Since I’m going to see “The World’s End” within a few hours (I’ll be sure to have the review up soon!) I feel it is about time I counted off the best comedic films I have seen in theaters. Comedy films and myself have a very sketchy relationship: I like them but only certain sub-genres. If you ask me the best comedy is satirical but satirical in a smart way, films where you can see entire genres or tropes getting eviscerated but at the same time being paid homage to. Merely throwing scatter-shot references around, a tactic used too much in god-awful films such as “Epic Movie”, “Disaster Movie” and “Scary Movie” does not work. Any idiot can point out obvious jokes within genres or subjects but it takes a higher caliber of directors and actors to take satire and spin a unique tale out of it.
#5 – Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story
I’ve never been much of a sports-movie fan, I enjoy watching sports as much as the next red-blooded man but I never have been able to get into films such as “Moneyball”, “Mean Machine”, “The Damned United” or “The Longest Yard”. Having said that I can totally understand the appeal such films have for some people and I was therefore able to get a fair bit of enjoyment out of “Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story”. What really makes this film work is that it depicts moderate sportsmen and women literally going head-to-head with their extreme fanatical counterparts. Vince Vaughn’s relateable (for the most part) ‘Average Joes’ going against Ben Stiller’s hilariously satirical ‘Globo-Gym Cobra’ meatheads and the latter taking the competition way too seriously is just hilarious. The cast of characters are great but Ben Stiller’s ‘White Goodman’ shines above them all as an hysterically egotistical and arrogant sports and fitness fanatic who you have to try damned hard to keep a straight face whenever he is on-screen.
#4 – Galaxy Quest
Science fiction is a popular target for comedy but very few attempts at such have been smart enough to weave an original story out of satire. “Galaxy Quest” is one such film. Not only is it arguably one of Tim Allen’s finest performances but it is also arguably beats some of the feebler entries in the Sci-Fi genre at their own games. The story follows the cast of a television series called “Galaxy Quest” eighteen years after their show was axed. During a convention the cast encounter a group of real aliens who after watching their adventures mistake them for genuine space-aces and enlist their help in fighting off an alien warlord hell-bent on destroying their race. The satire is instantly recognizable to anyone with even a sliver of Trekkie in them and really this film is made for those exact people. The cast consists of the cocky captain Peter Taggart played by Tim Allen who parodies William Shatner’s James T. Kirk almost TOO well, Dr. Lazarus played by Alan Rickman who comes across as a disgruntled and disillusioned Mr. Spock, and Sigourney Weaver as Tawny Madison as the ship’s computer officer tired of being portrayed as “that dumb blonde”. Other memorable performances litter this love letter/evisceration of Sci-Fi and Sci-Fi fandom but I won’t risk spoiling some of the film’s best moments by revealing them!
If you either love Star Trek as a Trekkie or even if you loathe it, you owe it to yourself to see this film… heck… J.J Abrams, Patrick Stewart and Johnathan Frakes have all gone on record praising this film!
#3 – Tropic Thunder
Ok, admit it. You knew this one was going to be in here somewhere! Ben Stiller went from strength-to-strength with comedy, coming off of his success with “Dodgeball” to “Tropic Thunder”, a movie which was mired in controversy in the run-up to it’s release but ended up blowing everyone’s minds with just how scathingly smart and hilarious it proved to be. The story of Tropic Thunder follows a similar scenario to the one seen in “Galaxy Quest” where a group of actors filming a 70’s war film find themselves actually in the midst of a real conflict with guerillas in the deep south-east Asian jungle. The thing is, they’re not fully aware of their situation and treat the whole thing like a movie shoot! As a person who grew up watching films like “Platoon”, “Good Morning Vietnam”, “Apocalypse Now”, and “Full Metal Jacket” this hit so many high notes with me and remains to this day one of my all-time favorite war films… despite it being a comedy! The entire cast is extremely good and to single out any one actor here would be unfair. However, since I am an unfair ****ard I’m going to do it anyway. Forget Iron Man, forget Sherlock Holmes and forget Charlie Chaplin, THIS is Robert Downey Jr’s finest on-screen performance BAR-NONE. Downey’s character Kirk Lazarus absolutely hammers the absurd lengths that method actors will go to in order to get a role, and in this case it’s not just skin deep (even though that was the core of the controversy surrounding this film)!
