December 1, 2011

The year in dog

Movies and dogs are pretty much my two favorite things in the world. So when you combine the two of them, I'm in hog heaven. This year, some canine talent burst onto the scene that could easily be compared to the star power of Asta or Lassie. Beyond those career-defining roles, various films this year were positively peppered with pooches. I'm not just calling them out for being cute, but I truly believe that they were all strong screen presences, even those with limited screen time. Oh, and they're cute!


Uggy in The Artist

We'll start with the pup that won big at Cannes. Yes, Uggy is the lucky recipient of this year's Palm Dog award, which the Cannes jury awards every year for best canine performance. (I pretty much died when I found out that this was a real thing). To call Uggy a scene-stealer would be to call Citizen Kane a pretty good flick. Director Michel Hazanavicius knew the star he had on his hands, so he cleverly cast him as a spunky sidekick, both onscreen and off, to the film's actor protagonist. When I saw the film at the AFI Fest gala event, Uggy was in tow with the film's cast, as if to scoff at the notion that he wouldn't be.

"Arthur" in Beginners

Not only does it appear to be the year of the dog in cinema, but more specifically, the dominance belongs to the Jack Russell terrier. The breed is no stranger to showbiz, having popped up in everything from The Mask to "Frasier," but 2011 was the year it would really shine. In addition to Uggy, Cosmo the Jack Russell gives a great leading performance as Arthur in Beginners. "Leading performance" was not a typo - this dog is in nearly every frame, and has the expressiveness of his fellow actors. Costar Ewan McGregor was so taken with him that he wanted to adopt him after filming, but his trainer wouldn't let him go. And honestly, who would?

The Doberman and dachshunds in Hugo

You'd think that anyone would disappear into the shadows acting alongside the theatrical Sacha Baron Cohen, but someone found him in a perfect foil in the form of a stone-faced Doberman. Cohen's character essentially regards the dog as a human sidekick, and their relationship is all the better for it. There's also a single shot of the two of them that I won't spoil, but it might be the most delightful doggy moment I've ever seen onscreen. The film also features, in a much smaller role, a hot-tempered dachshund that finds love.


"Skeletor" in 50/50

Although Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard) is hardly the best girlfriend to cancer patient Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), she does bring an adopted greyhound into his life as a coping mechanism. Adam doesn't quite take to Skeletor at first, but the dog's mournful eyes from his past life in a shelter radiate empathy, and the two become inseparable. There's a part where the two are snuggled up in bed where I seriously thought I was going to cry. As a doggy bonus, I believe Skeletor also briefly encounters a bulldog when out on a walk.

Laika in Le Havre

Even though the Palm Dog went to Uggy this year, a special jury prize was given to Laika. I'm not sure if that means Laika is a runner-up or actually superior, but either way, the adorable mutt provides a reassuring and super cute presence in the film.

"Jankers" in Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil

(Full disclosure: the spelling of that name is a rough approximation extrapolated from a hillbilly accent.) Like the scary-looking but sweet titular characters, Jankers' odd exterior (indeterminate bulldog mix, different-colored eyes) hides a mellow and sympathetic disposition. Correctly assessing how much he means to Dale, one of the college kids even takes the dog hostage! (Jankers comes through okay though, don't worry.)

The bulldog in Hipsters

Ever wish "Glee" was more like Grease, and in Russian? Have I got news for you! Hipsters is a charming little film about the rockabilly subculture of Russia in the 50s, complete with some of the catchiest songs and swell fashions of the year. Cool cat Fred, self-appointed leader of the hipsters, extends his style even to his dog, who has dyed fur and accessories for every occasion.
Rowlf in The Muppets

He plays the piano. Nuff said.

Also notable, though I couldn't find a picture: the mutt in Take Shelter. Despite its totally laid-back demeanor, the mentally unstable Curtis (Michael Shannon) starts perceiving it as violent and keeps distancing it from his family. And let's not forget the veritable cornucopia of Golden Retriever puppies appearing as party favors in Bridesmaids! Despite the one pup per guest rule, feisty bridesmaid Megan (Melissa McCarthy) helps herself to a whole armload, and later admits she might have gotten carried away.

And even though I haven't seen Young Adult yet, I'm going to go ahead and include its featured pooch. Just look at it!

Did I miss any? What were your favorite dog performances of the year?