Posted: 01/18/2010


2000-2009: A Decade of Comedy

by Nathan Baker-Lutz

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Comedy, to me, is a bit like cleaning out under the cushions of your couch. Some things you know will be there but are still surprising to see. There are things that you have never seen before, didn’t even know you had, but are glad you found. Occasionally there is something there, precious and grand, that makes you piss your pants.

All these things exist under the cushions of the last ten years of comedy. We would all be better if Mike Myers had drowned in his bathtub before writing The Love Guru. (I hear he writes in the tub, if that’s less morbid.) We are all happy we found movies like The Hangover and Shrek and we are shocked and encouraged with Amelie, The Royal Tennenbaums and Little Miss Sunshine.

Before you all run to clean out your couch, let’s prepare for what you might find if your couch is anything like the last decade of comedy.

My Favorites

I can’t decide if I want everyone to agree or disagree. I think agree. Or maybe not.

I consider myself a comedy person. Any movie recommendations start with Annie Hall, It Happened One Night and Duck Soup. The last 10 years have given my recommendations a new relevance. Amelie (2001) may be the greatest comedy of the decade, and is among my favorites in any genre. The wit and delivery are magical and the pace of the comedy, combined with imagery that is truly unique, creates a film that will resound with anyone who is blessed to enjoy it.

Another one of my favorites, Garden State (2004), was the beginning of my love for indie films. In may not be the best one now, but it captures the awkward tension and sarcastic dialogue that is synonymous with the micro-genre. It was also one of the first soundtracks I bought, which turned me on to bands like The Shins and Iron and Wine. (500) Days of Summer is the latest film to be complimented by a defining soundtrack.

Other favorites from the decade include Pineapple Express, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Little Miss Sunshine, Snatch and Hot Fuzz. I constantly quote these films, re-watch them and am thankful everyday that I found them between the cracks of my couch.

The Cornerstones
You’ll understand when you own a house.

Think of your movie collection as your home. You need a toilet, outlets and running water. You will one day have a whirlpool tub, surround sound and room for your car in the garage. You will regret painting the guest room purple, letting your dog chew the kitchen cabinets and installing your own garbage disposal.

The following movies MUST appear on your shelf at home:

Ghost World
High Fidelity
The Big Lebowski
The Hangover
The Royal Tennenbaums
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

The Following movies WILL appear on your shelf as years go by:

The Life Aquatic
In Bruges
O’Brother, Where Art Thou?
Punch-Drunk Love
Shawn of the Dead
Death to Smoochy

The following movies REGRETFULLY appear on your shelf:

Napoleon Dynamite
Team America: World Police

And the purple looked so pretty on the sample, didn’t it? Trust me, the people who move in after you, and the rest of time, will paint over it.

The Bury in a Landfill
Do you smell that?

These are smell-sensory movies that make you clean out your couch. Some of these movies are already listed as regretful above, but those are slightly more personal and more difficult to defend then the list below.

The Adventures of Pluto Nash
Mailbu’s Most Wanted
Juwanna Mann
The Love Guru
Year One
Kangaroo Jack
Land of the Lost

I don’t apologize if you liked these movies but only that I have certainly left some off. If anyone out there is wondering why he or she didn’t get that second date, you either saw one of these or mentioned it casually. I pray that you are not mildly intrigued by the movies I have just mentioned and are now wondering if you should see what makes them so bad. If you must, head to Wal-Mart and look for the movies propping up the backs of TV’s and holding the break room door open.

The Deaths
It’s only a coincidence that these men are also getting old.

This is a sad category. These names will go down in history as some of the greatest of comedy but if you are less than 20 years old you will have no idea why.
Mike Myers spent too much time inhaling fumes from fat suits and prosthetic make-up. We are 15 years removed from So I married an Axe Murderer and Wayne’s World and he has left us with the previously mentioned Love Guru and The Cat in the Hat. Please, Mike Myers, do not party on.

Robin Williams has become the person Mike Myers is thinking about when he says, “it could be worse”. RV, Old Dogs and License to Wed are the death rattle of a once great comedian. The only thing that has kept hope alive is Death to Smoochy.
Robert De Niro is a man that will likely regret a lot of things when he gets his lifetime achievement award. He deserves one. Let’s just hope they don’t mention his attempts at comedy. Meet the Parents, I’ll admit, isn’t bad, but the run of sequels will become a reoccurring pimple on the butt of his lifetime Oscar.

