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The 50 Best Comedies of the 21st Century Thus Far

Written by on August 10, 2016 

30. Dogtooth (Yorgos Lanthimos)

dogtooth_16

Yorgos LanthimosDogtooth is an acutely observed anthropological study that doubles as an obscene, hilariously cruel comedy. Lanthimos’ deadpan styling doesn’t allow for easy laughs — he wants the choked gasps and uncomfortable cackles. But he’s also not a sadist, and he knows the value of lightness in his films. The centerpiece dance sequence is still every bit as exquisite a piece of filmmaking as it is a comedic set piece. Dogtooth is foremost a marvel of tonal reconfiguration as conceptions of normalcy and absurdity are jumbled together so completely that the only possible reaction is to laugh. – Michael S.

Best line/joke: “I hope your kids have bad influences and develop bad personalities. I wish this with all my heart.”

29. Force Majeure (Ruben Östlund)

force_majeure

Ruben Östlund‘s Force Majeure is a rigorously assured exploration of the responsibility found in marriage, and also a remarkably funny one. With performances that rely on acute gestures and movements to convey things some films take an entire runtime to explore, this examination of gender roles and masculinity is brilliant. Despite a final scene that feels unnecessary, what comes before is some of the sharpest comedic filmmaking you’ll find this century as Östlund’s patiently traps us into the headspace of a man in crisis as the walls close in on him. – Jordan R.

Best line/joke: The world’s most extreme man crying.

28. Superbad (Greg Mottola)

Superbad

I saw Superbad opening weekend in a packed theater, and the laughter from the audience was so frequent and so boisterous that I felt as if I missed half the jokes. Almost a decade later, the film holds up well: like the best of the Apatow-branded movies, no matter how crude or vulgar it becomes, there’s an underlying sweetness and good nature to the characters that justifies their actions. Superbad was largely responsible for launching the film careers of numerous actors, and, in retrospect, all their potential is onscreen here. It’s easy to see how Jonah Hill’s role, if played by a lesser actor, may have come across as overtly crude and unlikeable, but he plays him with a sympathetic side, and Michael Cera is equally strong. – John U.

Best line/joke: After Joe Lo Truglio‘s first encounter, he asks, “You guys have MySpace?”

27. Burn After Reading (Joel and Ethan Coen)

Burn After Reading

I’ve seen the Coen brothers Burn After Reading treated with hostility by their fans, most likely because it’s perceived as one of their more mainstream efforts, but there’s something to be said for a film in which George Clooney spends half its time working on a supposedly top-secret project, only for it to be revealed as a rocking chair with a dildo attached. Burn After Reading isn’t the Coens at their most incisive or quirky, but it’s still a very strong film with hilarious supporting turns from Brad Pitt and John Malkovich; the scene in which Pitt’s intellectually challenged fitness instructor calls Malkovich in the middle of the night in an attempt at blackmail had me in stitches. – John U.

Best line/joke: “I have a drinking problem? Fuck you, Peck, you’re a Mormon. Compared to you we all have a drinking problem!”

26. Magic Mike XXL (Gregory Jacobs)

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Magic Mike XXL is a movie of improbably long sequences, triumphantly goofy digressions (the gas-station dance set to the Backstreet Boys), and a very special feel-good vibe that is not to be taken for granted. (Ignatiy Vishnevetsky summed up the feeling well: “Doggedly positive. Rare experience of leaving the theater feeling slightly better about the world than when I went in.”) Steven Soderbergh’s clinical cynicism is a necessary pill in a lot of contexts, but Gregory Jacobs‘ follow-up (photographed and edited by the former) is a big-hearted breath of fresh air that still possesses the Magic Mike director’s ecstatic powers of color, pace, and composition. – Danny K.

Best line/joke: Joe Manganiello + “I Want It That Way” + water bottle.

