‘Would you say that I had a plethora of piñatas?’
Director: John Landis
Cast: Steve Martin, Chevy Chase, Martin Short
Defining moment: The moment our heroes realise that all this isn’t just play-acting, and that they’re in some fairly serious danger...
A surprisingly high rank for a film most aficionados would – perhaps rightly – regard as a lesser Steve Martin/Chevy Chase vehicle, as the titular trio of old-Hollywood movie stars head to Mexico and end up involved in real-life banditry. The appeal of ‘¡Three Amigos!’ is in its no-nonsense, old-school charm, never breaking a sweat or sparking a laugh riot, but providing cosy, consistent entertainment and a fistful of truly memorable sequences: the ‘My Little Buttercup’ bar singalong, the villainous El Guapo’s birthday party, and of course satirical songsmith Randy Newman as an entirely inexplicable singing bush. Tom HuddlestonRead review Read more
‘People say, “You must have been the class clown.” And I say, “No, I wasn’t. But I sat next to the class clown and I studied him.”’
Director: Christopher Guest
Cast: Christopher Guest, Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara
Defining moment: The excruciatingly awkward Chinese restaurant scene, as Fred Willard and Catherine O’Hara play the ultimate nightmare couple.
As axeman Nigel Tufnel, Christopher Guest was part of the timeless success of ‘This Is Spinal Tap’. But he also picked up the filmmaking baton, going on to direct masterworks of situational improv such as ‘Best in Show’, ‘For Your Consideration’ and this movie. The superb cast play members of a small-town, amateur-dramatic society pinning their hopes on a visit from a big-shot critic, though what he’ll make of the pageant ‘Red, White and Blaine’ is regrettably clear to everyone else. Often painful, sometimes moving, frequently hilarious, it’s an oddball delight and a tribute to self-deluding ambition everywhere. Ben WaltersRead review Read more
‘Nunchaku skills, bow-hunting skills, computer hacking skills... Girls only want boyfriends who have great skills.’
Director: Jared Hess
Cast: Jon Heder, Jon Gries, Efren Ramirez
Defining moment: For one glorious, brief moment Napoleon elevates himself from excruciatingly awkward outsider to the coolest kid in class with a dance not even Swayze could top.
Sometimes it takes a while. Despite pulling down some sweet, sweet change upon release, there were many who maintained that this folk-art foray into high-school outsiderdom invited the audience to laugh at the majestic idiocy of Napoleon’s goon squad of retro-awkward, summer-luvvin’ princelings rather than with them. The film’s enduring and – even for those not initially won over – revelatory appeal may suggest that its supporters were right all along and/or the rest of us were late in realising that Napoleon might represent some shrink-wrapped form of our weakest, sweetest, truest selves that we dare never expose. Either way, it will be a real school bully who doesn’t moisten an eye or get their deadpan groove on when our hero busts out his wildly empathetic last-reel disco moves. That, or you’re a freakin’ idiot! Adam Lee DaviesRead review Read more
‘I know a little German. He’s sitting over there.’
Directors: Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker
Cast: Val Kilmer, Omar Sharif, Billy J Mitchell
Defining moment: Peter Cushing’s giant eye – a sight gag (quite literally) to end ‘em all.
The Zuckers and Abrahams team went pun crazy for this follow-up to 'Airplane!'. Where the earlier film parodies the disaster movie to hilarious effect, 'Top Secret!' plays merry hell with the World War II espionage genre and Elvis movies and features, of all things, a moderately successful deadpan performance by Val Kilmer. If you thought 'Airplane!' was absurd, this one's off the scale. As a consequence, it's full of memorable moments, from the underwater bar fight to Kilmer's look of bemusement as the station leaves his train. While not as consistently funny as 'Airplane!', 'Top Secret!' is still a worthy entrant into the pantheon of comedy classics. Derek AdamsRead review Read more
‘It is so difficult to make a neat job of killing people with whom one is not on friendly terms.’
Director: Robert Hamer
Cast: Dennis Price, Alec Guinness, Valerie Hobson
Defining moment: Alex Guinness in drag, campaigning for women’s suffrage from a hot air balloon. ‘I shot an arrow in the air... it came to Earth in Berkeley Square.’
Anyone who thinks of Ealing Studios' output as a gay parade of buns and bobbies needs to revisit ‘Kind Hearts and Coronets’. For here, indeed, is the black heart of British comedy, the sickest, sweetest, most deliciously poisonous confection ever offered to our delicate cinema-going public. A tale of murder most foul – and most deserving – ‘Kind Hearts…’ isn’t just a tale of bad people bumping one another off, it’s a rapier blade to the heart of the British establishment, as Dennis Price’s disillusioned middle-class ‘little man’ sets about slaughtering his way to the ducal title of D’Ascoigne. The revolution may not have started here – the post-war Labour government was already well into setting up the welfare state – but it must have felt like a strident call to arms, nonetheless. Tom HuddlestonRead review Read more
‘Have you ever wondered if there was more to life, other than being really, really, ridiculously good looking?’