Settling to the bottom of the cup, though, is Eddie Murphy. Beverly Hills Cop and Trading Places are being devoured in the shadow of Norbit, Daddy Day Care and Meet Dave. These comedians all have one thing going for them: My mom is still sitting alone watching them in the theater. I should tell you it’s mostly for the popcorn.

The Evolved
There are only two masks, comedy and tragedy, but it is difficult to wear both.

15 years ago, Adam Sandler was walking of the set of Happy Gilmore, after the success of Billy Madison and likely working on The Wedding Singer. Let’s face it; he was making millions to make funny faces and say, “poop.” Now, as we move to the next decade of comedy, he has become a diverse comedian who can make grown men weep. (I saw Big Daddy in theaters, trust me.) Punch-Drunk Love, Reign Over Me and Funny People are a brand new Sandler that is brave, confident and refreshingly passive.

Jim Carrey has been down almost the exact same road. It was all the same: The Cable Guy, Dumb and Dumber and The Mask. Those have become Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. There are more goofy than serious movies with Carrey still, but Eternal Sunshine bought him a few years of credibility that are valuable at his age.

Lost in Translation, along with his brilliant partnership with Wes Anderson, has made Bill Murray a new man. His sarcastic and dysfunctional roles have created an image that no one could have anticipated. He has become one the most respected comedians of the last decade as a deadpan loner after building an empire as a slapstick goofball. No other comedian has better adapted himself to the changes in comedy and the evidence is littered between Groundhog Day and The Life Aquatic.

The Saviors
Wes Anderson will save us all.

This decade has produced a set of filmmakers and writers that will carry my hope in comedy for a long time. The Coen Brothers and Wes Anderson are making films that make us laugh in way that we have never laughed before. We laugh at the ironic, strange and surreal because of them. We expect depth and demise in our comedy and we are better off for it.

Joel and Ethan Coen have snuck in the back door of comedy. Starting with Raising Arizona, they now create some of the darkest comedy yet. Fargo and The Big Lebowski leave you laughing about murder and extortion, which are not funny. It’s a pleasure to laugh at their obscure characters and atypical settings. They are boldly capturing moments of hilarity in worlds of depression and isolation.

Wes Anderson is the most unique filmmaker of this decade in comedy. He is using an extremely cinematic expression of reality to portray classic slapstick and innuendo comedy. Never have actors smiled so little in a comedy. Steve Zissou is vengeful, Royal Tennenbaum fakes his death and The Darjeeling Limited portrays a family darker than the Corleones. Somehow, though, I laugh hysterically and am there on opening night.

Other filmmakers, like Michel Gondry and Spike Jones, are making dark and cerebral comedies that are not for the faint of heart. I suppose they might be making movies that aren’t comedies at all but I laugh and smile too much to think otherwise.

The Elders
Where would we be without them? I am glad I don’t know.

There is a group of comedians that, over the last decade, have taken chairs in the boardroom of hilarity. They are the incumbents that no one dares run against.

Woody Allen is a marathon man. He may be wheezing and coughing and walking slowly with a limp, but he has been at it far too long to quit now. In 10 years he released 11 films, most notably Vicky Christina Barcelona, which brought multiple award nominations. Obsessed with death and the love that is found in the strangest of places, Woody Allen has been making people laugh for a lifetime and it’s not stopping anytime soon.

Along with Woody, Steve Martin is now the Silver Fox of comedy. After rising to the top of comedy in the 1980’s, Martin has now become legendary. His roles in the last decade may be scarce, but his presence is still felt now as he pushes 65 years old on shows like 30 Rock and It’s Complicated.

Maryl Streep and Diane Keaton have also become surprisingly iconic in comedy this decade. Forever my Annie Hall, Diane Keaton has put Something’s Gotta Give near the top of a resume that has been built over the last 30 years. And Streep, she was just nominated for multiple Golden Globes for Julie & Julia and It’s Complicated. The Devil Wears Prada and Mamma Mia, along with Adaptation, are comedies that are essential to the last decade. Even if she is seen as a dramatic, powerful woman, she gets people laughing.

