Celluloid Heroes: The 10 Funniest Lines of the ’00s

It takes a lot to make me laugh out loud at something a person says. Witty is one thing, but genuinely funny is another beast altogether. And when I say laugh out loud, I’m talking about involuntary spasms of laughter, the kind that take a couple of minutes to subside. There is no formula for it, and I have no criteria for what form it takes. I just know it when it see it. Unfortunately, I don’t see it often enough. Sometimes they appear in otherwise unfunny movies, at which point I usually get angry, but that’s a subject for another day.

In the first of a long list of decade-oriented blog posts about the movies of the 2000s, here are the lines that made me laugh the hardest at the Googoplex. Be advised, potential SPOILERS abound here, so I don’t want to hear that I ruined such and such movie for you. What are your favorite lines? Let’s hear ’em in the comment section.

#10: Up – Somebody always loves you
This is more of a laughter-through-tears kind of thing, but it’s my list, my rules, so it counts. Pete Docter goes straight for the heart in this movie, almost mercilessly so. The “married life” sequence makes me cry like a little girl every time I watch it, and this scene, where the loyal Dug comes to comfort Carl, is quite possibly the “Awwwwwww” moment of the decade.

#9. Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story – Peter La Fleur learns just how small his problems really are
Next time you think about quitting something, anything, remember this exchange between the defeated gym owner Peter La Fleur (Vince Vaughn) and cyclist Lance Armstrong:

Lance Armstrong: Could I get a bottle of water. (Looks to his left) Hey, aren’t you Peter La Fleur?
Peter La Fleur: Lance Armstrong!
Lance Armstrong: Yeah, that’s me. But I’m a big fan of yours.
Peter La Fleur: Really?
Lance Armstrong: Yeah, I’ve been watching the dodgeball tournament on the Ocho. ESPN 8. I just can’t get enough of it. But, good luck in the tournament. I’m really pulling for you against those jerks from Globo Gym. I think you better hurry up or you’re gonna be late.
Peter La Fleur: Uh, actually I decided to quit… Lance.
Lance Armstrong: Quit? You know, once I was thinking about quitting when I was diagnosed with brain, lung and testicular cancer, all at the same time. But with the love and support of my friends and family, I got back on the bike and I won the Tour de France five times in a row. But I’m sure you have a good reason to quit. So what are you dying from that’s keeping you from the finals?
Peter La Fleur: Right now it feels a little bit like… shame.
Lance Armstrong: Well, I guess if a person never quit when the going got tough, they wouldn’t have anything to regret for the rest of their life. But good luck to you, Peter. I’m sure this decision won’t haunt you forever.

#8. The Simpsons Movie – Albert Brooks loses his mind
Albert Brooks is the fifth Beatle of the “Simpsons” writing staff. The writers love him, and he loves the show. No guest performer has played more characters – the RV salesman, Brad Goodman, Jaques the bowler, the megalomaniacal Hank Scorpio – but his role as the power-mad director of the EPA vaults “The Simpsons Movie” to another level. The scene where he tricks President Arnold Schwarzenegger into doing his evil bidding is the better overall scene, but as single lines go, my favorite is when he’s confronted with his thirst for power. As Fat Tony once said, it’s funny because it’s true.

EPA Officer: Sir, I’m afraid you’ve gone mad with power
Russ Cargill: Well, of course I have. You ever tried going mad without power? It’s boring, no one listens to you.

#7. Zombieland – Woody Harrelson settles a debate the old fashioned way: by threatening an ass kicking
With apologies to when Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) tells Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) that he’s “like a giant cock blocking robot, like developed in a secret fucking government lab,” my favorite bit is this sly moment where Columbus tells Tallahassee that he’s heard there’s a place where there are no zombies, at which point Tallahassee assures him that such a place doesn’t exist.

Tallahassee: You know, you’re like a penguin on the North Pole hears the South Pole’s really nice this time of year.
Columbus: There are no penguins on the North Pole.
Tallahasee: (pause) You wanna feel how hard I can punch?

#6. Burn After Reading – Tilda Swinton forcefully illustrates that thing she…doesn’t do
She won the Oscar for “Michael Clayton” – which, in my mind, was a totally unwarranted example of the Hollywood welfare system at work – but this is bar none my favorite Tilda Swinton performance to date. As Katie Cox, Swinton is the coldest, most humorless succubus of a human being that you’ll find. (Even better, she’s a pediatrician.) Why George Clooney’s character Harry would choose her for an ongoing affair over the other women he beds during the movie is a mystery, but their relationship does produce the movie’s funniest moment, when Katie discusses destroying her husband while Harry suggests playing it cool and not hammering him while he’s down. “Is that how you see me? Hammering him?” The rest speaks for itself.

#5. Get Smart: Driving range car crash
All hail Alan Arkin. No one else could have made this line as funny as he does.

#4. 1408 – John Cusack speaks a universal truth
Mike Enslin (Cusack), a man who writes about supposedly haunted locations, wants to check into room 1408 at New York’s Dolphin Hotel. Hotel manager Gerald Olin (Samuel L. Jackson) tries to talk him out of it during a meeting in his office.

Gerald Olin: You do drink, don’t you?
Mike Enslin: Of course! I just said I was a writer.

Saw this at a critics-only screening. Big, big laughter followed that exchange.

#3. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters – Billy Mitchell equates himself with one of the most hotly contested issues in our nation’s history
Arguably the greatest movie villain the ‘00s had to offer – even more terrifying when you take into account that he’s real – video game wizard and restaurant magnate Billy Mitchell is awesome. Just ask him, and he’ll tell you. Hell, you don’t even have to ask him. He lays it all out on the table in this one line:

No matter what I say, it draws controversy. It’s sort of like the abortion issue.