Director: Ben Stiller
Cast: Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Will Ferrell
Defining moment: Four male models, hopped up on sheer joie de vivre and their own extreme good-lookingness, engage in a romping squirt-gun battle at the petrol station. Ka-boom!
Did someone say fish in a barrel? Sure, the world of high fashion isn’t exactly a challenging subject for satire but Ben Stiller’s tale of international intrigue, haute couture and ludicrous pretension has such great gags, committed performances and cod sincerity that it’s hard not to guffaw. Stiller’s Zoolander is a supermodel on the slide, threatened by up-and-comer Owen Wilson, exploited by grasping designer Will Ferrell and constrained by his gargantuan stupidity, source of most of the big laughs. But he’s also insecure, well-meaning and basically quite sweet, which makes his story all the more amiable. Ben WaltersRead review Read more
‘Finally, we come to my number two man. His name? Number Two.’
Director: Jay Roach
Cast: Mike Myers, Elizabeth Hurley and Michael York
Defining moment: As summed up below, Dr Evil and his son Scott’s visit to the family counsellor is probably the comic highlight of Mike Myers’s entire career.
It may have spawned a rash of increasingly prosaic and mechanically lewd squeakquels, but the first 'Austin Powers' movie remains the ‘Moby Dick’ of Day-Glo knockabout spy-movie spoofs. Finding a big second wave after the success of ‘Wayne's World’ in the early ’90s, Canada’s favourite rubber-faced writer-performer Mike Myers excelled in the dual roles of dentally challenged, psychedelic, trim-magnet Powers and his sardonic, Blofeldian nemesis, Dr Evil. Though the torrent of swingin’ ’60s references and Powers’ catchphrase-heavy spiel now feel a little slight, there’s still an embarrassment of bizarre, leftfield comic riches in there to savour. Dr Evil’s description of his formative years is a cinematic monologue for the ages: ‘My childhood was typical... Summers in Rangoon, luge lessons. In the spring we’d make meat helmets. When I was insolent, I was placed in a burlap bag and beaten with reeds... Pretty standard, really.’ David JenkinsRead review Read more
‘I don’t want to have to read you the riot act, but I am going to have to read you some extracts from the riot act.’
Director: Armando Iannucci
Cast: Peter Capaldi, Tom Hollander, James Gandolfini
Defining moment: The scene in which Peter Capaldi’s psychotic swear-machine Malcolm Tucker is quietly but firmly put in his place by James Gandolfini’s bullish General is just breathtaking.
Scabrous and smart, Armando Iannucci's political satire is the sort of film that bears repeated viewing, if only to catch the jokes you laughed through last time round. It opens out the action from the sitcom source by sending mad-eyed spin doctor Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi), hapless government minster Simon Foster (Tom Hollander) and their cohorts to the States, where they flip and flop for our entertainment, groping towards a coherent policy over an imminent war. The vulgarity is tumultuous, the wit pointed and the performances impeccably judged. This is proof that transferring a great sitcom to the big screen need not be difficult. Or even difficult, difficult, lemon difficult. Gabriel TateRead review Read more
‘Into the mud, scum queen!’
Director: Carl Reiner
Cast: Steve Martin, Kathleen Turner, David Warner
Defining moment: Steve Martin’s enraged argument with a six-year-old over whether it’s a subdural or epidural hematoma. ‘Three years of nursery school and you think you know it all!’
The early Steve Martin movies catch comedy at a crossroads: on the surface they’re old-school slapstick romps complete with dubious innuendo, pratfalls and happy-ever-after endings, a short step from Abbott and Costello and The Three Stooges. But they also manage to incorporate the best of everything new that was happening in comedy at the time: the sight-gag overload of ‘Airplane!’, the sexual uncertainty and romanticism of Woody Allen, the confrontational boldness of the new stand-ups and the thoroughbred surrealism of Martin’s own live act. ‘The Man with Two Brains’ may not be as wildly inventive as ‘The Jerk’, but it’s still a magnificently enjoyable and intelligent comedy. And Kathleen Turner is just slinky as hell. Tom HuddlestonRead review Read more
‘Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.’
Director: Rob Reiner
Cast: Cary Elwes, Robin Wright, Mandy Patinkin
Defining moment: Mandy Patinkin. A sword. A six-fingered man. And one of the most iconic lines in the movies (see above). Just perfect.
Strange to think that after all the Oscar plaudits and box-office ker-ching! that came with his scripts for both ‘Butch Cassidy’ and ‘All the President’s Men’, genre-expanding author William Goldman’s 1973 fantasy novel should take the best part of 15 years to grace the multiplexes. It was well worth the wait. Sweetly romantic, tirelessly quotable and light as a feather, Reiner’s adaptation doesn’t attempt to reinvent the wheel, but rather mines humour from filling in the backstories of its stock characters with jumbled neuroses and bizarre quirks. So we have the hissable villain with insoluble middle-management delegation issues, the mercenary overburdened by a crippling childhood trauma and a dashing hero who isn’t exactly the sharpest sword in the armoury all trading some of the craftiest zingers ever penned. Adam Lee DaviesRead review Read more