Top 50 underappreciated comedy films of the past 30 years
They don't make funny movies any more, right? Wrong. If you're looking for a laugh, then here are some you may have missed...
Apologies for the page break, but the list's so long, it would take an eternity to load without one.
Anyway, here's the next half of our underappreciated comedy list, which counts us down from 25 to one. And the first entry is a cracking sci-fi comedy with monsters invading Ireland...
Grabbers made it to UK cinemas for just four or five days at the end of last year, when it then promptly left the big screen for the world of DVD and Blu-ray. A real pity, because this mix of horror and comedy delivers some very, very big laughs. The genius to it was widely given away with the promotion of the film, but we'll just go as far as to say some beverage consumption helps fuel the movie at one stage. Plus, there's some welcome improvisational tactics when faced with lots of dangerous (and impeccably designed) monsters.
24. A Cock & Bull Story
Comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon have teamed up since with the wonderful TV series The Trip, but Michael Winterbottom's 2005 feature is every bit as funny. Essentially a film within a film, A Cock & Bull Story goes behind the scenes of an ill-fated attempt to shoot an adaptation of the classic 18th century novel The Life And Opinions Of Tristram Shandy. Like the novel, the film's a work of metafiction, and full of digressions and apparently incidental conversations which are extremely funny. Coogan and Brydon have an easy charm as they spark off one another, and some of the film's best moments are the ones where they're just sitting around talking.
The unusual and loose narrative structure make this more of a niche picture than the dreaded Hangover movie, but it's full of genuinely funny moments, and a talented supporting cast - look out for Stephen Fry, Gillian Anderson, Dylan Moran and lots of other familiar faces in small roles.
23. Lucky Break
A criminally overlooked British prison movie, headlined by James Nesbitt, about an attempted breakout. The Full Monty's Peter Cattaneo directs, as the plan is put in place for the prisoners to put on a musical (the book to which is written by Stephen Fry!) as cover for an escape attempt. The film scores points instantly for including Celia Imrie in the cast, but the ensemble - which includes Timothy Spall, Olivia Williams and Bill Nighy - are a lot of fun. And the film itself is a bit of a hoot.
If you like your comedy black, then Peter Mullan's Orphans is very much the kind of film where you can't believe quite what you're laughing at. It's a dark tale of four siblings, who come together in Glasgow for their mother's funeral, that Mullan wrote and directed. He's got a sharp eye for comedy too, finding plenty of humour in the midst of the central tragedy. And the denouement is really quite priceless. The drama goes quite deep at times, and Mullan balances his excellent film with real skill. Your funnybones will most definitely get a workout.
21. Urusei Yatsura: Only You
Here's a truly oddball one for you. In Japan, Rumiko Takahashi's manga series Urusei Yatsura (literally, Those Obnoxious Aliens) was colossally successful in the 70s and 80s, and spawned a long-running TV anime as well as a number of animated movies. The premise - and this is really simplifying things - is that a painfully dim highschool student named Ataru has managed to prevent an alien takeover by sheer dumb luck, but ends up in an arranged marriage to a floating alien princess named Lum by doing so. This second movie came out in 1983, but you don't necessarily need to have seen the previous movie or the TV series to appreciate it - a screwball comedy of the most surreal sort, it's wildly entertaining, even if one or two of the cultural references and puns go over your head somewhat. The early sight of a chubby pink penguin postman on a floating bicycle really is a sight to behold.
The most underappreciated screen portrayal of Richard Nixon is arguably Dan Hedaya's take on the former US President. Dick, from co-writer and director Andrew Fleming (who was behind the worth-seeking-out Threesome), sees Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams as two girls taking the White House tour. Not being blessed with the foresight that Roland Emmerich's White House Down would offer some time later, the pair split off from said tour, and meet Tricky Dicky himself. So you sort of end up with a teen comedy on one hand, a riffing of the Watergate scandal on the other, and a historical comedy in the middle of it all. Box office gold did not follow, but Dick is a little gem. And Hedaya would have done Oliver Stone proud had he not cast Anthony Hopkins as Nixon instead...
Joe Dante's outright funniest comedy arguable remains Gremlins 2, a film that - contrary to its initial cinema release - seems very popular now. But what about Matinee? A love letter to B movies, the film centres around John Goodman's showman, who arrives in a small time with the aim of making the most out of its picture house. Never mind 3D or an IMAX screen, Goodman's Lawrence Woolsey - based around William Castle - looks to pull out all the tricks to give his audience a good time. And it's all the more important, given the sinister backdrop of the Cuban missile crisis.
