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13.3.16

Top 10 Comedies Of All Time (film)

Believe it or not, we here on the Far Side love a good laugh.  Sure, a lot of our musings here seem a little moody and even a bit dark, but what better reason to pop in a good comedy once in a while to lighten things up!  So we decided to share some of our favorites with you as suggestions for those long rainy Saturday afternoons when a good guffaw comes in handy.

This list was a tough one.  After making our list of top comedies of all time, we had somewhere around 89 titles, and for a Top 10 list, that was just stretching it a little too far.  So we came up with some guidelines.  Even still, we couldn't get the list below 15, so we figured what the hell?  A Top 10 List of Comedies with 15 titles?  Perfect.

Shorts, like the majority of the Three Stooges filmography, were left out of this list.  They deserve one of their own, and we'll get around to it someday.  Geniuses like Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, the bulk of whose works are silent, were left off, because again, they deserve a list of their own.  Then for folks like Monty Python, the Marx Brothers, Martin and Lewis, Abbott and Costello, and Mel Brooks, their masterworks include almost all of their output, so we had to limit ourselves to just one top pick.

Finally, we choose films that are culturally iconic, hold up to repeat viewings over long periods of time, and have had a profound impact on other films and filmmakers.  Even so, we were left with about 20 great comedies, so we flipped a coin.  The results are below, and interestingly they fell into neat sub-genres.

So without further ado, we present the Far Side List of Top 10 Comedies of All Time (film).  We added the (film) part because there are some great stage shows that deserve yet another list, which we will naturally get around to someday.

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15. She Done Him Wrong (1933) - Mae West is the undisputed Queen of Double Entendre, with lines that have become cultural catch-phrases like, "Is that a gun in your pocket, or are you just glad to see me?"  Ms. West's look and voice are iconic.  Her comedies blazed the trail for talents such as Mel Brooks, Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, and Richard Pryor.  What more can you say in recommending this film?  In this diddy, Ms. West is a saloon entertainer in the 1890s, playing the field of male suitors vying for her attentions.  There are so many double meanings that you will catch something new every time you watch it.  You'll also see the inspiration for our #1 pick on this list.

14.My Favorite Year (1982) - Peter O'Toole is a washed up movie star (not an actor!) brought out of obscurity to feature on this week's installment of the Sid Caesar...oops, King Kaiser Show.  The problem is, he's never worked in front of a live audience and King's mob skit has upset the local crooked kingpin.  This one of the finest examples of situation comedy we know of.  Great set-ups, heartwarming story, and some classic lines make this film an easy choice for a date movie at home.  Snappy pacing and brilliant period sets keep the story moving at the perfect popcorn comedy.

13. Bringing Up Baby (1938) - Hepburn and Grant, with Howard Hawks in the God Seat.  This one is just brilliant.  The writing, direction, acting, and pacing make this film one of the funniest parlor comedies out there.  The one-liners come at you like a hail of machine gun rounds, with timing that is nearly perfect for the entire hour and forty minutes.  The leads never miss a beat and the iconic voices of the two stars keeps us watching again and again.  Timeless fun.

12. National Lampoon's Vacation (1983) - It was hard picking just one of National Lampoon's great comedies.  We were stuck between Animal House and Vacation, both of which have us howling out loud every time we watch them.  In the end, we chose Vacation because it so closely resembles our own real-life experiences while travelling.  The premise is a family driving vacation cross-country, in which everything (and we do mean everything) that can possibly go wrong, does.  Add to that the impeccable timing and reactions of Chevy Chase, whom we believe is one of the greatest comic talents of his generation, and you are literally exhausted from laughing by the time the credits roll.  And the jokes hold up to multiple viewings.  This is one of the few comedies that leave us in tears of joy every time.

11. Office Space (1999) - OK, we're prejudiced because Mike Judge is a Texan.  Beyond that, however, is a film about corporate drones that is both incredibly real, but presented in such a way that you will laugh till it hurts.  We all know the characters, in one form or another: the slacker, the geek, the smarmy boss, the beer-swilling neighbor.  The scene with the main characters going ape-shit on a printer is something that every one of us has wanted to do.  The weird thing about this film is that every situation seems so much like everyday life, yet when we look at it objectively, it's really hilarious.  This film will actually make you change your perspective, no matter how much you hate your job.

