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10. Ghostbusters

15 Sep

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directed by Ivan Reitman

Murray. Aykroyd. Ramis. Moranis. Weaver. In 1984, you didn’t need much more than those names to guarantee an amazing film. Ghostbusters didn’t play it safe, though, with what could have been a disaster of a plot. Three weirdos running around New York City sucking up ghosts with incomprehensible technology? Seriously? Well, it works swimmingly, mostly due to Murray’s quips, Aykroyd’s total commitment and Ramis’s nerdy believably. If Ghostbusters were made today, it probably would rely more on the scary and wacky ghosts than its three stars, but the version we got allows them to riff off each other to balance off the sci-fi. Like many of the other genre hybrids on this list, the science fiction is given enough respect, and there are a few legitimate scares. And then there is the unforgettable conclusion with one of the funniest and most frightening (depends on who you are) evil characters of all time. Seeing the film again in theaters for its 30-year anniversary, a few of the film’s special effects don’t quite hold up, but they must have been incredibly exciting in its day.

EPISODE 391: THE TOP 50 COMEDIES

15 Sep

BLAZING SADDLES17

In this episode, Tyler and David are joined by comedian Wayne Federman to discuss the Top 50 Comedies list.

11. Annie Hall

14 Sep

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directed by Woody Allen

Never before or since has the totality of a relationship been defined on-screen as well as in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall. And never has a film been so adept at balancing introspective, self-deprecating humor with the uncanny ability to take down the mores of upper-crust society. With nuanced vignettes of Alvy Singer (Woody Allen) and Annie Hall (Diane Keaton) falling into love—whether learning to cook lobster or playing tennis—to the neuroses that cause relationships to crumble, Annie Hall takes an unforgiving look at a relationship through the eyes of someone who can find humor in the most human of euphoria and agony. Allen’s humor is one that doesn’t let the audience simply watch a relationship unfold. Rather, Annie Hall demands that you be a part of it; Alvy Singer frequently looks directly into camera, making eye contact with the viewer and telling them “this is my story, but it might as well be yours too”. Despite what’s become of Woody Allen, there is no denying the simplistic power and complicated beauty that unfolds within the frames of Annie Hall.

12. Shaun of the Dead

14 Sep

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directed by Edgar Wright

The first of Edgar Wright’s “Coronetto Triology,” Shaun of the Dead introduced American audiences to three bright comedic minds — Simon Pegg and Nick Frost along with Wright. Well ahead of the zombie craze (perhaps having a slight impact on creating it), Shaun of the Dead rises above your typical horror spoof by nailing both ends of the spectrum. It not only is a satisfying horror film, it is ridiculously funny. The best part of the film’s humor is that it takes the zombie threat to be incredibly serious — the film takes particular care that you know any of the ragtag protagonists could become zombie meat at any moment. That doesn’t mean they won’t use the zombies for laughs, such as in the great beatdown scene scored to “Don’t Stop Me Now.” Pegg and Frost establish their on-screen personas as lovable losers who are able to rise to the occasion under the terrifying circumstances. Because of the satisfying character building through Shaun of the Dead, following films are able to comment on these personas in surprising and hilarious ways. The trio has already made themselves into comedic cult icons, with each of their films more anticipated than the last.

13. The General

14 Sep

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directed by Buster Keaton

There’s a pivotal moment near the end of Buster Keaton’s 1926 landmark film that is so incredibly gobsmacking, you can’t help but ask the same question you find yourself asking about five times in every one of his films: “How in the hell did he do that?” And of course, the answer is that he just went and DID it. That’s the central theme to Keaton’s genius, he does incredible thing. This is almost as much of an early action film as it is a comedy, but wouldn’t you know but Keaton’s a genius at marrying the two elements, especially during the massive climax that yes, sure involves the North and the South, but is also really just about Keaton winning back – and then being increasingly annoyed by – his former sweetheart. Just watch it, it’s great.

