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Funniest Actresses of the Past Ten Years

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Recently IMDb posted an editorial called “Funniest actresses of the past 10 years.”  Typically actresses receive far less attention for their comedic prowess than actors do, so this intrigued me. While a majority of the choices seemed fine to me, my gut told me that some people had been overlooked. I only retained two of the ten, but I still think that Melissa McCarthy, Amy Poehler, Anna Faris, and Emma Stone are extremely funny. They just did not make my top ten.

1. Jane Lynch – Over the past ten years, there has been no woman as funny as Jane Lynch. To say she keeps busy is to say LA traffic gets congested on the I-5! Probably not the best reference to make from Albany, NY, but I do hear that it gets quite gridlocked. Amongst her traditionally humorous performances, like on “Glee,” she has placed herself into a class of her own. I do not know how anyone can choose his favorite Jane Lynch character, but her roles in 40 Year Old Virgin, Talladega Nights, “Party Down,” and Role Models all made me laugh out loud repeatedly. She says things in a way that no other actress, or comedienne/comedian, has over more than the past decade. My favorite speech of hers is the cocaine one from Role Models.

Tina Fey & Jane Lynch at the 2012 Golden Globes, Photo by Handout – © 2012 NBC.

Tina Fey & Jane Lynch at the 2012 Golden Globes, Photo by Handout – © 2012 NBC.

2. Tina Fey – Remember when Tina Fey was underappreciated? This was about ten years ago, until Mean Girls came out. Since then I believe that people began to take Tina Fey for granted, since she anchored the consistently clever “30 Rock” for year after year, since she failed to deliver another humorous film. But once I considered her Weekend Update appearances and Sarah Palin impression I believe that she leads the second tier of funniest women in the past decade.

3. Kristen Wiig – She is almost as funny as Tina Fey, and she has had a meteoric rise—Kristen Wiig. She anchored the funniest movie in the past 5 years, Bridesmaids, but she also provided good laughs in Paul and Adventureland, while she excelled on “Saturday Night Live” before her characters took off.

This is the only picture of them together I could find.

Nasim Pedrad looks on as Kristen Wiig “motorboats” Helen Mirren. © 2011 NBC.

4. Helen Mirren – Helen Mirren has had a fascinating career. She began as a sex symbol. Then she moved to the level of esteemed actress of the highest level. The one aspect that has not been as fully lauded is her sense of humor. Clearly, casting directors, directors, and screenwriters know that she is hilarious, although the roles she takes have rarely been openly comedic.  While Red and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, plus the piece of crap Arthur, were comedies, The Queen, Hitchock, The Last Station, and State of Play are serious fare. But Mirren elicited laughs and smiles with each of these roles.

5. Zooey Deschanel – A few years ago I could not have fairly evaluated a “dream girl” like Deschanel. I had low expectations for Elf and she turned that into an amusing holiday classic. Seeing that she would be in Hitchhiker’s Guide excited me more than seeing that Martin Freeman–The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey–would star in it. I know that she has been in piles of garbage like Yes Man and The Happening, but I doubt that she was unfunny in those, just as I doubt that she is unfunny in “New Girl.” She also showed a sly sense of humor in (500) Days of Summer.

Christine Taylor in leather gear for the Average Joe's in Dodgeball, © 2004 20th Cent. Fox.

Christine Taylor in leather gear for the Average Joe’s in Dodgeball, © 2004 20th Cent. Fox.

6. Christine Taylor – I felt like Zoolander was about ten years old, but it turns out that I was mistaken. Fortunately, Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story was. And she is great in that. She makes Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller seem hilarious with her great facial expressions and perky exhaustion with their shenanigans. Solidifying her position in this second tier of funniest actresses are her other highlights, as Sally Sitwell on “Arrested Development,” the winner of season -1 of “Burning Love,” and as a rich suburbanite in Kabluey.

7. Ellen Page – Finishing up the second tier is Ellen Page. She is more than just Juno. She was amusing in Inception. She was cute in Super. And she was almost foregettable as Kitty Pryde in X-Men: Last Stand.

Isla Fisher as Gloria Cleary in New Line Cinema's Wedding Crashers.

Isla Fisher as Gloria Cleary in New Line Cinema’s Wedding Crashers.

