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The Observer’s Funniest 50 Films … Ever?

The Observer announced the results of the poll for their readers’ favourite comedy films. You can find the results here and here. Note that they say ‘hundreds’ voted – that’s not very much, is it? If it wasn’t for the fact they had been trailing it in their paper for a few weeks, they might have tried to forget it and not bothered. So, with that in mind, let’s take a look …

1. Life of Brian
Directed by Terry Jones, 1979
Very happy with this choice. Funny in of itself and as a film, it transcends their sketch nature and is a complete cinematic entity. Deserving of the number one slot on the list.

2. Airplane!
Dir. Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker, 1980
Based on the gag ratio, this earns its place.

3. This Is Spinal Tap
Dir. Rob Reiner, 1984
I’ve never been a big fan, but I can appreciate what it means to a lot of people.

4. Some Like It Hot
Dir. Billy Wilder, 1959
Happy to see this so high – some old films don’t hold up so well, or fall out of favour with the times, but this still has it after all these years. One of the great last lines ever.

5. Withnail and I
Dir. Bruce Robinson, 1986
The student classic – I am one of those who saw it just before attending university to claim it as our own – so my bias gets in the way. You won’t find this on a US list – I had to introduce it to my fellow Americans in a film appreciation society I was a member of, as a sort of cultural exchange.

6. Blazing Saddles
Dir. Mel Brooks, 1974
This gets in solely for the fireside farting scene – there is no single scene funnier in cinema history.

7. The Big Lebowski
Dir. Joel Coen, 1998
With the reverence around this film, a lot of people clamour for the earlier Raising Arizona (which is also on the list). Not me; this film is endlessly watchable, with a wonderful central performance by Bridges and ably supported by the sterling Coen troop.

8. Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Dir. Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, 1975
This is the really funny one, but falls really flat at the end (strangely, the breaking of the fourth wall works much better in Spamalot).

9. Duck Soup
Dir. Leo Mccarey, 1933
It’s hard to pin down the favourite Marx Brothers films – the memory plays tricks that make you want to mush all your favourite moments into one, joyous film – especially with some of the unnecessary singing and romance bits forced on them by the studio. I think people went for this one because of the ‘There’s no sanity clause’ line.

10. Young Frankenstein
Dir. Mel Brooks, 1974
I prefer this to The Producers, which it beats in the list, with its affection for the original material and the silliness (‘Igor, help me with the bags.’ ‘Soitenly. You take the blonde, I’ll take the one in the turban.’ ‘Abby. Abby Normal.’) but I haven’t watched it years, so does that say something?

11. The Producers
Dir. Mel Brooks, 1968
Apart from the genius idea of the Busby Berkely ‘Springtime For Hitler’, this doesn’t do much for me. This is one of those films that highlights the divisiveness of comedy – while films in general can be deemed good or bad on a comparison of factors, comedy either makes you laugh or it doesn’t. This doesn’t.

12. Shaun of the Dead
Dir. Edgar Wright, 2004
Whereas this does. I’m a huge fan of Spaced, so this was a dead cert; the only question was how much I would like it. Combine the quality pair of Pegg and Frost, the film references, the London theme, and the packing of jokes into a good story, and Bingo.

13. Groundhog Day
Dir. Harold Ramis, 1993
I’m always surprised to see this film so fondly remembered, as it always feels like something you discovered alone. It isn’t full of quotes but it has a magic too it – how else could you explain a film so watchable based on repeating the same day again and again and again …?

14. Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
Dir. Stanley Kubrick, 1964
A classic film that you don’t think of as a ‘comedy’ because it is very black comedy. However, it’s good to see here among the more recent entries, giving hope to the rest of the list. (‘Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the War Room.’)

15. Planes, Trains and Automobiles
Dir. John Hughes, 1987
I suppose this is amusing but I’m not a fan of John Candy and Martin is not interesting when he plays it straight. I’m surprised it’s so high on the list.

16. The Man with Two Brains
Dir. Carl Reiner, 1983
As they mention in the article, this has one of the great lines: ‘I couldn’t fuck a gorilla …’ and Steve Martin on totally funny form. It’s completely silly, but in a good way, and deserves its status on the list.

