‘Expectum. Espertum. Ca coomb. Too Too. Eplubium. Amen.’
Director: Emile Ardolino
Cast: Whoopi Goldberg, Maggie Smith
Defining moment: Whoopi’s loose-living free spirit has to knuckle down to the rigorous demands of convent life.
White hot from an Oscar win for ‘Ghost’ and anticipating the next 20 years of song and dance-based TV light entertainment, Whoopi Goldberg stars in possibly the funniest nunsploitation soul-review chase comedy since Ken Russell’s ‘The Devils’. Having accidentally witnessed a mob hit, she’s forced to lay low in a San Fran nunnery, where she duly drops a 20-megaton sass bomb all over the place and before you can say, ‘Hey isn’t this all a bit racist and/or sacrilegious?’, she’s got a gaggle of nervy white nuns gospelling their way to the pulpit. An everyday story. David JenkinsRead more
Carry on Screaming (1966)
Director: Gerald Thomas
Cast: Kenneth Williams, Harry H Corbett
Defining moment: The face-off between Kenneth Williams’s reanimated doctor and Harry H Corbett’s straight-laced cop is a magnificent meeting of comedy giants.
Britain’s best loved low-budget comedy outfit pays tribute to its best loved low-budget horror outfit: the Hammer studio. The twelfth movie in the ‘Carry On’ series revolves around monsters and mad scientists in Edwardian London, features perfectly over-the-top performances from Kenneth Williams and Harry H Corbett (standing in for an unavailable Sid James) and lovingly sends up the lurid style and torrid blood-letting of the Hammer crowd. It's surprisingly scary, too. Edward Lawrenson
‘An empty desk is an efficient desk.’
Director: Terry Gilliam
Cast: Jonathan Pryce, Robert De Niro, Michael Palin
Defining moment: The moment where we realise Michael Palin’s grinning, avuncular Jack is a truly inhuman monster speaks volumes about the banality of evil.
Terry Gilliam’s dark, dystopian sci-fi isn’t, by a long stretch, a happy-go-lucky film, but its absurd, appalled, incredulous portrait of a repressive future state is, without doubt, richly comic, its savage wit owing a debt to diverse sources from Franz Kafka to Monty Python. The American studio behind ‘Brazil’ didn’t see the joke: they refused to release the film, and relented only after it won a major US award that year. Superb performances all round: De Niro plays a revolutionary, balaclava-clad plumber (naturally) and that nice Michael Palin off the telly is a government torturer. Edward LawrensonRead more
‘There’s nothing wrong with letting the girls know that you’re money and that you want to party.’
Director: Doug Liman
Cast: Vince Vaughn, Heather Graham, Jon Favreau
Defining moment: The scene where poor, hapless Jon Favreau attempts to leave an answerphone message for a girl he likes and gets all tied up in knots...
Cast your mind back, way back to the days when critics would ritually employ the term ‘bequiffed stringbean quipster’ to describe Vince Vaughn, and you’re slap bang in the middle of ‘Swingers’ territory. Definitely one of the stronger titles in the cloying late-’90s wave of post-Tarantino, cine-literate genre flicks, this sweet ’n’ loose, Jon Favreau-penned buddy comedy managed to add a bit of heart and soul to the nose-tapping, movie-referencing shenanigans. Favreau and his limelight-stealing crony Vaughn are the slick-haired minnows in the shark pool of LA’s dating scene, and their comic search for some old-school action takes them on a eventful twilight tour of long-forgotten hostelries and nightspots. The fluid, naturalistic patter between the two leads is what makes the film: you might even see it as the missing link between John Cassavetes, Mumblecore and an X-rated Rat Pack Christmas special. David JenkinsRead more
‘Only my friends can call me pigfucker.’
Director: David Zucker
Cast: Trey Parker, Matt Stone
Defining moment: The on-court psychout scene features some hilariously nasty business with a pair of pliers.
Based on an epistolary novel by a little-known eighteenth-century French novelist, this is a casually erudite comedy of romantic manners and linguistic confusion set among a group of Marxist semioticians, attending an academic conference in Geneva, and performed entirely in rhyming iambic pentameter… Oh no, hang on, it’s actually a sports comedy directed by the ‘Airplane!’ guy and starring the dudes who wrote 'South Park', with puke jokes and stuff like that. Edward LawrensonRead more
‘Now then, what do we know? One, that Professor Fassbinder and his daughter have been kidnapped; two, that someone has kidnapped them; three, that my hand is on fire!’
