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The 100 best comedy movies: 60-51

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

60

Sleeper (1973)

‘My brain! It’s my second favorite organ!’

Director: Woody Allen

Cast: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, John Beck

Defining moment: The Orgasmatron turns out to be an impractical (if enjoyable) place to hide from fascist police.

Woody Allen’s cryogenically frozen New York clarinetist wakes up two centuries on from the 1970s and finds himself in a dystopian future world of robotic servants, inflatable suits and Diane Keaton. ‘It’s hard to believe you haven’t had sex in 200 years,’ the uninhibited Keaton wonders at the neurotic Allen. ‘Two hundred and four, if you count my marriage,’ Allen deadpans. An inspired mix of slapstick and Chaplinesque satire, this is Allen’s ultra-‘Modern Times’. Edward Lawrenson

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59

Happy Gilmore (1996)

‘I eat pieces of shit like you for breakfast!’ ‘You eat pieces of shit for breakfast?’

Director: Dennis Dugan

Cast: Adam Sandler, Christopher McDonald, Julie Bowen

Defining moment: When the camera pulls back from a romantic love scene in a skate rink to reveal a sad, wise-eyed old man on a zamboni belting out ‘Endless Love’.

The career of Adam Sandler is a cinematic minefield. For every ‘Wedding Singer’ there’s a ‘Click’, for every ‘Punch Drunk Love’ a ‘You Don’t Mess With the Zohan’. The general rule of thumb seems to be: respectable director and/or co-star – risk it. Involvement of Rob Schneider and/or Adam Shankman – avoid like the plague. But ‘Happy Gilmore’ is the joker in Sandler’s deck: on the surface, this tale of golfing hi-jinks is just another one of his shrill, low-rent, high-concept shitcoms. But actually watch it, and ‘Happy Gilmore’ is revealed as something unexpectedly special: an unashamedly stoopid, genuinely funny old-skool riff on ‘Caddyshack’-era ‘Saturday Night Live’ antics with a remarkably high strike rate and some classic cameos. Fore! Tom Huddleston

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58

Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life (1983)

‘It’s only wafer-thin…’

Director: Terry Jones

Cast: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin

Defining moment: Yes, the Mr Creosote scene is magnificently vile, but if it’s a combo of smarts and style you’re after it’s ‘Every Sperm is Sacred’ all the way.

The Monty Python troupe’s final film is the very definition of uneven. Written piecemeal in the manner of their original ‘Flying Circus’ sketch show, it eschews the relative straightforwardness of ‘Holy Grail’ and ‘Life of Brian’ for a chuck-it-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks ramble through the seven ages of man. The highlights may be indelible (‘Every Sperm is Sacred’, Mr Creosote, ‘Christmas in Heaven’) and the lowlights forgettable (live organ donation, the topless execution run, that fishy-fishy-fish business), but that’s part of the film’s undoubted charm. Oh, and it won a big prize at Cannes, so they must have been doing something right. Tom Huddleston

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57

The Hangover (2009)

‘I just added two more guys to my wolf pack. Four of us wolves, running around the desert together, in Las Vegas, looking for strippers and cocaine. So tonight, I make a toast!’

Director: Todd Phillips

Cast: Zach Galifianakis, Bradley Cooper and Ed Helms

Defining moment: Mike Tyson angrily orders our heroes to bring back his Bengal tiger.

The great British ‘stag do’ may involve some sort of outdoor pursuit, a few jars of the local ale and perhaps a late-night visit to an illicit table-dancing boudoir, but for the red-blooded males of the US, it’s Vegas all the way. Frat messiah Todd Phillips – who gave us ‘Road Trip’ in 2000 and ‘Old School’ in 2003 – offers a comic salute to that timeworn institution as he packs off four buddies to Nevada’s gaming Valhalla with only a bottle of Rohypnol-laced Jägermeister to their name. The film duly places us in the beer-moistened-boots of these four reprobates as we flash forward to see them coming round from their extended blackout, trying to recall their chemically enhanced antics. It’s basically the ‘Animal House’ wreckin’ crew re-enact ‘Memento’ with a Mike Tyson cameo thrown in. David Jenkins

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56

A Night at the Opera (1935)

‘I saw Mrs Claypool first. Of course, her mother really saw her first but there’s no point in bringing the Civil War into this.’

Director: Sam Wood

Cast: Groucho Marx, Chico Marx and Harpo Marx

Defining moment: One of the most headscramblingly literate and word-tangling comedy routines in history: the sanity clause.

Even funnier than the overblown Queen album of the same name, this was the Marxes at their anarchic apogee, an excoriating dissection of snot-nosed, Jazz-age, high-society wags that contained some of their most memorable comic riffs. The story, in which Groucho falls in with a moneyed has-been and has to assist a struggling opera company, plays second fiddle to an intense barrage of puns, tongue-twisters and wisecracks. Chico’s on hand, too, with his unhinged cod-Italiano witterings, while Harpo’s energetic feats of slapstick repeatedly threaten to steal the show. And if you’ve ever pondered how many people can fit into the cabin of an art deco transatlantic ocean liner, then this, sir, is the movie for you. David Jenkins

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55

Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994)

‘If I’m not back in five minutes... just wait longer.’

