Welcome to 5 Favorites. Each week, I will put together a list of my 5 favorites (films, performances, whatever strikes my fancy) along with commentary on a given topic each week, usually in relation to a specific film releasing that week.
We’re half way there, but not livin’ on a prayer. As we approach the final list of my best of decade rundown, we’re getting a bit more crowded. In my first post, there were 18 films. The second had 14. This time around, we’re at 19. That’s because there were many incredible comedies in the last decade. There were so many that between the two lists, comedies and musicals, the former has the bulk with the latter only having two. There were two titles that came close to making the list: Silver Linings Playbook and The Farewell. Neither were entirely comedic, having more touches of drama than comedy, but that’s how they were frequently cited like a handful of other films on this list as well.
Looking at the top comedies of the decade, the first requirement was that they mast at least be humorous in a few places or all throughout. The second was they actually had to be well made films. Comedies often get the short shrift from awards organizations who cannot appreciate the difficulty of making a great comedy. These seventeen were well appreciated, but under-awarded. As to the musicals, they are a controversial pair, but they were superb undertakings. Honestly, I could re-arrange this list countless times, swapping some titles for higher positions and then switching them back, they are all that close together in my estimation.
Easy A (2010)
Establishing Emma Stone as the star she would become, director Will Gluck gave us a superb look at high school life when a 17-year-old girl (Stone) becomes the talk of the facility when she lies to her best friend to get out of a weekend trip. The film explores the toxicity of rumor mongering while examining the misogynistic culture of the high school experience. Stone is hilarious as is the film.
The Favourite (2018)
Yorgos Lanthimos is a very unusual director, yet two of his films make it onto this list. Also featuring Emma Stone, The Favourite co-stars Olivia Colman as Queen Anne and Rachel Wise as her advisor Lady Sarah. Stone plays the queen’s maid. Stone and Wise jockey each other for Anne’s affections in a delightful, twisted, and fun period comedy that will forever change what such films can be.
The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
Wes Anderson has been making highly stylized, quirky comedies for just over three decades and in the last ten years, he’s created three tremendous achievements. This is his best. The story of an Eastern European hotel and the concierge who keeps everything running is Anderson’s most fun and richly detailed film to date. With an all-star cast of new and regular Anderson players, Grand Budapest is more grand than its title would suggest.
Jojo Rabbit (2019)
Taika Waititi’s absurd comedy about a young boy wanting to be a Nazi when he grows up, is an inventive satire featuring top-notch performances from star Roman Griffin Davis, Scarlett Johansson as his secretive mother, Thomasin McKenzie as the young Jewish girl she’s hiding in the walls of her home, Sam Rockwell as an unlucky Nazi commander, Rebel Wilson as an intense SS Frau, Archie Yates as Jojo’s friend, and Taika Waititi as young Jojo’s imaginary friend Adolf. Poignant in places, humorous in others, and otherwise biting in its criticism of the Hitler’s Youth in Germany at its core, Jojo Rabbit is a unique experience everyone owes themselves to see.
I, Tonya (2017)
While classified as a comedy, there are a lot of dramatic elements to Craig Gillespie’s expose of figure skating’s number one knee-capper, Tonya Harding. Make no mistake, under the hood of this delightfully original, and creatively expressive film is an exploration of ice skating’s darker, misogynistic side that favored beauty over raw talent. Margot Robbie, Allison Janney, and Sebastian Stan are all terrific.
Lady Bird (2017)
Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut was a superb film with a notable cast. Saoirse Ronan stars as an independent young woman who rejects the traditional path her mother and society have laid out for her. Ronan picked up a deserving third Oscar nomination for the role and was well supported by Laurie Metcalf as her lovingly manipulative mother, Tracy Letts as her supportive father, Timothée Chalamet and Lucas Hedges as Lady Bird’s paramours, Beanie Feldstein as her best friend, and Lois Smith as a concerned nun. Growing up Catholic never seemed more honest or more creative.
Filmed to look like the entire thing was done in a single take, Alejandro G. Inarritu took us backstage as an aging actor (Michael Keaton) struggles to return to his roots on the stage while the ghost of his big screen superhero past haunts him. Keaton has never been better in a role that bears more than a striking resemblance to his own career. Emma Stone is stellar as his daughter with strong support form Zach Galifianakis, Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough, and Edward Norton.
The Lobster (2016)
The film that finally clued mainstream Oscar voters into Yorgos Lanthimos’ bizarre brand of humor, this dark comedy about a quasi-futuristic society where those who cannot find love are turned into an animal of their choosing, brought the director a nomination for Best Original Screenplay, a well deserved citation. It wasn’t his first feature nominated for an Oscar, but it was his introduction to the mainstream, which allowed him to break out with The Favourite two years later. Strong performances from Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, John C. Reilly, Lea Seydoux, and Ben Whishaw help elevate this strangeness to a level of creative credibility.
