20. Fargo: The Cohen Brothers funniest black comedy may not be for everyone’s taste, because it is quite violent. However, underneath all that is a droll observation on the human condition, highlighted by a winning performance from Frances McDormand as a very likeable and very pregnant police chief. Her character police chief Marge Gunderson is kind, clever and compassionate. She’s a much more admirable role model than all the recent ‘badass female’ clichés we’ve been inundated with lately. Another standout here is William H. Macy as a two-bit schemer who’s plan utterly backfires. This movie won the Oscar for best screenplay.
19. Young Frankenstein: One of Mel Brook’s most popular films, this parody on the classic Universal horror films is 75% brilliant. The reason it doesn’t rate higher is that the final section of the film is weak. But when it’s good, it’s hilarious! Who’ll ever forget the spoof of the blind hermit in the cabin? Sheer genius. If only it hadn’t run out of steam three-quarters of the way through.
18. Hannah & her Sisters: Woody Allen was on a role at this point in his career, producing some of the funniest films of a generation. This is probably the last of his truly great works but it’s pure gold. This clever glimpse into the intertwined lives of a group of neurotic New Yorkers is brilliantly directed and written by Allen, who also appears in the film. Mia Farrow plays the titular Hannah, and the great Michael Caine gives an Oscar Winning performance as a man having a middle-aged life crisis. An amazingly warm and funny story.
17. This is Spinal Tap: This is the first of Christopher Guest’s “mockumentary” films, and the only one directed by Rob Reiner. Guest’s script tells the story of the trials and tribulations of an aging, down-and-out rock group. This is truly a collaborative effort, since most of the dialogue is improvised (a common tactic for Guest’s films) by the cast of players. The film is a right-on-the-money satire of the rock music industry and the bizarre performers who live in this weird world. The scales go up to 11 on the humor here.
16. The Producers: Mel Brooks’ most consistently hilarious film; This is a classic piece of ever-mounting insanity, boosted by brilliant lead performances from Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel. The story is about two schemers who sell 25,000% of a play (called ‘Springtime for Hitler’) and then try to insure it’s a flop so they can skip the country with the excess cash. Brooks brilliantly directs the ever-increasing craziness. Dick Shawn is a scene-stealer as the hippie actor portraying Hitler in the play.
15. Way Out West: Laurel & Hardy are one of the great comedy teams and this is their best work. The boys are sent to deliver a land deed to the girl who has inherited a gold mine, but they get manipulated by a sneaky villain who wants the property for himself. The highlight of the film is Stan and Ollie’s wonderful soft-shoe routine.
14. The Life of Brian: The best work by Britain’s greatest comedy ensemble, Monty Python. This eccentric comedy, set during the days leading up the Jesus’ crucifixion, tells the story of a common man who is mistaken for the messiah and can’t convince people he’s not. Some people may be offended by the idea of a comedic passion play but they shouldn’t, because there’s no disrespect here, only clever insights into human nature. The Python team wrote the script themselves, and it was directed by one of them (Terry Jones), culminating in one of the best endings of any comedy film ever.
13. Modern Times: This is the legendary Charlie Chaplin’s final silent film, and one of his finest. In his inimitable style, Chaplin pokes some fun at the hectic pace and increasingly impersonal nature of modern society. I wonder what he’d have to say about the world today? The final scene is one of Chaplin’s most touching images ever.
12. A Hard Day’s Night: The Beatles prove that they are not only a great rock group, they are also wonderful comedians. This day-in-the-life “mockumentary” follows the Fab Four on a supposedly typical day, which includes being chased by adoring female fans and dealing with Paul’s sneaky grandfather. The four Beatles exaggerate their own personalities into caricatures and have fun bouncing their quirky persona’s off all the straight-men they meet. This film is not only hilarious, it’s also graced with a plethora of great Beatle tunes.
11. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein: The greatest film from one of the greatest comedy teams in cinema history. Bud Abbott and Lou Costello scored their biggest-ever hit when Universal studios teamed the comic duo with their pantheon of classic horror characters, Dracula, the Wolf Man and the Frankenstein Monster. This hilarious parody of the classic Universal horror films is as funny today as it was when it came out in 1947. This movie marks the second and final time that Bela Lugosi portrayed Count Dracula. Lon Chaney junior reprised his role as the Wolf Man. Horror was never funnier.
