In darkest times, we need a good laugh. Actually, we need a good laugh any time. Sadly, in recent years, good comedy on the big screen has been hard to come by. At least in a direct, definitively classified comedy genre form. Last year’s greatest (only?) laugh out loud movies came out of the superhero genre. We’ve got some of that in 2018, as well, but this has also been a very good year already for real comedies. Studio comedies, even.
Maybe there are just more of them? There still seem to be as many clunkers as usual, but midway into 2018, we’ve seen some excellent mainstream comedies along with a few funny indies and a couple British imports that probably should have come out in 2017 and balanced out that year.
I do feel the need to admit I haven’t yet seen Tully, Book Club, or Love, Simon, all of which I hear ought to be considered (maybe they’ll be added to the list by end of year — along with any others you want to encourage me to see for consideration). Otherwise, here is my ranking of the 10 best comedies released in the US this year through the end of June:
10. Deadpool 2
One of our biggest comedy stars of late is not even a real person. Deadpool is the Jim Carrey of the 2010s. No, not Ryan Reynolds, who is very funny in the role, but it’s Deadpool’s name that draws the crowds in. I consider Deadpool 2, maybe even more than the original, to be a comedy first and superhero movie second. The jokes are always more important here than the action. That’s why it’s a shame there’s so much plot included this time around. The sequel feels crowded. But it’s still irreverently hilarious, especially during the X-Force sequence. And Zazie Beetz as Domino is absolutely wonderful.
9. Early Man
Nick Park’s trademark stop-motion animation will always be a delight. Nothing of his will ever top the Wallace and Gromit shorts (even those characters’ feature was slightly lesser fare) or the brilliantly clever Creature Comforts, but most anything from Aardman Animations is like a nice cup of tea. I didn’t laugh as much as I’d hoped during the fairly simply Early Man, which is about a football (soccer) match between a primitive tribe and a more “civilized” people, and personally, I’m just not as interested in sports comedy, but it’s charming and made me smile the whole way through.
I got to visit the set of this comedy, which is based on a true story about friends still playing tag in adulthood, and I saw a whole lot of raunchy improvisation delivered by stars Ed Helms, Jon Hamm, Jake Johnson, and Hannibal Buress (with Carrie Brownstein). So, I was surprised to find none of what I witnessed in the finished product. It’s a more sentimental comedy than anticipated. But the biggest, most pleasant shock was how funny the Jeremy Renner stuff is. Not that he’s responsible so much as it’s the way his over-competitive character is written and directed. There’s some perfect comedic action in this movie, particularly in the Predator homage. Renner’s cover of Crash Test Dummies’ “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm” during the end credits is also superb.
7. The Eleven O’Clock
One of this year’s Oscar nominees in the live-action short category, the 13-minute Australian film injected some much-needed laughs into the otherwise depressing program when it was released to theaters back in February. It’s a well-executed sketch about two men in a therapy session, each of them claiming to be the doctor treating the other. Josh Lawson (best known here for Superstore) wrote the riddle of a script and stars as one of the players in the psychological game of wits. Damon Herriman (Justified) is his opponent. Together, along with director Derin Seale’s pitch-perfect pacing, they achieve a one-joke comedy short where you’re not just waiting for the punchline reveal. The Eleven O’Clock wasn’t even the most award-worthy short among the nominees but it’s the most memorable.
6. Set It Up
Romantic comedy is not dead, and it doesn’t even have to be that clever to matter (though those do matter more). All you need is very likable leads and some sort of decent pathway to bring them together. Set It Up has the first thing in Zoey Deutch and Glen Powell (both from Everybody Wants Some!!), and it has the second thing in an acknowledged mashup of Cyrano de Bergerac and The Parent Trap where the leads team up to play matchmaker with their awful, lonely bosses (Lucy Liu and Taye Diggs, respectively) but then obviously wind up falling for each other. Not only do I love the simple charms of this movie, but I’m glad to see it on Netflix, where not everything has to suck and fortunately there’s an outlet for small romcoms that don’t have the same old familiar big-name stars. A decade ago, this would have been a limited theatrical release indie rom-com that few people saw. Hopefully, it’s being streamed and enjoyed by a ton of people.