8. Isla Fisher – To think of Isla Fisher as only in the third tier of funniest actresses implies something that I do not wish to imply—that she is anything other than hilarious. I first realized that she was hilarious as the sexy younger sister in Wedding Crashers. Unfortunately nothing has let her reach that level again. It was nice to see her as Rebel Alley in the 4th season of “Arrested Development.” And she brought some color to her character in Great Gatsby. She is also my favorite Omanian actress alive, nay, perhaps ever!

Judi Dench (© 2012 Eon Prods.)

Judi Dench (© 2012 Eon Prods.)

9. Judi Dench – Strikingly different from the past few humorous women is Dame Judi Dench. I do not know why Americans love sir this and lady that, when, by law, such titles cannot be awarded in the US. Dench’s career reminds me of Alec Guinness’s. Guinness had been a star, but then became famous for a smaller role in a blockbuster series—Star Wars. For Dench that is playing “M” in the James Bond series. Her sharp wit sets the standard for ladylike quips. For a slightly softer side, but only slightly, see Mrs. Henderson Presents and Ladies in Lavender. In those period piece comedies she stars and gets laughs with more than just snark.

10. Amy Adams – IMDb listed Meryl Streep as one of the funniest women of the past ten years, but I think that they chose the wrong star of Julie & Julia. While Streep may have been funnier in that hit, Adams solidifies her position a top ten funniest actress with Enchanted, The Muppets, and even in Talladega Nights. She managed to crack the top ten, even though she co-starred in Trouble with the Curve. If I do this for actors, do not hold your breath for Clint Eastwood.

Please let me know if I have omitted anyone, or if you disagree. Just kidding, feel free to laud me with kudos for getting this list 100% correct.

Restless

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**

May be you should stop going to stranger’s funerals.

Henry Hopper plays Enoch Brae, a young man who has a ghost and attends the funerals of strangers. The ghost of Hiroshi Takahashi—Ryo Kase, Shimazu from Letters from Iwo Jima—steals the show in his scenes. That surprised me because I think that Mia Wasikowska is an excellent young actress. I first saw her in Defiance, but do not remember much about her character Chaya. I suppose that it is just her performance in The Kids Are All Right that brought me to that conclusion. Her character, Annabel Cotton, plays an infinitely understanding teenager who had and has brain cancer.

Henry Hopper & Ryo Kase in Columbia Pics. Restless.

Henry Hopper & Ryo Kase in Columbia Pics. Restless.

My problems with this movie start from Enoch’s first appearance—his tie is not pulled high enough, not by a long shot. Then there is the disappointing soundtrack from Danny Elfman. But there was almost a scene that passed the bechdel test, and a small role for Chin Han—Dark Knight’s Lau. Still, Gus Van Sant directed Good Will Hunting and Finding Forrester, so what happened here? Oh well, maybe next time.

Starship Troopers 3: Marauder

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F'n space nazis and a vulcan.

Starship Troopers 3: Marauder kept up the Nazi Germany imagery. (© 2008 Sony Pics. Home Ent., Danny Keogh, Marnette Patterson, Stephen Hogan, Jolene Blalock, Stelio Savante & Cokey Falkow)

I have made this great journey. I have evolved. I have sacrificed all so that I may create with you a great peace. And they’re fucking it up!

**

The extra half star goes to the reason this showed up on my Netflix instant queue—Jolene Blalock. I liked her as T’Pol on “Enterprise” and this seemed like the best movie to watch with her in it. She did not disappoint, until the end. Even then, I did not blame her, but the material.

The movie exists in the same world created in the original Starship Troopers. I was surprised to see that Edward Neumeier, the writer/director, of this was also the writer of the original as well as of RoboCop. Freed of Paul Verhoeven, Neumeier has some difficulty keeping the writing consistent (see the above quotation). The “subtlety” of the original gets toned down, so the anti-religious and anti-fascist sentiments are very strong. But then they flip back and forth on these positions. The villains are the heroes and the heroes need to change. Well, except for the bugs, they are always bad guys.

Jolene Blalock looking badass, ©  ApolloMovie Beteiligungs.

Jolene Blalock looking badass as Capt. Lola Beck, © ApolloMovie Beteiligungs.

