The Great Ones

For my first real post, I thought I’d put a list together.  I like lists.  The ranking’s are always completely subjective, but I love the discussions they create (see High Fidelity for examples).  For my first list, I thought I’d go with something near to my heart:  funny movies.  Here is my listing of the top 10 greatest names in the history of film comedy:

This comes as no surprise to anyone that has known me longer than five minutes.  They took everything that was great about vaudeville and brought it to the movies.  In the process, they created the template for every film comedian that followed them.  Eighty years has passed since their first movie, The Cocoanuts, was released and their humor needs no updating.
High point – Duck Soup.  No romantic couple + no harp solo + no dull ballads = 75 minutes of great comedy with no fast forwarding required.

Charlie Chaplin might’ve been the greatest comedic performer of the silent age, but Buster was its greatest film maker.  He was the first comedian who knew how to make a joke with the camera.  On top of that, his stunt work is a miracle to behold. 
High point – Sherlock Jr.  It doesn’t have the grand scale of The General, but for my money it’s Buster at his most inventive.

Okay, so there are really only two great Python films and they’re pretty much just larger versions of what they did on TV, but those two are such great achievements in writing, timing, performing, etc., that they still rank.  They had such a profound impact on me that I spent a good chunk of my early adulthood trying to be them.
High point – Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  Life of Brian might work better as an entire movie, but Grail is funnier.

4.  Zucker – Abrahams – Zucker
Since their form of comedy has been constantly imitated since they first hit it big with Airplane! it can be difficult to appreciate how groundbreaking the ZAZ team’s approach was.  For the first time, the jokes were not in the performance.  The jokes were all in the script and everyone in the movie carried on like it was high drama.  That seems to be what the knock offs (Scary Movie anyone?) have missed. 
High point – Airplane!, though I dearly love Top Secret as well.

Given the state of Eddie Murphy’s career now, it’s hard to explain to anyone who was not alive in the eighties what a force of nature he was early in his career.  Go back and watch Trading Places and you will see the best individual performer of the last fifty years.  It’s rare to get someone who can command the screen the way he could.  His swagger may be gone, but it was great while it lasted.
High point – Beverly Hills Cop.  Without a famous co-star for the first time, Eddie gets to own the whole movie.

There are few people on this earth who could be as clever and crude at the same time as Mel Brooks.  It’s hard to believe the same guy can produce both the dialogue from The Producers and 3-4 minutes of farting around a campfire in Blazing Saddles.  I truly admire someone who makes no distinction between high and low art.  All he cares about is what’s funny.
High point – Young Frankenstein.  He made solid movies before and after, but this is his all-around best.

Whether you call it slob humor, slacker comedy, or whatever else you come up with, these men are its creators.  John started it in Animal House and when he died young, Bill Murray picked up the torch and ran with it.  They may also be the only ones who did it with any sort of grace and wit. 
High point – Animal House for Belushi and Ghostbusters for Murray.

As I mentioned above, Chaplin was the greatest comedic performer of the silent era.  He’s the only one on this list whose humor can also be achingly beautiful.  There’s something about The Little Tramp that gets right in your heart.  I think that’s why so many people get emotional at the end of City Lights.  You feel for him on a more personal level than you ever could with a character whose voice you hear.
High point – Modern Times.  Most say City Lights, but I respectfully disagree.

Since no one else makes movies like the Coen Brothers period, it’s safe to say they make comedies like no one else.  Every year we get comedies full of characters picked out of the cliche bucket, but they’ve given us H.I. (friends call me Hi), the Dude Lebowski, and Ulysses Everett McGill.  I will forever be grateful.
High point – This is a tough call, but it seems The Big Lebowski is their film with the greatest hold on people over time.

You’ll note I didn’t just put “Will Ferrell” on the list.  The reason why is that so far in his career, his only great movies have been with his SNL writing partner, Adam McKay.  And when I say great, I mean it.  I think Anchorman is the funniest movie of the last ten years.  So far, they’ve made two great films together (I’m still not sold on Step Brothers) and I hope more are coming.
High point (so far) – Anchorman.  “It’s made with real panthers, so you know it’s good.”

There it is.  A lot of my favorites are not on the list.  It was tough not to include Woody Allen, but his greatest achievements are blends of comedy and drama, so I decided to go with what you see above.


4 thoughts on “The Great Ones

  1. Happened to see Beverly Hills Cop and Lethal Weapon on two different channels at the same time. I think they are only about a year apart from each other in release date. Early Mel, early Eddie, interesting comparison. Mel owns the mullett, but you can’t take your eyes off Eddie. He is as physically smooth and engaged in the part as he is the dialogue. And I don’t think that movie has aged a bit, except for the cars and the “tracking system” at the police station.

    You know Bill Murray won my heart not just for Ghostbusters, but also for Lost in Translation. Guess that won’t be on the comedies list, but I love that a guy best known for slacker comedy can show us the heart of the slacker too.

    Tom and Andy were recently huddled around his iPod laughing until they cried and the source was Duck Soup. If both the Kephart men are that amused, it must be funny!

    Glad to see you back in writing again. You know I’m you’re biggest fan : )

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