For a comedy that’s not often especially funny and has no standout performance, Blockers is a pretty great movie. Amidst John Cena putting a beer bong in his butt and Leslie Mann trying too hard (and still coming off as painfully bland) is a well-balanced, positively and progressively themed story of teen girls planning on having sex on prom night. The two narratives, one following the exaggeratedly overprotective parents and the other the genuinely relatable kids, contrast so effectively for a heartfelt combination, like a mashup of Vacation John Hughes and Sixteen Candles John Hughes that maybe even Hughes himself couldn’t have achieved. It’s ultimately so sweet that I got teary-eyed at the end.
So dark that you’ll constantly question whether what you’re watching truly counts as a comedy, Cory Finley’s Thoroughbreds follows the story of two rich teens who plot to murder one’s stepfather. The comparisons to Heathers and American Psycho going around aren’t too apt, as it never plays as heightened satire, and its tone is as pitch black and dry as humor can get. It’s more like Heavenly Creatures meets Less Than Zero. The cast is perfect, if a little on the nose considering Anya Taylor-Joy and Olivia Cooke always do well with such expressionless roles and Paul Sparks reaches peak asshole, while Anton Yelchin’s involvement in a supporting role is a bittersweet pleasure.
3. Game Night
Hollywood’s best comedy of the year could have easily been just a passable or even problematic effort. From the guys responsible for the Horrible Bosses scripts and the Vacation reboot-sequel, Game Night was hardly my most anticipated movie of any kind. Plot-wise, it’s still sort of stale, delivering a familiar premise (okay, I guess we haven’t all seen the underrated ’90s Bill Murray comedy The Man Who Knew Too Little, of which Game Night seems like a remake right down to the more successful brother’s role in setting up an immersive theater mystery game that gets confused with a coincidental real crime occurring at the same time). Fortunately, it has Rachel McAdams in her funniest performance since Mean Girls — funniest ever, really. Hollywood needs to be employing her for more movies where she gets to show off such physical and verbal comedic timing and prowess. Also, everything you’ve heard about Jesse Plemons in his deadpan supporting role is correct: he is incredible. More comedies for him, too, please.
2. The Death of Stalin
As disappointing as it was to see Armando Iannucci leave Veep behind, The Death of Stalin was worth the decision. Taking his brand of political satire and farce and applying it to history was ambitious and daring at a time when creative license isn’t recognized enough. The resulting feature, which is based on a French graphic novel, is a mostly silly but also often brutal black comedy about the bureaucratic chaos of a dictatorship after its leader suddenly dies and his minions scramble in their struggle for power. The ensemble cast is impeccable, with Steve Buscemi winning my vote (yay democracy) for MVP in his portrayal of Nikita Khrushchev. So what if it’s not authentic? If only the real world was, in fact, this tame in its political nonsense.
1. Paddington 2
The best movie of any and all genres this year (hey, to a two-year-old it could be horror…), the sequel to one of the most criminally underseen movies of the decade (at least in America) is now the most criminally underseen movie of this year (at least in America). The well-intentioned Paddington Bear, a model character for all kind to look up to, returns along with the Brown family, in a new adventure involving another very not-nice criminal. As if the world of Paddington as adapted by Paul King (this time with co-writer Simon Farnaby) needed any improvement, Paddington 2 also introduces Brendan Gleeson to the mix as a lovably cantankerous prison cook (in another sequence seemingly nodding to Wes Anderson movies) and the award-worthy Hugh Grant as the villain. It’s funny and cheery and great but also GOOD, a joyous antidote that needs to be prescribed to everyone.
Related Topics: Comedy