Saturday, July 9, 2011

My Top Seven....or um Top Ten SNL cast members- The Ladies

(John Belushi won the poll for Favorite Male SNL cast member....fittingly in my opinion. Thanks for participating)

It was difficult to narrow my male SNL list down to ten. This time I'm struggling to find ten females I really like! It has been said many times by men either to themselves or out loud after a few drinks that women aren't funny. Obviously that statement isn't true. I think there are plenty of funny women. The trouble is that usually the level of humor rises or falls depending on the level of physical attractiveness. Think about it. There are very few funny women who are also smoking hot. Being attractive is like a big distraction for guys and it is difficult to laugh at the joke when you are distracted. I never thought Sarah Silverman was all that funny because she was a little bit too cute (at least back in her SNL days). On the other hand Ana Gasteyer has mas made me laugh quite a few times and she's not even slightly cute! Of course it is understandable that many men are probably in love with Amy Poehler and Tina Fey who are nice looking ladies and also brilliant comediennes. But they are exceptions, and besides stand either of them next to Brooklyn Decker or Sienna Miller and....well, you get my point.

But the reality for me is that there are about 5 to 7 ladies from SNL that I really appreciate for their comedic talent but to make this blog fair and equitable between the sexes I felt I should make a Top Ten just as I did for the men. The women at the bottom of my list did have some funny moments on the show but their entire body of work isn't all that great in my opinion. I will even be gracious and throw in an honorable mention as I did for the fellas....

Honorable mention: Cheri Oteri
Most famous sketch: The Cheerleaders

Cheri usually played the same character in everything and tried real hard to make "Simmer down now!" a household phrase. Many times she just annoyed me but I
have to admit her Judge Judy and Barbara Walters did make me smile. She was always a good companion for Will Ferrell too especially that cheesy Kathy Lee-type morning show sketch.

10. Rachel Dratch

Favorie sketch: Debbie Downer

Rachel was on the show for a long time and played well with Will Ferrell and Jimmy Fallon. She is exhibit A in my argument for funny women being less attractive.

9. Maya Rudolph

Favorite sketch: Wake Up Wakefield
Famous characters: Condoleeza Rice, Donatella Versace

In her post-SNL career Maya has proven to be a decent actress but her first few years on the show I didn't think she was funny at all. She started warming up to me as Megan the nerdy girl in the Wake Up Wakefield sketches where she had a crush on "Randy Goldman" played by Jimmy Fallon.

8. Julia Sweeney

Favorite sketch: It's Pat!

For a stretch in the early 90s Julia was the only female with any talent on the show which may be why she stands out to me. She was good in all of her sketches and her Pat character is still recognizable. And we never found out the truth about Pat did we?

7. Molly Shannon

Favorite sketch: The Delicious Dish
Famous characters: Mary Katherine Gallagher, Monica Lewinsky

Molly like her counterpart Cheri Oteri annoyed me some of the time but she was clearly the better writer and performer of the two. I like her willingness to do physical comedy and her serious face cracks me up when she says things like "Schweddy Balls" on the Delicious Dish.

6. Ana Gasteyer

Favorite characters: Martha Stewart, Joy Behar, Helen Thomas, Bobbi Mohan-Culp, Celine Dion, Barbra Streisand

I think Ana is underrated. She did far more on the show than the other ladies she performed with like Molly and Cheri. Her impression of Joy Behar is my favorite because Joy is an example of an ugly woman without a shred of comedic talent and Ana nails her perfectly. Ana is also funny in The Delicious Dish sketches with Molly Shannon and the singing Culp sketches with Will Ferrell.

5. Tina Fey

Favorite character: Sarah Palin

As a writer Tina is number one. She was the head writer for the show for many years and her time on Weekend Update is the best that segment has ever been with apologies to Dennis Miller and Chevy Chase. She is responsible for making both Jimmy Fallon and Amy Poehler the stars they are today.

4. Kristen Wiig

Famous characters: The Target Lady, Nancy Pelosi, Kat of Garth and Kat (with Fred Armisen), and literally dozens more!

For the first time in the history of the show SNL is dominated by a woman! It must make all of the previous ladies proud...or jealous! Kristen is in nearly every sketch and steals them most of the time. My favorite sketch she does is that 60s game show, like Password...I don't even know the name! But she is hysterical in that and many other things.

3. Amy Poehler

Favorite characters: Hillary Rodham, Betty Caruso co-host of Bronx Beat, and several more.

