2011 may well go down as the year when the R-rated comedy, and mainstream comedy in general for that matter, sort of jumped the shark. Of course I take this by reputation, because frankly there were a lot of comedies I didn’t even bother to see. I skipped The Hangover: Part 2, Bad Teacher, Horrible Bosses, Paul, and 30 Minutes or Less. I would have caught up with some of those on DVD, but time sort of passed me by. Consequently, the nominees here are sort of dominated by movies with a lot of dramatic elements rather than straightforward comedy. It’s not a perfect docket, but it’s what I have to work with.
- 50/50: I’ve talked a lot about this film’s dramatic elements, but what often gets lost in conversations about it is just how legitimately funny it can be. Granted it isn’t going to necessarily have the audience busting a gut with laughter, but the friendship between the Seth Rogen and Joseph Gordon Levitt characters does lead to some very funny dialogue and many of the film’s most pressing moments are quite well diffused by comedy.
- The Artist: The silent films which seem to have the most resonance with modern audiences seem to have been the slapstick comedies released through Hollywood by people like Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. Compared to those giants, The Artist certainly doesn’t stack up, but there are some good jokes to be found in it just the same. There’s some amusing pantomime to be found in Dujardin and Bejo’s performances and the film is also able to get some laughs from the strategic use of title cards.
- The Descendants: It’s often been said that comedy is shunned by the Academy, but this year three of the top five nominees (including the likely winner) are comedies. The least comedic of these was The Descendants, a film that’s so close to being a drama that I likely would have disqualified it from this category if it were a stronger year. Still, lets not forget that there is some funny stuff in this, usually surrounding the Nick Krause who has a habit of getting punched by old men and of quoting Wu-Tang torture methods.
- The Guard: The 2008 film In Bruges was one part gangster film, one part dark irreverent comedy, and one part redemption drama. The 2011 film The Guard, starring In Bruges’ Brendan Gleeson and directed by John Michael McDonagh (brother of the In Bruges director Martin McDonagh), mostly focuses on the dark irreverent comedy part of the equation and to mixed results. The Guard didn’t really make me laugh all that much, but I could certainly admire the comic wit involved in a lot of the film’s dialogue.
- Midnight in Paris: Woody Allen has made a lot of funny movies in his time, and Midnight in Paris is another one. That said, I didn’t necessarily laugh any more at this than I did at other Allen movies, but that says more about his skills as a writer/director over the years than it does about the deficiencies of this particular film. Like many Woody Allen films this is about a fish out of water among glamorous people and as always that proves to be a rather funny formula.