Here’s a challenge: Try not to laugh whenever Downey Jr is on screen, if you laugh you take a shot. Enjoy.
#2 – Hot Fuzz
If there is one genre above all others that deserves parodying it is the “Buddy-Cop” genre. This is exactly what “Hot Fuzz” does and oh man… does it deliver the laughs by the truckload! The story follows the best police officer in Britain, Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg), being ferried out of London because he does his job so well it makes all of his colleagues look bad in comparison. Angel is shipped off to Sandford “The safest place in the country” so he won’t be a nuisance to anyone. Upon arriving in the rural scenic countryside Angel is partnered with and takes under his wing the rookie police officer with a heart-of-gold Danny Butterman (Nick Frost). The two then set about bringing big-city justice to the small-town countryside as strange things and bizarre ‘accidents’ begin to happen around the town. The film unashamedly uses tropes and references from buddy-cop films such as “Point Break”, “Bad Boys I & II” and even “Starsky & Hutch” but does so in a manner which bolsters it’s own story rather than lifting whole scenes out of said films. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost have fantastic chemistry whenever they are together, the two alongside director Edgar Wright are also responsible for the success of “Shaun of the Dead” and the upcoming “The World’s End”. As with Dodgeball the film works so well because it provides us with two poles: Angel as the hard-line bad-ass big-city cop and Danny as the green and naive but well-natured apprentice who idolizes the image Angel embodies. Big-city to small-town stories are formulaic to say the least but the best card Hot Fuzz has is that it goes in a direction which completely flies in the face of what the majority of viewers might be expecting and as a result the final hour of this film is both jaw-dropping and side-splittingly funny.
#1 – Team America: World Police
“Team America: World Police” is a film that is nothing short of legendary. When you see that this film is written and directed by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the two geniuses behind South Park, you know that it’s going to not only push a lot of buttons… it’s going to smash the control panel. During the film’s conception Parker and Stone made it their goal to eviscerate the enduring culture of bombastic, big-budget, jingoistic, and testosterone fueled American cinema – and this is exactly what they achieved with flying colors. Not only does Team America massacre American cinema and the actors who occupy it also provides a very frank and hard-hitting social commentary on the enduring state of mind American society is trapped in and not only gives Americans an extremely harsh reality check but enables them to laugh at the folly of some of their own. The film’s title itself clues audiences in for what it is about: A group of patriotic paramilitary law enforcers determined to “police the world” (In their own words!) and rout out terrorists wherever they are… despite causing unfathomable global damage and chaos in the process. What’s also interesting is the reasoning behind the targets Parker and Stone satirize. During a BBC interview Stone was asked why George W. Bush does not appear in the film let alone never mentioned. Stone replied with the following: “If you want to see Bush-bashing in America you only have to walk about ten feet to find it. Trey and I are always attracted to what other people aren’t doing. Frankly that wasn’t the movie we wanted to make, there’s just no point ****ing in a flooded pool.”
Even more striking and frighteningly realistic is what Parker and Stone said about the film seemingly both glorifying and satirizing America’s role as the “World Police”: “Because that’s the thing that we realized when we were making the movie. It was always the hardest thing. We wanted to deal with this emotion of being hated as an American. That was the thing that was intriguing to us, and having Gary [the main character] deal with that emotion. And so, him becoming ashamed to be a part of Team America and being ashamed of himself, he comes to realize that America has this role in the world as a “The Dick”. Cops are dicks, you ****ing hate cops… but you still need ’em.”
Why does Team America deserve the #1 spot on this list though? Because we needed it, America needed it, and the whole world needed it. It’s one thing to satirize other films and genres for comedy but when your film actually raises awareness for an alarming shift in cultural mentality towards something which is frankly more terrifying than terrorism itself that is when your film ceases to be just that and becomes something more, it becomes a social statement and a benchmark.
That is why it is the best “Satirical” comedy.