In darkest times, we need a good laugh. Actually, we need a good laugh any time. Sadly, in recent years, good comedy on the big screen has been hard to come by. At least in a direct, definitively classified comedy genre form. Last year’s greatest (only?) laugh out loud movies came out of the superhero genre. We’ve got some of that in 2018, as well, but this has also been a very good year for real comedies. Studio comedies, even.
Maybe there are just more of them? There still seem to be as many clunkers as usual, but in 2018, we’ve seen some excellent mainstream comedies along with a few funny indies and a couple British imports that probably should have come out in 2017 and balanced out that year. Understandably for our times, we’re seeing an increase in social and political comedies. A lot of heavy, serious comedy-drama. More surprisingly, we’re seeing a strong comeback for the rom-com.
What all made the cut for my favorites? Here is my ranking of the 18 best comedies released in the US this year:
18. Deadpool 2
One of our biggest comedy stars of late is not even a real person. Deadpool is the Jim Carrey of the 2010s. No, not Ryan Reynolds, who is very funny in the role, but it’s Deadpool’s name that draws the crowds in. I consider Deadpool 2, maybe even more than the original, to be a comedy first and superhero movie second. The jokes are always more important here than the action. That’s why it’s a shame there’s so much plot included this time around. The sequel feels crowded. But it’s still irreverently hilarious, especially during the X-Force sequence. And Zazie Beetz as Domino is absolutely wonderful.
17. Early Man
Nick Park’s trademark stop-motion animation will always be a delight. Nothing of his will ever top the Wallace and Gromit shorts (even those characters’ feature was slightly lesser fare) or the brilliantly clever Creature Comforts, but most anything from Aardman Animations is like a nice cup of tea. I didn’t laugh as much as I’d hoped during the fairly simply Early Man, which is about a football (soccer) match between a primitive tribe and a more “civilized” people, and personally, I’m just not as interested in sports comedy, but it’s charming and made me smile the whole way through.
I got to visit the set of this comedy, which is based on a true story about friends still playing tag in adulthood, and I saw a whole lot of raunchy improvisation delivered by stars Ed Helms, Jon Hamm, Jake Johnson, and Hannibal Buress (with Carrie Brownstein). So, I was surprised to find none of what I witnessed in the finished product. It’s a more sentimental comedy than anticipated. But the biggest, most pleasant shock was how funny the Jeremy Renner stuff is. Not that he’s responsible so much as it’s the way his over-competitive character is written and directed. There’s some perfect comedic action in this movie, particularly in the Predator homage. Renner’s cover of Crash Test Dummies’ “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm” during the end credits is also superb.
15. The Eleven O’Clock
One of this year’s Oscar nominees in the live-action short category, the 13-minute Australian film injected some much-needed laughs into the otherwise depressing program when it was released to theaters back in February. It’s a well-executed sketch about two men in a therapy session, each of them claiming to be the doctor treating the other. Josh Lawson (best known here for Superstore) wrote the riddle of a script and stars as one of the players in the psychological game of wits. Damon Herriman (Justified) is his opponent. Together, along with director Derin Seale’s pitch-perfect pacing, they achieve a one-joke comedy short where you’re not just waiting for the punchline reveal. The Eleven O’Clock wasn’t even the most award-worthy short among the nominees but it’s the most memorable.
14. Set It Up
Romantic comedy is not dead, and it doesn’t even have to be that clever to matter (though those do matter more). All you need is very likable leads and some sort of decent pathway to bring them together. Set It Up has the first thing in Zoey Deutch and Glen Powell (both from Everybody Wants Some!!), and it has the second thing in an acknowledged mashup of Cyrano de Bergerac and The Parent Trap where the leads team up to play matchmaker with their awful, lonely bosses (Lucy Liu and Taye Diggs, respectively) but then obviously wind up falling for each other. Not only do I love the simple charms of this movie, but I’m glad to see it on Netflix, where not everything has to suck and fortunately there’s an outlet for small romcoms that don’t have the same old familiar big-name stars. A decade ago, this would have been a limited theatrical release indie romcom that few people saw. Hopefully, it’s being streamed and enjoyed by a ton of people.
13. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
Netflix not only gave us a great grown-up romcom with Set It Up, but they delivered an even greater teen romcom with Susan Johnson and Sofia Alvarez’s adaptation of Jenny Han’s book To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. The premise here is a little more original, despite the hint of Can’t Buy Me Love, and should seem a little too convoluted, but again it’s mostly thanks to the cast that the movie is so winning. As the cool loser heroine Lara Jean, Lana Condor gives one of the best breakout performances of the year, while Noah Centineo and Israel Broussard, both of whom could have been rather disposable to keep the emphasis on the protagonist, are among the most memorable male love interests of this genre in a long time. Even the supporting family roles (including child actress on the rise Anna Cathcart as the little sister) are terrific. It’s not often that I look forward to a comedy getting a sequel, but I’m very excited that this movie is popular enough that Netflix has ordered adaptations of Han’s sequels.
For a comedy that’s not often especially funny and has no standout performance, Blockers is a pretty great movie. Amidst John Cena putting a beer bong in his butt and Leslie Mann trying too hard (and still coming off as painfully bland) is a well-balanced, positively and progressively themed story of teen girls planning on having sex on prom night. The two narratives, one following the exaggeratedly overprotective parents and the other the genuinely relatable kids, contrast so effectively for a heartfelt combination, like a mashup of Vacation John Hughes and Sixteen Candles John Hughes that maybe even Hughes himself couldn’t have achieved. It’s ultimately so sweet that I got teary-eyed at the end.
So dark that you’ll constantly question whether what you’re watching truly counts as a comedy, Cory Finley’s Thoroughbreds follows the story of two rich teens who plot to murder one’s stepfather. The comparisons to Heathers and American Psycho going around aren’t too apt, as it never plays as heightened satire, and its tone is as pitch black and dry as humor can get. It’s more like Heavenly Creatures meets Less Than Zero. The cast is perfect, if a little on the nose considering Anya Taylor-Joy and Olivia Cooke always do well with such expressionless roles and Paul Sparks reaches peak asshole, while Anton Yelchin’s involvement in a supporting role is a bittersweet pleasure.
Adam McKay, the former Saturday Night Live head writer turned director of silly modern classics like Anchorman and Step Brothers, is now full-on into the postmodern political comedy — some of us might even say he’s making a kind of humor documentary — that he began with The Big Short. This time, instead of explaining the financial crisis for the layman, he tackles something seemingly easier to understand: one man’s life and career and how he supposedly singlehandedly screwed up American democracy and caused many of the current problems with the entire world. Is Vice both problematic in its too-soon playfulness about serious matters and rather lacking in the point it’s making about Dick Cheney (as perfectly impersonated by Christian Bale)? Sure, but McKay gets a lot of points for doing something so different, and a lot of the comedic devices he uses here are even more brilliant (all the Jesse Plemons stuff for the out-of-nowhere win) than those in his last effort.