Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Top 10 Funniest Movie Scenes of All Time

Comedy is tough. Writing gags for the screen is always risky as you never know which ones will sink or swim. A joke may cause offence. It may hit too close to home. It could be too highbrow or too lowbrow for your target audience. What matters is that the joke makes you laugh. You don't need to know why it's funny; you just have to feel it. The ten scenes in this post are all very amusing to me. Some of them have made me laugh to the point of tears, while others work on a more subtle level. If you're expecting a masterclass in what makes good comedy, don't get your hopes up. I'll try my best to explain why I find each of these scenes funny, but in some cases, no amount of explanation will account for the subjective nature of comedy. Enough of this small talk...let's get to my picks!

10. The Monopoly Guy - Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls (Steve Oedekerk, 1995)

First of all, I think the first Ace Ventura (Pet Detective) is mostly an unfunny bore, and that When Nature Calls is one of the better comedy sequels of all time. This is the film where Jim Carrey peaked, comically speaking. His mannerisms are exceptionally funny. This film should be used as an instructional video on how to be funny with your body. In this scene, we have Carrey's Ace Ventura sticking it to a man from high society, who is accompanied by a woman adorned with the fur of a fox. Ace cannot stand this couple's elitism, and when the woman encourages him to "enjoy the fruits of nature", he snaps. The man's resemblance to Monopoly mascot Rich Uncle Pennybags is not the only funny thing here. Ace's confidence and nonchalance in assaulting the man is an hilarious comment on the clash between high and low culture. Of course, there's also the guttural noises Ace makes while parading the man, and his mock dance routine. What completes the scene is Ace's closing remark, "It's lovely, but I fancy myself in autumn." Ace believes he has committed no wrongdoing, just like those who wear animal furs as fashion statements.  

9. Truth or dare - The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Stephen Chbosky, 2012)

This scene is ultimately a tragic one, but it derives its comedic power from the idea that it could happen to you, as well as the overall feeling of awkwardness that pervades it. First, a little bit of context: Charlie (Logan Lerman) is a painfully shy teenager who has made some new friends in his freshman year of high school. He has developed a crush on Sam (Emma Watson), but Sam has a boyfriend. Sam's friend, Mary Elizabeth (Mae Whitman) forces herself onto Charlie and they become a couple against Charlie's wishes. All of this underlying tension reaches breaking point during a seemingly harmless game of truth or dare. Patrick (Ezra Miller) asks Charlie, "How's your first relationship going?" I am not going to repeat Charlie's response here, because I want you to watch the clip. I saw this film at the movies, and everyone in the cinema let out a gasp of shock before dying in a fit of laughter. It's such an uncomfortable scene...such a sad and painful line, but it is also one of the most hilarious things I have ever heard uttered in a motion picture. Things get worse when Patrick dares Charlie to kiss the prettiest girl in the room, and he doesn't kiss Mary Elizabeth. Ezra Miller is the glue that holds this scene together. We know how tragic the scene is, but it never feels depressing because of lines from Patrick such as, "Notice I charitably said girl and not person, because let's face it...I'd smoke all you bitches!" Logan Lerman is also brilliant in his delivery. He treads a fine line between stoicism and nervousness, and I'm reminded of Roger Ebert's praise for Bill Murray in Lost in Translation, where Murray was commended for his subdued comedic presence. Ultimately, this scene is funny because none of the actors (and by extension, the characters) are aware they are in a movie.

8. Drug deal gone wrong - Boogie Nights (Paul Thomas Anderson, 1997)

This scene combines hilarity and suspense in a way that few other films have mastered. Dirk, Reed and Todd have gone to Rahad's (Alfred Molina) house with the promise to sell him cocaine. That cocaine is actually half a kilo of baking soda. They sit down on the couch, and if they didn't already have enough to be nervous about, there's a mysterious child named Cosmo who is setting off firecrackers FOR NO PARTICULAR REASON! These loud bangs are the heartbeat of the scene, and I can't help but laugh each time one of the men is startled by the noise. Later on in the scene (not shown in the above clip), all hell breaks loose when Todd tries to rob Rahad. The use of Night Ranger's Sister Christian and Rick Springfield's Jessie's Girl also adds to the comedy of the scene. These songs are not a perfect fit for the action that's unfolding, but if they were, some of the humour would be lost.    

