Category Archives: “The Best Comedy of the Year!”
Based on how long it has taken me to do the necessary research for this, my final decade-based installment about how many “great” comedies can reasonably be expected in any given year, it would be easy to assume that the concept of comedy as generational is a winner. Well…maybe. But that would ignore the fact that I have identified here several truly great film comedies which to my eyes and ears hold up no matter what age you are. Some others may depend a little more on your own context and tastes. There certainly are some comedies I have subjected myself to which have aged badly. Not even Lee Marvin and Lee J Cobb could keep my attention on In Like Flint, and if The Ladies Man really is among the best Jerry Lewis has to offer, then I’m really glad I didn’t see one of his “stinkers.” Even some of the really good movies are prisoners of the age, incorporating mildly painful pop culture references and jokes which don’t always land so many years later. Still more perfectly good films like The Graduate, Alfie, and Never on Sunday mysteriously get listed in various places as comedies, when they are clearly dramas.
But these articles are supposed to be more about the movies I do like…so let’s try to focus on those.
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The 1970’s are widely considered to be an era of cinematic genius. Most of this reputation is built on a boiling revolution of elevated realism; the mainstreaming of the work started on stage in the 1930’s by the Group Theatre. It manifested itself in the dark modern dramatic works of Coppola, Scorsese, Cimino, Friedkin, DeNiro and Pacino, among others. At the same time, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg were ushering in the age of the special effects spectacle, the sequel and the t-shirt and toy deal. Comedy is not what first comes to mind.
But the 1970’s were also a powerhouse of iconic comedy. Of course, as a child born at the beginning of the decade, I knew nothing about any of this at the time. What I was getting was Sesame Street and Happy Days. Not that Grover wasn’t a master of vaudeville-style humor. So let’s take a look back at what I was missing and had to discover as a teenager once video tapes of movies became widely available. Let’s travel back to the wild and wooly “Me Decade.”
The first two posts of this series took us back through cinematic humor from today’s genre confusion and obsession with idiots and into the 1990’s which featured a greater proliferation of quality comedy writing and the unfortunate origins of some of today’s most disappointing trends. Now I step into Reagan era comedy with both anticipation and trepidation.
The years 1980-1989 contain both the end of my childhood and the entirety of my teenage years. This means that for more than half of the decade, I did not get to choose which films I got to see at the movie theater. Also, the 1980’s featured the explosion of home entertainment options, but this didn’t really get going for my family until about 1987. So while I saw each of my yearly selections from 1986-1989 on the big screen, the rest of these, I’ve had to catch up with on video or cable and only some of that happened during the 80’s.
My opinions of big screen comedy may be inexorably tied to my own development through this era as my expectations were first established and then subverted. Nobody experiences everything in exactly the same way. But I’m going to keep hold of some of my opinions here with all 32 teeth.
As I indicated in my previous post and in the comments section that came with it, I went into this project fully expecting to prefer the film comedies I would have to choose from as I moved back into my younger days. Is this a bias based on personal tastes? Is it a generational bias that we would see repeated reliably if we polled thousands of people of different ages? Or are there really certain eras for different art forms that are simply of a higher quality than others?
As we roll back into my young adulthood in the 1990s, my guess is that it’s a little bit of all of the above.
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The television commercial for the new Jason Bateman/Melissa McCarthy movie “Identity Thief” makes the claim that it is “the first great comedy of the year!” Now I haven’t seen Identity Thief, so I have no personal experience to be able to refute this claim. Both Bateman and McCarthy are charming performers who have been funny in other stuff. So maybe that claim is fully reasonable. But somehow I doubt it.
This got me to thinking. How many “great” comedies are the producers of Identity Thief expecting to be released this year? Based on the history of modern English-speaking film, how many “great” comedies could reasonably be expected to hit screens in a single calendar year? Now, clearly this is a question without a definitive answer. What constitutes a great comedy will be very different from person to person. What I have decided to do is to look at film comedies from each year and select the best for each. At times I will also give my overall impression of the year in movie mirth. This first installment will cover the years 2000-2011, with future posts reflecting each decade. Right now, I expect to do five posts, with the last one covering the 1960s and 1959. If you can’t figure out why I would shoehorn 1959 in, keep reading and all will be revealed.