Funny movies, according to me

I haven’t blogged in a while because I’ve been busy, lazy, and uninspired. Somehow, though, MCF (as he so often does) has found a way to put a burr under my saddle, as we say in Texas. He made a list of what he considers to be the 20 funniest films of all time, and it is such a travesty I feel I must set the record straight.

First, a few disclaimers:

  • I hereby admit that humor is subjective, and that my sense of humor does not completely coincide with anyone’s, though there is bound to be some overlap.
  • I have never, even as a child, found The Three Stooges to be funny. I can respect the Marx Brothers and their pioneering ways, but I’ve never been able to sit through one of their films.
  • I love gross humor, but only if it makes sense. I thought There’s Something About Mary had some wonderful bits in it, but American Pie was trying a little too hard.
  • The easiest way to fake a sense of humor is to do a spoof. In general, spoofs hold no appeal for me. Airplane is the only film in this category that deserves even an honorable mention, unless you count Scream as a spoof. Scream was brilliant.
  • My list of “funniest” movies has less to do with how funny they are and more to do with how good they are.
  • My definition of “good” as it applies to any art is “something that stays with me for a long time, teaches me something, makes me think, and makes me want to watch it again.”
  • My list holds no particular number of movies and is in no particular order, but I have divided the movies into categories.
  • This list is not definitive. There are too many movies I haven’t seen, and in fact a number of them (six) are on MCF’s list.
  • My favorite movie ever is The Princess Bride, but I do not consider it a comedy. It transcends genre, though when pressed I call it a fairy tale.

Movies that probably no one but I would put on a list like this

Ishtar
I hesitate to include this film because 1) I haven’t seen it in nearly 20 years and 2) it is universally reviled. I saw it in high school, and I remember laughing hysterically. Granted, I was a teenager at the time and had the sensibilities of a teenage boy, but in my memory, Hoffman and Beatty were brilliant as Simon and Garfunkel wannabes to whom international espionage was a necessary evil in their quest to get their awful music heard. I want to see it again to see whether I’m remembering correctly, but it will probably never be released on DVD.

Addams Family Values
This film is the exception to the rule that sequels suck worse than the movies that spawned them. This follow-up to the mediocre original had an actual story to tell, three-dimensional characters who behaved consistently from beginning to end, brilliant one-liners, wonderful performances (I will never forget Christina Ricci’s “smile”), and hilarious situations that the Addamses breeze through with humor, passion, and a strangely morbid love of life.

Young Einstein
I have found in talking to people in the film business that great movies are not usually the ones that inspire. What makes most people get into films is seeing something of poor quality and thinking, “I could do better than that.” When I saw Young Einstein at the age of 20, I watched it no fewer than 15 times simply because Yahoo Serious has a sense of humor remarkably similar to my own, and an acting, writing, and directing abilities that are roughly equal to mine. If he can do it, I can do it.

Joe Versus the Volcano
I hated this movie when I saw it in the theater. Years later, I saw it again on video after I had worked for some time in a door factory. With that experience, I understood that JVtV was not the romantic comedy I had taken it for but rather a comic fairy tale written by someone who knew the feeling of losing your soul to a tedious job. It is not laugh-out-loud funny, but rather an internal, ho-ho, I-recognize-myself-in-that kind of funny.

Movies whose merit can be respectfully debated

Rushmore
Jason Schwarzman is perfect in his debut as an average high school student with aspirations of greatness. He lives and acts as if he has already achieved something, as if he’s capable of achieving anything, when in reality his earnest delusions affect people in ways true ability never could. I think this movie must be a guy thing. I don’t think I’ve ever met a woman who enjoyed or even understood it. I saw it with Mrs. Happy and a friend of hers, and they didn’t crack a smile from the titles to the credits. I, however, could barely catch my breath from laughing so hard and so constantly. It is the funniest, most heartfelt movie the Anderson/Wilsons trio has yet produced.

Dumb and Dumber
The Farrelly brothers know what’s funny, and this is freakin’ hilarious. Most people I talk to claim not to like it because “it’s stupid,” to which I reply, “You were expecting Shakespeare from a movie with this title?” For the record, the characters are ridiculously stupid, but the movie itself is wonderfully bright. If it were otherwise, the guys who sold a decapitated bird to a blind crippled boy, traded a van for a scooter, and tried to return lost luggage to Ms. Samsonite (they found her name imprinted on the suitcase) would have accepted the invitation of a bus full of supermodels at the end of the movie instead of directing them to a nearby town where they’d be sure to find a couple of guys happy to service them.