25. Tropic Thunder (Ben Stiller)

Tropic Thunder

It’s easy to forget what disarray Tom Cruise’s career was in back in 2008. Fresh from his bizarre talk-show appearances, a couple under-performing films at the box office, and becoming the object of tabloid fodder, Cruise’s star had plummeted. This is part of what made his extended cameo appearance in Tropic Thunder so riotously funny: buried under layers of prosthetics and sporting a pot belly, the sleazy, verbally abusive studio exec stole the show, arguably upstaging Robert Downey Jr.’s turn as a method acting dimwit who earnestly dons blackface in an attempt to play an African-American character. Ben Stiller’s directorial career has been shaky, but Tropic Thunder is probably his best work behind the lens. It may not boast the subtlest of satire, but it makes up for this by simply being very, very funny. – John U.

Best line/joke: “You never go full retard.”

24. School of Rock (Richard Linklater)

Funny and warmly infectious, School of Rock remains a cheerfully touching comedy classic nearly fifteen years later. While the work of director Richard Linklater, writer Mike White, and star Jack Black provide a winning trifecta, it’s the lead performance, along with a stunning cast of adept child actors, that make up the foundation of this film. White’s screenplay provided the perfect vehicle for Black’s talents, without whom the premise could have easily collapsed under its own predictability: Dewey, an unemployed rocker, poses as a teacher, inspiring a classroom of stuffy private-school kids to cut loose and form a class rock band. Admittedly, it’s the type of zany performance that could easily repulse and annoy by pushing over the top, were it not for the charms of their innately likable star. Indeed, Black swings wildly for the fences, but Dewey’s unbridled musical passion effectively sells each of this goof’s bizarre facial tics and thrusting gyrations, supporting the character rather than distracting from it. – Tony H.

Best line/joke: After he’s revealed as a fraud at parent-teacher night, Dewey tries desperately to explain himself: “I have been touched by your kids. And I’m pretty sure that I’ve touched them.” The parents react accordingly.

23. Mistress America (Noah Baumbach)

Mistress America

Noah Baumbach’s unofficial companion to Frances Ha navigates similar thematic territory as the 2012 film — i.e. the arrested development of millennials not yet ready to tackle the adult world — except Mistress America is even harder to watch, even more vicious in its deconstruction of narcissism and entitlement. Yet the film doesn’t altogether despise its characters, either, keeping us emotionally invested in their exploits even as we wince at their social and moral blunders. From this tension between empathy and derision, Baumbach has built a formidable screwball comedy filled with mile-a-minute patter and a glorious climactic set piece that evokes The Rules of the Game in its use of organized chaos to satirize the social elite. – Jonah J.

Best line/joke: “I’m an autodidact. Do you know what that means? […] That is one of the words I self-taught myself.”

22. Hill of Freedom (Hong Sang-soo)

Hill of Freedom

Hong Sang-soo‘s 16th feature is one of his greatest, and, to my mind, undoubtedly the most accessible: 65 minutes long, primarily in English, and powered by a great structural conceit (are you noticing a trend between this and Right Now, Wrong Then?) that one could pore over endlessly but need not worry about for the sake of simply enjoying its stranger-in-a-strange-land narrative. Hill of Freedom again resembles the other Hong entry – and almost every film he’s made in the last twelve-or-so years – for relying on misunderstanding to evoke laughs, but not in a cruel sense: others’ casual insanity matters no less than the main character’s affable cluelessness, making it among Hong’s most generous works. Each minute is as pleasurable as it is mysterious. – Nick N.

Best line/joke: A stiff, too-enthusiastic thumbs-up that encapsulates the film’s complex relationship with communication.

21. Sideways (Alexander Payne)

Sideways

Offering up some of this century’s most genuine comedy, Alexander Payne has a way to inject even the most dramatic situations with a humorous levity. The fact that his films tow the line so carefully between genres is proof that, as in reality, the two rarely fail to be intertwined. This is never better exemplified than in Sideways, a full-bodied look at festering neuroses and romantic commitments that’s captured with an airy sincerity that could only come from Payne’s delicate touch. – Jordan R.

Best line/joke: “I’m not drinking any fucking Merlot.”

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