7. Impersonating Michael Caine - The Trip (Michael Winterbottom, 2010)


Okay, I realise this may count as cheating since The Trip was edited from the sitcom series of the same name. Nonetheless, if this scene doesn't have you in stitches, you may want to check your pulse. What a pleasure it is to watch two talented comics sit across from each other and trade wits. We're not laughing at how closely their impressions resemble the veteran English actor. We're laughing at how they're delivering the expressions. You may have been expecting a standard, run-of-the-mill "My name is Michael Caine..." impression, but Rob Brydon quickly dismisses Steve Coogan when he is accused of this easy, tired routine. What follows is so enthralling to watch. If you got someone to close their eyes and listen to this, they'd probably assume Caine was talking about himself in the third-person. Coogan's impression is just as impressive as Brydon's, and by the time he gets to Caine's "emotional" voice, your stomach will be hurting from all the guffawing. 

6. Meow - Super Troopers (Jay Chandrasekhar, 2001)

This is far from the most intelligent scene you'll ever see. It's a stupid scene involving stupid characters. But who cares? It achieved something that many modern comedies fail to do—make me laugh. The ineptitude of these cops is hilarious in itself. Their complete lack of regard for their duty makes you wonder how they secured their jobs in the first place. I think this scene is funny because all of the characters are in on the joke. Imagine if you were the man in that car. If you heard a cop repeatedly say "meow", you'd get curious about it, wouldn't you? Hence, it's realistic! Also, pay attention to the policeman who's doing the counting. Watch his belly move through the passenger seat window as he laughs. It's a great sight gag.

5. Any scene involving Francis the Driver - Superbad (Greg Mottola, 2007)

Again, this may be cheating since I haven't highlighted a particular scene. The bottom line is that Francis steals every single scene he enters. Everyone knows a person who behaves like Francis. If he was a character on The Office, he would be Creed. When he tells Seth and Evan that he will do ANYTHING for them if they don't report him to the cops, we actually believe him. We laugh at his subtle creepiness when he says, "You guys know a guy named Jimmy? You totally look like his brother. You totally look like his brother, man." Personally, the scene that gets me the most is when he's driving Seth and Evan to the party. He interjects to encourage Seth to have sex with Jules, and it's so fucking hilarious how oblivious he is to his own inappropriateness. The scene gets funnier when he follows that line with something that borders on a non-sequitur: "You guys on Myspace, or...?" Of course, it's no surprise when he later gets beat up by Mark, the party host. I've got to hand it to Joe Lo Truglio for absolutely nailing this eccentric character. I can't imagine anyone else playing this role.

4. Duane Hall - Annie Hall (Woody Allen, 1977)

Everyone forgets that Christopher Walken is in Annie Hall, and I don't blame them—he gets very little screen time. It's a shame, because he is absolutely fantastic in this scene. Everyone should be familiar with Woody Allen's on-screen persona of the intellectual, nervous, neurotic nebbish. It really comes to the fore in this scene. Notice how Alvy (Allen) is condescending towards Duane without being nasty. The pitch of his voice suggests he is talking to a child rather than an adult. When he leaves Duane's room, he says he has to return to 'Planet Earth'. Poor Duane probably doesn't have the social skills to deduce what Alvy is implying. Nevermind...Duane gets his revenge when he is asked to drive Alvy and Annie to the airport. Just look at how the camera pans from Duane to Annie to a frozen, perspiring Alvy. The death-phobic Alvy knows it is no certainty he will reach his destination.

3. The accidental killing of Bill Murray - Zombieland (Ruben Fleischer, 2009)

I remember watching this film at the movies with a friend. We were just about the only two people in the cinema. When the film arrived at this scene, we were both in absolute hysterics. I had tears rolling down my cheeks caused by a minute of solid laughter. My stomach was aching. I could not stop myself. The only reason this scene isn't higher on this list is that I've watched the scene a few times since and it hasn't provoked the same reaction. This scene works because Murray is playing himself. If he were playing a random person disguised as a zombie, the scene would lose most of its power. I also love how Murray states his only regret in life is voicing Garfield in the 2004 film adaptation of the comic strip. This scene is a testament to the idea that something can still be funny even if you can see it coming from a mile away. 

