The Year in Comedy Movies

the_lego_movieWhen I look back on the year in comedy movies, a few indelible images come to mind. The two-beat punch of Morgan Freeman introducing Michelangelo the painter and Michelangelo the Ninja Turtle in The Lego Movie. Jenny Slate peeling off her shirt before giving an emotional and vulnerable monologue in Obvious Child. Matt Vogel as evil frog Constantine trying to learn Kermit’s voice in Muppets Most Wanted, a scene that made me think “too soon, too soon,” even though Jim Henson has been dead for almost 25 years now.

Also: Melissa McCarthy with a bag on her head in Tammy, and… um… Bradley Cooper making jokes about stealing somebody’s leg? Was Guardians of the Galaxy a comedy movie?

I admit I had to stretch my brain a bit to remember all of the comedy movies that came out this year. When I look back on the year in film, I see a lot of Marvel superheroes, Ninja Turtles, and Transformers. I feel like half the movies I saw this year involved people, turtles, and raccoons fighting bad guys in battle sequences so tedious that I actually fell asleep during Guardians of the Galaxy. (Don’t worry. I woke up in time for Dancing Baby Groot.)

So let’s recap.

In the category of “dudes put into hilarious scenarios,” we’ve got:

  • 22 Jump Street
  • Let’s Be Cops
  • Ride Along
  • Neighbors
  • Dumb and Dumber To
  • The Interview

Of these movies, 22 Jump Street brought in a respectable $192M and is listed on IMDB as the 11th highest grossing US film of 2014.

The others had somewhat mixed reviews; Let’s Be Cops had an 18% Tomatometer rating — “Damon Wayans, Jr. and Jake Johnson have comedic chemistry; unfortunately, Let’s Be Cops fails to do anything with it” — and Dumb and Dumber To performed slightly better with a 25% Tomatometer score and 50% Rotten Tomato audience approval.

Neighbors, with a “Certified Fresh” 73% Tomatometer score, is IMDB’s 17th highest grossing film of 2014. RogerEbert.com reviewer Susan Wloszczyna writes “Most of [the film’s] lewd dollops of humor rely on what we will refer to (as a matter of decorum) as “Richard” jokes, ranging from artisanal dildos to the miracle of an instant erection.”

And then there’s The Interview, which would also have fallen into this list had Sony not canceled its Christmas Day release. The Interview, which features James Franco and Seth Rogen as TV producers who get hired to assassinate Kim Jong-un, was already promising to be a popular movie; Rotten Tomatoes had stated that 97% of its voting audience wanted to see it. The Sony hacks, the threats from the Guardians of Peace, and the subsequent decision to pull The Interview from theaters will probably make the movie even more popular once it finally gets its release — and although this story changes daily, as of this writing it appears that Sony still plans to release The Interview at some point, possibly on the streaming service Crackle.

While we’re waiting, let’s take a look another major category of comedy movie, which I’ll call “isn’t real life funny and also sad sometimes:”

  • Obvious Child
  • Wish I Was Here
  • Dear White People
  • The Skeleton Twins
  • Tammy
  • Laggies
  • Happy Christmas

Of these films (we’ve got to switch over from “movies” to “films” now, right?), Obvious Child is the one everyone seems to be talking about, and it is definitely worth watching, especially if you are a woman who got really angry at 2007’s Knocked Up.

Obvious Child got an 88% Tomatometer rating (making it another “Certified Fresh”), and FILMINK Australia critic Sarah Ward writes “Obvious Child succeeds as a concise comedy unafraid of quarter-life malaise, an affecting debut from an emerging talent, and a star vehicle for Jenny Slate, best known for TV’s Parks And Recreation.” The film came in at a very low 127th at the box office, though; IMDB lists it as only making $3.12 million.

People were also talking plenty about how Zach Braff funded Wish I Was Here on Kickstarter with $3 million in pledges, but Metacritic rated the film “mixed or average,” and it only scored 46% on the Tomatometer.

Dear White People, which won the 2014 Sundance Film Festival’s Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Talent, was described by Sundance as “a witty and whip-smart satire about black militancy, postracial fantasies, and the commodification of blackness.” The film did not get a huge theatrical release, so if you did not get the chance to see it, you’ll be able to get the DVD/BluRay version on February 3, 2015.

It’s interesting that four of the films on this list focus on the “post-recession unsuccessful woman,” a harder-edged version of Bridget Jones, as a way to finally acknowledge that women can find it just as hard to navigate adulthood and financial/social/romantic stability as men, especially when most of the mile markers (and cost of living increases) have been removed.

We have Obvious Child’s Donna hiding in a cardboard box at her indie bookstore, and Tammy’s Tammy hiding under a paper sack as she robs the fast food chain that recently fired her. It should also be noted that both Tammy and Donna, in their key scenes, wear Crocs, which I found fascinating because I wear Crocs all the time, and what are these films trying to say about women who wear Crocs??? Now I’m terrified that Anna Kendrick is going to turn up wearing Crocs in Happy Christmas.

Finally, in “movies that are sort of for kids but adults are still paying $99.99 for the LEGO tie-in kits:”

  • The Lego Movie
  • Muppets Most Wanted
  • Guardians of the Galaxy (Does this count as a comedy? It felt like a comedy except for the “fighting in space” part.)
  • Big Hero 6

I want to just come out and say it: the best comedy movie of the year, and probably the best movie of the year, was the 100-minute long LEGO commercial.

As soon as I came out of the theater I said “we have to see this again,” and so we went back the next day to catch all the jokes we missed, and then we went online to watch all the “making of” featurettes, and I am still mind-blown that they counted every LEGO in the movie (3,863,484) and re-used many of the LEGO pieces to create different scenes.

You know a movie’s good when it sticks in your head and becomes quotable, memeable, and instantly referential. The LEGO Movie gave us “Everything is AWESOME!!!” and “SPACESHIP!!!” and, of course, Guardians of the Galaxy gave us “I am Groot.”

Are we surprised that these two movies are two of the top three grossing US titles in 2014? (Captain America: The Winter Soldier, aka “Hail Hydra,” came in second place.) Guardians of the Galaxy grossed $331M, The Lego Movie pulled in $258M, and you’re going to be humming “everything is cool when you’re part of a team” for the rest of the afternoon.

Muppets Most Wanted had a respectable 79% Tomatometer rating, and came in 51st on IMDB’s box office listings. However, MediaMikes reviewer Mike Smith shares my opinion of the movie: “Lacking a lot of the eternal fun that made the Muppets stars four decades ago, Muppets Most Wanted is a by the book sequel which occasionally rises to funny thanks to its humorous human co-stars.”

With the Muppets, as with Star Wars, some of us still only recognize the original trilogy.

This year’s comedy movies seem to stack up as comedy movies tend to go: Richard jokes, kids’ movies spliced with adult humor, and films that start out funny and end up bittersweet and thought-provoking. Topical thematic elements — Kim Jong-un, post-recession unemployment — filter through, but in the end this year in comedy was mostly built around getting us to laugh at people in ludicrous and uncomfortable situations, without any hugely memorable standouts. A year from now, we might remember Obvious Child or 22 Jump Street, but we’ll probably have moved on to the next batch of comedy movies.

But I am unlikely to forget Will Arnett singing a death metal song in the voice of Christopher Nolan’s Batman. That might have been the highlight of my comedy year.

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