10. Airplane! (1980) - This is the film that launched the ZAZ empire.  It is one of the zaniest mad-cap comedies of all time.  Every visual joke, play on manners, and trope-twisting situation fills the screen the entire run time - even at the end of the credits.  At a time when disaster films were about the only thing coming out of Hollywood, this one did a full Nelson on the genre, while throwing gags out of left field in nearly every single frame.  Even after 40 years, you can still find new jokes.  Just turn off the sound and watch the backgrounds alone.  What really made this film was the sheer number of "serious" actors who turned in great comedic performances - including Leslie Nielson who went on to a second career making similar films, like the Naked Gun series.  Avoid eating or drinking during this flick, so you don't end up passing a ham sandwich through your nose.

9. Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Great Nation of Kazakhstan (2006) - This flick was so off the wall that we watched it the first time in stunned awe.  It took five or six more viewings just to begin digesting what Sacha Baron Cohen had done to our psyche.  This is probably one of the most unique comedy of manners ever recorded, and what makes it so stunning is that most of the people on-screen had no idea they were being lampooned.  Even the mistakes (watch the background during the rodeo scene) are just stunningly amazing.  This film is so unique as to almost require its own category.  You feel like you've just watched a serious car wreck, but you can't help laughing at the way the bodies landed.  This masterpiece humiliated so many people that it's probably still being sued somewhere.  Even the entire nation of Kazakhstan took offense.  This one has to be watched to be believed.

8. Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) - When you think of comedy, Stanley Kubrick is not one of the first names that come to mind, but this is by far one of the funniest films out there.  Not only is the writing terse and slick, but performances such as Peter Sellers playing three distinct characters are compelling.  This pick also belongs in the same category with Borat, since the humor just barely hides some serious issues under the surface.  But lines like, "Gentlemen, you can't fight in here.  This is the War Room!" just lay you out on the floor.  One thing to note about this film (and Kubrick's obsession) is that the US Air Force refused to allow filming in a B-52 Stratofortress, so Stanley built the set using articles and descriptions from various sources.  The USAF was reportedly upset, thinking that someone had secretly let him in to film on one of the planes, the details were so exact.

7. A Night at the Opera (1935) - The Marx Brothers are synonymous with comedy.  The painted eyebrows and mustache sported by Groucho are easily as famous as the tragedy/comedy mask symbols.  We pondered long and hard over which of their films would best represent their outstanding body of work, and this one had it all: Harpo's musical numbers, Chico's flim-flams, Groucho's eponymous looks and walk.  The only parts missing are Zeppo and Gummo.  In any case, this is a fine comedy of manners in its own right, which was the specialty of the Marx brothers.  This flick has some of the best gags and one-liners in the Marx repertoire, as well.  The "four-men-in-the-apartment" gag is one of their most famous, after the "mirror gag" in Duck Soup.  This is probably the best introduction to new viewers, and well worth revisiting for us old geezers.

6. Sleeper (1973) - Woody Allen is a problem.  He's had such a long career with so many great films, its virtually impossible to choose only one, but we managed to settle on this one.  We went with this film because it has some of his most famous gags (robot butler, balloon suit) and because it is among his less cerebral works, making it more accessible  to those not familiar with him.  This flick also falls into a category of sci-fi spoofs that has precious few good entries (see Honorable Mentions).  It makes a tidy double feature with our previous pick because of Diane Keaton's Groucho impression, as well.  Woody's films don't fit neatly into any one genre.  This selection has elements of comedy of manners and situation comedy, with a healthy dash of slapstick.  His comedies are always worth watching because he is a master of the telegraphed gag - even when you expect it, he knows how to squeeze every laugh out of the setup.

5. It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1953) - This is one of our all-time favorites.  Nearly every working comedian in Hollywood at the time is in this film, except for Zazu Pitts (and she was not happy about it).  Not only is the all-star cast of loonies amazing, but the non-stop parade of cameos, from Buster Keaton to the Three Stooges, crams every scene full of laughs.  This flick is also notable for some of the best running gags ever committed to acetate.  This is also a fine example of the epic event films popular in the early 1960s.  If you can get a copy of the complete film, it comes with overture, intermission and post-credits segments.  Another notable item is one of the best animated opening credits we have ever seen, and that includes Around the World in 80 Days and the Pink Panther series.  This is a long one, too.  Original run time is three and a half hours.  You'll need a lot of popcorn and a heating pad for the side-cramps from laughing so much.

4. This Is Spinal Tap (1984) - We have cramps in our jaw every time we watch this gem.  Not only did it practically create the genre of "mockumentary," precious few films have ever matched it for sheer lunacy.  Every single band, event, rumor, and legend in the history of rock 'n' roll is skewered here, from exploding drummers to critics to rock star peccadilloes.  And all of it is throw-away.  There's no setup and no pause for the laugh.  The visuals and lines are flashed past you so fast that the film begs to be watched a dozen times to catch everything ("C'mon people!  Mime is money!").  You have to listen to the song lyrics (actually written by Spinal Tap), read everything written on-screen, and note every single detail (cold sores).  This film is absolutely brilliant improv comedy combined with sharp, insightful writing and performances.  This flick will hold up for decades to come.