Director: Tom Shadyac

Cast: Jim Carrey, Courteney Cox, Sean Young

Defining moment: Hunting for stolen dolphin Snowflake, Ace peers into a darkened water tank. But the beast that emerges is most definitely not Snowflake...

Long before Jim Carrey was the go-to guy for anodyne family comedies with computer-generated penguins, he was a wildly inventive, toweringly talented performer fuelled by a sugar-rush of comic energy that made Robin Williams look positively subdued. ‘Ace Ventura’ captures him in his prime. Playing the world’s finest – erm, only – pet detective, he’s a whirling dervish of silly voices, rubber faces and long-limbed pratfalls who inhabits his role so commandingly his co-stars may as well be digital penguins. Edward Lawrenson

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54

The Blues Brothers (1980)

‘Boys, you got to learn not to talk to nuns that way.’

Director: John Landis

Cast: John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Cab Calloway

Defining moment: Amid a slew of noisy car chases and even noisier soul-star cameos, Aretha Franklin’s finger-waggin’ ‘Respect’ takes some beating.

Based on a sketch John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd performed on 'Saturday Night Live', the blues brothers were a couple of black-suited, pork-pie-hatted, nimble-footed reprobates with a yen for vintage R&B and an appetite for destruction that leaves most of the Chicago police force's fleet of cop cars in the scrapyard. The irreverent, gleeful mayhem is staged to a matchless soundtrack performed by a genuinely jaw-dropping array of blues and funk stars. Hit it! Edward Lawrenson

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53

Way Out West (1937)

‘Any bird can build a nest, but it’s not everyone that can lay an egg.’

Director: James W Horne

Cast: Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, James Finlayson

Defining moment: The back projection is dodgy as hell, but Stan and Ollie’s dance number is a beautiful moment that anticipates Morecambe and Wise’s entire careers.

The only one of Stan and Ollie’s sweet lunkhead opuses to make it onto this list, 1937’s barmy western pastiche ‘Way Out West’ makes for a worthy (just!) feature-length stand-in for such classic shorts as ‘The Music Box’, ‘Towed in the Hole’ and ‘Our Relations’ (to name just a few). Best known for the duo’s impromptu and extremely effete little dance to ‘The Trail of the Lonesome Pine’ outside a saloon, this rambling film brims with hilarious, multi-layered gags and some monumental proto-bromance bickering. The pair are charged with placing the deeds to a goldmine in the hands of a poverty-stricken washerwoman, but they are duped by a conniving bar owner and his femme fatale spouse. During the proceedings, donkeys are foolishly used as abseiling counterweights, necks are stretched past their breaking points, Stan demonstrates a clever way of lighting a pipe and there’s an epic fight sequence based entirely around the act of tickling. Bliss, and then some. David Jenkins

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52

Young Frankenstein (1974)

‘For what we are about to see next, we must enter quietly into the realm of genius.’

Director: Mel Brooks

Cast: Gene Wilder, Marty Feldman, Peter Boyle

Defining moment: Puttin’ on the ritz! Man and monster in perfect tap-dancin’ harmony.

‘Young Frankenstein’ is a wonderfully absurd pastiche of the monster genre with knockout comic performances by co-scriptwriter Gene Wilder as the grandson of Frankenstein and the late, great Marty Feldman as his humpback helper, Igor. The fourth in Brooks’s impressive oeuvre, the film was considered pretty out of kilter at the time; after all, here was a movie purposefully shot in black and white for effect alone. There are plenty of scenes here worthy of a YouTube compilation, but for my money, ‘Young Frankenstein’ ultimately confirmed Wilder as one of the very finest comic actors of all time. His manic mannerisms, funny body language and plaintive timbre are sorely missed. Derek Adams

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51

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988)

‘Lawrence Fells. Lawrence Feings. Forest Lorenston. Low. Lars. LARS. Lawrence. Lawrence. Luch. Lawrence. Tuh. His name is James Jesenthon. Lawrence Fell. Lawrence Jesterton. LAWRENCE JESTERTON!’

Director: Frank Oz

Cast: Steve Martin, Michael Caine, Glenne Headly

Defining moment: It must be the cork on the fork.

Originally conceived as a vehicle for thespian heavyweights and legendary cut-ups Mick ‘Oo-er, missus!’ Jagger and David ‘Mr Saturday Night’ Bowie, this remake of 1964’s ‘Bedtime Story’ (which featured another odd-couple pairing in David Niven and Marlon Brando) overcame its somewhat larky origins to become one of the drollest, most assured and outright caddish films of the ’80s. Oz’s delicious comedy of (bad) manners sees Michael Caine and Steve Martin spark up an immediate and gently simmering chemistry as smoothie con-men battling for the pocketbooks of bored and gullible high-tone dowagers on the French Riviera in a knowing throwback to an age when comedy traded upon charm and wit, élan and – above all – pencil moustaches. Adam Lee Davies

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See numbers 50-41

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