2. Yard sale - Ghost World (Terry Zwigoff, 2001)

Sometimes when I need a laugh, I just go to YouTube and watch this scene on repeat for a few times. It always does the trick. Have you ever fantasised about walking into Pizza Hut and asking for a Big Mac? I have, but I've never done it. You want to do it because you're genuinely curious about how the person behind the counter would react, but you ultimately refrain because you don't want to look like an idiot. When Enid charges 500 dollars for one of her old dresses at a yard sale, that's the equivalent of asking for a Big Mac at Pizza Hut. It's just something you should never say because it's too ridiculous to be anything more than a passing thought. But it's hilarious because Enid is deadly serious about it. The customer's facial expression is priceless, but what gets me the most is the way Enid's face scrunches up when she says, "Well, why do you want it? I mean, it would look stupid on you anyway." The customer retorts with "God! Fuck you!", making for one of the greatest and funniest scenes in the history of cinema.     

1. Ted wrestles Puffy - There's Something About Mary (Bobby & Peter Farrelly, 1998)

First of all, I apologise for the poor video quality. It's the best I could find on YouTube. Now, I know many of you were shocked when I made this list of the 10 funniest films I have ever seen and you saw that There's Something About Mary took the top spot. You probably weren't expecting a scene from it to take the crown in this list, but hey, that should teach you to never assume. Yes, I can appreciate biting satire and sharp wit, but sometimes there's nothing funnier than seeing a man toss a dog around a room like a rag doll. This, coupled with my previous post about liking cats, will probably ignite rumours that I am a dog-hater. Let me put those to rest right now and say Ben Stiller could be fighting any animal (yes, even cats) in this scene and I would explode with laughter. It's just a movie, and knowing no dog was harmed gives us free rein to laugh. Actually, the most hilarious part is that the small dog seems to have the upper hand over this pathetic grown man. When Ted's nails claw at the floorboards, I'm reminded of something out of The Evil Dead. It's comic exaggeration at its very best. Seeing Puffy fly out the window is the perfect final touch to this uproariously funny scene which is not for everyone.   

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

On Liking Cats

I wouldn't call myself a cat person. Rather, I am an animal person. Human babies do nothing for me, but put a duckling in front of me and I'll squeal in delight. It is rare that I come across an animal that I do not like. There's cockroaches, but I'll save that for another post. I've grown up around animals my whole life.

Some examples of pets I've owned:
* Rabbits
* A blue-tongued lizard (only for a few days, from memory)
* Snails (don't ask)
* Mice

Dogs and cats, however, have been the two constants at the Savona household. At present, we own two cats and one dog. This is our third dog, but I couldn't tell you how many cats we've owned before the current two. Our house is a magnet for cats. It's like they just know they'll be fed if they meow on our doorstep on a rainy night. And of course, once you feed a stray, it does not want to leave. I've never had a problem with their sticking around, because I just happen to love cats. 

I am writing this post in defence of cats. For far too long, felines have copped an unfair amount of criticism for petty and often stupid reasons. I call myself an animal person, but the truth is that I may slightly prefer cats over dogs, only because I feel cats need the extra support. Think of it as rooting for the underdog (or is that undercat?)

A few weeks ago, a friend asked me, "Steven, why do you like cats?" I was stumped that someone would ask this, as it implies there is something inherently wrong with liking cats. I shouldn't have to justify why I like something that is perfectly harmless and, well, normal. Unless you have an allergy, I can't think of any reason why you wouldn't like cats. And even those people with allergies should concede that their heart is in the right place—that they want to like cats, and that it isn't the cat's fault that they developed such a disorder. 

The view that frustrates me the most is, "I hate cats because they run away from me. Dogs would never do that. They're actually loyal to their owners." See also: "Dogs have masters; cats have slaves." These are flawed mindsets that stem from pure narcissism. That cat is not indebted to be by your side. Cats are independent by nature. I understand if my cats run away when I approach them, and it doesn't bother me. If you accuse a cat of being "selfish" because it runs away from you and only returns when it wants food, doesn't that make you selfish for expecting the cat's world to revolve around you? I find it funny how people will decry neediness in other people, but will crave it from their pets. I think many people hate cats because they don't provide the validation that dogs do. I have other sources of validation; I don't need my cats to provide it. Their lives are short, so why should they spend their time hanging around people? Let them explore and have fun. 

I think so many people openly prefer dogs because it's easier. After all, no one will ever ask you, "Why do you like dogs?" Human beings are egotistic creatures and want an animal that will heed their every call. Dogs are emblematic of power and strength. The bark is a dominant sound. The meow is a passive one. Males are especially fond of dogs because liking cats would be a step towards abandoning their macho cred. Dogs are an extension of the male identity. The human male wants so desperately to be seen as loyal, so he sides with the animal that has been dubbed Man's Best Friend. A dog can tear you apart, while a cat can lacerate you at best. The male wants an animal of brute strength and aggression, because those are the qualities he wants to have. Of course, I do not speak for all males—hey, I am one too, remember?—but merely the ones who yearn for "alpha" status. 