A film of two halves certainly, but even the film within a film here - "Mant! Half man, half ant, all terror!" - would be worth the admission money/rental fee/download cost/prison sentence if you nick the movie.
18. Tucker & Dale Vs Evil
Horror comedies are difficult to get right, but this slasher parody manages to skewer the trappings of its genre with extraordinary precision, and creates two genuinely loveable main characters at the same time. Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine play the title Tucker and Dale, a pair of hillbillies who are in the process of rennovating their dream retreat - a little cabin in the woods.
Before they know it, a group of obnoxious, wealthy city teenagers are swarming around the place, and their tendency to accidentally off themselves leads to the assumption that Tucker and Dale are derranged serial killers. Telling the bloody tale from the perspective of two placid country folk is an absolute masterstroke, and Tucker & Dale is a real treat from start to finish.
17. Fear Of A Black Hat
The format of this 90s comedy may not be especially innovative - essentially, it's the Spinal Tap of the rap music scene - but it's genuinely funny. The passage of time may have rendered some of the jokes obscure to the youth of today, but anyone with memories of 90s hip-hop and popular music in general will have fun with the way Fear Of A Black Hat pokes fun at the era's music industry.
16. The Ref
Released as Hostile Hostages for some reason in the UK, this is a movie from the late, sorely missed Ted Demme, which sees Denis Leary's burglar taking a family hostage on Christmas Eve. The problem? He's bitten off a bit more than he can chew, not least with the bickering couple at the heart of the family, played brilliantly by Judy Davis and Kevin Spacey. So the film turns, and the burglar turns out to be the one trying to bring the family together, ideally before the police turn up and arrest him. Simple.
With crackling dialogue, performances with genuine crackle and spark, and dark edges all around, The Ref/Hostile Hostages/Whatever you want to call it is testament to the talents of Demme. Dig out a copy of Beautiful Girls as well if you can.
I'm going out on a limb here and calling Eddie Murphy's performance in Bowfinger as his funniest on the big screen. It's also the last truly funny Steve Martin movie, based on his script. Murphy takes on two roles, one of whom is the world's biggest movie star. And the plan? To shoot a film around said movie star, without him realising he's in it. Terrance Stamp contributes an excellent cameo (a role that he'd all but revisit in Yes Man), and Christine Barankski is just brilliant. It's several comedy talents on really strong form. Bowfinger is an hilarious treat.
14. The Emperor's New Groove
A film that could, and perhaps even should have been a disaster. As charted in the unofficial documentary The Sweatbox (directed by Trudi Styler), the film started out as a very different beast, an environmental musical of sorts with music from Sting. To say it underwent a lot of changes would be no understatement, and The Sweatbox doesn't really pull its punches in that regard.
But the film that started as Kingdon Of The Sun turned into The Emperor's New Groove, and the end result, surprisingly, is one of Disney's funniest animated films ever (and that includes the underappreciated comedy side to Mulan, too). It's laugh out loud good, zippy, hugely entertaining, and one of the rarely mentioned gems of Disney's incredible run from 1989 through to the early 2000s.
13. In The Bleak Midwinter
The best Christmas movie you've probably never seen, and one of Kenneth Branagh's best directorial efforts. In The Bleak Midwinter is a brutally funny story of a bunch of luvvies putting on a production of Hamlet in a British church on Christmas Eve. It gives Branagh a platform to pull the leg of many of his colleagues and friends, and Richard Briers utterly steals any scene he's let anywhere near. We've written about In The Bleak Midwinter in more detail here. It's well worth the effort of tracking down.
A really charming, funny and warm romantic comedy, Adventureland is from Paul and Superbad director Greg Mottola, from his own screenplay. Jesse Eisenberg takes the lead, as a graduate forced to abandon his plans to go to Europe when his source of money dries up, and thus takes on a job at a run-down amusement park. There, he meets Kristen Stewart's Erin, herself a far from traditional rom-com character. The added gold is in the supporting players, particularly Freaks And Geeks alumnus Martin Starr, who gives a firm lesson in why you should never play the games at a theme park...
11. Tin Cup
Kevin Costner hasn't done too many comedies in a career, which is a pity, as he's got an excellent leading man, with humour rippling through his bones. Tin Cup remains one of the very best romantic comedies for grown ups that the 1990s produced (if not the best), with Costner and Rene Russo as the central couple. The film's set around the world of golf (cue a great supporting performance from Don Johnson), but as with director Ron Shelton's other sporting movies - most notably Bull Durham - the sport is the platform for him to explore what he really wants to talk about. Tin Cup is funny, charming and brilliant.