A send-up of spy thrillers, Paul Feig’s hilarious comedy stars Melissa McCarthy at her comedic best as a CIA analyst thrust into a high stakes espionage adventure that subverts what we know about the genre. Twisting the traditional formula for such films by swapping out gender roles, the end result is an extremely funny caper that features career-high work from McCarthy, Miranda Hart, Rose Byrne, and, most surprisingly, Jason Statham.
Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
Wes Anderson’s film about two kids who fall in love and escape their small town in search of bigger adventures and the townsfolk who go in search of them is outlandish, inventive, and funny. Anderson’s exploration of young love is a fun escapade for anyone, but especially fans of the director’s other films. Not as down to earth as many of his films ultimately are, Moonrise Kingdom more than makes up for that with creative energy.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017)
Not all comedies are cinematic masterpieces, but Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle more than makes up for that with originality and hilarity. Four high school detentioners are sucked into a video game into the guise of four well known comedians/actors (Dwayne Johnson, Karen Gillan, Kevin Hart, and Jack Black). What follows is a hilarious send-up of video games and the ludicrousness of those situations. When the weakest link (Johnson) is still quite funny, you have a film that is fun to watch even if it isn’t the most artistically crafted.
This much-maligned film with an all-female cast was given a nasty reception by toxic men who objected to the “political correctness” of swapping the cast’s genders. Controversy aside, Ghostbusters is a hilarious film with Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones delivering laugh-out-loud performances. Yet, it’s Chris Hemsworth as their flighty secretary Kevin who gets some of the film’s biggest laughs. While the ending is a bit excessive, the whole journey is incredibly fun and well worthy of the Ghostbusters legacy.
Love, Simon (2018)
One of the most broadly accessible gay comedies in the last decade, Love, Simon explores the involuntary coming out story of titular Simon (Nick Robinson). The high school experience has been tackled numerous times in cinema, but this charismatic film is easily identifiable to anyone who has struggled with keeping their big gay secret in a largely hostile educational environment. That cast is more than up to the task of making all of these characters relatable.
Crazy Rich Asians (2018)
Jon M. Chu’s adaptation of the Kevin Kwan bestseller stars Constance Wu as a young woman who flies to Singapore to meet her boyfriend’s (Henry Golding) wealthy family and convince them that she deserves to be with him in spite of her humble origins. Featuring terrific performances from Wu, Golding, Michelle Yeoh, and Gemma Chan in principle roles, Crazy Rich Asians is the kind of affecting romantic comedy that could have fit in with the great romantic comedies of the 1940s with an all-Asian cast to boot.
Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)
A creative concept that might conceivably be listed under science fiction, Safety Not Guaranteed is the story of a man working on a time travel machine who wants a companion for his journey. As a group of journalism students take a closer look, they suspect he may not be in full possession of his faculties. Solid performances by Mark Duplass, Aubrey Plaza, Mary Lynn Rajskub, and Jake Johnson make this film a must see for anyone who loves quaint indie films with a fascinating premise behind them.
The Kids Are All Right (2010)
Annette Bening and Julianne Moore play a lesbian couple trying to raise their two intelligent children (Josh Hutcherson and Mia Wasikkowski). Their loving, balanced family is thrown into disarray when the kids decide they want to get to know their biological father (Mark Ruffalo) and invite him to be a part of their family unit, creating a rift between Bening and Moore. Directed by Lisa Cholodenko, this compelling family comedy-drama about dysfunction in a modern nuclear family explores multiple topics. Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg’s astute screenplay makes for a thought-provoking viewing experience even if the comedic elements are more muted than a lot of films on this list.
Alexander Payne’s black-and-white seriocomedy stars Bruce Dern as an alcoholic father who makes a trip to Nebraska with his estranged son (Will Forte) in order to claim a lottery prize. Dern and Forte give solid performances as all those who star in a Payne film do, with superb support form June Squibb. It’s a film about reconnecting without being able to reconcile the past or accept one’s culpability in it. As road trip films go, this one is a winner.
The Greatest Showman (2017)
The musical has been in decline in the last two decade when films like Evita and, later, Chicago revitalized the genre. The Greatest Showman was an attempt to bring the musical genre into the present by framing history with a modern socio-political lens. Showman P.T. Barnum, played skillfully by Hugh Jackman, may not be heroic by present-day standards, but in his time, his exploitation of “freaks” was often the only way those individuals could survive in society without being ridiculed and dismissed by the public at large. Even more astute, The Greatest Showman embraces cultural diversity in such a powerful way that it’s impossible not to fall in love with this musical even if it isn’t historically accurate.
Les Miserables (2012)
Before The Greatest Showman, director Tom Hooper tried his hand at genre revival with this lively cinematic adaptation of acclaimed stage musical Les Misérables. Also starring Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean, a man recently freed from prison where he was sent for stealing a loaf of bread, the film explores social unrest in France in the 19th Century, almost perfectly mirroring the present-day resistance to the modern aristocracy. Anne Hathaway, Eddie Redmayne, Aaron Tveit, and Samantha Barks are all terrific with the rest of the cast performing largely above expectations. If you are prepared for a musical that has a bittersweet ending, this is the adaptation for you, one of the best big screen musicals of the last decade.