every review I have read of this film has specifically mentioned a scene in which the bridal party gets food poisoning—of a particularly graphic kind—while trying on dresses at a fancy bridal shop. Continue reading

Aught Lang Syne: The Ten Funniest Movies of the Decade

Yesterday we gave you the definitive list of the funniest comedians of the decade. Today, NPI continues its look at the comedy of the Aughts by looking at the ten funniest films of the decade. Evaluating comedies can be tricky. Is the sheer number of laughs more important than the overall quality of the movie? This list aims to balance those concerns: It is a list of the funniest films, and not the best comedies, but at the same time, the best comedy often comes out of a good story. So what is the funniest film of the Aughts? Well, here’s the list:

10. Meet the Parents (2000)

Time has been a little unkind to Meet the Parents. An unfortunate sequel, the overexposure of Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson, and a rather disappointing decade from Robert De Niro all conspired to reflect poorly on this film. These considerations, however, are generally unfair; they ignore the fact that Meet the Parents was one of the Aughts’ first great comedies and that Stiller was one of the best comic actors of the first part of the decade. Meet the Parents showcased his ability to play the understated, slightly belligerent everyman that he would later tone down to a bland, traditional romantic comedy lead. This, combined with De Niro’s excellent and persistent deadpan, led to some truly great comic scenes, like the discussion of “Puff the Magic Dragon” in the car and the lie-detector scene. Continue reading

Aught Lang Syne: The Funniest Comedians of the Decade

Comedy is a broad subject. It’s not confined to any one medium, genre, style, or format. It’s hard to define and almost impossible to quantify. But here at NPI, we take comedy very seriously. The comedy of the Aughts in particular will always have an important role in shaping our senses of humor. So today we present a list, in no particular order, of people who helped to truly shape the comedy of the decade. This is not a list of people who were funny once or twice, but people with a body of work that is both rich and impressive. This means that a lot of people had to be cut. Great stand-up comics (Louis C.K., Aziz Ansari), some hilarious supporting comic actors (Paul Rudd, Jason Schwartzman), and even some groundbreaking comic teams (Flight of the Conchords, Stella), couldn’t make the list. And that’s because the following individuals/groups reached a level of success, both in terms of popularity and quality, that helped define the comedy of the decade.

The cast of Arrested Development

Arrested Development has the funniest ensemble cast in the history of comedic television, and it’s way ahead of whatever’s at #2. Tim has already extolled the virtues of Jason Bateman as Michael Bluth, but the fact is that the main character is about the sixth-funniest cast member on the show. Michael Cera gave a breakout performance for three years as George Michael, completely selling every awkward quirk of the character, including (and especially) his love for his cousin. David Cross played Tobias’ obliviousness and physical awkwardness to perfection, conveying every sexual inadequacy and illicit implication (“She said ‘single,’ right?”). Will Arnett made a magician named Gob come off as arrogant, creepy, and sympathetic. Portia Di Rossi played Lindsay’s self-righteousness and laziness as mutually coexisting. Jeffrey Tambor, as the family patriarch, managed to make the character so memorable that they had to keep him as a regular, even though he was supposed to remain a guest after the pilot. Tony Hale’s Buster, Jessica Walter’s Lucille, and Alia Shawkat’s Maeby, rounded out the cast, ensuring the show didn’t have a single weakness. Even guest stars, like Henry Winkler, Ed Begley, Jr., and John Michael Higgins, manage to turn their characters into memorable comic stars.

Most important, though, was the way the cast interacted. Plenty, if not all, great comedies have breakout characters and star performers, but few entire casts have had the chemistry that this cast had. Exchanges between Michael and his son, for example, are so great not just because of the dialogue and each character’s eccentricities, but because of the interplay between the two characters. Their ability to talk over each other, fill in each other’s awkward gaps, and respond nonverbally to the other’s lines are as funny as anything in the script. Continue reading

Monday Medley

What we read while hiding our golf clubs…

  • Food is a big part of Thanksgiving. Which food that is, though, depends in part on what region of the country you’re from. Check out this “infographic” which shows where search queries for different Thanksgiving foods came from geographically.
  • Speaking of baseball and sabermetrics, as free agency hits, here’s an older piece from Patrick Brown of The Millions about baseball and its relationship with the Internet, including an in-depth analysis of gamecasts and the polarizing nature of J.D. Drew.

Expectations and Genre

Josh claims that we shouldn’t let genre classifications affect our judgments of films, and Josh, I agree with you, in theory. In theory, we should evaluate movies based on content…in theory.

In fact, though, this is an unattainable ideal, since expectations are impossible to avoid in movies.

