Exclaim's Best Films of 2012: Comedy
Published Jan 07, 2013The war for the Best Film of 2012 starts today with our Comedy picks. Many hilarious movies were released theatrically in North America throughout 2012 but only a select few could make our year-end Top 10 list.
Exclaim!'s Best Films of 2012: Comedy
10. Sleepwalk with Me
Directed By Mike Birbiglia & Seth Barrish
With so many comedies these days appearing to tick off rote plot points as if on auto-pilot, doling out a series of gags that seem cobbled together by a committee, it's nothing short of a revelation when a genuine voice emerges—especially when it comes from multi-talented comedian Mike Birbiglia. As co-writer, co-director and star of Sleepwalk With Me, Birbiglia succeeds in telling a funny, heartfelt and—most importantly—wholly original story that works on three different levels. On one hand, it's a painfully realistic portrayal of the growing pains associated with a struggling comic finding his voice, perfectly suited for a modern culture where podcasts are regularly pulling back the curtain on the craft. It's also a morbidly hilarious account of Birbiglia's real-life affliction with a sleep disorder that causes him to act out his dreams, something that once resulted in a fateful leap through a second-story window. And finally, it's a wonderfully perceptive examination of a relationship gone stagnant, capturing the brilliant highs of a new love just as beautifully as it observes the way two people can begin to desperately cling to each other for reasons that can scarcely be articulated.
Directed By Steven Spielberg
Though not intended as comedy, having the levity and humour of Sean Penn at a Conservative rally, Steven Spielberg's profoundly heavy-handed, overwrought and redundant take on the emancipation proclamation is, unintentionally, one of the funniest films to grace theatre screens in 2012. With solipsistic severity, it takes the fascinating life of Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day Lewis) and reduces it to the manipulative tactics involved in abolishing slavery; veiling it beneath the guise of ending the Civil War. Lincoln is left sitting around doling out painful metaphors to anyone that will listen while Mary Todd (Sally Field) screeches out self-important monologues. The intention is to mirror slavery to our present day malaise—glibly suggesting (with unintentional racism and ignorance) that the modern worker is like a slave for the 1%--and empower the audience with a pro-Obama disposition. And while there's nothing explicitly wrong with using film as a pedagogical tool, the exploitation of a long-dead president and the very real issue of slavery for current political posturing is exceedingly tacky and darkly hilarious. Moreover, the melodramatic manipulation of the audience, wherein swelling music and zooming low-to-high angle shots accompany every sanctimonious political speech, takes patronizing to an entirely new level. After watching Lincoln tell a litany of pointless stories and hearing the same arguments fly back and forth about the emancipation proclamation ad nauseum for two hours, it's hard not to laugh at the misguided pomposity of it all. Even more amusing is that there are educated, adult, presumably professional film critics that took this dreadful, even childish, nonsense seriously. Never underestimate the human need to fit in and say what they think is expected of them.
8. Celeste and Jesse Forever
Directed By Lee Toland Krieger
Written by and starring Parks and Recreation actress, Rashida Jones, Celeste and Jesse Forever plays as a realist, character-driven romantic comedy of sorts. The titular Celeste (Jones) dives into a tailspin of self-loathing and introspection after her ex-boyfriend and best friend Jesse (Andy Samberg) eventually rejects her controlling indifference to him—despite their natural ease with one another—and reaches out into the world on his own. Noting his ability to flourish when removed from under her thumb, this ode to the indie conversation films of the mid-'90s exaggeratedly explores the intense difficulty of embracing self-awareness. Celeste's sense of superiority, while extremely amusing in application, is a distancing technique that keeps her from establishing any sort of sincere human connection. In such, her quest to better the self holds an abundance of easily relatable universal truths. Despite receiving little acknowledgement during its theatrical run, Celeste and Jesse Forever is the sort of movie that should stand the test of time for home viewers.
7. Moonrise Kingdom
Directed By Wes Anderson
Moonrise Kingdom is a gloriously bright and vivid storybook evocation of the exhilaration of first love, as seen through the inimitable lens of director Wes Anderson. The young couple, Sam and Suzy (capably portrayed by Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward), escapes from the oppression of family and authority by traversing the gorgeous New England countryside, surviving only on Sam's Khaki Scout skills and the thrill of newfound companionship. They exist in yet another meticulously crafted world envisioned by Anderson, one populated with colorful supporting characters and deliciously dry one-liners. The film magically encapsulates the ephemeral feeling of trying to grasp at powerful emotions that can't yet be fully understood by children and the naïve way boys and girls emulate what vague concepts of romance they have observed. Above all, it fully understands the single-minded desire to take this wonderful new creature you've found and hide them away from the rest of the cruel world. The time will surely come when they will face a whole new set of problems— perhaps the kind of complicated marriage crisis being experienced by Suzy's parents—but they will forever retain this warm and fuzzy memory from their youth.