Director: Blake Edwards
Cast: Peter Sellers, Herbert Lom, Burt Kwouk
Defining moment: It has to be the iconic drawbridge scene, as Clouseau attempts to invade the enemy’s castle, and it doesn’t exactly go smoothly...
For many, this is the most consistently funny film of the Inspector Clouseau series, which is bizarre considering it is the fourth in the chain. It earns its place on this list with a surfeit of hilarious scenes, most notably the famous dentist sequence during which Clouseau administers laughing gas to himself and Herbert Lom's increasingly insane former Chief Inspector Dreyfus. In fact, this scene alone sums up Peter Sellers in a nutshell – his laughter is so infectious, so authentic and so emotionally uplifting that your heart melts at the thought that we'll never see the likes of him again. Derek AdamsRead more
‘Nothing personal, but fuck off.’
Director: Martin Brest
Cast: Robert De Niro, Charles Grodin
Defining moment: The mighty Dennis Farina threatening one of his underlings with ‘I’ll stab you through the heart with a fuckin’ pencil’ is pretty memorable.
The movie that silenced those critics who complained Robert De Niro could not play comedy, 'Midnight Run' sees the method man as a bounty hunter taking bail jumper Charles Grodin on a cross-US trip back to prison, pursued by the mafia, the FBI and memories of his broken past. De Niro's streetwise belligerence is perfectly matched by Grodin’s deadpan suavity, and they’re beautifully served by Martin Brest's punchy direction and the salty, wisecracking script. So after this splendidly funny turn, De Niro only ruined it with those 'Focker' films. Edward LawrensonRead more
‘Insanity runs in my family... it practically gallops.’
Director: Frank Capra
Cast: Cary Grant, Priscilla Lane
Defining moment: Grant’s reaction to the appearance of the body in the chest is magnificent.
Although Frank Capra is best known for his occasionally maudlin studies of working-class triumph over the political machine, this madcap screwball farce feels more in line with the motor-mouth comedies of George Cukor or Howard Hawks. A theatre critic who has gone on record as detesting the institution of marriage, Cary Grant’s Mortimer Brewster is finally ready to bite the bullet and get hitched to (literal) girl-next-door Priscilla Lane, but the ensuing chaos in trying to save his name leads him to discover some dark secrets about the two little old ladies who brought him up. Based on a mammoth Broadway hit, some have criticised the film for being too theatrical, and you can see how Capra simply allows Julius and Philip Epstein’s gag-laden script to do the talking. But it’s damn funny stuff: Grant floors it from beginning to end, especially good when sharing the screen with Uncle Teddy (John Alexander) who lives his life as Teddy Roosevelt. Charge! David JenkinsRead more
‘“I want to see the zoo,” she said. “I want to see the zoo.”’
Director: Mike Leigh
Cast: Roger Sloman, Alison Steadman, Anthony O’Donnell
Defining moment: Keith and Candice Marie sit outside their tent singing the hippy ditty ‘We’re Off To See The Zoo’ while press-ganging lonely Welsh camper Ray to join in.
Mike Leigh rapidly progressed the comedy of social squirm with this heavily improvised portrait of two Brummie hippie types on holiday in Dorset and sharing their loopy life lessons with the locals and other tourists. Keith thinks he’s god’s answer to progressives but shows himself to be small-minded and possessive, while Candice-Marie (Alison Steadman) is less naive than she looks. Altogether now, let’s sing in harmony: ‘We’re off to see the zoo, she said, we’re off to see the zoo!’ If you’ve seen Ben Wheatley’s much more recent ‘Sightseers’, you’ll see the influence of Leigh’s film (originally made for television) on it straightaway. Dave CalhounRead more
‘If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball.’
Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Cast: Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn
Defining moment: A scrawny row of no-hopers are put through their paces by a hard-ass coach whose training regime includes a lighthearted game of ‘dodge the spanner’.
‘Aim low’ is the motto of the dodgeball team Vince Vaughn sets up to compete for a cash prize that will stop the slimy Ben Stiller from taking over his gym. With plenty of jokes revolving around weedy, unfit men being hit in the most sensitive regions by big, rubber balls, the film also adopts Vaughn’s words as its guiding principle. For newcomers to the sport, this movie provides a quick primer to the rules of dodgeball but you don’t need them to enjoy this very daft, amiable movie. Dressed in a pneumatic codpiece and helipad-sized shoulder pads, Stiller checks in his dignity from the word go, and he’s rarely been funnier. Edward LawrensonRead more