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The 50 Best Comedies of the 21st Century Thus Far

Written by on August 10, 2016 

10. Wet Hot American Summer (David Wain)

Wet Hot American Summer

Even aside from providing an early glimpse at a staggering amount of comedic talent — including Janeane Garofalo, David Hyde Pierce, Molly Shannon, Paul Rudd, Christopher Meloni, Michael Showalter, Ken Marino, Michael Ian Black, Amy Poehler, Bradley Cooper, Elizabeth Banks, Joe Lo Truglio, Judah Friedlander, and more — Wet Hot American Summer excels at showing us David Wain and co.’s talents for blending absurdity with endearment. There’s not a character you don’t adore and a joke that doesn’t leave at least a smirk. The comedy kicked off a century in which we had spoof titles aplenty, but barely any measured up to the lovable goofiness on display here. – Jordan R.

Best line/joke: Paul Rudd’s facial expressions.

9. The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson)


All of Wes Anderson‘s films could be considered comedies, so instead of including them all, we opted for the one that best exemplifies his funny bone — and which just so happens to be his biggest hit. The Grand Budapest Hotel is a furiously paced, immaculately detailed work of staggering beauty (through every frame, no less), in which the tragic stories at its center only reveal themselves to be as much after Anderson concludes his wildly entertaining caper. Due to his careful construction of characters and the increasingly preposterous situations they find themselves in, there isn’t a scene that fails to be delightful. – Jordan R.

Best line/joke: “You see, there are still faint glimmers of civilization left in this barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity. Indeed that’s what we provide in our own modest, humble, insignificant… oh, fuck it.”

8. Observe and Report (Jody Hill)

Observe and Report

Comedy can go to some dark, taboo places, and, boy, it doesn’t get much more dark and taboo than examining how the effects of bipolar disorder might lead a mall cop with delusions of grandeur to do some really awful things. Mall cops are a ready source of comedy, both successful and unsuccessful, due to the supposed importance of their position being both non-existent and, even if it were, hilariously pointless. Seth Rogen, however, finds levels of anger and pain and narcissism that exceed one’s wildest expectations for the profession. Given the dark, dark places that this movie goes, its a small miracle that Observe and Report never loses pace with its twisted comedic beat. – Brian R.

Best line/joke: Undergoing a psychological evaluation, Ronnie describes a deeply disturbing recurring dream.

7. In the Loop (Armando Iannucci)

In the Loop

If you want to recreate the world of global politics on a small scale, get a nest of vipers, throw it in a burlap sack with a coked-out mongoose, and throw that into the time-out corner of a preschool right after the biggest baby in class just got put away for eating too much post-Halloween candy. The screaming, braying, hissing, and utter fucking carnage of that moment is, on a micro scale, pretty much exactly what politics is. Filmed in a cinéma vérité style and cut with the focus and pacing of a scrap-booker on a meth bender, In the Loop shows this truth with ferocious humor and a black, cracked, oil-bleeding heart. Everyone in the cast excels at both reaching a fever-pitch of comic zaniness while still gnawing their profanity-filled lines like a mad dog chewing on a child’s leg. If the presidential election is making you want to say “what the fuck is going on,” then the Veep creator’s feature is exactly the shot of adrenaline you’ll need to snap your TV in half and, then, beat Wolf Blitzer to death with it. – Brian R.

Best line/joke: A particularly angry man, on opera: “Turn that fucking racket off! It’s just VOWELS! Subsidised… foreign… fucking… vowels!”

6. Hot Fuzz (Edgar Wright)

Hot Fuzz

The second film in Edgar Wright’s unofficial Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy, Hot Fuzz took all the best components of its predecessor Shaun of the Dead — the copious plants and pay-offs, the clever genre subversions, the snappy editing — and honed them into a more finely tuned, well-articulated modern comedy masterwork. Splashed in arguably more extreme violence and retro-fitted in a classic action movie sensibility, Wright’s picture even re-tooled some of the gags from Shaun, making for a delightful double-feature for the attentive. With a strong grasp on visual economy and pacing, Hot Fuzz is a movie unafraid of subtle humor balanced with spot-on sight gags and wonderful twists of the action (and horror) trope playbook that is a joy to be behold on countless rewatches. – Mike M.

Best line/joke: “SWAN!”

5. Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson)

Inherent Vice

Creating a fully realized world in which each supporting character seems capable of leading their own film and every line of dialogue is one that can be endlessly pored over, Paul Thomas Anderson‘s Inherent Vice is a dense, keenly faithful adaptation of Thomas Pynchon‘s novel. At once sprawling in its far-reaching, paranoia-drenched plotting and intimate, with the majority of scenes being prolonged, drug-laced conversations that superbly wrangle every word from the source material, this is, across the board, a feat of sublime assembly. Having already revisited the film a number of times since its release, it’s still a marvel in just how damn funny it is. Even divorced from Pynchon’s dialogue, Joaquin Phoenix‘s bumbling, one-step-out-of-reality demeanor is enough to delight for the entire runtime. – Jordan R.

