Comedy no laughing matter to Oscars

The Academy Awards are such serious business that comedies rarely get recognized. Sure, there are those occasional breakthroughs dating back to the 7th annual awardsfest in 1934 when Frank Capra’s romantic comedy “It Happened One Night” swept the top 5 awards (Picture, Director, Actor, Actress and Screenplay).

Capra struck gold again four years later with the farcical “You Can’t Take It With You.” Since then, several comedies tinged with drama have won the top prize including “Going My Way” (1944), “The Apartment” (1960), “Tom Jones” (1963), “The Sting” (1973), “Annie Hall” (1977), and “American Beauty” (1999). And these films often prevailed in other races too, including those for acting and directing.

In the past decade, comedy wins at the Oscar have been restricted to two categories: Supporting ActorChris Cooper (“Adaptation,” 2002) and Alan Arkin (“Little Miss Sunshine,” 2006) — and Screenplay, both Adapted (“Sideways,” 2004) and Original (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” 2004); (“Juno,” 2007); and (“Little Miss Sunshine,” 2006). However, this year, there are certainly many worthy contenders that could tickle the Academy’s collective funny bone.

Toy Story 3” is certain to contend for Animated Feature and is expected to make the top 10 for Best Picture as well. This comedy with a heart earned rave reviews and was a smash hit. “Toy Story 3” could be the first animated film to earn its helmer (Lee Unkrich) a Best Director bid and it is also a strong contender in the Adapted Screenplay race with a trio of Oscar winners credited with the story (John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton) and screenplay (Michael Arndt).

The Kids Are All Right” should also get a Best Picture nomination. This wry comedy-drama about a politically hip issue earned good reviews and stars two multiple Oscar nominees — Annette Bening and Julianne Moore — who are strong contenders again this year. Writer/director Lisa Cholodenko is likely to contend for the script and could pick up a helming nom as well.

Other ladies looking for laughs include Oscar champ Reese Witherspoon (“Walk the Line”) who juggles two men besotted with her in James L. Brooks‘ “How Do You Know”; Sally Hawkins as an unlikely workplace heroine in “Made in Dagenham”; and Anne Hathaway as the reluctant paramour of Jake Gyllenhaal in “Love and Other Drugs.”

Besides Gyllenhaal, other men in the mix include Michael Douglas who reprised his Oscar-winning role as a cutthroat businessman in “Wall Street 2” but showed a softer side in the wry comedy-drama “Solitary Man.” And another Oscar champ — Robert Duvall (“Tender Mercies”) — spearheaded the dark comedy “Get Low” which also features one-time nominee Bill Murray and Oscar winner Sissy Spacek (“Coalminer’s Daughter).

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Photos: Chris Cooper and Alan Arkin at the Academy Awards (AMPAS)

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