Thunderous Laughter Still Echoes from the Funniest Comedies of 2008

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If you’re like most people, your primary memory associated with laughter in a theater circa 2008 probably has something to do with a deranged clown blowing up a hospital. Yet outside of that particular performance and film, the year in question brought plenty of laughs to the movie-going public, many of them not even associated with acts of mass murder and destruction. Here’s a refresher on the five best comedic films of 2008, aka the Year of Apatow.

5 In Bruges

Director Martin McDonagh’s debut is a dark, violent comedy that centers on a pair of UK hit-men sent to by their boss (Ralph Fiennes) to the Belgian city of Bruges when things go wrong in London. Rick (Colin Farrell, who won a Golden Globe for his work here) is wracked with guilt over the accidental killing of a child, but not too much that he can’t annoy his partner (Brendan Gleeson), start bar brawls, offend dwarves and the overweight, do a hit, and fall in love with a local criminal (Clemence Poesy). Farrell delivers an energetic, oafish performance, in what’s easily one of his best films in years. In Bruges contains some nasty business, but underneath the nihilism, drug use, and violence on display here, is some very witty dialogue and very human characters.

4 Forgetting Sarah Marshall

This Apatow camp scored once again, with this Nicholas Stoller directed film, written by and starring Jason Segel, as a man terminally heartbroken by his breakup with a soap star Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell). With support from friend Bill Hader, Segel goes to Hawaii to forget his troubles, only to find Sarah booked in the same resort with new boyfriends, spacey rock-star Aldous Snow, (Russell Brand, about as good as he can get). Forgetting Sarah Marshall succeeds by first finding comedy in Segel’s despair (his opening crying jag being a standout) and insecurity (and by eliciting sweetness and hope through his eventual romantic redemption. Jonah Hill is the obsessive Aldous Snow fan that happens to be a waiter at the resort, and Mila Kunis is the concierge who helps Segel do what the film’s title says. All’s well, that ends in a Dracula puppet musical.

3 Role Models

Paul Rudd (Knocked Up) and Seann William Scott (Stifler) lead an ace cast in this comedy about two best friends who end up doing community service in a big brother program, unfortunately for them, however, the program is run by a thoroughly psychotic Jane Lynch. Lynch’s every scene is a riot as her constant ranting about her drug addled past and eagle-eyed suspicions serve only to confuse and perplex Rudd and Scott. Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Superbad’s own McLovin makes an appearance, doing his McLovin type thing as the boy Rudd’s character is assigned too, while Scott is assigned to a sassy black kid (Bobbie J. Thompson, making an impression), off whom he plays beautifully. The hysterical-to-watch antagonism between Thompson and Scott, which evolves into camaraderie, is another of the flick’s high points. Also on hand are Elizabeth Banks as Rudd’s girlfriend and Ken Jeong as the despotic “King” of the role-playing community McLovin belongs to. Good work from all involved.

2 Pineapple Express

Re-uniting Seth Rogen and James Franco, both alums of Judd Apatow’s short lived but well loved TV program, Freaks and Geeks, this crime comedy centered around the use and traffic of marijuana. Rogen plays a process server who cant live without the green stuff, Franco plays his trusty dealer, and the two get into a world of trouble when Rogen witnesses a murder by the town pot kingpin. Rogen and Franco’s comedic chemistry is pretty first rate, and the way the film segues effortlessly back and forth from goofy pot comedy to violent crime caper keeps it entertaining, obviously designed to keep its target audience’s attention. Franco in particular hands in a memorable portrait of a cannabis-dazed soul, and indeed this flick was a triumphant return to comedy for an actor who was at that point mainly known to the public for his dour work as Harry Osborn in the Spider-Man movies. Providing additional mirth are Kevin Corrigan and Craig Robinson (Darryl from The Office) as a pair of hit-men on Rogen and Franco’s tail.

1 Tropic Thunder

A blistering indictment of Hollywood from within, Tropic Thunder stands out for its mix of pointed industry satire and balls-out action. The all-star cast includes Ben Stiller as an action star struggling to be taken as a serious actor (who makes the dreaded mistake of “going full retard” in his bid for Academy attention), Jack Black as a heroin-addicted gross-out comedian with a Klumps-like repertoire of fat characters, and the main attraction Robert Downey Jr. as an intense, multiple- Oscared Australian method actor, who for his latest role medically transforms himself into an African American. Their talents are brought together to make a Vietnam War flick, being overseen by an unrecognizable and brilliant Tom Cruise as a vulgar studio boss, when things get a little to real and the crew ends up fighting for its life against a gang of drug smugglers. Supporting players include Eastbound and Down’s Danny McBride as a pyrotechnics expert, and Hamlet 2’s Steve Coogan as the director of the troubled project. Downey Jr.’s hilarious turn as an actor who refuses to break from his jive-talking character, earned him countless award nominations, most of which he would lose inevitably to the late Heath Ledger (ironically beaten by an Australian method actor).

Honorable Mention

Zack And Miri Make A Porno – Imagine an Apatow flick made by Kevin Smith and here’s what you get. Not bad at all, and it contains Justin long’s hilarious cameo as a gay porn star.

Step-Brothers – Talledega Nights team Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly reunite, under one roof this time, as two developmentally stunted men whose parents get married. There had to be some laughs in this one, and there are.

Nick And Nora’s Infinite Playlist – Michael Cera and Kat Dennings are capable leads in this comedy of young music scene hipsters. Ari Graynor steals the show as Nora’s drunken, promiscuous friend.

Those are the brightest stars in 2008’s vast comedy sky. If you’ve got a different view, let us know.

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