Sunday, August 25, 2013

Top Comedies of All Time Pt. 1

Well, I've been meaning to do this for quite some time, so I figured I might as well jump into it. It's an arduous task, to say the least, trying to compile a list of my personal top all-time films, starting with comedies. I say arduous because other than the top one or two, it gets a bit rough really trying to place them, let alone the stickiness of "well it IS a comedy, but it also isn't", which many of my favorites fall into. Some that fall into this pit of doom, are movies like The Princess Bride, Big Trouble in Little China, Home Alone, Beetle-juice, The Addams Family, etc., which are all certainly comedies, but they also have elements of one or more other genres, sometimes heavily so. So it gets a bit rough trying to say "Well should I count this as one of my top comedies, or a top something else?"

But that conundrum aside, I'm going to start making the attempt anyway. It should be noted that naturally, I will be covering pretty much all of these films on their own, in far greater depth, at some point down the road. It should also be noted (though it kind of goes without saying) that these are my own personal top comedy picks, and not any sort of attempt at some kind of "Official List". So here goes nothing.

Young Frankenstein (1974) - This Mel Brooks classic tops not only my list of favorite all-time comedies, but favorite movies of all time as well. Over the years of my life, my "favorite movie ever" has changed many times. But now that I'm into my early 30s, and am getting pretty well set into my adult ways, Young Frankenstein just absolutely tops the list. There is really nothing NOT to like about this film. It has everything: it's a great send-up to the classic Hollywood horror films of the 30s and 40s, it's a hilarous, and terribly clever comedy, it's got an amazing cast, great cinematography, perfect pacing, you name it. It was co-written by Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks (one of the few Brooks films he doesn't also at least appear in on-screen), and the genius of both men really shines. I honestly wish that Brooks and Wilder had done more than three films together, because their work (The Producers, Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein) is just solid gold. They both did great things separately, but I don't think it's too hard an argument to make, to claim that their best works were together.

But at the end of the day, there is a very select number of films that are at the top of my favorites list, that I can literally pretty much just put on and watch any time. Most of my favorite films, even if I really love them, I have to be in the mood to want to watch them. But there those precious few, that I can be totally content watching almost any old time. And Young Frankenstein, again, tops that list.

Ghostbusters (1984) - What do you get when you combine the creative genius of guys like Ivan Reitman, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, with the onscreen chops and chemistry of people like Aykroyd, Ramis, Rick Morranis,  Ernie Hudson, Sigourney Weaver and Bill Murray? One of the single greatest films ever crafted, is what. A film that, when in production, I'm sure very few people ever suspected would blow up to become the massive, decade defining mega-hit that it was, but that's exactly what Ghostbusters did. Similarly to Young Frankenstein, I have only slight qualms about including it on a "Top Comedy Film" list, simply because it has such strong elements of other genres, namely horror and science fiction. Ghostbusters blends it's elements so well, the sci-fi and paranormal pastiche, the at-times-genuinely-creepy horror moments, the clever and subtle humor infused throughout. The casting was perfect, the writing spot on, the cinematics again excellent, a great (though very 80s) soundtrack, the story was interesting and compelling, and the film even had great stop-motion and practical special effects work that still stands up today. 

Ghostbusters became so popular, that it pretty much made the careers of Aykroyd and Murray, both of whom were already rising stars, it solidified the directing careers of Ramis and Reitman, it helped further propel the likes of Weaver and Morranis to their own stardom, and that was just the people involved. The theme song by Ray Parker Jr. is still popular to this day, and was a massive hit in the 80s. The movie spawned toys, comics, video games, a 1989 sequel, and one of the greatest cartoon shows of all time, "The Real Ghostbusters". This is another film atop that list of movies I can watch at any time.

Throw Momma From the Train (1987) - In what would be a breakthrough "leading man" role, as well as first major directorial success for Danny DeVito, his pairing with Billy Crystal for this film was pure magic from start to finish. Where the first two films on this list take elements from/are sendups to classic science fiction and horror films, this is equally a comedy as well as a love letter to classic noir and Alfred Hitchcock style mystery/suspense films. Character actress Anne Ramsey had a great turn as DeVito's senile, overbearing mother. As a writer, this film also holds some special resonance with me, on being a writer and the struggle of keeping yourself writing, not to mention finishing a work. But beyond that, it's just a great, truly classic comedy in every sense of the word.

Haunted Honeymoon (1986) - Two of Gene Wilder's directorial efforts that I really love (the other being 1977's "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother"), this film upon theatrical release was a financial failure, as it's stay at the box office was terribly short. Which, in this man's estimation at least, is a real crime of Hollywood, considering the fact that it is, in many ways, a truly brilliant and genuinely funny film. Wilder wrote, directed and starred in this film, co-starring alongside his then wife in her final film before her death to ovarian cancer in 1989, Gilda Radner. And they really are fantastic together on-screen. The film features a great supporting cast of character actors such as Jonathan Pryce, Paul L. Smith and of course Dom DeLuise in a great cross-dressing role as the eccentric "Aunt Kate". This film is yet again a bit of a genre-bender, a send-up to both classic radio dramas as well as classic Hollywood horror and mystery films.

Of the "Top Five" that I'm covering in this entry, this is by far the most under-viewed and underrated. A largely unappreciated film upon it's original release, it is one of those that found it's audience later through cable and home video, which is where I first discovered it as a kid. It's a great film, and also no coincidence whatsoever that Gene Wilder features so prominently in my favorite comedy films, as he was to me, without question, one of the few true geniuses of the art.

Groundhog Day (1993) - A Harold Ramis film starring Chris Elliot, Andie MacDowell, and Bill Murray, this is (spoilers) probably the most recent comedy film in my "Top Ten". It is also the only one of these "Top Five" that is not really a send-up to another genre, though it's fairly original premise does carry light science fiction within it: the idea that a man could get stuck living out the same day, over and over, for a very long time, perhaps even forever. The genius of this film, is both in the concept, and the way Murray is able to portray a character's evolution and growth within a never-ending existential crisis, how he copes with it, and how he eventually comes out the other side. This movie is not as rife with completely "laugh out loud" moments as it's fellow top candidates, but what it does share with them, is that it too is basically a movie I can sit and watch whenever. Not AS strongly as the others, there is a slight "in the mood" threshhold for Groundhog Day, but it's still right there, toeing that line.

So that's it for now. I'll be back with continuing increments in the future, but for now, enjoy, and if you haven't seen any of these films I've mentioned, please do yourself a favor and make sure that you do see them, as soon as possible. They're that good.

1 comment:

  1. Good list. I haven't seen Throw Momma From the Train or Haunted Honeymoon yet, so I'll have to check 'em yet. Modern comedies suck so bad.


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