Top 10 Comedies of 2008

December 30th, 2008 by Barak

2008 ended on a depressing note, with a global financial crisis and more terror. So I’m writing this end-of-year cinematic sum-up on a light note, focusing on the great comedies that 2008 offered us.

Ben Stiller, Will Ferrell and Adam Sandler all had huge blockbusters; Judd Apatow proved that he has the Midas touch; Seth Rogen has established himself as one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, and both The Coen Brothers and Kevin Smith made their funniest films to date.

Here’s my take on the top ten comedies of the year, plus five less known yet equally great comedies that you might have missed:

10. Be Kind Rewind

From the Movie Genome: It’s a semi-fantastic, offbeat, touching and very funny farce about two buddies. Nothing goes right for them, but they find a way to make things better: filmmaking.

Trouble-making Jerry (Jack Black) and well-meaning Mike (Mos Def) unintentionally erase all the video-cassettes (yes, there was something like that once upon a time) in the video store. They decide the simplest way to set things right is to remake all the library’s films, including Robocop, Ghostbusters and Driving Miss Daisy. Sounds wacky – and it better be, as it’s a Michel Gondry film.

Although Gondry’s three previous films: Human Nature, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, and The Science Of Sleep, were all essentially love stories, Be Kind Rewind captures another kind of romance. Both the writer-director and his characters are in love with the cinematic medium itself, and celebrate the sheer joy of watching and making films.

Watch the trailer

9. Yes Man

From the Movie Genome: A lonely and unhappy guy lives a dull life until he joins a cult that changes his life drastically. The cult’s one rule: say yes to everything (that’s what Jim Carrey’s character understood anyway…)

This is Jim Carrey’s funniest performance in a very long time, proving himself yet again as a master of facial expressions. Zooey Deschanel, the definition of cuteness, has great comic abilities. And Terence Stamp is absolutely hilarious as the inspirational yet eccentric mentor (if Robert De Niro can make comedies, why not Terence Stamp?). It’s a feel good movie with plenty of laughs.

8. Forgetting Sarah Marshall

From the Movie Genome: It’s a witty romantic comedy about a twenty-something guy who gets dumped by his girlfriend, goes on vacation in Hawaii, and falls in love with one of the hotel’s employees.

Nicholas Stoller‘s flick is a romantic disaster comedy produced by the same team that made such hits as The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up, headed by writer, director, and producer Judd Apatow.

The star of the movie is Jason Segal, who also wrote the sharply comic screenplay. He is solid in his first major starring role. Stoller, making his feature-film directorial debut, gets the most out of his diverse cast and beautiful setting. It’s outrageously funny yet touchingly sweet.

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7. Pineapple Express

From the Movie Genome: It’s a suspenseful, offbeat and exciting action-comedy about two stoner buddies who are on the run after witnessing a crime.

It’s nearly impossible to think of another film that so seamlessly blends pitch-perfect stoner babble with high-octane action sequences.

There are only so many ways to play a stoner, but James Franco puts his own endearing, lovable spin on the type, portraying Saul as a kind-hearted, well-intentioned yet hardcore dope smoker. Seth Rogen and Judd Apatow have proven themselves a nearly unstoppable juggernaut; here’s hoping they bring Franco along on the ride more often.

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6. Step Brothers

From the Movie Genome: It’s a silly comedy of gross-out and irreverent humor, about two very immature 40-year-old step siblings, who despite their initial antagonism – and ensuing chaos and mayhem – end up becoming buddies.

Adam McKay co-wrote and directed Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy and Talladega Nights: The Ballad Of Ricky Bobby, two of Ferrell’s most popular and consummately hilarious films. McKay teamed up again not only with Ferrell but also with Ferrell’s co-star in Talladega Nights, John C. Reilly (who has steadily proven himself to be one of Hollywood’s most versatile actors). Though Step Brothers may be the simplest of the three movies on which the duo have collaborated, it’s arguably their best.

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5. You Don’t Mess With The Zohan

From the Movie Genome: An exciting comedy with plenty of gross-out humor, about an ex-secret agent who starts over and moves to New York in order to follow his dream – and work in a beauty saloon.

Comedy superstar Adam Sandler is back – in a Ben Stiller-like character, embarrassingly funny as always. He’s the Zohan, the finest counterterrorist agent the Israeli army has. That is, until he fakes his own death and travels to Manhattan to live out his dream… as a hairdresser. It’s a razor-sharp action-packed comedy from Adam Sandler, Judd Apatow and Robert Smigel who co-wrote. No fines here, but in the movies’ spirit, you’ll be sure to laugh your ass off.

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4. Zack and Miri Make a Porno

From the Movie Genome: It’s a feel good, offbeat, funny and sexy romantic comedy about filmmaking and two working-class friends who just might be in love with one another.

After the success of Knocked Up, Seth Rogen pairs up with another comely comedienne in Zack & Miri Make a Porno. In this Kevin Smith comedy, two desperate friends (Rogen and  Elizabeth Banks) decide to earn a little extra money by creating their own adult film, but they also discover that they may be more than just pals.

