So, after all that good-hearted bickering and a poor excuse of a Presidential campaign, let’s find a way to smile again. What better time than a review of the best comedies ever filmed?
Please keep in mind that these categories were very loooosely created and adjusted in order for me to find a way to feature the comedies that I think are the best. Yeah, one or two might not really fit their labels, but there was no way I could leave them out.
a.k.a. chick flick
Turning the familiar upside down
Eyes poked, shins kicked, pants dropped
We’re laughing, but we’re making a point too
A poke in the eye, but for a good reason
1. When Harry Met Sally – 1989 Romantic comedy
Close 2nd 500 Days of Summer – Groundhog Day
Directed by Rob Reiner
Written by Nora Ephron
Orgasms by FWB
Oscar nominated for Best Original Screenplay.
“Harry and Sally have known each other for years, and are very good friends, but they fear sex would ruin the friendship.”
Okay, this IMDB blurb seems like the only response is “who cares?” But everybody cared when Billy Crystal showed that sometimes the little guy with the big heart can win. He’s not tall, dark, nor handsome. She’s neither visually nor physically stunning. They’re just two regular people trying to find someone to make their lives better. The problem is that they’re so uber-quirky that it’s almost impossible for either of them to find anyone who would spend ten minutes with them.
Harry Burns (Billy Crystal) meets Sally Albright (Meg Ryan) when a friend pairs them up to drive together across the country during their summer break from college. Harry immediately explains to Sally why a man can never be friends with a woman he finds attractive, and then spends 90 minutes attracted to a woman he can’t stay friends with. What ensues is a periodic meeting and parting of two people who seem destined to get together and then apart again, then together again. Few films are this rich in sharply cut dialogue that you wish you could remember when you need to be funny at a party or a boring Thanksgiving when the football games are as lopsided as the dessert or Aunt Edna, where the dessert eventually resides but only in a slightly less attractive form than the human who ingested it.
See what I did there? My best interpretation of something that Harry would have said but not until it was written for him by the late Nora Ephron. Billy Crystal did a little bit of ad-libbing during filming, and he did a little ad-libbing during all of his Academy Awards hosting gigs, but make no mistake. Robert Wuhl was behind the majority of his funniness on that stage, just as Ephron handed him most of what he’s remembered for in one of the best chick flicks ever made.
Interesting note: millions of men who use online dating sites will commonly say they’re looking for a “Meg Ryan” type based on her role in this movie.
Favorite scene: Baby Fishmouth
2. Young Frankenstein – 1974 parody/comedy
Close 2nd – Airplane
Directed by Mel Brooks
Written by Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks
Brains by Abby Normal
Oscar nominated for Best Sound and Adapted Screenplay
Dr. Frankenstein’s grandson, after years of living down the family reputation, inherits granddad’s castle and repeats the experiments.
When Mel Brooks was on The Tonight Show to promote Young Frankenstein, Johnny Carson asked him, “Why did you make the movie in black and white?” Brooks answered, “Because we couldn’t find crayons.” Whether it’s classic horror films, Star Wars, silent films, the mighty Western, or literally the history of the world, nobody pokes fun in the eye better than Brooks.
With Terri Garr as the beautiful assistant, Madeline Kahn as the appearance-obsessed wife, Marty Feldman as the disfigured sidekick, and Cloris Leachman as the rueful housekeeper, Brooks employs a brilliant and familiar cast of characters to turn the Castle Frankenstein into something more like an open mic night. A big surprise was an appearance by Gene Hackman in a scene that pretty much steals the show.
It’s the general Frankenstein story, which I don’t think I have to summarize for you. All you need to know is how well Brooks is at taking anything and twisting it into something different and “better” in his own Brooksian way. Gene Wilder is just his usual brilliant self, with the perfect hair and facial control in a role that I can’t imagine anyone else playing. He’s got moments as the straight man, but he’s also got his over-the-top moments that he nails with the best of them. And it’s not possible to talk about this film without saying that Gene Hackman, very unexpectedly steals the show as the blindman who welcome the Monster (Peter Boyle) into his home.
Favorite scene – Frau Blucher and the horses
3. National Lampoon’s Vacation– 1983 goofball comedy
Close 2nd – The Big Lebowski
Directed by Harold Ramis
Written by John Hughes
Oscar were in the wrong suitcase.
“The Griswold family’s cross-country drive to the Walley World theme park proves to be much more arduous than they ever anticipated.”
Someone who commented on the introduction post for this whole movie thing wrote that she was looking forward to which John Hughes movie would be chosen. It wasn’t until I wrote this part that I realized that Hughes had written Vacation. Based on his short story “Vacation ’58,” this is one of the few films in which I can say I enjoyed watching Chevy Chase. He, like Jim Carrey, got stale rather quickly, but this was when he was still fresh, but a big nod to director Harold Ramis (Ghostbusters, Groundhog Day, Animal House, The Office) for keeping Chase focused.