At first I thought that  Cécile Breccia’s Lt. Link Manion was Jolene Blalock, because I had not watched “Enterprise” in a long while. But once the real Blalock she showed up I realized my mistake. I hope she gets more opportunities venture forth into outer space with guns for my benefit. And if she does wind up getting topless in a movie—here she did not, unlike three of the Marauder soldiers, don’t ask—I hope it is in something a little more tasteful than a movie that cannot keep its pluralization straight.

R.I.P.D.

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***½

We call them “deados.”

I went into this film with simultaneously high and low expectations. Going for it: this is based on a clever comic book; stars two excellent actors—Ryan Reynolds & Jeff Bridges; and appeared to have some great action, effects, and style. Against it: no screening for the critics, critical panning, and Kevin Bacon as a bad guy. On balance, the good outweighed the bad by a lot. It is not the plot was original, or that it did not have holes in it, but this gave me the satisfaction I get from reading a good independent comic that deals with some heavy issues, without getting bogged down in them.

Roy & Nick (Jeff Bridges & Ryan Reynolds) on the streets of Boston in Universal Picture's R.I.P.D.

Roy & Nick (Jeff Bridges & Ryan Reynolds) on the streets of Boston in Universal Picture’s R.I.P.D.

R.I.P.D. addresses death, love, a lack of control, heaven and hell. But it does so with understated emotion from a modern Boston cop–Reynolds’ Nick Walker–and an old west law man–Bridges’ Roy Pulsifer. As Nick dies the world freezes in that moment for him and as he approaches the blue flaming inferno of judgment he gets sucked away into the sterile office of a professional and pretty “Proctor”–Mary Louise Parker. Therein she drinks Fresca, probably by choice, and listens to Steely Dan, which is always playing regardless of her wishes. Once he enlists in the Rest in Peace Department, Nick gets saddled to Roy, who plays the loose cannon, only flies solo type. When on earth they look like this:

Roy & Nick (James Hong & Marissa Miller) © Original Film, 2013.

Roy & Nick (James Hong & Marissa Miller) © Original Film, 2013.

To me, that is funny. But I do love James Hong—Blade Runner, Kung Fu Panda, MulanThe ShadowBig Trouble in Little ChinaMissing in Action. And Marissa Miller did a great job playing a beautiful woman. Seeing her get tossed into a bus was hilarious. In their disguises they hunt down people who slipped through the cosmic gaps and stayed on Earth, even after dying, hence, “deados.” The stakes get raised, as do the special effects. Apparently this is not a movie for everyone, but it certainly was one for me.

Unfinished Song

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Gemma Arterton (choir leader, Elizabeth) in Steel Mill Pictures' Unfinished Song.

The worst picture I could find of Gemma Arterton (choir leader, Elizabeth) in Steel Mill Pictures’ Unfinished Song.

I knew that I recognized Gemma Arterton. I had to turn to IMDb to realize that she was a Bond girl from the Daniel Craig Bond movie that no-one liked. In any event, she is our narrator who neatly opens and closes this wonderfully touching and smart romantic comedy.

****

Wow, you couldn’t have prepared me for that?

The lovers in this are the justifiably adored Terence Stamp and Vanessa Redgrave. They play Arthur and Marion, respectively. Their relationship is one amazingly clearly realized. Without flashbacks or many stories, their lives and their love fit so perfectly together, even if their meeting must have been like a rom-com where it first looks like there is no way this dour soldier will wind up with this upbeat jewel. As Marion deals with terminal cancer, and Arthur deals with her dealing with cancer, the film captures moments of sweetness and rage in such real ways. With Marion’s passing the film shifts to one of isolation and that is something that Elizabeth, who volunteered as choir director for the senior citizen choir of which Marion was a beloved member. Certainly several plot choices fit squarely into the expected points in a romantic comedy, but it is where the film veers off that make this somewhat special.

