Foxes and Zombies and Gays, Oh My! The Best Comedies of 2009

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2009 at the movies. Comedies were plentiful. But the laughs, not so much. Yet luckily, in a year that produced laughless mega-bombs like Land Of The Lost and Year One (a rare misfire from the Apatow camp) and new entries in the tepid yet popular Night At The Museum and Ice Age family comedy franchises, there were a handful of stellar blockbusters and independent dramedy gems to bring a balance. So let us go back to that year, when a young man named Eisenberg seemed intent on absorbing and becoming Michael Cera, and look at the five best comedies.

5 The Fantastic Mr. Fox

Wes Anderson’s dry, eccentric humor promotes big laughs at its best (Rushmore, Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic), and that humor applied to an animated talking animal romp based on a book by Roald Dahl proved unsurprisingly to be quite a hoot. George Clooney is right at home as Mr. Fox, the sports coat-sporting debonair thief, who is also a fox. The rest of the cast (which includes reliable Anderson cohorts Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman) does just as well with the quirky, heartwarming script, and the brilliantly whimsical visuals only amplify the laugh factor. Pixar’s Up, also released in 2009, may be the more endearing and resonant of the two, but Mr. Fox brings the funny and never lets up.

4 500 Days Of Summer

Joseph Gordon Levitt and Zooey Deschanel star in this funny, sad and true-to-life story of unrequited love and shattered idealism. Gordon-Levitt plays an architect who thinks he’s found the love of his life in the icey-cool, inscrutable Summer (Deschanel) of the title, but as we’re made aware from the beginning, this wont be the traditional romance with the requisite happy ending. The clever and schmaltz-free script turns the formula on its head, by painting Gordon-Levitt’s male lead as someone with fiercely imbued with the traditional rom-com ideas of true love, only to have them constantly refuted, often by his no-nonsense little sister (Chloe Moretz from Kick-Ass), but mostly by the realities of Deschanel’s character.

3 The Hangover

The biggest comedy of the year, The Hangover is one hell of a ride, even if a tad overrated. As friends Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, and Zach Galiafinakis awake from an epic night of partying in Las Vegas, they find themselves asking a myriad of very glaring questions, such as, where they acquired a living breathing infant, why there is a tiger in the bathroom, etc. Their quest takes them down a road that gradually reveals the insane extent of their previous nights excesses, which includes a visit to the home of none other than “Iron” Mike Tyson himself. The Hangover’s depiction of casual debauchery and accurate portrayal of the male cameraderie that often comes with it are partly why it succeeds, it can also thank the talented cast and director (Todd Philips, also responsible for classics Old School and Road Trip).

2 Bruno

For Sascha Baron Cohen’s follow up to the smash hit Borat, he brought out the third character from his Ali G program, outrageous gay fashionista Bruno Gehard. The result is an even more provocative and hair-raising documentary, in an era when issues of gay acceptance and visibility are reaching supernova in America. Love Cohen for his inspired insanity, or hate him for his tactics, there’s no arguing he is one of, if not the bravest entertainers working today. Not for the squeamish, but worth the price of admission for the hilarious ambush of esteemed Senator Ron Paul early on in the film. “Queer as the blazes,” indeed.

1 Zombieland

This spectacular horror comedy boasts a capable cast in Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network), Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine), Emma Stone (Easy A) and Woody Harrelson (needs no explanation), who manage to squeeze every last laugh out of the grim scenario of a world overrun by flesh-eaters. As Eisenberg’s awkward yet seasoned survivor explains in the film’s opening, he has a set of rules that have kept him safe through the zombie apocalypse, and they are constantly and hilariously reinforced throughout. Also, not hurting whatsoever is the presence of Bill Murray, playing a version of his actual self, who is not infected, but has taken to making himself up as a zombie in order to walk among the now-prevalent dead. Zombieland is one of a kind.

Honorable Mention

Extract – Mike Judge returns with this likeable, well-cast saga of testicular injury and the ill doings wrought by it. No Office Space to be sure, but more than watchable thanks to Jason Bateman, Kristen Wiig, Mila Kunis, Ben Affleck and Dustin Milligan, splitting sides as a very dim young man.

The Informant! – Matt Damon’s performance (and frequently off-point narration) as a corporate whistleblower in Steven Soderberch’s fact based comedy is one of his best.

Adventureland – That other 2009 Jesse Eisenberg vehicle with “land” in the title and a prominent theme park setting, this 80’s set coming of age story from the director of Superbad, flew under most radars but drew some very warranted acclaim.

That’s how it was in 2009, when it came to comedy. Maybe you remember it differently, if so let us know.

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