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Funniest Films of the Century

[Supplement to The Week Link, 28.02.01]

Now that the dust has settled on the End-of-the-Millennium 'best of the century' poll season, it's time to reconsider the results. Specifically, in light of FunnyHaHa's mission to fearlessly dissect the subject of comedy, Total Film magazine's list of the funniest films of the twentieth century.

Let's just recap the top ten:

  1. Life of Brian
  2. Airplane!
  3. Withnail & I
  4. There's Something About Mary
  5. Monty Python and the Holy Grail
  6. American Pie
  7. Groundhog Day
  8. Some Like it Hot
  9. Blazing Saddles
  10. Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Oh dear. All of them funny films, but the funniest of the century?

I'd strike two from the list immediately. There's Something About Mary and American Pie may be the funniest films the voters saw most recently, but we need more distance on them before we can seriously consider them as being among the century's best. Mary might have some staying power, but Pie has plenty of superiors, even in the pantheon of American adolescent comedies: Animal House most obviously springs to mind.

On to the other American entries, from the bottom up. Planes, Trains and Automobiles? Possibly one of John Candy's best (along with Cool Runnings), but the century's? And Steve Martin's? Never. I'd vote for Dirty Rotten Scoundrels as Martin's best for the Ruprecht scenes alone, but I doubt it would make my top ten.

Mel Brooks has made three films that would be up for serious consideration: The Producers, Young Frankenstein and, yes, Blazing Saddles. I'd vote for them in that order. But endless repeats on TV and a farting scene obviously trump the sublime spectacle of a Broadway musical called 'Springtime for Hitler'. Sigh.

Some Like it Hot is certainly funny. But its presence as the only pre-1970 movie in this top ten merely reminds us of the dozens and dozens of brilliant films that have been left out: the early Pink Panthers (and the 1970s ones, come to that); The Party; The Odd Couple; Kind Hearts and Coronets; The Mouse That Roared; Dr Strangelove; Bringing Up Baby; to say nothing of early comedy film greats like Chaplin and Keaton, and non-English-language geniuses like Jacques Tati. The list goes on and on, and much of it stars Peter Sellers, who's nowhere to be seen in this top ten.

Groundhog Day is definitely funny. It's recent, sure, but I think it has a shot at lasting. Bill Murray at his best is very good indeed. And the fact that it stars Andy McDowell allows it to stand in for Four Weddings and any number of other romantic comedies, of which it's one of the finest.

Excluding our too-recent entries, this leaves Airplane! as the best American comedy film of the century. Now don't get me wrong: Airplane! is funny. But the funniest film ever made by Hollywood? Where's The Blues Brothers? Harold and Maude? Austin Powers? The Naked Gun? RoboCop?

Which leaves the three English films. Withnail clearly has a cult following in the UK that it doesn't elsewhere; I enjoyed it, but I doubt a non-UK audience would vote it into the century's best.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail is certainly a classic, but I'd exclude it on the principle that no film-makers or stars should feature twice, simply to give other deserving films a chance...

And Life of Brian is, yes, unquestionably, undoubtedly, one of the ten funniest films of the twentieth century, and there's a good case for calling it the funniest.

So: what do you think was left out of this top ten that shouldn't have been? Make your case and send it to me, and I'll post a sample of suggestions here down the track.

25 February 2001


Funniest Films Follow-Up

We've just been flooded with suggestions here at FunnyHaHa in response to my post about the funniest films of the 20th century. Yes, flooded. For example, a Mr James Bachman of Clapham, England, has suggested that 'Love and Death, Annie Hall, Rushmore, Young Frankenstein, Ghostbusters, The Jerk, The Man With Two Brains, Addams Family Values, Jabberwocky, Bob Roberts and so on and so on' are all contenders, and asks 'And how can anyone leave out Spinal Tap?'

The omission of any Woody Allen films was an unconscionable oversight. I meant to add a para on him to my original post, but forgot. My vote's for Manhattan.

And he's right, you know—how could anyone leave out Spinal Tap? How could I leave out Spinal Tap? How could I neglect to write a follow-up post correcting this oversight for two whole weeks? How come I'm even bothering writing it now, when no-one is reading it? How could I... ahh, forget it.

Oh dear. I've lost all enthusiasm for writing meta-comedy. Which leads me to wonder why I bothered bringing this blog back from the dead in the first place. And to think that there's a whole juicy new Melbourne Comedy Festival programme for me to discuss. I'll see how I feel next week. Meanwhile, head over to that nice Mr Bachman's blog. It looks quite entertaining. He'll go far, you mark my words.

13 March 2001