3. Best In Show (2000) - Christopher Guest, one of the star of Spinal Tap (Nigel Tufnel), and a brilliant comedic actor that almost no one knows about, until you look at his list of credits.  The reason we placed this film above Spinal Tap is that Chris took the "mockumentary" genre and went on to perfect it with several more excellent helpings, like A Mighty Wind and Waiting for Guffman.  This flick, though, is drop-dead funny.  It has some of the best running gags and off-the-wall characters seen anywhere.  On top of that, the scene with the two TV commentators will leave you gasping for breath.  By the time the film ends, you'll almost want to start watching dog shows.  Who could have ever thought such things were this funny?

2. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) - Yeah, you knew this was coming.  No list of great comedies can leave out anything by Monty Python, but much less their first film.  The Pythons began by completely rewriting to rules on TV comedy shows.  They went on to turn comedy movies upside down.  What makes this film so great is that there are layers upon layers of jokes in every scene.  Not only does this film have some of the most unique running gags ever (coconut shells), but it also has one of the most protracted setups ever recorded (swallows).  Everything, from God being a famous cricket player to the technicalities of filmmaking itself, is open to attack, and the result is brilliant.  Amazingly, everything in and around this film was set up for failure, yet the Pythons made savory lemonade from every lemon life handed them.  In the end, this is probably one of the most quoted and most re-watched films ever made, in any genre.  From the opening credits to the copyright notice, you'll be wiping tears away, as you struggle to breathe through the laughter.

1. Blazing Saddles (1974) - Mel Brooks writes, produces, directs, and stars in this greatest comedy of all time.  It was difficult to decide between this and the Pythons, because they are a pair of book ends - one American, the other British.  The deciding factor was that this film came out a year before Holy Grail.  This flick blew movie-making and story-telling right out of the water.  It also lambastes politics, religion, race, economics, gender, Hollywood, toll roads, and just about every other topic you can think of.  Absolutely nothing is sacred here.  This film is so masterful that almost every word or frame is a gag, setup or joke.  No one and nothing are left standing at the end.  When corrupt political and business interests conspire to destroy a small old west town for economic gain, they appoint a black sheriff to fill the vacancy left by a suspicious murder.  Just to make sure that positively every segment of society is properly skewered, the recruitment scene is thrown in to run down the entire list.  This movie will likely remain at the top of the list for decades to come.

Honorable Mentions: As noted, we had an original list of almost 100 films, so something had to get cut.  But we had to mention The Blues Brothers, Clerks, Galaxy Quest, and the Coen Brothers (Raising Arizona, Fargo).  There are so many classics, but these are stand-outs.

As the legendary British actor observed on his deathbed, "Dying is easy.  Comedy is hard."  Good comedy is a gift that requires rare talent and high intelligence.  It also takes smart folk to enjoy the best comedies.  These are our favorites.  How about yours?  Send us a comment with your thoughts.  And emjoy!

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Reader rights!

R.F. sent this:
Thank you for your favorite comedy choices, several of which I placed on my Netflix queue because I can't remember if I've seen them. For instance "She Done Him Wrong (1933)." As you say, comedy is a tough subject to hone in on, but you got me to thinking about a few of my own favorites. These are probably my top ten, not in order of favorite.

The Quiet Man (John Ford 1952--Maureen O'hara, John Wayne)
Dr. Strangelove (Stanley Kubrick 1964--Peter Sellers, George C. Scott)
Blues Brothers (John Landris 1980--John Belushi, Dan Aykroid)
Our Man Flint (Daniel Mann 1966--James Coburn, Lee J. Cobb)
Groundhog Day (Harold Ramis 1993--Bill Murray, Andie MacDowell)
Silver Steak (Arther Hiller 1976--Gene Wilder, Richard Pryor)
Watermelon Man (Melvin Van Peebles 1970--Godfrey Cambridge, Estella Parsons)
Jumanji (Joe Johnson 1995--Robin Williams)
Popeye (Robert Altman 1980--Robin Williams, Shelley Duvall)
Carnage (Roman Polanski 2011--Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet)


Can't argue with those choices.  Several were cut from out original list due mostly to space constraints, rather than quality of laughs.

Reader L.K. said:
best comedy right now is watching the politicians and media spin

To which replied, "That's what inspired the post!"