The 100 best comedy movies: 10-1

The 100 best comedy movies, picked by experts from across film, TV and comedy

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Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979)

‘He’s not the messiah – he’s a very naughty boy!’

Director: Terry Jones

Cast: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Michael Palin, Eric Idle

Defining moment: ‘Life of Brian’ is best remembered as a satire on religion, but its relentless parodying of post-‘60s radical politics is every bit as sharp and hilarious, reaching its zenith in the ‘what have the Romans ever done for us?’ scene. Splitters!

The Pythons’ second feature is also their creative and comic masterpiece, playing to the strengths of each member and finding ample room for surreal silliness while making its points. And when said points include the scourging of celebrity, fundamentalism and herd mentality, it’s obvious why ‘Life of Brian’ – occasionally ropey sexual politics aside – has simply refused to date. The story is founded on purest farce, as the three wise men arrive at the wrong manger and unsuspecting everyman Brian Cohen is declared the messiah. He duly bumbles alongside the telling of the greatest story ever, ending the film on a calvary cross for a reluctant chorus of ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’.

It’s a dizzying achievement, taking potshots at everything from schoolroom Latin and fringe politics to biblical epics (most of whom it shames with its inattention to period detail) and religious hypocrisy – but, crucially, never religion itself.

Needless to say, this didn’t stop predictable accusations of blasphemy. In fact, the brilliance and acuity of this ambitious, iconoclastic film is best illustrated by the fallout from its release, which proved almost as entertaining as the feature itself. Sweden did its bit, marketing the film as ‘so funny they banned it in Norway’, but the furore peaked on late-night chat show ‘Friday Night, Saturday Morning’, where a palpably furious Michael Palin and John Cleese routed the establishment as represented by Malcolm Muggeridge and the Bishop of Southwark. As Kevin Smith’s ‘Dogma’ proved, its pointed hilarity is unlikely to be bettered. Gabriel Tate

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nathan m
nathan m

The Russians Are Coming etc. may be the funniest movie of all time.