14. The Apartment

13 Sep

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directed by Billy Wilder

Billy Wilder’s 1960 Best Picture winner succeeds as a comedy (and as a romance) because of its willingness to grapple with things that are brutally sad. Jack Lemmon stars as Baxter, a lonely corporate cog who lends his apartment out to his superiors so they have somewhere to bone their mistresses. In exchange, Baxter gets lined up for a promotion and a badly needed raise. So already, we’re watching a romantic comedy that has the prevalence and banality of marital infidelity, plus the difficulty of getting ahead at work and making ends meet as a non-rich person, baked into its premise. Consider how much romantic comedies in the ensuing decades have drifted into the world of fantasy, where nearly every protagonist has a glamorous job and a colossal apartment, and getting a ring on one’s finger basically signals sunshine and lollipops and no-problems-anymore-forever. (The deeper into adulthood I get, the more the film’s frank discussion of money in particular stands out to me. When was the last time you saw a romantic comedy where the main character said exactly how much money they made and how much they paid in rent, as Baxter does here?)
And this is all before we meet Shirley MacLaine’s Fran, the elevator girl who’s sleeping with Baxter’s boss and tries to commit suicide in the titular apartment. Later, she and Baxter bond over the fact that he once attempted suicide as well. But here’s the best thing about The Apartment: even though it’s full of suicide and affairs and quiet desperation, it’s stillreally funny. When Jack Lemmon delivers that monologue about trying and failing to shoot himself in the head, with his trademark insinuating grin in place the whole time, it’s hilarious. Every joke and every sweet moment of connection between Baxter and Fran works because they’ve truly been earned.

15. Sherlock Jr.

13 Sep

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directed by Buster Keaton

Packing more laughs and ingenuity into forty-five minutes than most comedies manage in 100, Sherlock, Jr. may just be director/star Buster Keaton’s crowning achievement. The film begins modestly enough. Keaton is in love with a girl, but a more cunning, well-off, and classically handsome man has the upper hand, and just keeps raising the stakes. When Keaton is framed for stealing his prospective father-in-law’s watch, he dreams himself into the movies he sees so regularly, a world in which he can outsmart, outmaneuver, and ultimately outrun his rivals. In the movies, after all, nothing is impossible. Keaton exploits the dreamspace with ever-more-elaborate traps and escapes, dispensing with concepts of unparalleled brilliance in the span of a few frames. We’d be dumbstruck, if not for the irrepressible laughter.

16. Some Like It Hot

13 Sep

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directed by Billy Wilder

“I say, you know what’s really funny?” One distinguished English gentleman says to his companion. “A man dressed in women’s clothing.” “Yes, quite,” his friend replies. “Ripping good laugh.” The proliferation of crossdressing-as-comedy is either a product, or the necessary cause, of its utter banality, yet Billy Wilder’s 1959 comedy has remained one of the funniest films ever made for nearly sixty years. It helps to have a plot silly enough to support it – Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon are jazz musicians who need cash and a way out of town fast after witnessing the St. Valentine’s Day massacre, only to find their ticket in an all-female band about to board a train for Miami. That Marilyn Monroe is a member of said band has a way of making their fate more desirable, though wooing her becomes a bit more complex, what with all the stockings running about. And so further identities must be created, mistaken, and reappropriated, a flurry of screwball complexity that could only end with such a note-perfect shrug of the shoulders as Wilder ultimately offers.

17. Raising Arizona

12 Sep

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directed by Joel and Ethan Coen

Joel & Ethan Coen had already established themselves as formidable neo-noir plot wranglers and ace visual stylists with dour debut Blood Simple, but it was Raising Arizona that finally announced the brothers as comic visionaries. The tall tale of a mismatched, infertile couple—beta-male petty crook Nicholas Cage and uptight corrections officer Holly Hunter—and their attempts to feloniously circumvent normal adoption procedure may seem like incident enough for one movie. But add escaped-convict interlopers, satanic motorcyclists, and the expressionistic cinematography of Barry Sonnenfeld, and the result is a live-action cartoon elevated to High Art by the Coens’ total mastery of tone. The brothers would grow more cynical over time, but Raising Arizona presents an imperfect world full of earnest, optimistic, and manic individuals compelled to bad behavior by love. Who can’t identify with that?

18. Modern Times

12 Sep

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directed by Charles Chaplin

Charlie Chaplin made better films (City Lights and The Great Dictator, for example), but none of his films were as pure a comedy as Modern Times. Featuring the last appearance of Chaplin’s silent Tramp persona, it is actually his first film to use sound — City Lights came out after the sound revolution, but he hung on. Though we don’t hear Chaplin speak, the filmmaker shows his aptitude for sound gags with the many whirring and beeping contraptions. Chaplin sets the film primarily inside of a factory, which gives him access to many great setpieces, like the conveyor belt scene or the hilarious feeding machine. I wouldn’t exactly call Modern Times prescient, but its look at technology in the blue-collar workplace gives the film a different layer that keeps it fresh. If you are a fan of Modern Times, I also suggest checking out the early French musical A nous la liberte, directed by Rene Clair, which holds many strong similarities to Chaplin’s film — strong enough for the distributor to actually sue Chaplin’s company for copyright infringement.