Laugh, Cry, Try Not to Die
Sorry for that header.
Who knew that comedy and action would go together pretty well? Definitely not me.
I’ve gone most of my life with a sort of default distaste for action movies, as well as broad comedies. It took many years of exploration and watching other people’s favorite movies in party settings for me to change my opinion.
But the 2000s were pretty fertile in terms of fun, inventive movies in a style we hadn’t really seen before. These comedies didn’t have that annoying/frustrating 90s snark, and the action integrated CGI fairly well, sort of for the first time (if we’re not counting Jurassic Park).
Is that enough of an introduction? These are the best action comedies: 2000s edition. We like these movies a whole lot, and they have lots going on underneath the surface.
Each of them is ripe for analysis, so if you’ve got a film class analysis assignment coming up, look no further.
Everyone will be glad that you chose a fun, entertaining movie rather than an arthouse flick none of your classmates have seen.
If you’d like to read a different article instead, click here to be whisked away.
Shaun of the Dead – 2004
There are plenty of people who see this as being Edgar Wright’s best movie, and they’ve got some serious evidence to back them up.
It’s also the first movie of the Cornetto trilogy, making it the opener for one of the most fruitful periods of Wright’s cinematic career.
It doesn’t quite have the same visual polish as Hot Fuzz or The World’s End, but it’s pure and fresh and has so much to offer, even in the way of dramatics and emotional investment.
Shaun is a highly relatable character, a guy who’s in a rut. We’ve been in this position at some time or another. All of us have had our periods of acting a bit like zombies.
So the comedy is there, as you’d expect. But how’s the action? If you’re watching the movie just for the action, then you’re gonna be waiting around for a bit.
But when it comes along, it’s a force to be reckoned with. The movie gives a surprisingly realistic portrayal of a zombie outbreak, one that doesn’t really bother to tell us how or why it got started, because that’s not important to the story.
The best zombie-related action doesn’t come until the third-act last stand at the Winchester. Great gore effects, emotionally motivated decisions of life and death and heartbreak.
Team America: World Police – 2004
From Trey Parker and Matt Stone (AKA the South Park guys) comes a direct and blatant satire of American foreign policy around the time of the Iraq War, and more importantly, it’s having some fun with how the rest of the world saw America at the time.
On a practical level, the action is pretty impressive for a movie that stars puppets on adorable little sets.
We should also mention that the puppets and practical effects were overseen by the Chiodo brothers, who rose to moderate fame by working on many famous puppet-movies during the 1980s.
Think Critters (1986) and Killer Clowns from Outer Space (1988).
The humor works for me, probably thanks to the fact that I’m a fan of the South Park deal in general (I would need a separate article to defend this statement. Most of it surrounds the quality of their social commentary as opposed to the outside-the-box shock humor. But for now, let’s get back to the article.).
And I think the action holds up solely because it’s all well executed and because you’re not expecting all that much from a puppet movie.
Zombieland – 2009
Another zombie movie. How about that? Well, the zombie revival got going in the early 2000s. And by the time Zombieland rolled around, it was starting to feel pretty stale.
Never mind the fact that the general population only seems to be getting tired of the concept now, many years later.
But Zombieland still managed to feel relatively fresh. This was also a brief time when those perspective-accurate text effects became popular. For a very good example, check out the opening of Stranger Than Fiction, released in 2006.)
But I liked this little group of ragtag anti-heroes. This is also one of the very first Emma Stone movies I ever saw. Maybe Easy A.
Side note: does anyone else think she showed as a kind of cultural replacement after Lindsay Lohan got hollowed out the American media?
And it’s one of the only Jesse Eisenberg movies that I can stand, at all. Hey, this also might have been the first Woody Harrelson movies I ever saw. What a time.
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou – 2004
So for this one, just imagine you’ve seen every Wes Anderson movie except this one. You’ve seen him tackle romance, drama, children’s animation, and a heist movie.
Now, with that in mind, imagine that I’m telling you for the very first time that Wes Anderson made an action movie, and that it was the most expensive movie ever made.
I’m guessing you would want to see that movie. How could you not? It’s such a great hook.
And, at least for me, the result meets my expectations. Sure, there isn’t a whole lot of action in general, but that way, when there is an action scene, it actually has some weight to it.
More than anything else, this is a movie with heart, featuring a lead character you never knew you wanted to see.
It’s a movie that delights you in surprising ways. And since they shot in and around Italy, most of the land-side sets are just fantastic and make you want to buy an island.
Confessions of a Dangerous Mind – 2002
I will go to war over this movie, and I have many times in the past. It’s a script from Charlie Kaufman, one of my favorites, directed by George Clooney, a guy I don’t have any special feelings for.
And after hearing stories about this shoot, I like him even less.
Apparently, Kaufman didn’t get along with Clooney very well because Clooney didn’t give him any real say in how the movie was actually made.
And from one angle, ok fine, he’s the director and what he says goes. That’s kind of a given in most Hollywood productions. Then you have the added ego of a guy like Clooney who probably shouldn’t be directing a movie in the first place.
Also, we’re not just talking about some hack Hollywood screenwriter, we’re talking about Charlie Kaufman who, if nothing else, is one of the most original and inventive guys in the biz.
Who knows, it could have been much better, and not relegated to the bargain bin in your nearest big-box store.
Anyway, the movie is based on the memoir of the guy who created the Gong Show, The Dating Game, and some other TV shows that no one really remembers.
This guy claims to have been a secret CIA agent who assassinated targets in Europe. Sam Rockwell plays the guy and it’s hard to ignore his sheer charisma. I like that guy.
Is it true? Eh. Doesn’t matter. Just watch it as a movie.
Punch-Drunk Love – 2002
Paul Thomas Anderson has gone through a few different phases during the course of his illustrious filmmaking career.
And Punch-Drunk Love was a bit of a turning point. This movie is peak-accessible PTA. It has its indie movie quirks, and there are definitely some off-putting elements, including some hyper-realistic violence.
There’s an action plot here, but the action scenes somehow feel a bit cartoony, and I mean that in the best way possible.
At first, Barry is terrified of his pursuers. But once he opens up to his lady love, he’s an action superhero.
“I have a love in my life. It makes me stronger than anything you can imagine.”
And Philip Seymour Hoffman is in the movie, too, and he’s funny. That didn’t happen a whole lot.
To finish my earlier thought, after Punch-Drunk Love, PTA’s movies started to be a lot more serious and just a bit more pretentious. Or is it the other way around…? I’ll let you decide.