I'm just over the stereotype that there's something miserable about you if you like cats. The archetypal "Crazy Cat Lady" is a notion that should be buried, and we need to stop joking about "dying alone with cats", as though cats are a commodity you invest in once you've surrendered all your will to live. It's getting increasingly difficult to be open about a love of cats. It's confusing. On one hand, cats are the Internet's favourite animal. I can scroll down my Tumblr dashboard and feel confident that I won't be ridiculed for reblogging a cat GIF. But in the offline world, there are still so many things people misinterpret about cats. You're forced to like cats in an ironic, detached manner. You have to convince people that you find them "cute and funny and stuff", but nothing beyond that. The moment you hint that you love them just as you love your family, you're branded a weirdo.      

This post is dedicated to my cats Lucinda and Bruno. Indulge in all the sleep you desire. I'll love you both just the same. 

Friday, November 1, 2013

October 2013 Film Wrap-Up

House of Sand and Fog (Vadim Perelman, 2003) = 3/5

The story is interesting and the performances are superb, but it's hampered by midday movie sensibilities. The heavy-handed, excessive nature of this film was really pissing me off towards the end. Director Perelman does not know the meaning of subtlety, although I might be able to forgive him as it was his debut film. A lot of people rank this among the most depressing films they've seen, but I didn't feel that emotional hollowness because none of it was believable. 

Life During Wartime (Todd Solondz, 2010) = 3/5

I expected a more substantial offering from such a talented writer. It lacks the stinging satire of Happiness (its loose predecessor), and you get the sense that this didn't spring from any burning passion in Solondz, but rather a compulsion to make something...anything. It's one of the most disappointing sequels I've ever seen. 

Enter the Void (Gaspar Noé, 2009) = 0.5/5

'Style Over Substance: The Movie'. It's virtually unwatchable, and it's the most self-indulgent film I have ever seen. I still can't believe the man responsible for Irreversible and I Stand Alone presided over this nonsensical garbage. Sure, the film looks beautiful with its kaleidoscopic colours, but like that party guest who dresses immaculately but makes bad conversation, it overstays its welcome. 

Raging Bull (Martin Scorsese, 1980) = 5/5

This is currently my favourite Martin Scorsese film, and it will take something very special to change that. This is a visceral film—one that is felt rather than viewed. The performance by Robert De Niro is phenomenal, and deserves to go down as one of the greatest of all time. He was so convincing that I was scared of him, despite being on the other side of the screen. The decision to shoot in black-and-white was not really a stylistic choice, but rather a consequence of not finding maroon, oxblood or black boxing gloves (the colours worn by boxers in the 1940s). I'm glad things worked out that way, because this film looks so wonderful.  

My Dinner with Andre (Louis Malle, 1981) = 4/5

WOW! It was SO difficult to pick a still from this movie to include in this post! So much variety in the shots! Of course, if you know what this movie is about, you'll know I'm being sarcastic. Two men (Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory as themselves) have a philosophical discussion over dinner. That's essentially what the movie is. Oh, and there's also some footage of Shawn travelling to and leaving the restaurant. You'll know if this movie is for you just by reading that plot outline. I think it's a curiously intimate creative experiment. It will test your patience at times, but those who persevere should find it rewarding. 

Code Unknown (Michael Haneke, 2000) = 2.5/5

This one left me really disappointed, considering Haneke is among my top five directors of all time. This is actually the only Haneke film I have not liked. I felt like a spectator the whole time. I did not care for anyone's fate. Everything felt stilted and the multiple arcs did not gel together well enough for my liking. 

Eastern Promises (David Cronenberg, 2007) = 4/5

This is a stylish crime-thriller featuring a brilliant performance by Viggo Mortensen. I think it does well to resist being excessive. I'm not saying the violence isn't over-the-top at times, but there's a certain believability to it and it never detracts from the story being told. I've now seen two Cronenberg films (yep, I'm a latecomer) and I really want to see more!

The Year My Voice Broke (John Duigan, 1987) = 4/5

A poignant coming-of-age drama about the pangs of adolescent love and the acceptance of our own insignificance in the vast schema of life. It will hit close to home for anyone who's gone through a phase of unrequited love. It was so great to see Noah Taylor and Ben Mendelsohn in early roles! Seriously, this is such an underrated Australian film. Watch it!

