‘It ain’t cool being no jive turkey so close to Thanksgiving.’
Director: John Landis
Cast: Eddie Murphy, Dan Aykroyd, Jamie Lee Curtis
Defining moment: Any straight man who hit puberty in the mid-‘80s will have a very definite answer to this question. But as we’re grown up now, we’ll go for the wonderfully tasteless costume-swapping, accent-rogering scene on the New Year’s Eve express.
No wonder America’s in the state that it is: even movies about the evils of unchecked wealth end up with the heroes getting rich and buggering off to a Caribbean island rather than, you know, doing any good with their crookedly earned riches. Still, it’s hard to hold it against a film like ‘Trading Places’, which is so wittily scripted and charmingly played that only the most hard-hearted anarchist activist could get too wound up. Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy are on career-best form as the hapless schmucks signed up without their knowledge to a cruel sociological experiment, and Jamie Lee Curtis has the cheesy-but-lovable hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold schtick locked down. Tom HuddlestonRead more
‘Hey Stan, tell them about the part where Terrence calls Phillip a testicle-shitting rectal wart.’
Director: Trey Parker
Cast: Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Isaac Hayes
Defining moment: The epic key change in Satan’s big musical number ‘Up There’ is one of the great lighters-in-the-air moments in popular music.
Given that America’s definition of hard-hitting political satire seems to involve Jon Stewart sitting behind a desk while the audience whoop enthusiastically at him, calling Trey Parker and Matt Stone the leading political comedians in the US seems almost an insult. But over the past two decades, these Colorado clowns have proven their worth as the most fearless, inventive and downright evil-minded chroniclers of the modern cultural landscape – never more so than in their debut film. A tale of love, hate, swearing, censorship, rebellion, war, hell, heaven, anal sex with Saddam Hussein, family, friendship and Baldwins, it’s also undoubtedly the finest screen musical since ‘West Side Story’. Now fuck off, you donkey-raping shit eater. Tom HuddlestonRead more
‘Hey look! It’s Enrico Pallazzo!’
Director: David Zucker
Cast: Leslie Nielsen, Priscilla Presley, OJ Simpson
Defining moment: Frank Drebin tries to wing his way through the National Anthem.
One of the densest comedies ever made, there isn’t a single line in this inspired spoof of gritty cop movies that isn’t milked for a laugh. Like ‘Airplane!’ but even less grounded, ‘The Naked Gun’ gave Leslie Nielsen the role he was born to play, his deadpan and deeply stupid lieutenant Frank Drebin a human assembly line of puns and visual gags. And who could forget OJ Simpson as Drebin’s sidekick? Being hilarious is one thing of which he’ll never be acquitted. David EhrlichRead more
‘I could dance with you till the cows come home... But I would rather dance with the cows till you come home.’
Director: Leo McCarey
Cast: Groucho Marx, Harpo Marx, Chico Marx
Defining moment: Groucho’s jawdropping mirror schtick, one of the most astonishing feats of physical comedy ever captured on celluloid.
Journalists ritually cite George Orwell’s ‘1984’ when bemoaning the rotten state of contemporary politics. Let's put that down to the fact that they’ve probably never seen ‘Duck Soup’. Groucho Marx plays Rufus T Firefly, the dangerously daffy autocrat of the sovereign state of Freedonia, whose anarchic style of governance is as much a rib-crackingly hilarious indictment of power-hungry tyrants as it is a harrowing harbinger of things to come. We may chuckle when he attempts to squeeze ‘financial assistance’ from a status-hungry dowager. We may guffaw when he inducts a pair of friendly nitwits (Chico and Harpo Marx) into high government posts. We may snigger when the boys break into song at a war crimes trial. But is this not also a bracing vision of a grim future (and, of course, a very funny one)? David JenkinsRead more
‘Oh my God. She’s so drunk!’
Director: Edgar Wright
Cast: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Kate Ashfield
Defining moment: At a particularly dire moment, Freddie Mercury comes to the rescue.
It took an invasion of the undead to give man-child movies some life. If the title of Edgar Wright’s first feature suggested that we were in for a low rent spoof of George Romero’s classic zombie films, the lived-in squabbles between his characters and the cinematic panache of their comedy quickly took a bite out of such low expectations. The inspired story of a disaffected office drone who slumps through life like the walking dead until they show him how it’s done, this brilliant genre riff showed that zombie movies didn’t have to settle for brains, they could also have heart. David EhrlichRead more
‘What’s a dazzling urbanite like you doing in a rustic setting like this?’