10. Hangin' With The Homeboys
It's a little known tragedy of cinema that director Joseph B Vasquez died back in 1995, at the age of just 33. He died of complications from AIDS, bringing a premature end to a career that had shown enormous promise (although his reported behaviour did him few favours). In fact, read into the story of his background, and the fact that he overcame so much to deliver a film as strong as Hangin' With The Homeboys.
He was 28 when it was released, and from the start, it's a movie that defies expectations and stereotype. At heart, the story of four friends on a night out, Hangin' With The Homeboys goes through a plethora of issues in its 90 minutes, and it's got a raw feel to it throughout.
It's also very funny, aided by excellent performances from the likes of Doug E Doug and John Leguizamo. Plus, the terrific punchlines really stand out too. It's not the easiest film to track down, but Hangin' With The Homeboys is very entertaining, very funny, and very much worth the effort.
The Farrelly Brothers have had two major hit movies - There's Something About Mary and Dumb And Dumber - but a couple that never found the bigger audience they arguably deserved. We've already talked about the excellent Osmosis Jones, but for sheer, regular laughs, the crude and brilliant Kingpin takes some beating.
Not often has Hollywood tackled ten pin bowling as the foundation of a feature, but here, there's the striking rivalry between Bill Murray's Ernie McCracken and Woody Harrelson's Roy Munson to explore. You don't actually get that much Murray for your money with Kingpin, and it's the spare pair of Harrelson and Randy Quaid's Amish man Ishmael who carry much of the movie.
As a piece of narrative fiction, Kingpin is nothing special at all, and for a polite to watch in company without any bull wanking jokes in it, it's probably best to pass. But for a consistently funny, crude film, stolen by Bill Murray, Kingpin hits.
8. The Castle
In the 90s, Australian cinema generated some break out comedy hits, particularly Baz Luhrmann's Strictly Ballroom, Priscilla: Queen Of The Desert and the surprisingly melancholy Muriel's Wedding (which gave Toni Collette her big break). The Castle tends to be the forgotten one, but there's an argument it was the best of the lot.
It tells the story of a family who live next to Melbourne Airport, and are very happy about it thank you very much. However, when the airport wants to expand, their home is under threat, leaving the family defending their castle.
Director Rob Stich, who would go on to make The Dish, shot the film in under two weeks (giving a film debut to Eric Bana as he did so), and the result is a joy, and a right cockle-warmer. A bloody funny one too.
7. Role Models
You get to the end of Role Models, and inevitably, your head will be full of the screen grabbing brilliance of Bobb'e J Thompson as the very young Ronnie. He's the young boy who thinks all white men are Ben Affleck, and who offers a crash course in on-screen swearing that many older comic talents could learn from. His "fuck you, Miss Daisy" remains a show stopper.
But Role Models has lots of joyous moments. Christopher Mintz-Plasse's vagina joke works every time, and then there's the one who rarely gets the credit, Joe Lo Truglio as LARP-er Kuzzik. Every one of his lines in the film is a peach.
Headlined by Paul Rudd and Seann William Scott, the pair of them in strong form, Role Models is proof positive that Hollywood can deliver a funny, enduring R-rated comedy when it gets the right bunch of talent on the right movie. It's worth 100 Hangover films, and remains a work of comedy genius. "Suck it, Reindeer Games..."
David Zucker will go down in comedy's hall of fame for The Naked Gun, Airplane! and another film we'll talk about soon. But BASEketball remains a mysterious flop, a big screen outing for South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone that's often breathlessly funny. It's like Dodgeball, just a decade earlier.
Centring on a new sport, a hybrid of baseball and basketball, BASEketball goes through some of the usual motions of the sports movie, but it also injects psych-outs, where random insults need to be shouted out to put a player off their shot. Needless to say, lots of very quotable ones come out in the film's 90 minute running time.
5. Serial Mom
There's an argument that there's a whole cluster of John Waters comedies that don't get the respect and appreciate they deserve. But I'm going for the one that gave Kathleen Turner one of her absolute finest big screen roles.
Serial Mom casts her as Beverly R Sutphin, a mother and husband who believes in things being done right. Beverly is defensive of her family - that's some understatement - and it's not long before the film's body count escalates.