Blazing Saddles
No one thinks this movie isn’t funny. I include it in this category because all the profanity it contains lowers it slightly in my estimation. The censored TV version actually showed more wit and verve than the unedited theatrical release. Mel Brooks is not my favorite moviemaker. I think his films tend to contain more self-conscious parody and jokes-for-the-sake-of-jokes than original thought and storytelling. Blazing Saddles is an exception, as is Young Frankenstein, and both are among the funniest movies ever made.

The Cable Guy
Movies rarely admit that movie behavior is borderline psychotic. We all imitate what we see in the theater and on TV to some extent, but what happens when someone goes all the way and truly becomes the characters he idolizes? Jim Carrey show us in this film. It is dark and disturbing, yes, but highly entertaining and eye-opening. It didn’t do that well at the box office, but I think that was because people went in expecting another Ace Ventura and just didn’t get it.

Life Is Beautiful
Like real life, this is both comedy and tragedy. Roberto Benigni shows us what humor is for as he perseveres in an unbearable situation (a Nazi concentration camp) and saves his son’s life in more ways than one. No single movie has made me both laugh and cry as hard as this one. Some people object to it on grounds that the Holocaust is in no way funny. I agree, but I don’t think the movie makes light of suffering. It simply shows how one man mustered impossible levels of bravery and strength with his sense of humor and love for his family.

The absolute funniest movies I have ever seen, and any arguments to the contrary will have to be settled with fisticuffs

The Muppet Movie
Is there anything this movie doesn’t have? Wonderful songs, great characters, sharp dialog, brilliant jokes, celebrity cameos, a barely-there fourth wall, a ludicrous road-movie plot, and all those wonderful muppets.

This Is Spinal Tap
The mockumentary to end all mockumentaries and, ironically, the one that started them all. What I loved about Ishtar, Rushmore, and Dumb and Dumber was the exuberant earnestness of characters that had no business taking themselves as seriously as they did. That trait is embodied by every member of England’s loudest band, and delightfully so. It is full of amazing performances.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Every film requires its audience to suspend a certain amount of disbelief. The opening scene should let the audience know exactly what the rules are, and if the film is worth its salt it will stick to those rules. The first character we see in THG is King Arthur pretending to ride a horse, and he is followed by a stooped servant clacking two empty halves of coconuts to make a horse-clomping noise. So we know it’s a movie where ridiculous things will occur. But then the first bit of dialog has another character questioning where he managed to find a coconut in Britain’s temperate zone, so we know that the main characters are the ridiculous ones, and others are more sensible. The line between farce and nonsense is razor-thin. Many have tried to walk it, and most have failed pathetically. It has always been the Pythons’ strength. The Holy Grail is the pinnacle of their comedic achievement.

Raising Arizona
The Coen brothers are masters of their craft. How they came up with the idea for this movie is something I’ll never understand, because it’s not something that can really be explained. Their pitch for the studio had to be something like, “Okay, there’s this guy who’s a chronic convenience store robber, and he falls in love with the female cop who takes his mug shot every time he gets arrested. They get married and set up home in a trailer in Tempe, Arizona. They’re devastated when they find out they can’t have children, so when the local bigwig furniture dealer has quintuplets, they decide to kidnap one and raise it as their own, figuring the family won’t be too upset since they have four others just like him. And that’s the opening sequence.” The characters speak in a sort of redneck, high-brow poetry that seems not only natural but preferable to regular speech. The visuals are stunning. Certain camera movements are nothing short of breathtaking. The scene where John Goodman and his younger brother try to rob a bank is one of the funniest scenes in the history of cinema. It’s not often one can describe a comedy as “stunning.” In fact, there may be only one that can be described as such. This is the one.

17 thoughts on “Funny movies, according to me

  1. Would watch Ishtar again be wise? I haven’t seen it, but you seem to have good memories which I bet will be dashed if you watch it again. A coupel of films that sprang to mind for me were ‘Shanghai Nights’ – I cracked up with this when I saw it in the cinema (not so much the second time round, maybe it was the original mood I was in), and ‘The Three Amigos’ – I was remembering this film with a couple of friends the other day, it was sooo funny.

  2. ‘Young Einstein’ over ‘Young Frankenstein’? What, no ‘Murder by Death’? And I haven’t watched ‘Brain Donors’ in a long time.

  3. My list is a “travesty” and yet you list “Addams Family Values”?(not to mention disparaging the Stooges)

    Joe Versus the Volcano was an existential journey transcending the face value of the film as a comedy. Taken at face value, its mediocre, but peel back to see the metaphor and it’s brilliant. Count me among the minority that loved the Cable Guy. I think what happens with some of these versatile comedians is that they attract one kind of audience that only appreciates their dumb humor, and let them down if they do black comedy or even drama. The same people that loved Ace Ventura and hated The Cable Guy are the ones who loved Billy Madison and hated Punch Drunk Love.