Characters do not accept things like saints in this. They do not forgive instantaneously. The one who has the heaviest burden might not be their adult son James, but his performance would have had that weight for such a claim in most films. Writer/Director Paul Andrew Williams must have asked so much from his actors, but they did the job and then some. Christopher Eccleston played James; I recognized him as an actor from something very specific, but which I could not remember what it was. Horror fans would know him as the morally bankrupt Major in 28 Days Later. Scifi fans would know him from playing Dr. Who. They who appreciate drama would recognize him as the Duke of Norfolk from Elizabeth, and the opposite of those people would recognize him as Destro from GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra. Not me though! While I enjoyed both 28 Days Later and Elizabeth, he will always be DCI David Bilborough from “Cracker.” To see him as a father and a son with a fully developed character filled me with pride. He deserved a role like James and I hope he receives attention for this success.

Christopher Eccleston and Orla Hill in Unfinished Song, © 2012 Coolmore Prods.

Christopher Eccleston and Orla Hill in Unfinished Song, © 2012 Coolmore Prods.

I failed to mention that this is also a movie about a choir competition and English “pensioners” singing age inappropriate songs. While I felt the songs varied in their novelty, according to my father and my grandmother, most of them would have been truly foreign to people of that older generation. The effect is cute and produces a few laughs, but on the whole is not on the same level as the family story. I recommend this movie for pretty much everyone, except people who only like action or horror movies.

Beverly Hills Cop II

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***

Don’t think, Axel! It makes my dick itch. The truth is, this department has fronted you a fortune. And my ass is on the line. I okayed all this shit!

Brigitte Nielsen as Karla Fry in Beverly Hills Cop II, © Paramount, 1987.

Brigitte Nielsen as Karla Fry in Beverly Hills Cop II, © Paramount, 1987.

This movie is much, much more fun than I remembered. Eddie Murphy is equally charming here as he was in the original Beverly Hills Cop and it is great to see almost all of the old characters again. Add to that villains like Jürgen Prochnow, Brigitte Nielsen, Dean Stockwell and Paul Guilfoyle and you have a great family friendly R rated movie.

Beyond that brief review I have two points that I would like to address: first, Tony Scott was a great action movie director, and two, Beverly Hills Cop was not written with Eddie Murphy in mind. Tony Scott directed Top Gun, Unstoppable, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, and Crimson Tide. He might not have been a ***** movie director, but he reliably produced good, exciting action movies. Not many men can be credited for doing so: Bryan Singer, Zack Snyder, and Christopher Nolan come to mind. And Scott did that without ever relying on an awesome comic book character like those other guys. My second point was that Eddie Murphy was not whom the Paramount executives had in mind—full story here. It is amusing to wonder how different, or terrible if you prefer, Beverly Hills Cop would have turned out with Mickey Rourke or Sylvester Stallone as Axel Foley. Not well, I imagine. Not well.

Gross.

Mickey Rourke & Sylvester Stallone in Millennium Films The Expendables, 2010.

Rain Man

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****

I just realized I’m not pissed off anymore. My father cut me out of his will. You probably knew he tried to contact me over the years. I never called him back. I was a prick. If he was my son and didn’t return my calls, I’d have written him out. But it’s not about the money anymore. You know, I just don’t understand. Why didn’t he tell me I had a brother? Why didn’t anyone ever tell me that I had a brother? Because it’d have been nice to know him for more than just the past six days.

What a second half to a movie. I decided to watch this because I had not seen a Barry Levinson picture in a long time, and this one is very well regarded. In particular, Dustin Hoffman’s performance probably stands as the finest in his career, and now I see why. I also see why Tom Cruise’s character is such a jerk for so much of this movie.

Susanna (Valerie Golino) and Raymond (Dustin Hoffman) share a moment in an elevator, © United Artists, 1988.

Susanna (Valerie Golino) and Raymond (Dustin Hoffman) share a moment in an elevator, © United Artists, 1988.

The two biggest surprises to this film were the ending and Valerie Golino. It has a non-Hollywood ending, which makes sense as Levinson comes from Baltimore and keeps it real. Real real. And Valerie Golino is an actress whose only prior work with which I was familiar was as Topper Harley’s love interest in Hot Shots. Now here casting in that movie is even funnier because Topper is a parody of Maverick in Top Gun, who was played by Tom Cruise! If that does not add a new level of depth to Hot Shots, then I am not sure what this movie is good for. Unless you count an hour of wonderful entertainment and a few Academy Awards.

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