This article is part of our 2019 Rewind. Follow along as we explore the best and most interesting movies, shows, performances, and more from 2019.
Some of this year’s funniest movie moments appear in Marriage Story and The Lighthouse. But they’re not comedies. Not according to how they were submitted for Golden Globes consideration anyway. Then again, Uncut Gems was submitted as a comedy and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association overturned the studio’s claim and re-classified the movie as a drama. Genre is fluid, but we have to draw the line sometimes, especially if it means not having the same movies on every single one of our end of year lists.
If only we could easily define comedies as they were in Shakespeare’s time, with the rule of whether the story ended with a wedding. What distinguishes a comedy now is typically its premise, usually matched by a certain tone. But one or the other will do. I believe everything on this list of my 25 favorite comedies of 2019 falls under that qualification. They cover a wide range of comedic style and purpose, most of them have happy endings (as Shakespeare would have had them) or at least bittersweet, and almost all of them made me literally laugh out loud at some point, which is rare for me.
25. Between Two Ferns: The Movie
There is so much content available nowadays, including free comedic media online from sources such as Funny or Die. But a lot of the hits we’ve been getting at no cost and in short form are expanding to feature-length spinoffs. Between Two Ferns: The Movie and Mister America are two examples of this happening. The former is originally a Funny or Die program that Netflix wrote a check for; the latter similarly comes from a web series (On Cinema at the Cinema) that evolved into an Adult Swim staple and has broadened further into a whole shared universe of material. Both movie extensions take a rather loose mockumentary approach (often abandoning the format) and focus on dislikable protagonists (respectively played by Zach Galifianakis and Tim Heidecker) who host low-budget TV shows but are looking to evolve professionally.
Between Two Ferns takes its idea on the road and finds some good jokes outside of the awkward talk show foundation (Chrissy Teigen is a highlight among the celebrity cameos while Lauren Lapkus often steals the movie as Galifianakis’ producer). But it mostly works as a means of stringing together bits of the public access show parody sketch format, and those scenes remain the main attraction — however, the blooper reel from the filming of these segments played during the end credits is the funniest part of the movie. The wraparound narrative can get tedious, especially when the humor of the Between the Two Ferns concept is overexplained but its destination pays off. Interesting side note: this is the first of three films on this list (one of two in which he plays “himself”) to feature standout work from Keanu Reeves.
24. Mister America
Mister America is a much drier and darker comedy in which Heidecker’s fictional personality runs for district attorney in order to unseat the “rat” who’d prosecuted him. The initial court case that sets things in motion (involving a music festival gone wrong, making Heidecker a parody of Fyre Festival fraudster Billy McFarland) played out as a crossover TV event a couple of years ago, but newcomers to this world aren’t lost entering the movie cold. Personally, I’d only been slightly familiar with the movie review show portion of the universe and remain a casual fan of these guys if only because I don’t have time to fully commit to their sprawling franchise. Gregg Turkington continues to be my favorite half of the duo and he’s the most plainly funny part of the movie, but like Lapkus in Between Two Ferns: The Movie, it’s the main character’s right-hand woman, here Terri Parks as Heidecker’s campaign manager, who runs away with the film most of the time.
23. The Dead Don’t Die
Let me start off by admitting that I haven’t yet seen One Cut of the Dead. I know. I’m sure our own Rob Hunter will send me Slack messages of disapproval when he hears of this lapse in my comedy movie coverage (see his review, calling it the best zom-com in years). I actually thought it officially came out in 2018. Truthfully, I should have more foreign-language comedy on this list anyway, and I’m sorry. There’s really no excuse for my failure with One Cut of the Dead, in particular, especially as I’m aware it’s the best-reviewed comedy movie of the year. I just ran out of time and still just haven’t sprung for a Shudder account since I’m not a big horror fan generally. That said, I did enjoy two other zombie comedies released in 2019.
As it turns out, the first one of two zom-coms on this list is among the worst-reviewed comedies of the year, if only because a lot of critics were disappointed by it. The Dead Don’t Die is a one-joke idea from Jim Jarmusch, who clearly just got a chuckle out of uniting the words undead and deadpan as the spark for a feature film. There’s more to it, though, from its flat but consistent social satire to its self-satisfying meta jokes, which don’t sound like much of a sell as I’m putting it but to me are fine attributes of a Jarmusch joint. Even if it’s one where he might have aptly just directed in a zombie-like state of autopilot (his “chardonnay!” is “action!”) There is also, fortunately, the central appeal of Adam Driver, Chloe Sevigny, and Bill Murray (whose other zom-com this year, Zombieland: Double Tap, I’ve also still not seen) as smalltown police navigating and guiding us through the lightly dark (grey?) comedy.
22. Little Monsters
Little Monsters starts off a bit slow as it introduces us at length to one of the most obnoxious and terrible human protagonists of the year, the kind whom I don’t buy transforms as a person by story’s end. Once we meet Lupita Nyong’o‘s kindergarten teacher, though, everything changes. Because Lupita Nyong’o is that wonderful a movie presence, and while she doesn’t get to show off her talent at its best, as she does this year in Us, she deserves to do something lighter and easier for a change — not that pretending to fall in love with the lead asshole in this is a simple performance. She also exhibits a sort of evolution in how she reveals her character’s fears, anger, and strength that has to normally be hidden in her job. Then there’s Josh Gad, who is profanely hilarious as a self-centered, sex-addicted children’s television personality. And if you close your eyes and imagine it’s Olaf from Frozen who is speaking his dialogue, it’s even funnier. Also kudos to the movie having such a contained zombie invasion. If the dead ever do rise, I hope it’s in Australia at a farm in the middle of nowhere.
21. Jojo Rabbit
Fans of this movie will be shocked to see it so low on the list, while people who hate it will be disappointed it’s on here at all. Frankly, I don’t get the passion for or against it. It’s good, it’s funny at times, and it has an interesting theme to it involving the mythologizing of idols, enemies, and loved ones (Adolf Hitler isn’t the only bit of pretend; there’s also Scarlett Johansson character masquerading as her husband and the various ways that Thomasin McKenzie‘s character is viewed, either as monster, ghost, or impersonated sister, and there’s the memory of and Jojo’s posing as her boyfriend). Also, Taika Waititi is amusingly silly as an imaginary Fuhrer while Archie Gates is a delightful and humorous little butterball of a sidekick. If only it hadn’t just ended with a toothless thud maybe it’d actually be higher on this list.