Humans, eh? We like to think that we’re funny.
There’s your mate – who, lets face it, isn’t really your mate – who gets battered in the pub after two-and-a-half pints of BrewDog and proceeds to then do an impression of everyone sat at the table, as well as Theresa May and Bobby Davro. Do you find him funny? No, not really, but you let him stick around anway, because he always gets a round in. The genre of comedy is a bit like that. Most, if not all, of it is routinely too try-hard enough to land a laugh that you don’t feel is either forced, or practically spelt out to you in bright, neon, you-must-laugh-at-this-now fluorescent letters.
Right, now we’ve gotten this (at times, painful) attempt to write a comedic introduction out of the way, we’re good to go. See, the BBC have, in their eternal wisdom, decided to try and collate together the opinions of 253 film critics to try and deduce the best comedy of all time. No, I don’t know either, they must be bored. The results are diverse, including films from the 1920s, right up until last year – and as is the nature with these ‘definitive lists’, some of the choices are somewhat contentious. As we did recently with Metacritic’s list of the best directors of the 21st century, we had a little gander at the rankings to see if they really measure up.
GHOSTBUSTERS (Place on List: 95)
Ghostbusters, mate. GHOSTBUSTERS. Not just a great comedy film, but by all accounts pretty much a damn near perfect film full-stop. A film that not only has a cast full of comedy greats – Murray, Akroyd, Moranis – firing on all cylinders, but a film so confident in its own vision that it makes Sigourney Weaver at one point say, “There is no Dana, only Zuul” and still somehow gets away with it. The script is pitch-perfect, and Ivan Reitman’s direction has managed, in the decades leading on from the film’s release, to become a sort of capsule to a certain point in time. And what place did this actual classic film – this film that should be shown to younger generations with your All About Eve’s and your Chinatown’s as a masterclass in juggling character, plot, and action – end up on this list? 95. Ninety. Five. Now that’s funny.
THE HANGOVER (Place on List: 98)
In what I feel is the only place on the list that is justified, the first Hangover film, no matter its faults – and, trust me, the faults are many – spearheaded the recent jaunt by modern comedy films into throwing nuance out the window and relying mostly on a combination of fart, dick and sex jokes and a lurid, oftentimes grotesque, version of slapstick physical comedy. Possibly the only good thing to come out of this film was the mainstream film career of Bradley Cooper. But, honestly, that’s about it.
HOT FUZZ Place on List: 66
‘It was just the one swan, actually.’
MEAN GIRLS (Place on List: 57)
Mate, I’m not being funny now, right, but Mean Girls is an epoch-defining piece of modern cinema. What was probably once initially envisioned as a kitschy little star vehicle for Lindsay Lohan as she was experiencing her upward-trajectory into the upper echelons of Hollywood has now transformed into this weird pop culture behemoth. Such is the power of the Mean Girls – a film whose parody is as sharp as a knife at many points – that now, more than a decade after its initial release, a new version of the film has just been adapted by the film’s writer, Tina Fey, for Broadway. For so many people, this film has formed not just part of their childhood, but its been coded into our very existence and dialect online. Like all great satires, Mean Girls’ humour and observations cut very close to the bone, and I think the reason why this film has such a resonance now is that it deals with the central topic of one girl’s determination to become liked by her peers. It’s a journey that we all partake in daily, whether we like it or not, when we look at our follower count on any given social media. So Mean Girls parodied the consumer culture of the early 2000s and the animal kingdom-like hierarchy of teenage existence extremely well, but it also became a prophet for the image-obsessed society we live in now. Sorry, you didn’t come here for a half-baked deconstruction of this century’s most potent satire, but yeah, Mean Girls is fucking ace.
SOME LIKE IT HOT (Place on List: 1)
Look, there are some films that we just have to accept will always be considered the ‘best’ of their respective genre. For example, The Godfather II will always be touted as the finest example of a movie sequel, even though Toy Story 2 is a much tighter, narratively succinct and emotionally resonant continuation of its predecessor. The Exorcist is frequently referenced as the best horror film, even though both Scream and Halloween show a greater understanding, deployment and subversion of horror tropes. Citizen Kane is enshrined as the perfect film, even though I’ve not personally met anyone born in the last three decades who has, a) seen the film, b) managed to finish it or c) hasn’t just watched The Simpsons’ Rosebud parody instead. So, yeah, Some Like It Hot is the film 258 film critics have chosen as the greatest comedy film of all time. It involves, in case you don’t know, two men dressing up in drag after witnessing a mafia execution. Marilyn Monroe is in it, although you’re probably thinking of her in Gentleman Prefer Blondes right now, aren’t you? Well, it’s not that film. It is a different one. It’s in black and white. Is it really the best comedy of all time? Well, who am I to tell you that? All I know is that in a similar poll last year, the BBC saw Mulholland Drive voted as the best piece of modern cinema. Mulholland Drive is my favourite film, so out of respect to that, I’m just gonna chalk this one up to the BBC.
Now, of course, there are comedies – great, bountiful films full of joy de vivre, succinct parody and transcendent characters – that are not mentioned on this list. These include the blackest of black comedies, Network, yer mam’s favourite film, Bridget Jones, In Bruges, which if we’re talking for real probably has a claim to being one of the best modern screenplays, and my personal choice for the movie with the greatest modern cinematic character in Easy A’s Olive Penderghast; a character so potently realised by a then fledging Emma Stone, who has never appeared more confident on screen even when she was tap dancing with Ryan Gosling, that it almost effortlessly shot her to the top of the pops. But, let’s not get started on this one. I’ll be here all day.
In conclusion: comedy is subjective, and so is criticism. Sorry?