That’s right, people, he compared himself, and his status within the video game community, to Roe vs. Wade. To be that fond of yourself, yet be completely lacking in self-awareness or tact, that is a gift. A gift wrapped in a denim shirt and a feathered mullet. Thank you, God.

#2. Finding Nemo – The seagulls
It’s one of those head-slappers of a commentary. But of course that’s what seagulls are saying when they crow. What else could it be? It’s not as if they’re picky about what they eat or anything. Even better is the line from the pelican Nigel (Geoffrey Rush), where he calls them “rats with wings.” Even the animal kingdom hates seagulls.

#1. Sex Drive – Andy and Randy hitting on the church girl
It made about a buck and change at the box office, but “Sex Drive” is without a doubt my favorite comedy of the decade. I could have made a list of nothing but quotes from this movie alone, but if I have to choose one, it’s unquestionably the scene where Lance (Clark Duke) has his shy friend Ian (Josh Zuckerman) observe the seduction technique of classmates Andy and Randy, in order to convey the message that confidence is a powerful aphrodisiac. That it doesn’t work on our little donation-soliciting friend only makes the exchange funnier. Imagine what Andy and Randy will be able to accomplish once they learn how to close.

  

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TV in the 2000s: The Decade in Whedonism – 10 Small Screen Masterpieces from Joss Whedon

Like an awful lot of film and TV geeks, and just plain geeks, I’m a pretty big Joss Whedon fan. In fact, my devotion to his unique blend of fantasy and science fiction melodrama, sometimes arch old-school movie-style witty dialogue blended with Marvel comics repartee, strong characterization, and often somewhat silly plots has at times gotten almost embarrassing. A few years back some of my very adult friends were suggesting in concerned tones that I should really marry the man if I love him so much.

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More recently, I thought my fandom was under relative control. But now, I’ve been asked my opinion on the ten best examples of small-screen work in this decade from the creator and guiding force of “Angel,” “Firefly,” the already canceled “Dollhouse,” and, of course, “Buffy, the Vampire Slayer.” I only have to be thankful for the fact that first four seasons of “Buffy,” which contain most of that show’s greatest episodes, are disqualified because they appeared on TV sets before 2000. We take our mercies where we find them. (And, yes, if you’re about to catch up with these on DVD, there are a fair number of spoilers below for the various series, though I’ve tried to keep a few secrets.) One word of warning: my relative ranking of these shows is a matter of mood and borders on the random. In other words — don’t hold me to these choices!

Out of competition:

BTVS, “The Body” (“Buffy, the Vampire Slayer”) – This episode usually ranks extremely high when people make these kind of lists. Entertainment Weekly named it as pretty much the best thing Joss Whedon has ever done and maybe the best TV thing ever. The truth of the matter is that, yes, the episode where Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Geller) discovers the already cold body of her mother, Joyce (Kristine Sutherland, a wonderful asset to the show for the five previous years), dead from an entirely natural brain tumor, was probably one of the most remarkable episodes of television ever shown, and probably the only thing I’ve seen that comes close to capturing the essence of what it feels like when someone dies unexpectedly. The problem was, I didn’t find it depressing; I found it real. I didn’t feel any more like repeating the experience than I would the death of an actual loved one.

Whedon – who wrote and directed the episode himself – deserves all the credit in the world for the brave choices he made, including shooting the episode in close to “real time” and not using any music. If I have one complaint with Whedon, it’s his tendency to close emotional episodes with, dare I say it, somewhat drippy montages. His choice to eliminate music from the kind of “very special” show where other creators would lay in with three or four montages of Joyce frolicking in the woods or what have you, shows Whedon is, at heart, an outstanding filmmaker. I’ve never had a problem with his much-noted tendency to kill off sympathetic and/or popular characters. It might anger some fans, but especially if you’re dealing with inherently violent material, there’s something morally wrong about not dealing with the fact that good people are just as mortal as bad people. Still, I don’t enjoy watching this episode. If this were a movie, maybe I’d be more in awe or eager for profundity. However, if I’m going to be honest, I can’t call “The Body” a favorite and I can’t be sure it’s one of the “best.”

#10, Shiny Happy People (“Angel”) – Fans of the spin-off about Buffy’s ex, the vampire-with-a-soul detective (David Boreanaz), and various assembled demon-hunters and occasionally friendly demons, will be scratching their heads at this choice. It’s an unpopular episode from a widely and justly derided storyline involving a very weird affair between Angel’s unbalanced super-powered teenage son from another dimension, Connor (Vincent Kartheiser, now of “Mad Men“), and a suddenly evil Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter), a former high school mean girl turned lovably complex grown-up foil for her vampire boss. And, yeah, it was a little freaky for Cordy to give birth to a fully grown creature called Jasmine.

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However, as played by the wondrous Gina Torres of the then recently-canceled “Firefly,” Jasmine was freaky in a good way. A being whose god-like ability to create an instant sense of peace, happiness, and complete obedience, is somewhat set off by the fact that she’s actually a deformed and decaying, if not entirely evil, monster who must consume people to live, she was every charismatic leader and every great screen beauty rolled into one monstrous ball. More than anything else, “Shiny Happy People” reminded me of Don Siegel’s 1956 film verson of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” It was another believable demonstration of how we humans are only too willing to surrender our our humanity to the first apparently completely beauteous and 100% wise being who comes along. You know, like Oprah, only less powerful.

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