10. The Gold Rush: Charlie Chaplin was the top comedian of the silent era and this was one of his biggest hits. Chaplin’s “Little Tramp” character goes to the Yukon to seek his fortune and falls for a dance-hall girl. This timeless comedy has Chaplin’s usual sentimentality. Chaplin does two of his classic routines in this picture. The pantomime Dance of the Rolls, and the scene where the starving Chaplin has to eat a leather shoe are the epitome of Chaplin’s comedic genius.
9. Manhattan: Filmed in Black-&-white (even though it was made in 1979) Woody Allen’s poignant ode to New York is not only hilarious, it is a visual homage to the city Allen loved so much in his youth. No one can film NY as beautifully and poetically as Allen can. The story is a character study about the relationship problems of a group of cerebral New Yorkers. Allen’s use of Gershwin tunes perfectly highlights the mood. A wonderful film.
8. The General: The finest film from one of the greatest comedians of the silent era. Buster Keaton, master of kinetic, visual comedy, tells the story of a train engineer during the American Civil War who has to rescue his kidnapped girlfriend and stolen locomotive from Union Spies. Keaton does all his own stunts, and makes it look easy. Beautifully filmed by Keaton, who co-directed.
7. A Night at the Opera: The Marx Brothers are one of the greatest comedy teams (and my personal favorite) ever, and this ranks among their best work. Mixing the insanity of the Marx Brothers with seriousness of opera leads to hilarious chaos. Two of the Brothers best-ever routines are performed here: The Contract routine, and the crowded Stateroom scene. This is a classic farce.
6. M.A.S.H. : Robert Altman’s first hit film (and the inspiration for the long-running TV series) is more a series of sketches than an actual story but it works just the same. This irreverent look at the quirky occupants of a Korean War mobile hospital features an Oscar winning screenplay by Ring Lardner. The insanity rarely lets up, led by the wildly immature duo of Hawkeye (Donald Sutherland) and Trapper John (Elliot Gould). The terrific supporting cast includes the great Robert Duvall as Frank Burns. This is one of the great dark-comedies ever and a terrific example of an episodic style of screenplay writing.
5. Ghostbusters: The Original! Ivan Reitman’s 1984 Mega-Hit is a fun-filled, big-budget romp, about paranormal investigators dealing with an increasing number of ghostly hauntings in New York. Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis star as the ghost-busting trio and Sigourney Weaver is a victim of a spook-attack, who turns to the threesome for help. Murray’s sarcastic wisecracks are consistently funny and the special effects highlight the craziness of the premise.
4. City Lights: Charlie Chaplin’s best film (and there’s heavy competition) is a touching and poignant look at the down-and-out “Little Tramp”, who falls in love with a blind girl and wants to help her get the money for an operation. This is Chaplin’s most sentimental picture and his most artistically directed. This is one of the all-time greatest silent films.
3. Dr. Strangelove (Or “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb”): Peter Sellers plays three different roles in Stanley Kubrick’s satiric cold war masterpiece. A crazed American General (Sterling Hayden) launches an attack on Russia, leading to world war three. Sellers plays the President of the USA, a British officer and the eponymous German mad scientist Stranglelove. George C. Scott gives an over-the-top comic performance as a gung-ho, Russian-hating general. This is the greatest dark-comedy ever.
2. Duck Soup: If ever there was a group ahead of their time, it was the Marx Brothers. Filmed in 1933, this anti-war comedy poked fun at how readily some nations leap into war, years before WW2 began. There are so many great gags in here I won’t list them all, but the best has to be the classic Mirror Routine. The Brothers have never been crazier and have never been better. This is a can’t-miss classic.
1. Annie Hall: This is not only Woody Allen’s best work, it’s the finest comedy ever made. ‘Annie Hall’ set the bar for all future romantic comedies. This warm, touching, poignant and eloquent masterpiece of character-oriented humor won multiple academy awards (Including best Picture, Best Director honors for Woody Allen, Best Actress for Diana Keaton, and Screenplay by Allen.) It was also voted as the funniest screenplay ever written by the Writers Guild of America. Allen stars as neurotic stand-up comic Alvy Singer who deals with numerous slice-of-life dilemmas, especially his relationship with quirky Annie Hall (Keaton). This is a literate and intelligent comedy that says more about life than a whole book of psychiatry. Comedy doesn’t get any better than this.