17. There’s Something About Mary
Dir. Peter and Bobby Farrelly, 1998
This is a symptom of short-term memory – it’s funny but not that funny; it’s more sweet than anything else, with some gross-out moments that everybody remembers. Personally, the moment I remember is the wife coming up from fellating her husband while he watches the news on TV and sees Ben Stiller’s character, wiping her mouth before saying something, and then him pushing her down again, but that could just be me …

18. Annie Hall
Dir. Woody Allen, 1977
A comedy with an Oscar – huzzah. The best mix of funny Allen and character piece he has made, with lots of wonderful moments. You have to feel sorry for him having to match his earlier catalogue in the films he makes now.

19. Dumb and Dumber
Dir. Peter and Bobby Farrelly, 1994
I don’t have anything against the Farrelly bothers, but I don’t understand why this is on the list – It’s mind-boggling. I refuse to discuss it further.

20. Anchorman: the Legend of Ron Burgundy
Dir. Adam Mckay, 2004
Of the many comedies he has made, this is the one that captures Ferrell’s wonderful sense of the absurd while in character (‘San Diego, which of course in German means a whale’s vagina’). It’s the most ‘blokey’ of his comedies, i.e. endlessly quotable, completely silly and not necessarily a great film, but the funny bits are really, really funny.

21. Mr Hulot’s Holiday
Dir. Jacques Tati, 1953
Never seen it, don’t want to (mostly based on the fact that Rowan Atkinson uses it to justify the totally unfunny Mr Bean antics).

22. Shrek
Dir. Andrew Adamson, Vicky Jenson, 2001
Good to see what is supposedly a kids’ film so high up, especially as it mocks the children’s beloved Disney so much. This is indeed very funny stuff, so much so that it gave others the idea that film references in CGI films are all you need to make something funny which isn’t (e.g. Shark’s Tale)

23. Best in Show
Dir. Christopher Guest, 2000
‘And to think that in some countries these dogs are eaten.’ Is this funnier than A Mighty Wind or Waiting For Guffman? I’m not sure; perhaps it is the more Brit-friendly conceit of dogs, rather than folk music or amateur theatre respectively. Still, the quality shines through in a very funny mockumentary.

24. Kind Hearts and Coronets
Dir. Robert Hamer, 1949
Ah, some Ealing black comedy. I don’t remember it as huge belly laughs, though …

25. Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
Dir. Larry Charles, 2006
Now, this is all about huge belly laughs; painful, wet yourself, I can’t believe they just did that laughs. I don’t know if this survives repeated viewing, but the first time is absolutely hilarious. Cohen suffers for his art.

26. The General
Dir. Buster Keaton, Clyde Bruckman, 1927
People usually bring up the trio of old comedy: Chaplain (the artist), Keaton (the perfectionist), Laurel & Hardy (the populists). Personally, I prefer Harold Lloyd. Therefore, I cannot comment.

27. A Fish Called Wanda
Dir. Charles Crichton, 1988
Despite having that old Ealing feel, this was charmingly funny and delightfully English. And Kevin Kline is the best thing in it, which is why he got the Oscar for best supporting actor.

28. Way Out West
Dir. James W Horne, 1937
See comments for The General. I like Stan and Ollie, but don’t love them. Still, good song.

29. The Odd Couple
Dir. Gene Saks, 1968
Lemmon and Matthau in perfect harmony, with a great script from Neil Simon – sometimes he just has a good line, here it all works well.

30. The Ladykillers
Dir. Alexander MacKendrick, 1955
More evidence for the fact that this was a British poll. How dark do we like our comedy? This is quite delicious; please don’t bother with the remake unless you are a Coen completist.

31. The Blues Brothers
Dir. John Landis, 1980
When I think of this, I think of the music rather than the comedy. (Also, where is the love for Animal House? A US vs UK thing, perhaps?) It’s a film I can watch anytime, but not necessarily for the laughs, despite the scene with the nun punishing them for swearing.

32. Arsenic and Old Lace
Dir. Frank Capra, 1944
I have not seen; my film buff status revoked.

33. Bringing Up Baby
Dir. Howard Hawks, 1938
I’m not a great fan of the screwball comedies – they irritate me. Watching them is like hearing a metal glove on a blackboard. But it’s all opinion, isn’t it?

