‘There were two loves in his life: his engine and…’
Directors: Clyde Bruckman, Buster Keaton
Cast: Buster Keaton, Marion Mack
Defining moment: The trick with the pivoting railroad ties is simply gobsmacking.
Western and Atlantic Railroad engineer Johnnie Gray’s southern belle fiancée Annabelle Lee (Marion Mack) and his beloved locomotive, The General, get abducted from Georgia by Union spies in Buster Keaton’s 1926 American Civil War masterpiece, the sole silent film to be chosen by our voters. Keaton, as actor, writer and performer, was a master of all the usual elements of pre-sound comedy cinema – demonstrative acting, precisely timed sight gags, elaborate set-pieces, stock characters, physical humour and slapstick – but he surpassed himself in ‘The General’, one of the most elaborate, inventive, expensive and completely satisfying movies of its, or indeed all, time. Regarded purely as a comedy, it’s also, among much else, a thrilling adventure yarn, a touching love story and an extraordinary, sensitive and informed historical drama. It epitomises Keaton’s remarkable deft, subtle and sophisticatedly ‘dry’ approach to film humour and is crowned by the greatest of Keaton’s own physically agile, beautifully modulated, affecting and inimitably stone-faced performances. Wally HammondRead more
‘I’m not even supposed to be here today!’
Director: Kevin Smith
Cast: Brian O’Halloran, Jeff Anderson, Marilyn Ghigliotti
Defining moment: Randal’s utterly revolting, seemingly infinite list of porno titles: ‘Whispers in the Wind’, ‘To Each His Own’, ‘Put It Where It Doesn’t Belong’, ‘My Pipes Need Cleaning’, ‘All Tit-Fucking Volume 8’, ‘Ass-Worshipping Rim-Jobbers’... we could go on.
It’s hard to shake the feeling that Kevin Smith’s filmmaking career has been one of diminishing returns – few, other than true believers, can have been devastated by his recent announcement that he’s folding away his director’s chair. But ‘Clerks’ was a genuinely refreshing and entertaining debut, its monochrome, formal simplicity a fine match for the pop-culture savvy yet vocationally adrift twentysomethings whose snarky interactions were charted over a day’s work at a convenience store. From roof hockey to ‘Star Wars’ minutiae, it captured a moment of generational ennui with brio and gave the world the mixed blessing that is Jay and Silent Bob. Ben WaltersRead more
‘Better to be king for a night than schmuck for a lifetime!’
Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Robert De Niro, Jerry Lewis, Sandra Bernhard
Defining moment: The final scenes, where we realise that crawling comedy scumbag Rupert Pupkin’s psychotic schemes have, disturbingly, paid off.
Delve into our celebrity pollsters’ picks and you’ll find that none other than Canadian comedy titan Dan Aykroyd has – quirkily, perhaps, but quite reasonably – listed ‘Goodfellas’ among his top ten. And, indeed, you’d have a fighting chance of convincing many film fans that Martin Scorsese’s sprawling, hyperviolent meatball opera deserves a place on this list ahead of the bleak, flinty comedy of desperation that swirls within the dark, disconsolate heart of ‘The King of Comedy’. One spends as much time mopping one’s brow as slapping one’s thigh on a queasy, gut-clenching journey through the blue-black marrow of the funny bone that could arguably be said to have been the jumping-off point for the awkward, needling, confrontational comedy of the Farrellys, Ben Stiller, Bobcat Goldthwait and – without a doubt – Larry David. Nurse – the glucose! Adam Lee DaviesRead more
‘Never mind the Chinese earthquake, take Hitler and stick him on the funny page. No, no, leave the rooster story alone – that’s human interest!’
Director: Howard Hawks
Cast: Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell, Ralph Bellamy
Defining moment: Russell breaks the news to her ex-husband and ex-boss Grant that she’s re-engaged – so he needs to stop sending her roses every day.
Nasty behaviour never seemed so funny or right when at the hands of Cary Grant’s rakish newspaper editor Walter Burns in this screwball romantic comedy from Howard Hawks. Grant is trying to win back the hand of his ex-wife, Hildy Johnson, a hotshot former news reporter played by Rosalind Russell who refuses his pleas to rejoin his team to report on a miscarriage of justice that could see an innocent man imminently put to death. When Hildy introduces her new fiancé to Walter, Walter puts on his most charming face, while secretly undermining the new guy at every turn. Wicked, fast-paced and strangely romantic. Dave CalhounRead more
‘Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?’
Director: John Landis
Cast: John Belushi, Peter Riegert
Defining moment: The party scene where a gentle, bearded folksinger launches into a haunting ballad, only to have his instrument ripped from his hands and smashed to smithereens by an enraged Belushi.
Frat-boy humour executed with magna cum laude distinction, this campus-based comedy is ostensibly set in the Kennedy era, but it channels the rude energy, punkish irreverence and riotous bad behaviour of the 'Saturday Night Live' crowd at their late ’70s best. For connoisseurs of cinematic impersonations of zits, John Belushi’s contribution to the field (aided by half-digested cream cakes) remains the greatest. Edward LawrensonRead more
‘You sit on a throne of lies!’
