The comedy genre has evolved and matured over the decades, from antics to thinly veiled puns, from classic icons like Charlie Chaplin to modern day greats like Robin Williams. We’ve gotten to a stage where can’t classify comedy as just one type. There are different phases, each of which aspires to achieve the same end result: a barrel of laughs from the audience.
Edgar Wright, Shane Black, the duo of Lord and Miller are only a few of today’s names who have pushed the comedy genre forward and make it what it is today. As society evolves/devolves, jokes have become more open (more offensive and vulgar sometimes), but they all serve the same purpose. But behind all the laughs, they also want to tell a story, to send us a message.
It’s almost 2020 right now (scary, I know), and we’ve seen some movies over the past two decades that have or will become cinema classics. Here’s a list of what I think were the best or most impactful comedy movies of the century, in chronological order.
1. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004)
Director: Adam McKay
The blooper reels are enough to make you spit out your morning coffee and (do excuse me for this) ROFL. Will Ferrel has done his fair share of memorable comedic roles, but none will ever match up to the extremely quotable, extremely wacky Ron Burgundy.
Directed by Adam McKay, the film stars actors who have since gone on to achieve worldwide fame and fortune. Will Ferrel, Paul Rudd, Steve Carrel and Christina Applegate give hilarious performances in a film that only gets better with each viewing.
2. Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Director: Edgar Wright
Baby Driver wasn’t the only iconic film Edgar Wright’s made. This movie made him a comedy juggernaut. And before going on to become Tom Cruise’s faithful sidekick, Simon Pegg was busy trying to escape a zombie invasion as the titular character, Shaun. This is a full on parody of the zombie genre and it is fully aware of all the subtle jokes from the airtight script by Pegg and Wright.
But credit to Wright. Using his signature cinematic style, he makes the movie even better than it actually is, turning it into a classic of the modern era.
3. Kiss, Kiss, Bang Bang (2005)
Director: Shane Black
A noir comedy. You can’t possibly make that! Shane Black thought otherwise in this delighful crime noir, which Black spices up with his doses of razor sharp comedy. With Robert Downey Jr and Val Kilmer giving amazing performances, Shane Black plays around with the script, and takes a few shots at the genre it’s supposed to be in.
Probably the best aspect of its film is its awareness. Black clearly knows the rules of the noir game, and through RDJ’s sarcastic narration, he’s literally making fun of the entire structure of crime noir genre. It’s brilliant.
4. The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005)
Director: Judd Apatow
Whenever I think about The 40-Year-Old Virgin, I always think about the chest waxing scene. That was a real chest wax. That was Steve Carrel shouting out random meaningless words, whilst Seth Rogen and the like couldn’t hold in their actor. It was all improvised, it was not the intended scene. But it was pure comedy gold.
Judd Apatow changed the face of comedy in the early 2000s, and this movie was a step in the right direction. It showed us the acting range of Steve Carrell, Catherine Keener, Paul Rudd and Seth Rogen. Sure, it may be a bit of a mixed bag overall, but in pure comedy terms, few can beat it.
5. Borat (2006)
Director: Larry Charles
Borat was a real game-changer. Few people had been aware of Sacha Baron Cohen’s Ali G persona, but Borat took EVERYONE off-guard. It showed us the extent that Cohen was willing to go for the movie. He was firing shots with literally every scene in his movie, but for those of us who weren’t offended by it, it was rib-tickling laughter for the entire duration.
The best part is, a lot of these scenes aren’t rehearsed. It’s just Cohen as Borat, making it up as he goes, thinking on his feet, with impeccable comedic timing. Borat remains an iconic performance to this day, and I doubt whether Cohen can top this.
Recommended: 18 Best Bollywood Comedy Movies Of All Time
6. Superbad (2007)
Director: Greg Mottola
Superbad was the coming-of-age comedy for the 90s kids. It was the movie you’d watch with your bros. It’s got heart, it’s got humour, it’s got dick jokes. Of all of Judd Apatow’s creations, this one is truly special.
Who knew that the fat kid from Superbad would go on to be a multiple Academy Award nominee? Where has the time gone?
Where to Watch: Netflix
7. Scott Pilgrim vs The World (2010)
Director: Edgar Wright
Of all the films in this list, I’d say this one was my favourite. Because of the video game-y feel, you know? After the successes of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz (unfortunately, not on this list, but was close), Edgar Wright decided to adapt Bryan Lee O’Malley’s beloved comic books into a brilliant action, romance, comedy.
The editing, visuals and cinematic style of the film are an absolute treat to watch, and most of the cast has gone on to achieve greater things, like Anna Kendrick, Aubrey Plaza, Brie Larson, and Chris Evans. It’s a very strange movie with wacky, out-of-place elements all put together and made into one perfect script. I love, love, LOVE this film.
8. 21 Jump Street (2012)
Directors: Phil Lord, Chris Miller
Remake a long forgotten TV series, with a script that never should’ve worked in the first place, hire actors with amazing chemistry and make a buddy comedy classic. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller are geniuses.
The film is the ultimate satire, with references made from the genre itself to making fun of the entire plot. All with the amazing AP Chemistry (get it?) of Jenko (Channing Tatum) and Schmidt (Jonah Hill), complete with stereotypical Angry Black Captain (Ice Cube) who tells us to embrace our stereotypes. Doesn’t get much better than this.
9. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
Director: Wes Anderson
Wes Anderson’s style isn’t for everyone, but one can’t resist the charms of The Grand Budapest Hotel, where Anderson takes a completely different style of filmmaking. The performances are generally excellent, the movie is a mix of class, humour, romance and absurdity. The music of the movie seems to intensify those themes.
The pacing of the movie is perfect, the set pieces are beautiful and the direction is of the highest form. It’s Wes Anderson, so I wouldn’t expect anything less.
10. The Nice Guys (2016)
Director: Shane Black
Shane Black does it again. Bringing together two megastars of their generation in this odd mystery involving an odd duo wading their way through the world of drugs, pornography and the streets of 1970s LA.
Russel Crowe and Ryan Gosling are incredibly compatible with each other, the cinematography brings out the 70s vibe, as does the costumes. Before Richard Nixon tries to shake my hand, I’d like to see a sequel to this movie.
Didn’t get the reference? Watch The Nice Guys. It’ll be worth your while.
By Aditya Sarma
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I'm an engineering graduate trying to make the most out of what life throws at me. Currently working as a Brand Strategist at Mitsogo Inc, Chennai. Outside work, you can find me on a football pitch, a basketball court, or in front of a tea stall - still trying to make the most out of what I get.