Clark Griswold (Chase) just wants to take his family on a cross-country vacation from Chicago to Los Angeles en route a visit WallyWorld, clearly based on DisneyLand, with Marty Moose instead of Mickey Mouse. Unfortunately for Clark – and fortunately for us – everything goes wrong. Stopping to visit family in Kansas results in two unwanted guests joining the trip. Stranded in Death Valley doesn’t help, nor does a short visit to the Grand Canyon. Along the way, Clark is tortured by the recurring appearance of Christie Brinkley, a supermodel in her prime at the time.
Vacation was a launching moment for several people: Ramis as a director – he was already established as a writer, but needed this break to show what he could do behind the camera. Anthony Michael Hall as an actor – this began a great association of Hall and Hughes. Jane Krakowski – only 15 at filming.
Interesting note – there’s a scene set with the white-trash relatives in Kansas in which Audrie Griswold and Cousin Vicki, two teenage girls, talk about “growing up.” In the original release, when they talk about “French kissing,” Vicki reacted by saying “Daddy says I’m the best.” Apparently that outraged some people, and later editions had that line replaced with “My science teacher says I’m the best.”
Favorite scene – the BB gun.
4. Monty Python and the Holy Grail – 1975 intellectual/satirical comedy
Close 2nd – Annie Hall
Directed by Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones
Written by Python (Monty)
Witches by Crusades Inc.
Oscar ignored because the academy wasn’t ready.
King Arthur and his knights embark on a low-budget search for the Grail, encountering many very silly obstacles.
Intellectual comedy? Yes, yes, and yes. Not a goofball comedy? Then you don’t know Python. My first introduction to Python was around 1974 when my sister and I would sit up late on Sunday and wait for New York’s PBS station, WNET, channel 13. We knew a couple of things. One was that there was plenty of goofball stuff. Two was that there was occasional nudity – such as the sketch called “The Dull Life of a Stockbroker” –
so we had to be ready to change the channel. To us, it was goofball stuff because we weren’t able to follow the dialogue just yet. And when I first saw Holy Grail in the theater, I was ready for the goofball stuff, but instead I was hit with a fabulous satire that looked almost slapstick but had the tightest, wittiest writing I’d ever been lucky enough to hear.
King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table are rather bored and aimless until God appears, bestowing unto them a quest to find the Holy Grail. Each of the knights sets off in various directions, starring in their own episodes of craziness, and although there are slapstick/goofball moments (The Black Knight), it’s more about the social and historical commentary. It features moments that rip apart the feudal system, arranged marriages, witch hunts, and much more.
Favorite scene: African or European Swallows
5. The 40-Year Old Virgin –2005 intellectual-goofball comedy
Close 2nd – Raising Arizona
Directed by Judd Apatow
Written by Judd Apatow and Steve Carell
Awkward Moments by Jane Lynch, Inc.
Oscar ignored because it’s just better that way.
Goaded by his buddies, a nerdy guy who’s never “done the deed” only finds the pressure mounting when he meets a single mother.
The opening shot shows Andy (Steve Carell) sleeping beneath a comforter with gridlines across it, like a giant net. It’s about a rigid as his – well – anatomy, and it depicts Andy’s uptight and methodic approach to life. He does A, B, and C every day, and don’t do anything to throw him off. Andy is a nice guy, and that’s all there is to it. He’s polite, respectful, and socially awkward. For whatever reason, he doesn’t seem to know anything about sex and women. Unfortunately, Andy must rely on the familiar Judd Apatow team of Paul Rudd and Seth Rogen to help him through his troubles.
It must have been a set full of powerful improvisation to watch those stars as well as Jane Lynch and a supporting staff that includes Catherine Keener, Romany Malco, and two Indian actors, Shelly Malvil and Gerry Bednob, who had me crying out loud. Add to that an amazingly horny and sexy Elizabeth Banks, and all bases are covered.
It’s a combination of occasional slapstick, like when Rogen is flicking Rudd in a very sensitive place, and quick-witted verbal jousting, like when the Indian co-workers are trading racist jokes with Malco, who is African American.
If possible, see the unrated version, and make sure there are no kids in the house. The language is raw, inappropriate, and hilarious. The romance between Keener and Carell is believable and necessary. The steamy Banks is enough to get you “ready.” And it’s a DVD you’ll want to buy in order to watch when you’re having a bad day.
Interesting note – this is one of the first DVD’s I’ll search for after a bad day.
Favorite scene: chest-hair waxing, honorable mention to Catherine Keener in her underwear
up next: For the Family