    I love Life is Beautiful dearly, but in some ways it’s like Schindler’s List with jokes. Just as you wouldn’t put The Princess Bride in a strictly comedic category, I’d do the same with La Vie e Bella and The Cable Guy.

    Rushmore was good…I think Life Aquatic is my marginal favorite Anderson but really I’ve enjoyed all of his movies.

    Why are there so many songs about rainbows? And what’s on the other side?

  4. * I sort of lumped Young Frankenstein in with Blazing Saddles. They are the two Mel Brooks movies I think will stand the test of time.

    * I’m not familiar with Murder By Death or Brain Donors. Upon investigation, I have added Murder By Death to my Netflix Queue.

    * I didn’t mean to disparage the Stooges. I’m not saying they suck. I’m just saying I don’t enjoy them. For some reason, though, I have always enjoyed Laurel and Hardy.

    * Life Aquatic felt a little unfocused to me. Rushmore was more tightly written and better executed, though Bill Murray was delightful in both.

    * I forgot to include The Jerk. That was a gross oversight.

  5. No one mentioned Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? Is it just me, or was that hilarious? I don’t have much use for George Clooney these days, but this is one movie I can watch over and over again and laugh at something new.

  6. I thought we were talking about GOOD movies. High quality films. … If thats the case, why is Naked Gun not on the list?

  7. I wouldn’t describe Rushmore as a guy thing – I watched it with my roommates a few months ago, and we all totally laughed our way through it . . . maybe we have a weird sense of humour for girls (ok, I do – but they like chick flicks so they aren’t too stereotype-defying!), but we did enjoy it.

    -Jess

  8. I did think Naked Gun (the first one) was funny, but I also felt that the story served the comedy rather than the other way around. To me, it seemed like a bunch of loosely connected bits of spoof, and right now I’m having trouble remembering even one of them.

    I also enjoyed Oh Brother Where Art Thou. I continued to think about it after it ended, but not for long, so it didn’t rise to the level of greatness for me.

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  10. “The Princess Bride” is also my favorite movie. When my husband was my boyfriend in college, he was an engineering student, and I was an English student. A bunch of my friends were reading the book “The Princess Bride”. . . and then the movie came to the cheap one-dollar-theater! I remember how my then boyfriend did not want to see a movie called “The Princess Bride,” over his dead body, but I finally persuaded him that for two dollars, we could walk out if he hated it. He LOVED it. Today, we and our four children know most of it by heart.

    We also love “Raising Arizona.” Brilliant.

    What about “Liar, Liar” and “The Emperor’s New Groove” ? Maybe I’m really gauche and corny, but those are two of the funniest movies I have ever seen.

    Another family favorite is “The Incredibles”, although it is not, perhaps, strictly a comedy. But it is far funnier that we expected. When you are a parent of kids, you experience a whole new genre of movies. This one is awesome.

    I very much did NOT like “Ice Age” and “Finding Nemo.”

  11. You really gotta see Waiting for Guffman. I mean, REALLY. As for kids films that get funnier as you watch them over and over, we find Madagascar keeps cracking us up.

  12. Hello Mr. Hendley,

    I’m a big Ishtar fantatic. I’ve seen the movie at least a dozen times. It’s hilarious. According to Wikipedia, it bombed because of studio in-fighting and a budget which outraged America. Whatever the reasons, they’re not good reasons. Ishtar is the most underrated movie of all time.

    I would like to make you aware that there is an Ishtar
    fan site here:

    http://www.ishtarthemovie.com

    And an Ishtar yahoo group (you’re welcome to join)
    here:

    http://movies.groups.yahoo.com/group/ILoveIshtar/

    In other words, you are not alone.

    Sincerely,

    Nathan Johnson

    “Telling the truth can be dangerous business”

  13. Like you, I have no understanding of the stooges. However, you missed two of the funniest movies (in my opinion, which, as you noted, is likely to differ from yours) and those are Young Frankenstein and My Cousin Vinny. I don’t like swearing in movies and MCV has a LOT, but it still manages to be funny. The “doe-eyed deer” scene is a stitch!

  14. Two movies that should be listed (though not yet considered ‘classics’):
    1) ZOOLANDER: On the surface it seems pointless, in fact, the first time I watched it I hated it. Then I was ‘forced’ to watch it again. It started to grow on me as I caught on. This movie is full of double and triple meaning, plays on words, and jabs at the seemingly illiterate subculture this movie represents. Add to it the fact that the androgenous characters are so easy to make fun of and in some degree of reality, depict where society is headed.

    2) OFFICE SPACE: From the very beginning when the black guy walks by the white guy’s car and the white guy turns down his rap music and locks his door. Hilarious! The characters are believable and relevant. Their cubicle-bound existence really has social relevance. I watched it and realized how funny some every day occurances really are. My life is now more enjoyable. Thanks Office Space! lol