Director: Jon Favreau
Cast: Will Ferrell, James Caan, Edward Asner
Defining moment: Buddy the Elf discovers spaghetti.
A modern story about the magic of Christmas that’s told without an ounce of cynicism, ‘Elf’ granted Will Ferrell the character of his dreams. As Buddy, the oversized North Pole employee who returns to his Manhattan birth father as an overgrown man, Ferrell gets to turn the city into his own personal playground and stomp all over it. His guilelessness almost gets him killed, but there’s an enduring joy in watching Buddy refuse to blink from it, even when a (justifiably) offended dwarf tries to kill him. If his antics could thaw the cold heart of James Caan, the rest of us really never stood a chance. David EhrlichRead more
‘The royal penis is clean, your highness.’
Director: John Landis
Cast: Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall, James Earl Jones
Defining moment: Eddie Murphy’s barbershop rant about Martin Luther King’s hidden dark side is pretty miraculous.
By 1988, just a few years after he became the biggest box-office draw in America, Eddie Murphy’s golden period was drawing to a close: after ‘Coming to America’ it was all regrettable sequels, disastrous vanity projects and inexplicably popular family-friendly crud. But this tale of African princes and fast-food heiresses is a scrappily suitable swansong for the Eddie we loved in the ’80s, offering his signature blend of crudity, sweetness, wit, style and vague politicking, all wrapped up in a high-concept romcom package. And there’s a bonus for ‘ER’ fans, as that show’s Eriq La Salle appears in full jheri-curl nightmare as hair-product salesman Darryl. Just let your Soul Glo... Tom HuddlestonRead more
‘You’re on a gravy train with biscuit wheels.’
Directors: Peter Farrelly, Bobby Farrelly
Cast: Woody Harrelson, Randy Quaid, Bill Murray
Defining moment: The final bowling showdown, when Bill Murray’s immaculately awful hairpiece gets completely out of control.
‘Kingpin’ deserves to be viewed as more than just the Farrellys' oft-forgotten fill-in movie between the smash successes ‘Dumb and Dumber’ and ‘There’s Something About Mary’. The laugh rate may lag slightly behind those two towering classics, but this is probably the most convincingly characterised of all their films, as evidenced by the casting of two strong character actors, rather than multiplex-stuffing comedians, in the lead roles of a washed-up bowler (Woody Harrelson) and his Amish prodigy (Randy Quaid). It’s also the most bizarrely sweet-natured of their films: the relationship between the two leads is genuinely affecting and, tellingly, it marks their first collaboration with soft-hearted super-songsmith Jonathan Richman. Tom HuddlestonRead more
‘What’s the matter Danny, never taken a short-cut before?’
Director: Edgar Wright
Cast: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Martin Freeman
Defining moment: The masked and anonymous appearance of Cate Blanchett as Simon Pegg’s ex strikes a wonderfully unusual chord.
Referencing themselves in the follow-up to their previous success, ‘Shaun of the Dead’, showed the bumptious confidence of the trio behind 'Hot Fuzz' (Edgar Wright, Nick Frost and Simon Pegg). It also showed their willingness to go the extra mile – or, in this case, extra fence – in their dry/deadpan, eclectic, cinephiliac, ‘Comic Strip’-style parodies, here in a mash-up of ‘Midsomer Murders’ cosiness and Bruckheimer-buddy-cop blockbuster. In ‘Hot Fuzz’, Frost, as village copper Danny, offers another of his endearing studies in arrested development; while Pegg, as ex-Met Sergeant Nicholas Angel, shows he can be just as upright and self-righteous – not to say, myopically out of his depth – as Edward Woodward’s Auld-Reekie rozzer in ‘The Wicker Man’. Though they differ dramatically in hair colour and action-hero skills, both are bad, baaad boys. Wally HammondRead more
‘“Vamonos, amigos,” he whispered, and threw the busted leather flintcraw over the loose weave of the saddlecock. And they rode on in the friscalating dusklight.’
Director: Wes Anderson
Cast: Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Luke Wilson
Defining moment: At the end of the movie, when the harpsichord intro of Van Morrison’s ‘Everyone’ strikes up and we realise that, despite all the tragedy that’s gone before, these Tenenbaums are going to be okay.
The Fockers may be more violently dysfunctional, the Ambersons bigger on festering spite, and the Corleones far funnier, but no film family is as grandly, sweetly or entirely screwed up as Team Tenenbaum. A tale of brownstone royalty, second-act blues and the baffling circuitousness of redemption, Anderson's rambling family saga leaves one immeasurably sad, laughing like a drain and lunging out to hug a loved one all at the same time. Gene Hackman is at his most gleefully rambunctious, Gwyneth Paltrow is as cool as (reform) school and Owen Wilson lends his 10/4 Texan drawl to a delicious Cormac McCarthy-lite literary chancer, but it’s brother Luke who steals the show as beardy retro tennis meltdown Richie Tenenbaum – a character without whom any truly hip fancy-dress party is wholly incomplete. Adam Lee DaviesRead more