BBC lists are boring. This list isn’t.
The BBC recently polled a number of film critics—not me, for reasons which I can only assume are related to soccer, tea, or supporting Jeremy Corbyn—about their ten best/favorite film comedies of all time. Lists were shared, debates were had, sweeping claims were made. Same as it ever was. In my corner of social media it came down to whether you liked Duck Soup or This Is Spinal Tap more. I had both of them, and a few others, on my list but spent a seeming eternity sweating blood and cursing God for damning man with existence trying to decide if I could include both Beverly Hills Cop and Midnight Run in the top ten or if I had to choose one. Then, a moment after calming down and thinking about how both those films were action-comedies, I realized a lot of my favorite comedies were comedy plus another genre, and a moment after that I realized that most of the movies that made me laugh the hardest weren’t even comedies at all.
This is not to be confused with the schadenfreude of pointing at bad movies and laughing, because while that can be fun occasionally, especially in your youth, too much of it rots your brain. It’s kind of like drugs. Don’t do drugs, kids. What I mean—serious face—is that the funniest moments in film are often found in dramatic, even heavy, movies. The humor can be a cathartic moment. Or, the dramatic movie in question might be interlaced with humor throughout, just like real life, only not to the extent of being considered an outright comedy. Either way, such a movie can often cause harder laughter than an ostensible comedy.
Rather than explain further, here are ten examples of what I’m talking about, and which for SEO purposes I’ll be bellicosely proclaiming the ten funniest non-comedies of all time:
10. On Deadly Ground
Getting this one out of the way first because it contradicts my “don’t point and laugh” suggestion, but the flesh is weak, folks. Steven Seagal fucking directed this movie. Michael Caine wrote a whole thing in the Daily Mail singling this out as the most blatant paycheck role of his career and Michael Caine’s been in a lot of bullshit. The movie ends with an extended soliloquy by Seagal where he rattles off environmental stats and urges his audience, which is to say, us (see, I told you this movie was funny) to get active. As legendary as that last speech is, and it is known simply as The Speech to many, the single funniest moment in the whole movie might be when Seagal, after being saved from a certain death and nursed back to health by a native tribe through some rituals of specious accuracy, explains urgently to Joan Chen (who is not, not to put to fine a point on it, the most convincing Native American in film history, despite declaring “I’m Native American!” near the end of the film) that while he is now woke and understands the importance of environmentalism, violence is still absolutely necessary. The look on Joan Chen’s face when he’s done, part “well, the script says I’m supposed to agree,” part “they’re not paying me nearly enough for this shit” is comedy gold.
9. Je Tu Il Elle
Chantal Akerman’s 1974 breakthrough film is funny for an entirely different reason than the previous entry. It is absolutely not something you laugh at. It’s not even something you laugh with. It’s a film where you laugh in a quantum parallel dimension where you’re like “This is amazing . . . she’s really doing this. This is a thing someone actually made that I get to watch. I could not begin to even try to describe this . . .” And you just have to laugh, because something so paradoxically immovable and mercurial, and wonderful, is happening in front of your eyes and you get to experience it.
8. Certain Women
This is mainly funny for one particular moment. In the first story of the film’s three, a series of events happen that conclude with Jared Harris holding Laura Dern hostage, and Laura Dern talking him into letting her leave the room for a second to help him, at which point she makes a beeline immediately for the cops outside, who immediately arrest him. There is, of course, more context to all this that you should watch the movie to appreciate fully, but there is something so quietly and bleakly hilarious to me about the way Laura Dern walks out of the building. It’s the walk of someone who is absolutely and profoundly too fucking tired for any of this fucking bullshit and wants to go home. The laugh it elicits is a rueful chuckle, to be sure, but it’s a piercing one.
7. The French Connection
Popeye Doyle fascinates me, because he’s a wild asshole, the kind of cop who in real life should be strung up by the balls, but he works as a character in a movie, and he works perfectly in this one. In this one specific instance, Popeye’s renegade act, going by his gut instead of the rules, that whole routine that’s been repeated exhaustively for the last forty-five years because this movie was that good, is exactly what enables him to notice that there’s anything going on in the first place, let alone that an international heroin smuggling ring is conspiring to bring, like, all the heroin into New York. To the point, though, Popeye is funny. His whole “you ever pick your feet in Poughkeepsie?” thing is so weird it’s side-splitting. He’s pretty much the Platonic ideal of the funny asshole, and as such warrants enshrinement.
6. Mean Streets
Scorsese’s natural intensity yields tons of nervous laughter throughout his filmography, although Mean Streets is notable for having whole sequences of deliberate comedy, all in the context of a film that is not itself a comedy. The scene where De Niro elliptically tries to bullshit Keitel about why he somehow doesn’t have any money despite obviously having money, the sublime “mook” sequence, the whole bit where Richard Romanus and David Proval rip off those dickheads from Riverdale, and so on. It may be Scorsese’s funniest movie (ending, of course, aside), and he’s directed a few really good comedies.
5. Boogie Nights
I used to wonder whether there was something wrong with me for finding Boogie Nights as hilarious as I do, only to subsequently learn that there are a whole lot of other things wrong with me to worry about, but it is true that there are a whole lot of things in Boogie Nights that are very, very Not Funny. To wit:
– the psychological and physical abuse inflicted on Dirk by his mother
– Little Bill’s exit
– Amber’s custody battle
– everything in the crosscut storylines on that one night in 1983 (the limo, the donut shop, the homophobes)
– the Colonel’s ultimate fate
On the other hand, vast stretches of Boogie Nights are hilarious. Every Thomas Jane scene, almost every Luis Guzman scene, all the films-within-the-film, “ah like buttah in mah ass and lollipops in mah mouth,” everyone’s reaction shot the first time they see Dirk’s dick, and—this is where a number of you might hop off the rhetorical express, but truth is truth—especially the Alfred Molina scene. There’s something genuinely and profoundly funny about being in a situation that absurdly bleak and dire. Not to mention, “I’m not kidding. I want what’s in the safe! We want what is in the goddamn safe, in the goddamn master bedroom on the fuckin’ floor in the goddamn fuckin’ floor safe, that’s all!” You may not be kidding, Thomas Jane, but that’s a good joke.
4. All About Eve
2. Miller’s Crossing
These are three wildly different movies, but two things unify them, one being that this column is already too fucking long, but the more important thing is that they are all deeply funny movies despite none being comedies, with the unifying thread being that they’re all exquisitely written. At a certain point, any writing of sufficiently high quality is going to be funny at least intermittently, because there’s something about a perfect phrase that’ll make you laugh simply because it’s perfect. As are just about every third line in all of these movies.
1. All The President’s Men
Our number one is funny for reasons highly specific to this particular point in time. There were always elements to All The President’s Men that were funny, like Nixon and his cabal being such bumbling, paranoid headasses, and all the shades of Jason Robards’ exasperation with Redford and Hoffman. But now this movie is funny because it takes place in this alternate universe where Beltway media are actually motivated by the desire to find the truth, and where the president does one illegal thing and the reporters have months to chase the story down, and where the criminal president actually faces consequences for his actions. That’s hilarious, dude. I’ve got a stitch in my side just thinking about it. This movie should be filed in the science-fiction section. Ha ha. Heh.
Anyway. A good laugh is where you find it. It may not even be in a comedy. But it’s good for you.
Related Topics: Comedy