I was an Amy Poehler fan before she got the SNL gig. When she started doing sketches it was the first time in the history of the show that the funniest person in the cast was a female. Then she became the co-host of Weekend Update and took it to another level. She breaks the rule of course for attractive women being funny, she's cute and she's freakin' hilarious! And she's married to another favorite comedian of mine, Will Arnett. They're pretty much my favorite funny couple.

2. Jan Hooks

Favorite Sketches: Pie with breakfast (?), The Sweeney Sisters
Favorite characters: Nancy Reagan, Hillary Rodham, Tammy Faye Baker, Sinead O'Connor, Bette Davis, and many many more.

One word: UNDERRATED!! As a matter of fact I would contend that Jan Hooks is the most underrated performer in the history of the show. She was extremely talented as an actress and a comic. She was also the perfect counterpart for Phil Hartman and played his better half in many sketches of famous couples: The Reagans, The Clintons, Jim and Tammy Faye Baker. And she was every bit his equal in comedic chops. My all-time favorite SNL sketch is the one in the picture I call "Pie with breakfast" with Alec Baldwin. That is her best moment on the show and highlights her skill as a comic actress. She is now a character player on 30 Rock but her best work was on that other stage in 30 Rock in the 80s and early 90s.

1. Gilda Radner

Favorite characters: Rosanne Rosannadanna, Emily Litella, Lisa Loopner, Baba Wawa

If Belushi is the king then Gilda is the queen of SNL. Belushi once famously said he didn't think women were funny except for Gilda Radner (makes me wonder what Jane Curtin and Laraine Newman thought of that). If I had to name my favorite female comedians of all time Gilda would top the list along with Carol Burnett. She had perfect timing, did physical comedy like no other, and she was cute and likeable. Her sketches as a little girl are excellent, her Weekend Update spots were the best on the show, and that segment where she dances with Steve Martin is probably my favorite. My sister once said Gilda is the female Steve Martin and that sounds about right. We lost one of the best performers ever when she passed away.

That's my list. Sorry to any Victoria Jackson or Ellen Cleghorne fans out there!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

My Top Ten SNL cast members- The Men

(Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King won favorite Best Picture of the last decade in the latest poll question. Thanks for participating)

I grew up a big fan of Saturday Night Live thanks to my sister who loved it in the late 70s and early 80s. She made me aware of many hilarious characters like Ed Grimley, Rosanne Rosannadanna, and those "wild and crazy guys" the Festrunk Brothers. When I was in high school I was hooked on Wayne's World, Hans and Franz, The Grumpy Old Man, Matt Foley, and many others. I stopped watching the show as much in the last decade but I'm familiar with many of the better sketches and comics on the show. It looks like it is "coming back" as it always does with some very funny cast members like Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, and Andy Samberg. After watching for over twenty years, here's my not so humble opinion of the Top Ten show performers. Keep in mind this has nothing to do with their post-SNL movie or TV careers. These are the guys that dominated the show and made me laugh the most when they were a part of the SNL cast. Sorry to burst any bubbles, but Adam Sandler never made me laugh that much.

Honorable mention: Martin Short.
Most famous character: Ed Grimley
He would probably be in my top ten, but unfortunately I've only seen a handful of his sketches from the early 80s. His era of the show, which included Billy Crystal and Christopher Guest, is probably the most underrated in the history of the show.

10. Jimmy Fallon

Favorite Sketches: The Barry Gibb Talk Show and Weekend Update

Besides the fact that Jimmy was in sketches and did a long stint co-anchoring Weekend Update, my favorite thing about him is the way he so easily cracked up in the middle of sketches, particulary with sidekick Horatio Sanz. Also he does tons of great impressions, including former SNL star Adam Sandler.

9. Norm Macdonald

Favorite Characters: Burt Reynolds, Bob Dole, David Letterman

Norm famously got FIRED from Weekend Update and that alone makes him legendary and worthy of being on my list. I loved his straight-for-the-jugular comic style on Update which I think many people just didn't get at all. Replacing him with Colin Quinn made him look even better! And what was ironic about him losing that gig is that he survived the purge between the Sandler/Farley cast and the new Will Farrell cast of '95. At that time Norm was the funniest guy on the show. He was and is a rebel and he's still hilarious to me.

