Dan Grant looks at ten exceptional comedies that take risks in their pursuit of a unique comedic vision and succeed. The courage of these filmmakers has given audiences some of the greatest films ever made.
There are hundreds of funny films. Maybe thousands. There’s nothing like discovering that film that catches you off guard and makes you laugh when you are least expecting it. And then there’s films that basically take a risk. Or in this case, a lot of risk. Some of these films were from directors who had nothing to lose and some of them were just artists making things up as they went along. But what they all have in common is that they all took risks and those risks paid off to make these more than just comedies. It made them legendary comedies.
Here are the top ten comedies that pulled no punches and just went for it:
10. This is the End (2013)
If I was to write this same article ten years from now, this might make the number one slot but seeing as it is two years old, it needs time to marinate a little and get appreciated. They say there are six or seven stories that you can tell in Hollywood. Every film is just a different version of those stories. I think this one makes it 8. In it, you have actors playing themselves and in the process, they insult, belittle, antagonize and berate one another to the point of hilarity. There is one scene in the film that will go on to become as iconic as any other scene in any comedy. And that is when Danny McBride and James Franco are discussing why McBride decided to use Franco’s porn magazine as masturbation material. It’s so over the top funny that it cannot be described. Seth Rogen directed all of his friends and because he is well connected, he got them to do and say things that perhaps no other director, not even the likes of Judd Apatow, could get them to do and say. Also, check out Michael Cera’s version of himself. This, in my opinion, is as funny as they come.
9. Clerks (1994)
By now you might have heard the story of how Kevin Smith used up all of his credit cards and borrowed money from friends to make this $27,000 black and white movie about store clerks who really don’t like you. What makes this film so audacious is the language Smith uses. While he seems to go over the top at times, he also accurately tells jokes about youth and he has some terrific film observation. There’s a scene discussing the politics of blowing up the Death Star in Jedi that is both funny and very interesting. But what makes this film belong on the list are scenes like screwing a dead guy in the bathroom, snowballing and of course Silent Bob’s ten seconds of dialogue.
8. Porky’s (1982)
Bob Clark wrote and directed the ultimate sex comedy. Here’s a film famous for its nudity but almost as famous is the genius of the script. This is a film that took an enormous amount of risks. The T&A movies were in full swing at this point but none of them did what Porky’s does. There’s a shower scene which includes Pauly the Penis, there’s Lassie and then one of the most brash and crazy scenes you will find in any film is the principals office when they discuss using a sketch artist to describe a boy’s penis with a mole on it. You can easily find this scene on youtube and if you watch it, notice how the entire 4 minute scene is done without any cuts. And if you are not laughing by the end of it, well, I guess we just have different senses of humour.
7. Anchorman (2004)
I don’t think this had a real script. I think they just had ideas, and then told Will Ferrell and friends to wing it. When you have Ferrell, Paul Rudd and Steve Carell plus cameos by Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller, you are in for a treat. There are a litany of scenes that are kind of legendary but the one that stands out is the rumble. In the middle of a comedy about a San Diego news team, you have a rumble that takes place for absolutely no reason. It ends with Brick, played by Carell, killing a man with a trident, to which Ron Burgundy responds later, “Yes Brick, I’ve been meaning to tell you that you should find a safe house, lay low for a while because you are probably wanted for murder.” Anchorman takes some getting used to but it is worth multiple viewings.
6. American Pie (1999)
At this point in Hollywood, the teen film was dead. Long gone was the brilliance of films like Fast Times and Ridgemont High, The Sure Thing and the various films of John Hughes. What we were left with was unfunny ersatz garbage hoping to make a quick buck. Then wonder kids Adam Hertz and Paul Weitz came along and gave us American Pie. Sure, it knew how kids spoke to one another and it also had some funny and astute observations about relationships but what put it over the top was two things. One was Stifler and the other was Michelle and her flute. Her “this one time at band camp” scene probably caused a lot of spit up drinks in the movie theater. It was simply a scene that no one saw coming. It was brilliantly written and turned American Pie from a funny film into one that was ballsy and a little X rated.
5. South Park: Bigger Longer and Uncut (1999)
There has never been a film like this one and there probably never will be again. The use of the F-word has never been more prevalent nor funny. If you have not seen this film, nothing I do to tell you about it will do it justice. Just find it and watch it with no one around.
4. Animal House (1978)
The Godfather had the head of a horse in a bed. Animal House had something to do with hotdogs and horses. Animal House might have been the first film to start the frat house house, college film craze. It’s a very funny film with a very nice cast but what puts it over the top is John Belushi. “Over? Did you say over? Was it over when the German’s bombed Pearl Harbor?” And so on. Animal House could have fallen flat on its face but instead it became of the greatest comedies of all time because it took a few risks.
3. A Fish Called Wanda (1988)
A film that combine the best of British comedy with American comedy. Starring comedy giants from the Monty Python Gang, and two actors not known for comedy, this film pushed all the right buttons and in the process became one of the all time greats. Similar to This is the End, John Cleese and Charles Chrichton wrote a biting satire about British life and how stuffy and proper it can be at times living in England. This allowed the brash and ill mannered American cretin, played by the brilliant Kevin Kline, to just cut loose and dig into every possible stereotype of English life. And if that wasn’t enough, Kline being the ignorant and stupid American, also gets his due ridicule by the cast. It was a big risk that paid off handsomely.
2. Beverly Hills Cop (1984)
Eddie Murphy changed comedy, at least American comedy. Perhaps there was a lot of improvisation in British comedy but up until Murphy started making movies, scripts were mostly adhered to. Then Eddie came in and changed everything. The original Beverly Hills Cop script that made its way around Hollywood, was basically a very by the numbers cop movie and it originally had Sylvester Stallone slated to star in it. He eventually turned it down feeling that it wasn’t quite right for him at the time. Then when Murphy came on board it was rewritten to be more of a comedy. What no one could foresee was the comedic genius of Murphy and how he turned regular straight laced scenes into legendary comedy sets. The “limon twist” scene with Bronson Pinchot, the “not gonna fall for the banana in the tail pipe scene” the “IRS porsche scene,” and many, many others were all improvised by Murphy. Soon, comedies were letting their actors improvise a little more. Murphy is a pioneer in this sense.
1. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
Is there a plot to this film? I guess so. But does it really matter? Not really. The Monty Python group began in 1969 when their sketch comedy Monty Python and the Flying Circus appeared on the BBC. From there, their influence on comedy is unmatched. With a budget of about 250,000 pounds, this comedy went on to gross hundreds of millions of dollars world wide over the years. With famous scenes like the knight who keeps losing limbs, to the trivia where the trivia master is out smarted to the men acting like they are riding horses and everything else, everything in this film is bombastic and far beyond the norm. This is perhaps the ballsiest and riskiest comedy ever made and it easily makes the number one slot of comedies that just go for it all.