Take an example that comes outside of the genre dilemma Josh outlines: spoilers. I try very hard to avoid any and all spoilers for a movie/TV show/book, to an almost excessive degree. I don’t just try and shelter myself from twist endings and dramatic reveals, but from everything about the plot. I don’t even like fake spoilers (“Man, the ending of Rocky was great, when he and Apollo Creed team up to defeat the evil aliens”), because they eliminate potential (granted, highly unlikely) possibilities. Ideally, I don’t want to know the protagonist’s name before seeing a film.

The logic behind this is the same logic that Josh uses in regard to genre: Knowing things about a story before the narrative reveals them is going to predispose me to have certain expectations for the film, and I don’t want my judgments to be based on my personal expectations. If I expect, for example, Mufasa to die halfway through The Lion King, then it’s going to detract from the emotional impact of the death when it happens, just like expecting humor is going to make me disappointed if I don’t laugh. Continue reading

Funny People and Genre: An Unhappy Couple

In his review of Funny People, John claims that “this is certainly Apatow’s most serious/least funny movie. As the name of the film implies, Funny People is more interested in showing funny people than being funny.” John’s right: Funny People does not fit into the traditional mold of the Apatow comedy or the traditional mold of comedy more generally. The advertising campaign for Funny People sends mixed signals: On the one hand, the trailer and the website emphasize the fact that this comes from the writer/director of The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up (two definite comedies), but on the other hand the trailer is backed by music by the Postal Service, certainly an indicator of drama. Apatow’s declaration that “I’m trying to make a very serious movie that is twice as funny as my other movies. Wish me Luck!” certainly doesn’t help to settle the drama/comedy distinction.

Does this even matter? Who cares how the movie is billed? Why don’t we just watch the movie and decide for ourselves? Ideally, this would be the case. Nevertheless, expectations matter. We generally hold movies we perceive as comedies to different standards than movies we perceive as dramas. A comedy is supposed to make us laugh and need not have complex characters and plot development (see my review of Bruno for an example of this). John, for instance, recognizes the characters in Apatow’s other films are pretty conventional and undeveloped but partially because of the films’ comedic genre, this becomes acceptable so long as the movies produce hilarity. Once the perceived genre shifts to drama, however, our expectations shift. We don’t expect hilarity, but we do expect deeper plot development and more complex characters.
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What Happens to Funny People?: A Review

“You know what would make a good story? Something about a clown who makes people happy, but inside he’s real sad. Also, he has severe diarrhea.” —Jack Handey

 This Deep Thought—if you replace the word “diarrhea” with “leukemia”— kind of sums up the conceit of Judd Apatow’s new film (technically only his third as director, but his influence as a producer/writer has been felt everywhere in comedies recently, from Pineapple Express to Superbad), Funny People: Adam Sandler plays George Simmons, a beloved but lonely comic on the verge of death, who befriends/employs an upstart comedian, Ira Wright (Seth Rogen).

Simmons is in some ways an analog of Sandler himself (an important difference, however, is that Sandler, unlike Simmons, is married with two children): A stand-up comedian turned star of popular, critically panned films—Re-Do, about a man-baby, Sayonara Davey!, about a white man living with a Japanese family, My Best Friend is a Robot, about, well, you can probably figure it out— that bear a certain resemblance to Sandler’s own filmography.

While these films bring Simmons fame, fortune and success with women, they don’t bring fulfillment, and when Simmons gets sick, the only person he tells is his new assistant, Wright; Simmons has no close friends or family he feels comfortable confiding in. The movie, then, presents Simmons as the proverbial “sad clown”: He makes other people happy, but not himself.

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Ra-ra-ra-raaaaaaaandy: Aziz Ansari’s Brilliant Balance of Parody

For those of you not yet aware, Judd Apatow has a new movie, Funny People, about comedians in Los Angeles coming out in a few weeks. As part of the promotional material for the movie, the fictional projects of the fictional comedians in the film have become, well, slightly less fictional. Clips from nonexistent movies starring Adam Sandler’s character “George Simmons” (who seems to be a fictional version of Sandler himself) are available on YouTube, NBC.com has clips of a fake show called “Yo Teach!”, and Aziz Ansari has been doing stand up as his character, “Randy”.

Now, all of these projects are essentially parodies: The fictional films seem a lot like send-ups of actual lowbrow comedies, the fictional show lampoons “Welcome Back, Kotter”-style shows (“Do you guys know who the greatest rapper of all-time is? William Shakespeare!”), and “Randy” seems to be a parody of Dane Cook: 

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