The Animated
Animation can explain whatever the mind of man can conceive. Walt Disney

2000-09 was certainly the decade of animation. Pixar and Dreamworks have pushed the limits of computer animation and Disney has continued to create computer, and now hand-drawn (The Princess and the Frog), feature length movies that are an ever presence at the box office. Three of the top 10 movies of 2009 were animated (Up, Monsters Vs. Aliens and Ice Age 3) and in 2004, Shrek 2 led all films with $450 million dollars domestic. In the last ten years, only 2000 didn’t have an animated movie break the top 10 and only twice did the top 10 domestic grossing films of the year only have one animated movie. Convincingly, in 2001, the Academy Awards added categories for both feature and short length animated movies.

Most of these movies are comedies. They are family pictures with fluffy morals and laughs for all ages. But in this short 10 years animation has begun to evolve. With the release of films like Coraline and Pesepolis, along with Triplets of Belleville, 9 and The Fantastic Mr. Fox, we are seeing the maturation of animation. These animated comedies have adult themes and might even go over the heads of a young audience. There isn’t even dialogue in Triplets of Belleville.

The Next in Lines
Expectations are high and so are the writers.

With the start of a new decade, there are men and women who are creating plenty of great things that will fall in the cracks of my couch. Tina Fey and Amy Adams are becoming women who are powerfully funny and provocatively clever. Judd Apatow has been behind some of the benchmark comedies in the latter half of the decade. He has brought us Superbad, Knocked Up and, most recently, Funny People and has been behind a multitude of Steve Carell and Will Farrell works. Seth Rogan, Johan Hill and Leslie Mann are at his side as he paves the way for the raunchy and painfully hysterical.

Tyler Perry is a renaissance man. He is acting, directing and writing a lot of his work and has become predominate in the second half of this decade. He has taken the reigns of African-American comedy and will usher it into the next 10 years with a lot of class and dignity.

Vince Vaughn, the Wilson’s and Ben Stiller are also pushing comedy into the next decade. Their brand of veiled perversion and tacked on romance has proven to have mass appeal. The Mockumentary has also become a part of the comedic landscape with Sacha Baron Cohen as Borat. Cohen is a man who has no lines to cross and no lack of matches for burning bridges. He has a rare comedic courage and a versatility that was born for Vaudeville.

The Parody, Sequels and Re-Makes
Thank you, Mel Brooks.

Comedy has become cutthroat. No one is safe, especially yourself and the people you admire most. It pays to make fun of movies that earn money. Scream and I Know What you did last Summer have breed Scary Movie after Scary Movie (There are 4 now). She’s All That and Can’t Hardly Wait spawned Not Another Teen Movie. This is not going to end. As long as movies are made, there will be profit to be had for making fun of them.

We have also seen the unfortunate rise of remakes in the last decade. Land of the Lost, Bewitched, Dukes of Hazard and Scooby-Doo have all been modified and millenified. These are not good movies and are remakes of shows and movies that weren’t great. If the book is always better than the movie, then it’s not unfair to say that the original wasn’t as bad as the re-make.

The One-Trick Ponies
The Awkward Sarcastic Teenager: A Michael Cera Story starring Michael Cera as an awkward sarcastic teenager.

I once heard Matt Damon say on The Late Show that he wants people to not see him, but to see his character. For example, he would fail if I said, “Will Hunting was typical Matt Damon.” There were a few people in comedy this last 10 years where not only did I say they were typical, but it appeared as though the subject matter had no bearing on the actor’s portrayal.

Michael Cera is always himself, playing the same person. Superbad, Juno and Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist are all Michael Cera as George Michael (Arrested Development) playing someone that is probably like Michael Cera. Recently he teamed up with Jack Black in Year One, which might as well have been the two sitting on a bear skin rug in Jack Black’s under furnished, dark, funny-smelling apartment. (I assume.)

How many times can a man make millions of dollars for singing like a cat in the bathtub, wiggling his fingers and kicking his chubby leg up in the air? It has already happened at least a half a dozen times so I assume it will happen again. I think it is time for someone to cut Jack Black’s hair, take away his comedy card and put him to work actually cleaning couches.

It seems, looking back, that perhaps a decade is too long to wait when cleaning out a couch. More time is spent with a vacuum under the cushions then laughing on top of them. I would rather suffer a few funny smells and sticky fingers that dug for the remote then not have a couch, though. Our new couch is going to get a lot dirtier (in more ways then one thanks to Apatow, Cohen and the likes) but we are going to spend a lot more time thinking on the couch then we did during the last 10 years and we are going to be better for it.

Nathan Baker-Lutz Nathan is a graduate of Columbia College Chicago with a degree in Film and Video, including a concentration in Screenwriting. He has been writing for Film Monthly for 2 years.

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