6. Silver Linings Playbook
Directed By David O. Russell
Silver Linings Playbook, David O. Russell's return to quirky, neurosis-filled relationship comedy is a welcome, smashing success. Once again proving his knack for milking brilliance from any cast, the gifted director coaxes richly layered, career-best performances out of both Bradley Cooper and Chris Tucker, while providing a perfect platform for Jennifer Lawrence to stretch her bitch-wings and shine. Superstition and obsession form the thematic backbone of this deceptively straightforward adaptation of the Matthew Quick novel of the same name. It's about the blossoming relationship between two guileless outsiders shunned by family members who can't (or won't) appreciate an atypical worldview, or recognize the peculiarity of their own habits and hang-ups. Gambling and baking are a lot more socially acceptable than promiscuity and vitriolic honesty, however similarly touched by compulsion they are. Its ultimate destination is fairly standard for a Hollywood comedy but that doesn't make the journey, or its guides, any less funny.
Scott A. Gray
5. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
Directed By Lorene Scafaria
While the impending apocalypse isn't the typical set-up for a comedy, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World plays out like a fun road movie. Dodge (Steve Carell), a disenchanted middle-aged man, simultaneously learns of the impending demise of the planet and loses his wife—who literally flees from the car when she hears the news. Teaming up with his similarly disenchanted neighbour Penny (Keira Knightley), he leaves town to tie up some of life's loose ends while avoiding big city riots. As society collapses around them, resulting in casual honesty amongst everyone—free sexuality, recreational drug use and candid insults ("I'm actually surprised your wife didn't leave you sooner")—the connection between this unlikely pair takes them on a wild adventure befitting of the end of days. This hilarious and touching story reveals how the most significant people can enter our lives at the most unexpected times. Moreover, first-time director Lorene Scafaria takes the standard male blockbuster disaster movie and spins it into an intimate and observant character piece, which is something few apocalyptic-themed films have even considered.
4. Damsels in Distress
Directed By Whit Stillman
In spite of an erratic tone and disjointed plot, the verbose and perceptive Damsels in Distress,Whit Stillman's first film in over a decade, is a hilarious, over-the-top, yet still level-headed, investigation of self-aware hypocrisy. The celebrated auteur applies his borderline pompous voice to the story of a group of affluent young women trying to improve the lot of their fellow Seven Oaks college students through a series of superficial gestures disguised as philanthropy by studied artifice. These charity cases take the form of donuts, perfume, group dance as a means of combating depression and dating frat boys so ignorant that they can't even distinguish between primary colours. Sure, it's a little caustic and unbalanced but it's also never short on absurdity or Stillman's distinctive probing wit.
Scott A. Gray
3. Killer Joe
Directed By William Friedkin
In the tradition of southern gothic morality plays, William Friedkin's darkly comic acting extravaganza, Killer Joe, has a dirty, sweaty, trailer park veneer and twang to it that captures the geography and demographic perfectly. Unfolding with white trash screw up Chris (Emile Hirsch) hiring the titular Joe (Matthew McConaughey) to kill his mother for the insurance money, this tale of greed and abject behaviours has the twists and sleaze of Wild Things, only with some brains and a more disturbing sense of humour to back it up. Chris's sister Dottie (Juno Temple)—and her virginity—winds up being collateral for the hired killer, reiterating the notion that selfishness is a crime that transcends the self and affects others. Fortunately, the perverted Joe and his rigid sense of righteousness comes into town and cleans up the mess, punishing sinners with Old Testament fire and brimstone with a side of chicken leg rape. Though sick and consistently shocking, this pitch black comedy cuts through the political correctness of modern society and boils human folly down to the bare bones with maximum aplomb. It also features an astoundingly brave and uncompromising performance from Gina Gershon as a quietly manipulative stepmother with a larger agenda than she lets on.
2. Safety Not Guaranteed
Directed By Colin Trevorrow
Guy writes ad for a time travel companion and meets Girl (aka intern-journalist-posing-as-ad-respondent); winsome wackiness ensues. Safety Not Guaranteed, the auspicious feature film debut of both director Colin Trevorrow and writer Derek Connolly, is an endearing gem that treats people—the wacky, the awkward, the average-looking—with warmth and humanity rather than condescension and irony. This touching, funny tale about the importance of compassion and companionship is anchored by wonderful performances from Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Recreation), Jake Johnson (New Girl) and 2012's script-choosing winner Mark Duplass (Your Sister's Sister). Despite being a bit too tidy, Safety Not Guaranteed manages to make you smile from start to finish. It even pulls off a scene about bodily dissatisfaction (with a you-can't-see-it-coming angle) with aplomb. While the film secured rather modest theatrical box office sales, its humour and heart will hopefully find a wide audience in the home entertainment market.
1. Your Sister's Sister
Directed By Lynn Shelton
With its uncompromising honesty and rare maturity in dealing with a situation that could easily have devolved into melodrama in less skilful hands, it's not surprising that Your Sister's Sister didn't find a wide audience upon its release, but it is a shame. Lynn Shelton's astute examination of grief and desire is as consistently funny and charming as it is refreshing in its candour, questioning the nostalgic pedestal upon which people place the dearly departed and the arbitrary tenets of traditional relationship dynamics and heteronormative value structures. The trio of Rosemarie DeWitt, Emily Blunt and Mark Duplass is a dream team for adult comedy; their easy rapport and nuanced, emotionally complex, improvisation-heavy performances jiving wonderfully with the casual, no-frills intimacy of Shelton's direction. Providing compelling evidence that humour and intelligence need not be mutually exclusive, Your Sister's Sister tables plenty of laughs while smartly and compassionately addressing the fragility of familial bonds and the confounding nature of desire.
Scott A. Gray