The Strangers (Bryan Bertino, 2008) = 1/5

I can forgive a cheesy horror film, but not a boring one. Writer/director Bertino seems to think that suspense can be defined as the absence of action. I didn't root for anyone to stay alive. This is an unoriginal, pointless movie that thinks it's way cleverer than it actually is. No wonder I fell asleep when I tried to watch this some years ago.

Killer Joe (William Friedkin, 2011) = 4/5

Funny, grotesque and intense. It's fun to watch because you can never predict the next scene. It's helped immensely by oddball characters.You will never look at a piece of fried chicken in the same way again.

The Hunt (Thomas Vinterberg, 2012) = 4.5/5

An absorbing drama about the damage one lie can do. We feel the pain of its characters and wish we could find a way to intervene. The script is great, and the central performance by Mads Mikkelsen deserves immense praise. It's one of those films that will appease both mainstream and arthouse filmgoers. 

Broadway Danny Rose (Woody Allen, 1984) = 3.5/5

Features some clever gags but there are a few flat spots and the premise isn't milked for its full potential. I was surprised at how good Woody was as an actor here. This is definitely up there with his finest performances.

Alps (Giorgos Lanthimos, 2011) = 2.5/5

A group of people start a business where they assume the identities of the recently deceased in order to help their clients through the grieving process. It's sad to watch a fantastic premise go to waste through such uninspired direction. This could have been something special, especially considering the expertise Lanthimos showed with Dogtooth (2009). As it stands, I can hardly remember a single scene from this...only vague impressions. 

Waking Life (Richard Linklater, 2001) = 5/5

A work of stunning originality that is pornography for thinkers. It's films like this that change people's lives. The animation is dreamy and the dialogue is endlessly compelling. It's hard to describe this film to someone who hasn't seen it. If you're into philosophy and existentialism, I strongly recommend it. Actually, no, I recommend this film to EVERYONE...because you're all human, and this film is all about capturing Real Human Moments. I should mention that this film bumped Richard Linklater into my top 10 favourite directors of all time. He replaces Steve McQueen at number 10. 

Brazil (Terry Gilliam, 1985) = 1.5/5

Yes, I hated a movie that everyone loves, but you should be used to that by now. It is over-complicated to the point where I just stopped caring. There are too many pointless scenes and it lacks an emotional centre. I couldn't wait for this gigantic mess to end.

Hour of the Wolf (Ingmar Bergman, 1968) = 4/5

"The old ones called it 'the hour of the wolf'. It is the hour when the most people die, and the most are born. At this time, nightmares come to us. And when we awake, we are afraid."

This is a macabre and mysterious work of slow-burning terror. It plays on innate human fears and repressed memories. It makes me wish Bergman had made more horror films! 

Walkabout (Nicolas Roeg, 1971) = 3.5/5

It's a film about the unease of culture clash and the failure to communicate that doesn't pick sides. The film's vastness swallows you whole. It's immaculately shot, but it's lost much of its revelatory power over time. Some of the editing techniques are very outdated, too.

The Artist (Michel Hazanavicius, 2011) = 4/5

A delightful film that feels remarkably authentic in its recreation of time and place. It's effortlessly charming, and I was relieved to see that it didn't come off as gimmicky. However, I must admit I have doubts about whether this would be worthwhile if it weren't made in the style of a silent film. Oh, and lastly, I would like to see Bérénice Bejo in more things. She was cast so well in this!

The Sweet Hereafter (Atom Egoyan, 1997) = 3.5/5

A great script and brilliant performances (by Ian Holm and Sarah Polley, especially) make this worthwhile. However, I must admit it was hard to sit through. It's just so gloomy and emotionally intense. Some people have compared this film to Ang Lee's The Ice Storm, which is one of my favourite films from the 90s. Unfortunately, The Sweet Hereafter didn't live up to Lee's film (although I know many people who'd disagree). I may revisit this one day because I think I went into it with too many expectations. 

Blazing Saddles (Mel Brooks, 1974) = 2.5/5

This is ultimately trash with a few decent gags interspersed throughout. It tries too hard to be edgy and it is SORELY dated. Maybe I was just expecting too much. After all, this film often ranks highly on lists of the funniest films of all time. 

In Summary - The Must-See Films (4.5 or 5 Stars)
* Raging Bull
* The Hunt
* Waking Life