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3. Burn After Reading

From the Movie Genome: It’s a satirical, clever and exciting dark-humored farce about the obsessive quest of two rather stupid misfit partners, who bring disorder into the world of espionage.

This movie also stands as the third entry, after Blood Simple and Fargo, in what could be an unofficial Tragedy of Human Idiocy trilogy, where characters make the most outlandishly moronic moves with devastating consequences simply by adhering to true human behavior.

The movie is a collection of brilliant caricature studies interwoven with veracious, if  Coenesque, social interactions, as epitomized by the pathos of the Frances McDormand character’s race for cosmetic surgery.

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2. In Bruges

From the Movie Genome: A witty, clever, dark comedy about a hitman haunted by his past. And even worse, he is in Bruges…

Playwright Martin McDonagh makes an impressive feature film debut as the writer and director of this tragicomedy as rich, dark, and complex as Belgian chocolate.

McDonagh’s absurdist black humor asserts itself in hilarious dialogue and dreamlike visuals that shift seamlessly from sweet to grotesque, Colin Farrell uses the great script to give his best acting performance so far.

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1. Tropic Thunder

From the Movie Genome: A critically-acclaimed, clever, offbeat and exciting action comedy with an all-star cast: about showbiz, filmmaking, actors’ lives and their egos.

Ben Stiller has set Tropic Thunder firmly within the realm of sophisticated Hollywood satire. Steve Coogan plays a desperate director named Damien Cockburn who is trying to make a Vietnam War movie. Cockburn’s stars include Stiller as an action hero who’s starting to make bad career choices, Jack Black as an insecure low-brow comedy star going through heroin withdrawal, and Robert Downey Jr. as an Australian Oscar winner so lost in his “craft” he underwent a procedure to become black for his role.

Simply put, this raucous satire knows big-budget filmmaking, the delusional narcissism of actors, and even the good points of those actors – perhaps why they’re celebrated – like the back of its hand.

Watch the trailer

And five more you should definitely check out:

5. The Grand

From the Movie Genome: An ensemble cast mockumentary about gambling, contests and competitions and very eccentric people.

In the tradition of such improv-driven comedies as Best In Show and A Mighty Wind, director Zak Penn (Incident At Loch Ness) casts an affectionate eye on the world of professional poker in his highly entertaining mockumentary. Penn assembles an impressive ensemble of actors (Cheryl Hines, David Cross, Woody Harrelson, Dennis Farina, Chris Parnell and Werner Herzog) to tell the story of six competitors in a $10 million winner-take-all Las Vegas poker tournament.

Watch the trailer

4. Happy-Go-Lucky

From the Movie Genome: It’s a feel good, humorous and sincere story, about friendship, teachers and students, and thirty-something life in urban London, focusing on one specific optimistic woman.

Yes, a feel-good comedy from director Mike Leigh! It chronicles the daily comings and goings of 30-year-old Poppy, whose positive, easy-going outlook epitomizes the title. It’s a fascinating character study and Sally Hawkins is excellent as Poppy, striking just the right chord of cheerful without being shrill or obnoxious. It also offers a refreshingly upbeat and realistic look at a 30-something urban woman’s life. The movie is whip-smart and full of surprises – just when you are certain the story is going in a certain direction, Leigh gently nudges you down a different path. And you are glad.

Watch the trailer

3. How to Lose Friends and Alienate People

From the Movie Genome: It’s a clever and offbeat romantic comedy, about a small time journalist who rises to the top, and gets to work for a big magazine in New York, and through his eyes we get an inside look into showbiz and celebrity culture.

Names may have been changed to protect the innocent – and the not-so innocent – but this comedy adapts Toby Young’s biting memoir about his struggles as a Vanity Fair employee. Brilliant Brit Simon Pegg (Hot Fuzz) stars as Young’s alter ego, while Jeff Bridges is a Graydon Carter-esque magazine editor.

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2. The Hammer

From the Movie Genome: A touching, witty sports comedy, about a middle-aged ex-athlete (boxer) who makes an unexpected comeback and falls in love along the way.

Adam Carolla plays Jerry Ferro, a man who has reached his 40th birthday but still has plenty of fight in him. After getting fired from his construction job, Jerry decides to get back in the game and return to his original love: boxing. This comeback comedy also stars Heather Juergensen. The first movie written by Adam Carolla is funny, witty, surprisingly romantic and touching.

Watch the trailer

1. Kabluey

From the Movie Genome: A clever, touching and offbeat tragicomedy, about a goofy, down-on-his-luck hero, who reluctantly watches over two mischievous children (belonging to his sister) and works in a petty, depressing job.

Scott Prendergast makes his feature-film debut as an actor, director, and writer with this quirky black comedy.

Kabluey is a charming, offbeat look at wartime life in America, seen from a unique perspective. Movies presented as tragicomedies are usually tragic with a few laughs in them, if any. This one is actually hilarious and yet so sad at the same time.

Watch the trailer

May 2009 be a feel-good year, full of optimism, joy and good movies.

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