Best line/joke: “It’s not groovy to be insane!” and Rudy Blatnoyd’s subsequent paranoia.

4. Best in Show (Christopher Guest)

Best in Show

Christopher Guest has had an exceptionally strong ’00s with A Mighty Wind and For Your Consideration, and it remains to be seen how his upcoming Mascots will be received, but his arguable peak is still the gloriously funny mockumentary Best in Show. Guest’s other films have lovingly skewered egotistical oddballs and the insanity of subjective or objective criticism, so Best in Show is one of his rare films that feels as deeply invested in its main conceit — the Mayflower Dog Show — as its neurotic participants. Gathering together a bulletproof human cast — including Parker Posey, Catherine O’ Hara, Michael McKean, and John Michael Higgins — and an equally capable animal ensemble, it’s among the best examples of the improvisatory form’s possibilities. – Michael S.

Best line/joke: “It worked for my family until my mom committed suicide.”

3. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (Shane Black)

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

Shane Black made a name for himself with witty scripts that merged action and comedy and character. He made his name as a director with one such script, the one that might be remembered as his absolute best once the dust settles. A story that at first seems shambolic and a little too zany slowly winds itself up into a tight, tense ball, with lives and honor on the line. All the while, we get to spend time with Harry (Robert Downey Jr.), Gay Perry (Val Kilmer), and Harmony (Michelle Monaghan) as they get shot, dress like a sexy Santa, and lose fingers… and not in that respective order. The velocity of its plot verges on being too fast, but the actors and the script keep pace perfectly. – Brian R.

Best line/joke: Russian roulette.

2. A Serious Man (Joel and Ethan Coen)

A Serious Man

“But I didn’t do anything,” cries Larry Gopnik at one point during Joel and Ethan Coen‘s A Serious Man, their beautifully deadpan ode to growing up Jewish in the suburbs of 1960s Minneapolis. He’s absolutely right. As Larry’s life unravels around him, his marriage dissolving and professional reputation at risk, he frets, panics, and worries while remaining meekly immobile. He dreams of a psychedelic sexual affair with the kooky woman next door and of saving his poor misunderstood brother; in reality, Larry is frozen, incapable of even explaining to the Columbia House Record Company that his kid forged his name on an application. Larry’s Job-like story mines the biggest laughs from its marvelous ensemble, particularly the horrified reactions of star Michael Stuhlbarg, which work as comedy because he plays them as drama. Impending dread and soul-crushing hopelessness have never been funnier. Nerve-jangling and bleakly hilarious, A Serious Man is a darkly orchestrated fable of unrelenting doom. – Tony H.

Best line/joke: As Larry loses his cool on the phone with a Columbia House representative, he exclaims, “I don’t want Santana Abraxas! I’ve just been in a terrible auto accident!”

1. In Bruges (Martin McDonagh)

In Bruges

After a hitman (Colin Farrell) botches the murder of a priest by accidentally also killing a young boy, he and his older mentor (Brendan Gleeson) go to Bruges, where the mentor may have to kill him if the hitman doesn’t commit suicide first. Are you laughing yet? Writer-director Martin McDonagh sets himself a difficult task by injecting a heavy dose of black humor into what could be a staid drama, but his hard work pays off by creating the century’s best comedy thus far. The humor lets us see the humanity underneath two men who have made murder their lives, and that human investment means the drama becomes all the more affecting as an inevitable climax takes hold. – Brian R.

Best line/joke: Two men in a gunfight hash out how the gunfight should proceed, and then argue over directions to a canal.

Honorable Mentions

Judging from the amount of great comedies this decade, we could’ve easily expanded this one to 100 entries. While it sits atop the box-office, The Hangover didn’t quite hit the top 50. A number of Apatow-backed films (and those featuring his alums) barely missed the cut, including I Love You, Man, Anchorman, Knocked Up, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, This is the End, Role Models, Wanderlust, and the Neighbors films.

There’s also a great deal to enjoy in Super Troopers, Extract, A Mighty Wind, Wedding Crashers, Mean Girls, Bring it On, Austin Powers in Goldmember, Undercover Brother, Goon, Hail, Caesar!, Ghost World, Damsels in Distress, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, Thank You for Smoking, and I Love You Phillip Morris.

Darker comedies (e.g. Greenberg, Young Adult, Seven Psychopaths, World’s Greatest Dad, and the work of Todd Solondz) were bandied about. We also found a lot to like in smaller-budget comedies, including Humpday, Results, Obvious Child, and Kaboom, as well as a handful from across the world, including Michael Winterbottom‘s Trip films, Like You Know It All, and Offside.

We considered titles such as Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Adventureland, the Oceans trilogy, Brothers Bloom, Y Tu Mama Tambien, and The Good, the Bad, the Weird, but found they fit other genres a bit closer. We also didn’t repeat films we’ve included on past best-of-the-century-so-far lists (also seen below), including The Lobster, The World’s End, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Team America: World Police, and Shaun the Sheep.

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