Director: Mel Brooks
Cast: Gene Wilder, Cleavon Little, Slim Pickens
Defining moment: The beans scene may still set the schoolboys chortling, but the film’s genuinely startling moments of racial confrontation – particularly the one with the sweet old lady – are both hilarious and shocking.
Mel Brooks was on a roll in the late-’60s and ’70s with a string of intermittently hilarious spoofs, from ‘The Producers’ to ‘Silent Movie’. In between, in 1974, he wrote and helmed this mostly very funny western send-up starring regular Gene Wilder. It’s a typically bizarre close-to-the-bone scenario: with a view to procuring their land, a local swindler tries to shock the residents into leaving by organising the employment of a new sheriff. It looks like his ruse might work when a clean-cut black man rides in to take the job… Brooks doesn’t shy away from the race issue; in fact, he charges straight in with a sarcastic and very amusing sideswipe at bigotry and ignorance. There are so many cracking scenes to savour, but for me the most memorable sequence by far is that unique, sprawling ending when the whole cast of hundreds spills over into the movie lot. Brilliant. Derek AdamsRead more
‘Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the War Room!’
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Cast: Peter Sellers, George C Scott, Sterling Hayden
Defining moment: Whooping and hollering, a cowboy bomber pilot (Slim Pickens) rides his nuclear payload to the apocalypse.
More than half a century after Stanley Kubrick unleashed his most perverse provocation (about an H-bomb run no one can stop), it’s amazing that we’re even here to see it. The fears of ‘Dr. Strangelove’ are real and remain so: nuclear annihilation, not as a result of official policy but via the convictions of a well-positioned madman (Sterling Hayden’s immortal cigar-chomping lunatic, Jack D Ripper), is hardly an antiquated notion. By a whopping margin, this remains Kubrick’s most radical film and greatest comedic gamble. Joshua RothkopfRead more
Directors: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Cast: Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Julianne Moore
Defining moment: Any scene involving Jeff Bridges driving to Creedence.
Just when ‘Fargo’ had people thinking maybe the Coens weren’t so freaky after all, along came this wilfully bamboozling film-noir pastiche. Following a regrettable episode of urination, a burned-out ’60s radical known as The Dude (Jeff Bridges) finds himself miscast as a private investigator looking into… well, it doesn’t really matter, but it takes him on a tour of LA’s various strata of weirdo pretension while reinforcing the pleasures of the simple things like bowling and friendship. Amazing dialogue, brilliant performances and an irreverent affection for Hollywood history add up to one hilarious movie – not to mention the inspiration for an ever-burgeoning cult fandom that borders on religious devotion. The Dude abides. Ben WaltersRead more
Director: Larry Charles
Cast: Sacha Baron Cohen, Ken Davitian
Defining moment: A naked wrestling match spills out into the hallway of a hotel.
There will never be another ‘Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan’ (not that Sacha Baron Cohen didn’t have to learn that the hard way). Comedians will continue to punk the public for cringeworthy comedy until the end of time, but while people on the street are always going to be easy to dupe, audiences will never again feel the same mix of shock and satire that made it so special to watch everybody’s favourite horribly anti-Semitic Kazakh man run nude through a hotel or call everyone in New York a ‘gypsy’. David EhrlichRead more
‘I’ve got five terrorists going south-east on Bakalakadaka Street!’
Directors: Trey Parker, Matt Stone
Cast: Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Kristen Miller
Defining moment: We could go for that eye-popping sex scene, those terrifying tigers, or the first appearance of ‘America, Fuck Yeah!’. But no, the greatest moment in ‘Team America’ can be summed up in two words: ‘Matt Damon!’
If there’s one single area in which musical theatre beats the movies, it’s in prize-giving. ‘South Park’ creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone cleaned up at the 2011 Tony awards for their Broadway show ‘The Book of Mormon’, yet their 2004 puppet opus ‘Team America’ reaped how many Oscars? Sure, it’s a hate-fuelled, take-no-prisoners, liberal-baiting, America-bashing, borderline racist satire of everything Hollywood holds dear. Not to mention it's complete with vicious, near-libellous sideswipes at everyone from Michael Moore to Alec Baldwin and more swearing than a Teamsters meeting. But you’d think a group of open-minded, forward-thinking creative types like the Academy could have seen past all that. No? Tom HuddlestonRead more