34. A Night at the Opera
Dir. Sam Wood, 1935
All the Marx brothers films should be equal in their status.

35. Kingpin
Dir. Bobby and Peter Farrelly, 1996
I’m going to look like a Farrelly hater, but I don’t find this funny. Perhaps because I don’t like Woody Harrelson very much (don’t know why), but this is, at best, amusing. Sorry.

36. The Naked Gun
Dir. David Zucker, 1988
The humour in this gets pretty awful at times, but the gag rate compensates. However, it doesn’t rate Top 50 funniest film status.

37. It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World
Dir. Stanley Kramer, 1963
A comedy of its time – seeing all those ‘mad’s in the title turns me off. You couldn’t have made me want to see it less if you’d called it ‘Wacky’ or ‘Zany’. Surely people’s affection for this is for the cameos?

38. Raising Arizona
Dir. Joel Coen, 1987
Funny as a whole rather than the individual parts, I always feel. The brash energy of young filmmakers getting the opportunity to unleash, but I would prefer O Brother, Where Art Thou? instead, which I find much funnier.

39. Team America: World Police
Dir. Trey Parker, 2004
Personally, I think that South Park: Bigger, Longer, Uncut is funnier, but this is still pretty damn hilarious and is the sort of comedy one thinks of when you talk about ‘comedy films’.

40. Trading Places
Dir. John Landis, 1983
Should a film where a man is sodomised by a gorilla be allowed to be funny? (Is that something to do with Eddie Murphy? His Dr Doolittle has a man being buggered by a giant hamster.) I wouldn’t put it on the list, even for Jamie Lee Curtis’ breasts.

41. American Pie
Dir. Paul Weitz, 1999
No, no, no, no. A Porky’s for the millennium does not deserve to be on the list. It’s not very funny. A simpleton sticking his genitals in warm pastry products? Are you that obvious?

42. Hot Fuzz
Dir. Edgar Wright, 2007
Even though this is current, I think it has the chops to earn its place on the list. The big laughs come from Nick Frost, but the whole thing is a piss-take of epic proportions, so well done to the boys.

43. Love and Death
Dir. Woody Allen, 1975
It’s all the ‘early, funny ones’, isn’t it? It’s a shame that Allen feels guilty about having a God-given gift for writing funny lines that he needs to make amends by doing his Bergman imitation. It is all right to be funny, Woody …

44. Meet the Fockers
Dir. Jay Roach, 2004
Fuck. Off.

45. Sleeper
Dir. Woody Allen, 1973
See comments for Love and Death. Like the Marx brothers, the good Allen films should earn joint position to balance them out.

46. South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut
Dir. Trey Parker, 1999
When I saw this in the cinema, I was amazed that my then-girlfriend fell asleep next to me as I was laughing like an idiot. Uncle Fucker is genius, and the satire is funny too.

47. Stir Crazy
Dir. Sidney Poitier, 1980
Really? Really? Have you watched it again recently?

48. The Music Box
Dir. James Parrott, 1932
Laurel and Hardy moving a piano is classic stuff. I feel hard-pressed to include it but I can’t deny their comedy magic.

49. Tootsie
Dir. Sydney Pollack, 1982
Haven’t seen it, don’t want to.

50. Uncle Buck
Dir. John Hughes, 1989
Of the many films that could be on the list and this makes it? That’s bizarre. Occasionally amusing but Top 50? I don’t think so.

This could have been worse but it comes down to the fact that it is a list of votes from people who use the internet and in no way representative of a sufficiently large selection of people (but that’s a good thing, as they would probably have bloody Mr Bean in there). And it all comes down to particular taste in comedy, which is why it always has such a difficult time when it comes to the Oscars, because there is no easy rating system for it.

Personally, I would have Clerks in there, as well as When Harry Met Sally …, which gets relegated in these things because it is a romantic comedy, despite the fact that it’s really, really funny. There are some surprise omissions – no Ghostbusters? Zoolander? Austin Powers? – based on the rest of the list, and there are of course very few old films (comedy is very subject to the time it was made). However, it does provoke discussion and, of course, easy blog posts …

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