8. Bill Murray

Favorite characters: Nick the lounge singer, Todd (The Nerds)

Some might think this is way too low for Bill but remember this is just about SNL. As far as star status and a movie career he is #1 by far. Nobody has achieved as much or made as many great films as Bill Murray. He has won numerous acting awards and I wouldn't be surprised if he gets an Oscar before he's done. As far as his time on SNL his sketches were always the best while he was on the show because he was one of the most naturally funny people to ever appear on that stage. But at the same time not many characters stand out among the rest which is why he's not near the top.

7. Mike Myers

Favorite Characters: Wayne Campbell, Dieter, Middle Aged-Man, Simon, Linda Richman, and many more.

Mike dominated the show while he was on. He was obviously gifted at writing sketches for himself and other cast members. When Dana Carvey was on with him they just chewed up the set. I feel sorry for some of those less talented people on the show. For a while it looked like his film career was going to be just as rich, but he hasn't had a hit in quite a while. No matter, I can always watch his best moments on SNL.

6. Will Farrell

Favorite Sketch: Blue Oyster Cult: Behind the Music ("More Cowbell")
Favorite Characters: George W. Bush, Harry Caray, James Lipton, and many more.

Like Phil Hartman in the decade prior, Will was the "glue" that held the show together. He was in nearly every sketch from the moment he started until he left. He did commercials, he made Jimmy Fallon crack up, and he made Chris Parnell the perpetual straight guy. His comic style usually follows the same formula, which some don't like, but once in a while he just nails it. There are many Harry Caray impersonaters out there, but Will Farrell's version is the best!

5. Chris Farley

Favorite character: Matt Foley
Favorite sketches: Chippendale dancers, The Chris Farley Show, Bill Swerski's Superfans

Speaking of chewing up the set, Farley was possibly the greatest physical comedian to ever grace the stage of SNL. He didn't need to write, or rehearse, or get into character, he was naturally hilarious. His idol was former SNL great John Belushi and ironically he died young just like his hero. But what an impression he made while he was here.

4. Phil Hartman

Favorite characters: Frank Sinatra, Phil Donahue, Ronald Reagan, Ed McMahon, Charlton Heston, Andy Griffith, Jack Nicholson, Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer,
and many, many more!

As previously stated Phil has been described by Mike Myers and others as the "glue" of the show. He held everything together, appearing in nearly every sketch while on the show. He played every kind of character, did numerous impressions, did commercials, and even famously cracked up a time or two. He made fellow performers stand out even more, like Jon Lovitz, Dana Carvey, Jan Hooks, and Kevin Nealon. Phil is still very underrated in my opinion, and has always been one of my all time favorites.

3. Eddie Murphy

Favorite sketch: Mr. Robinson's Neighborhood
Favorite characters: Buckwheat, Velvet Jones, James Brown

Eddie Murphy might be the funniest person ever to be on Saturday Night Live, so it seems crazy to put him at number 3. But the fact is the show was so weak when he was there the only person close to being as funny was Joe Piscopo....yeah, Joe Piscopo. So Eddie was IT, basically. He carried the show and his few sketches were the only reason to watch. It was no surprise when he jumped to the movies and became an even bigger star. Either way there's not much funnier than: "O'tay", "little Opie Cunningham", or "C-I-L-L my landlord!"

2. Dana Carvey

Favorite Characters: The Church Lady, The Grumpy Old Man, Johnny Carson, Regis Philbin, George Bush, Ross Perot, Garth, Hans, John McLaughlin, Dennis Miller and way too many more to name!

Dana Carvey was born to do sketch he was born to be on Saturday Night Live! His film career has really gone nowhere. Actually, if it weren't for Mike Myers I don't think he'd have anything funny to watch on film. His stand up is okay, but his true element is doing impressions and sketches in front of a live audience. Carvey absolutely killed on SNL. He dominated the show like no one before or since. If you wanted to get some face time you had to really bring something good, which is why Mike Myers was able to thrive alongside Carvey. In my opinion, when Dana Carvey left the show it had a vacuum that not even Chris Farley, David Spade, and Adam Sandler could fill with their combined efforts. He would be number one on this list, but that spot is reserved for the King of SNL, the icon, the man all the rest labor in the shadow of....

