It’s a sad truth that every year when awards season rolls around, comedies are often overlooked. Everyone loves to laugh, but apparently no one thinks laughter is important enough to reward with gold statues. The 40 Year Old Virgin should have been a contender for best picture back in 2005, and who could argue the merits of Ghostbusters or Monty Python and the Holy Grail?
Yet these films and countless other comedy classics are shunned every winter when the Academy rolls out its slew of nominees. This year we can look forward to seeing films like The Wolf of Wall Street and 12 Years A Slave take home several nominations, though to be fair both of these films really aren’t deserving of the praise they’ve been slathered with. Wolf is far too long and massively derivative of Scorsese’s own previous efforts, Casino and Goodfellas, while 12 Years A Slave suffers from an emotionally manipulative soundtrack and the doting hands of Hollywood producers molding Steve McQueen’s directorial style into something palatable for an average audience. Please don’t be misled, I’m not saying that The Internship deserves a best picture nod, or that Jennifer Anniston’s fine work on We’re the Millers should earn her an Oscar, all I’m saying is that comedies, and especially the performances in comedies, are often completely dismissed at this time of year and it’s just not fair.
Here’s a short list of recent award worthy performances in comedies, all of which deserved to be at least considered. These are intricate and dedicated performances that create character and laughs consistently throughout the films in which they’re featured.
Alan Rickman turned in a great performance as the put-upon actor Alexander Dane in Galaxy Quest. He portrayed a revered Shakespearian actor forever burdened with a silly head prosthetic, playing an alien second fiddle to painfully melodramatic lead from a cult hit science fiction show, and it was brilliant.
Maya Rudolph’s performance as Verona, an expectant mother in Away We Go was brilliant. She brought a degree of realism to the role and made the character fully relatable while still delivering a fantastic comedic performance. She and John Krasinski had great chemistry and she used it to its full advantage.
Bill Murray. There doesn’t really need to be anymore said. Whether it’s his performance as a wisecracking paranormal investigator in Ghostbusters, a sarcastically irresponsible soldier in Stripes, a millionaire benefactor and romantic foil in Rushmore, or even for his strange portrayal of himself in Zombieland, Bill Murray deserves an Oscar.
Two of the more recent examples of fantastic acting in comedic roles deserve a second look. Both actors were passed over at the academy awards in favour of actors in dramatic roles, however these performances are just as good as anything to be seen in the Best Picture nominees.
Simon Pegg’s portrayal of Gary King in Edgar Wright’s brilliant The World’s End is masterful. Pegg manages to be an emotionally stunted, hyperactively charged man-child, while maintaining a degree of vulnerability and tenderness just below the surface. His comedic timing is almost perfect, especially in a bar fight sequence where he is doing his best to fight “the Blanks” while trying to avoid spilling his pint. He delivers lines with such rapid fire self-assuredness that you almost don’t notice that he’s ripping off song lyrics to supplement his total lack of self esteem. His single minded ambition to complete The Golden Mile and thereby rescue some sense of self drives Pegg’s character at a high velocity pace. It’s a beautiful performance in a beautiful film that has unfortunately gone unnoticed at the Academy Awards this year.
Kristin Wiig had something of a breakthrough in the wildly popular Bridesmaids, yet once again her performance went under the Academy’s radar. in Bridesmaids Wiig plays Annie Walker, a woman whose life is in a bit of a tail spin. Her bake shop business has gone under, she is dating a sociopath (also a brilliant performance by Jon Hamm), she lives in a tiny apartment with the ultimate odd couple, and her best friend is now getting married. Annie Walker is awkward, shy, and too proud to admit when she needs help. Some of the funniest moments in the film come from Wiig attempting to maintain a degree of cool when faced with obvious obstacles. The scene where she is trying desperately to convince Rose Byrne’s Helen that she isn’t suffering from food poisoning is near perfect. The subtlety of character combined with the overt comedy of her performance is a masterstroke.
Hopefully in the future the Academy will broaden its horizons and start nominating performances in a wider spectrum. No one can deny the power of a moving and dramatic role, however, convincing an audience that a character is a real person AND making us laugh, that’s a talent that deserves to be praised.