Most Known For: “The 40-Year Old Virgin,” “Knocked Up,” “This is 40”
Snubbed For: “Knocked Up,” “Bridesmaids”
It seems every 10 years or so a comedy filmmaker comes along and dominates the industry for a while. Some last, like Woody Allen; some flounder, like the Farelly brothers. At this point in his career, it’s probably safer to say that Judd Apatow is somewhere in the middle of those two examples. He’s had more success for longer than the Farelly brothers, but he hasn’t reached the critical or revered status of Allen. He also doesn’t have the awards cred that Allen has garnered in his career, but that’s not for lack of delivering arguably awards-worthy work.
Apatow got his start in the industry in the mid-90s as a writer/producer. His early credits include double duty for 1995’s “Heavyweights,” ‘96’s “Celtic Pride,” and a producer’s credit for “The Cable Guy.” After his initial foray into film Apatow began focusing more on TV with “The Larry Sanders Show” and the cult-classic “Freaks and Geeks.”
But in 2004, the comedy era of Judd Apatow would begin. With many of his “Freaks and Geeks” actors now available to make R-rated comedies, Apatow would set the comedy bar for the mid-00s to today. He’d produce Will Ferrell’s “Anchorman” and “Kicking and Screaming,” but it was his first step behind the camera as a director that signaled in the new era.
“The 40-Year Old Virgin,” which Apatow wrote, directed and produced, was a surprising hit upon its release, not only because it was absolutely hysterical, but because it had an unexpected amount of heart to it. Apatow’s words with Steve Carell’s performance as the titular virgin Andy were a perfect combination. AFI named it one of the best films of the year and the WGA nominated it for Best Original Screenplay. Not surprisingly, the Oscars weren’t going to take the bait as the “40-Year Old Virgin” had to be the first through the wall for the rest of gross-out comedies to earn respect.
Apatow followed up the success he had with “40-Year Old Virgin” with “Knocked Up,” and it is here that he has his biggest gripe with the academy. The story of a stoner and a young entertainment journalist and how their drunken one-night stand leads to a pregnancy that changes their lives follows in the comedic footsteps of Apatow’s first directorial effort, but he clearly rose his game on every level. “Knocked Up” is probably one of the best comedies in the last 10 years, but it was completely ignored at the Oscars. The script, again was the most overlooked thing, with Apatow earning another WGA nomination, but the film itself earned some best of year nominations from critics, and made the AFI Top Ten as well. One has to wonder what might have been had 2007 had the current model where 10 films can be nominated for Best Picture?
The third time was not the charm for Apatow, despite many people believing that it would be. “Funny People” was Apatow’s third writing/directing gig and with the track record of this previous two films and the potential ripe plotline of a comedian dealing with cancer, the film was considered a potential Oscar contender. That was until people saw it. To be fair, “Funny People” is a solid film for the first two acts, about as funny as Apatow’s predecessors and handling the more serious tones relatively effectively. It’s in the third act that the film’s plot and characters just deteriorate, as well as its Oscar hopes.
Perhaps the closest Apatow has ever come to a nomination was 2011’s “Bridesmaids.” The Kristen Wiig film was a surprise hit that year and had late surges on the awards circuit for its original screenplay and for Melissa McCarthy’s supporting performance. Those two wound up with nominations, and many thought “Bridesmaids” could possibly sneak into the field of 10 Best Picture nominees, which would have resulted in a nom for Apatow as a producer. It would have been fitting that the man who made a film like “Bridesmaids” possible would be honored, but a Best Picture nom was not in the cards.
The good thing about Apatow’s hopes for Oscar glory is that he does have three chances as a prolific writer, director and producer, but comedy is never easy to break through with the academy. Apatow’s continuing quest for an Oscar will be an interesting one to watch.
Apatow’s next film is “Trainwreck,” which opens in theaters this Friday, July 17.