1. John Belushi

Favorite sketches: Blues Brothers, "Cheeburger, Cheeburger", The Thing That Wouldn't Leave, Weekend Update spots
Favorite characters: Marlon Brando, Joe Cocker, the Samarai

I know what you're thinking: I think Belushi is the best because he died first or he's just an original member and blah blah blah. Nope. I racked my brains trying to think of someone else who people think is both cool and hilarious and nobody else stands out like Belushi. Sure Bill Murray is cool, but I think that really happened more after the show. Chevy Chase might have been cool then too, but he only did one season, and he never made me laugh the way Belushi does. Belushi is brilliant. He was super talented. He could sing, he could dance a little, and he could even do impressions. He created the Blues Brothers which is still a familiar icon in the world of music and the world of comedy. His physical attributes as a comic were also among the best ever. As I've already said, he was THE major influence of Chris Farley's style of comedy. And most of all, Belushi's best work was on the show. He didn't bolt for Hollywood right away. He became the backbone of the original cast. He set the standard for all subsequent SNL stars. He is the King of SNL.

Next time I will count down the top ten Ladies of SNL.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

How Time Flies

Wow, five months! It's been a while since I've posted here and much has happened. Osama bin Laden is dead, some royal somebodies got married or something, and I've seen dozens of movies....some good, some bad. The King's Speech won the Oscar for Best Picture for last year and deservedly so, although I would have preferred to see Inception get that honor. However, I pretty much hate those ridiculous award shows anyway, so either way I'd find something to complain about. The best things are nearly always overlooked by the Hollywood establishment. I think that's what I'll be focusing on with this blog for now: underrated movie gems. And I would love for this to be an interactive discussion also. If there are movies you love that nobody else seems to appreciate, that don't get played on TBS bi-weekly, that didn't win awards, or have been moved to the $5 and under bin at Wal-mart please let us know about them and what makes them special to you.

My first candidate for this category of underrated gems is.....

Son of Rambow

This overlooked British comedy from 2008 is one my favorite films. From the first moments you know you are watching good filmmaking. As the contrast of the main characters is presented so starkly in a matter of seconds you realize what fun this movie is going to have with their eventual friendship. I also find new moments of comedy each time I watch it. If you need a funny, feel good movie with that nostalgic quality of childhood imagination please check this one out.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

My Top Ten Favorite Films of the Decade (2001-2010)

(The Shawshank Redemption was voted "best prison movie" in the last poll. Thanks for participating.)

Narrowing down my top ten wasn't easy. Many, many films I love have been left out and so I will start with a sizeable list of "honorable mentions" all between the years of 2001-2010.

The Passion of The Christ
Shaun of the Dead
Cinderella Man
Finding Nemo
Hot Fuzz
About Schmidt
The Hurt Locker
A Mighty Wind
Big Fish
Gosford Park
The Darjeeling Limited
Fantastic Mr. Fox
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
City of God

The Man Who Wasn't There

...and probably several more I forgot.

But here are the ten movies I chose because either I cannot watch them enough or they stay in my mind even if I've only seen them once or twice.

10. No Country For Old Men
Directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
Starring- Javier Bardem, Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin

Here is a film that it took some time for me to warm up to even though I knew the acting and directing were top notch. I think the folksy dialogue taken from Cormac McCarthy's novel combined with Javier Bardem's portrayal of the scariest man ever on film make this movie impossible to forget.

9. The Departed
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Starring- Jack Nicholson, Leonardo Dicaprio, Martin Sheen,Mark Wahlberg, and Matt Damon

Scorsese can pack a punch with his narrative, music, and plot as quickly and effectively as any director in history. The fact that the opening credits don't roll until a half hour of whizz-bang exposition only amplifies the story and draws the viewer in for a violent thrill ride full of explosive dialogue and plot twists. This movie has grown on me also, because once you start watching, it is nearly impossible to stop. Nicholson, DiCaprio, Mark Wahlberg, and to my surprise, Matt Damon are all at the top of their game.

8. Casino Royale
Directed by Martin Campbell
Starring Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Judi Dench, and Mads Mikkelsen

The Bond formula is a popular and familiar one with fans of the genre. We expect certain things to satisfy that old Ian Fleming spy thriller urge. But like all formulas it gets stale and predictable and falls flat without the right character as 007 and without a story that at least seems feasible even if far-fetched. Casino Royale introduces the world to the best Bond film of them all and arguably the best James Bond since the original, Sean Connery himself. The "Bond Begins" narrative passes the test on every level mostly thanks to Daniel Craig and Eva Green who are both excellent...not to mention the greatest on-foot chase sequence in movie history.