Waters - with a cast that also includes Ricki Lake, Traci Lords and Matthew Lillard - fuses this with many, many laugh out loud moments, the highlight arguably being Beverly beating someone to death with a leg of lamb, while the music of Annie plays out in the background. Every swipe of meat is perfectly in time to the tune. It's all part of a wonderfully black comedy, that gives Turner one of her very, very best screen roles.
4. Office Space
Appreciating that Office Space is a film with a lot of affection in geeky circles, it's still a long way from any kind of mainstream appreciation. And that's the mainstream's loss. In truth, we could have elected one from a bunch of Mike Judge comedies here (Idiocracy and Extract both have lots of strong moments), but Office Space is something special.
It's an utterly relatable story which helps, about workers in an office who hate their job and hate their boss. There's a cracking cast at work here too, but it's a film nonetheless dominated by one of the best ever comedy scene stealing performances ever put on celluloid. Gary Cole's Bill Lumbergh, the boss from hell, is a staggeringly brilliant creation. Pitched astoundingly well, it demonstrates why Cole is one of the very best comedy actors of his generation (and we're coming to another of his movies next). Combined with Judge's biting script, and the plethora of stand out moments and quotable lines, Office Space is finally getting some of the attention it demands. Still not enough though. Here's Cole at work...
3. A Very Brady Sequel
Sequels, goes the cliche, are never as good as the original. But A Very Brady Sequel is to the terrific The Brady Bunch Movie what Aliens is to Alien. It takes the original ideas, and expands it, develops characters, and delivers a film that works brilliantly as a standalone, but also ties well into the first.
It's a bold and brilliant sequel, content to juggle dark themes, with Gary Cole and Shelley Long furiously selling any innuendo they're let anywhere near. It's also very funny, and gave the late David Graf one of his final roles (he's best known for Tackleberry in the Police Academy movies). You also get Tim Matheson, before he got made Martin Sheen's vice-president, in one of cinema's finest tripping scenes.
With incest on the one hand and Gary Cole's astonishing Yoda-like performance on the other, A Very Brady Sequel is an exquisite comedy, that didn't even get a cinema release in the UK (courtesy of a controversy over nunchuks, that saw it effectively banned at one point). Avoid the third film in the series at all costs, though... See also: cinematic Yodas
2. Top Secret
Never mind an underappreciated comedy, Top Secret is an underappreciated film full stop. It's the oft-forgotten film from the Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker team that's best known for Airplane! and The Naked Gun. But Top Secret? It's as good as anything they've ever done. That's not a statement written lightly.
Top Secret stars a youthful Val Kilmer as Nick Rivers, an American singer performing in East Germany his hits such as Skeet Surfin' and How Silly Can You Get. Gleefully taking the rise out of 50s spy movies and Elvis Presley films, Rivers becomes involved in the resistance movement, and bluntly, the laughs never stop.
Highlights? "He's a little horse" out of context sounds like nothing, but it's a bring the house down line. Likewise the Potato Farm, the reversing of war movie stereotypes (man jumps on grenade, everyone around him blows up and he survives), musical numbers, the ballet, Omar Sharif...
Top Secret is, in short, a superb comedy. And, in the tradition of Airplane!, one viewing simply is never enough...
1. Waiting For Guffman
We had to limit ourselves to just one Christopher Guest movie, else you've have had Best In Show yapping around the top ten and A Mighty Wind a bit further down the list. But few comedies have ever had the effect on me that the glorious Waiting For Guffman had, and yet it astounds me so few people have heard of it.
The setup is simple enough. An amateur dramatics group put on a music to celebrate the anniversary of their small town, and then suddenly go over the top when they learn that the legendary Broadway critic, Mort Guffman, is coming to see it. It isn't just one of the show's ensemble who sees this as their route to fame, and/or out of small town life.
Guest's films work on a tight cast of regular players, and they've never gelled together as well as they have here. Guest himself threatens to walk away with the film as director Corky St Clair, but then there's the wonderful Fred Willard and Catherine O'Hara together. The highlight, for me, is Eugene Levy, whose performance here consistently reduced me to tears of laughter. The kind of laughing at a film where you wonder where your next breath is coming from, it's that funny. Sure, comedy is subjective, but Waiting For Guffman delivers every single time for me.
Examining insecurities, the appreciation of just a little bit of talent and the frictions of a small production at the best of times, Waiting For Guffman was heavily improvise by Guest and his cast, and between them, they've come up with one of the very best comedies of the past 30 years. Anyone who cares about movie comedy should be tracking down a Christopher Guest boxset. And - Spinal Tap aside - Waiting For Guffman should be the first of his films in the DVD player.
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