100 best comedy movies: the list
The 100 best comedy movies, picked by experts from across film, TV and comedy
By Tom Huddleston, David Jenkins, Adam Lee Davies, Derek Adams, Edward Lawrenson, Wally Hammond, Ben Walters, Gabriel Tate and Phil Harrison. Explore the individual top tens of every contributor.
- « previous
- next »
Dir Rob Reiner (Michael McKean, Christopher Guest, Harry Shearer)
‘What’re the hours?’
They may have spent years floundering in mid-chart obscurity, but The Tap have finally made it to number one. ‘This Is Spinal Tap’ is of course a bogus ‘rockumentary’ in which indefatigable commercials director Marti DeBergi (Reiner) takes it on himself to monitor the corroding relationships between three members of a has-been hair metal band from London as they tour the US with their grotesque new LP, ‘Smell the Glove’. The core band line-up (those who haven’t fallen foul of spontaneous combustion) is Christopher Guest as Nigel Tufnel on lead, Michael McKean as David St Hubbins also on guitar and Harry Shearer as Derek Smalls on bass. They pride themselves on exuberance, raw power and punctuality, but they’re also baffled by the mysteries of the cosmos: the geometry of sandwiches, the correct way to the stage door and the difference between feet and inches.
It’s sublimely funny and sharp – a comedy built for the long haul which matures with each viewing. It’s so perfectly constructed and performed, the characters so rich and realistic, that it’s initially a challenge to determine the dividing line between reality and fiction. The film doesn’t have any ‘jokes’, per se, but the humour is derived from a pile-up of non sequiturs, loopy proclamations and painfully spot-on observations, all delivered in implausibly effete cockney accents.
But the thing that pushes ‘Spinal Tap’ ahead of the pack is what a radical and immaculately crafted piece of cinema it is. Gags are built around deadpan edits and dialogue pauses rather than slick punchlines. As funny as the hallowed scene in which Nigel boasts of his custom made Marshall amps that go up to 11 (it’s one louder), you wonder if it would have been as brilliant had the exchange gone on just a second longer. It cuts off at the exact point where nothing more needs saying.
Few films have been so successful in employing the mock-doc template for comic ends: Guest’s own ‘Best in Show’ (2000) is perhaps the other outstanding example. But the legacy of ‘Spinal Tap’ can be seen on our television screens in sitcoms like ‘The Office’ and ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’. Even though the film is set in the distinctive (and often very smelly) world of heavy rock, it’s about real people who earn our empathy, despite their manifold faults. The band may bash out egregious anthems like ‘Sex Farm’, but that’s even funnier in the light of the heartbreaking shot at the end of the film where David gently coaxes Nigel on stage after he’s walked out on the band. Forget best comedy, this is one of the best films of all time. DJ
100 best comedy movies by section
Subscribe to Time Out London on Spotify for daily playlists and recommendations from our Music team.