7. The Incredibles
Directed by Brad Bird
Starring Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Jason Lee, and Samuel L. Jackson

While the critics have heaped praise on other Pixar movies like Up, Wall-E, Ratatouille, and Finding Nemo I have been saying for years that The Incredibles is
the most impressive work Pixar and Disney have done. I'm sure the environmentally conscious story in Wall-E had much to do with the love the critics have given it and the very conservative viewpoint expressed in The Incredibles probably has many of those same critics scratching their heads. But besides the message I like so much, The Incredibles makes my list because of the writing and the way it was made. The look of the film pushed the art of computer animation forward because there are scenes that look like a real movie. You forget when you see things out of focus in the frame or when characters don't completely fit into the shot that you are watching an animated film where those imperfections can be easily fixed. Brad Bird's direction is amazing and his sense for action, drama, and storytelling creates an animated universe far more compelling than most live action films.

6. Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Directed by Peter Jackson
Starring Viggo Mortensen, Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, and Ian McKellan

I must confess I was surprised when Return of the King won Best Picture at the Academy Awards because it was the third film in a trilogy and because it is a fantasy/adventure film...not the usual favorite of the Academy. But I suppose it was impossible to ignore the trilogy which took movie action, CGI and the fantasy genre to new heights and since this was the culmination of the three it had to win. I was also very skeptical of Peter Jackson's big screen attempt to make the trilogy when I first heard about it, but like many lovers of the Tolkien classic I was very pleasantly surprised (despite the many changes from the books) This one is my favorite for one simple reason: it is the most exciting. I haven't been "blown away" by movie action in a theater ever before like I was watching this one...I was ten years old again, and for that I thank Peter Jackson and J.R.R. Tolkien.

5. Gangs of New York
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Leonardo DiCaprio, Cameron Diaz

Once again Dicaprio and Scorsese make my list but the main reason I love this historical tale is the greatest living actor Daniel Day-Lewis as Bill the Butcher, my favorite villain of all time.

4. The Prestige
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Starring Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman, Scarlett Johansson, and Michael Caine

Christopher Nolan is the new genius of cinema. He is fast becoming the most innovative filmmaker out there creating stories and universes like Speilberg, Lucas, and Zemeckis have done for a few decades now. I was unable to get this brilliant film out of my head for days after seeing it. There are many nuances, parallels, and echos throughout and all of the actors are perfect, particularly Christian Bale.

3. The Royal Tenenbaums
Directed by Wes Anderson
Starring Gene Hackman, Angelica Huston, Gwyneth Paltrow, Bill Murray, Luke Wilson, Ben Stiller, and Danny Glover

I love Wes Anderson movies which is not a suprise to anyone who has ever looked at this blog. Bottle Rocket will always be my favorite even if it isn't necessarily the best or most artistic work in the Wes Anderson catalogue. But if I were to pick my second favorite Anderson film, Tenenbaums is certainly the one. I have watched it several times and my appreciation grows the more I see it. It seems many people including critics missed the point of this film. One famous critic said it was a film "about nothing". Or you could say it is a film about everything. The genius of Anderson's films is that undercurrent of emotion beneath the comedy, the costumes, and the meticulously detailed set pieces. If you pay attention you can see the transformation and eventual redemption of Royal's character. If you don't you just might be one of the many who dismissed this film as odd and pointless. I call it unique and brilliant.

2. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Directed by Michael Gondry
Starring Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Tom Wilkinson, Kirsten Dunst, and Mark Ruffalo

Director Michael Gondry and writer Charlie Kaufman are a match made in movie heaven. To put it simply this is the most romantic movie I've ever seen and the one of the most ingenious story ideas I've ever heard. An artsy movie with a "love conquers all" message? Will wonders never cease.

1. Inception
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Starring Leonardo Dicaprio, Marion Cotillard, Ellen Page, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt

There really aren't enough words to describe this movie and its effect on me personally. Like I said about Nolan's other classic, The Prestige, this film stays in the mind for days after seeing it. I can't think of a better use of cinematic expression than a film like this which involves dreams within dreams. It is simultaneously emotional and mind blowing. If the creators of movie magic from yesteryear (from D.W. Griffith to Stanley Kubrick) could see Inception I believe they would hold it in the highest admiration, and marvel at how far this art form has come. Inception isn't only the best film of the last decade, it is the best of many decades.

Happy New Year everyone!