Want something funny to watch on Netflix? Critic Luke Buckmaster has combed the archives and picked the top 25 comedies currently available.
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LAST UPDATED: OCTOBER 7, 2020
Edgar Wright’s sassy crime caper follows a getaway driver (Ansel Elgort) who is on the autism spectrum, putting his foot to the floor only when listening to killer tracks on his headphones. The story of a decent kid embroiled in a life of crime becomes a quasi-musical and a possessed jukebox of an action movie, Wright furthering his already innovative style through playful experimentation with various kinds of rhythm: rhythm of sound, rhythm of images, rhythm of editing.
The Coen brothers’ Western-themed anthology movie isn’t always a comedy—but the introductory titular segment certainly is, and hot damn it’s delightful. Tim Blake Nelson plays a singing cowboy and loquacious silver-tongued devil who is a ridiculously good and self-assured gun slinger—but pride comes before a fall. The tone is western-themed musical jamboree, live-action shenanigans ran through a cartoon sensibility. The remaining chapters vary substantially in tone, from giddily entertaining to slow-moving and profound.
The core challenge in Adam McKay’s playful film about Wall Street sharks (who saw the GFC coming and conspired to profit from it) is how to make a dry subject broadly accessible. The writer/director’s everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach deploys narration, fourth wall breaking and endless analogies, including the following sage words from Steve Carrell: “So mortgage bonds are dog shit wrapped in cat shit?” It’s structurally messy, but it works.
More Michael Keaton! Alejandro González Iñárritu’s angsty comedy about a fading celebrity (Keaton) desperate to reclaim the spotlight unfolds as if it was shot in one long take, which is a particularly interesting choice given the story transpires over several days. Strange, colourful and pretentious, the energy of this film prevails—with Keaton mounting a commendable fight for attention against Iñárritu’s stylistic pizzazz and metafictional derring-do.
There is a dangerous energy in Spike Lee’s adaptation of Ron Stallworth’s non-fiction book about a black detective (John David Washington) who infiltrates the Ku Klux Klan with the assistance of a Jewish colleague (Adam Driver). As a drama the premise is absurd; as a comedy the jokes feel so real it hurts. The director’s scope is wide and ambitious, even revisiting films such as 1915’s Birth of a Nation to argue that racism is core not only to America but to cinema itself.
Hey, hey, hey hey! Judd Nelson’s unforgettable performance as the rebel John Bender still leaps from the screen all these years after John Hughes’ 1985 school detention classic first checked the roll. But the characters form nothing if not a collective, their starkly and conveniently different personalities (“a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal”) remaining interesting despite Hughes’ screenplay skittering on the brink of stereotype-oblivion. The rushed saccharine ending was a mistake, but the combination of hi jinks and breezy dialogue form an enduring portrait of good-natured rebellion.
A black comedy; an absurd psychological thriller; an extreme drama about doomed friendship. Also a commentary on mindless idiot box entertainment—American style—that doesn’t quite sit right. A characteristically in-your-face Jim Carrey, high on the fumes of his meteoric rise in the 90s, arrives on Mathew Brockerick’s doorstep, setting him up with illegal cable and successfully integrating himself into the poor sod’s suddenly traumatic life. The comedy is outrageously tense: can’t watch, can’t look away.
Refusing to accept that her elderly father is on the way out, director Kirsten Johnson decides to celebrate his life by killing him off in various ways—from a falling air conditioner to bleeding out on the street. Working on the premise that part of the titular, loveable 84-year-old has already left the building, Johnson uses the personal documentary genre (i.e. Shirkers, Stories We Tell) to construct a Buñuelian outlook, in which the real world is a form of purgatory; a waiting room before the inevitable. It’s weirdly tender and sweet.
A borderline gloomy aesthetic belies the quirkiness of Wojciech Marczewski’s 1990 Polish satire, set in a world where movie characters begin speaking directly to the cinema audience. This bothers the protagonist (Janusz Gajos), a former theatre critic who now heads the Censorship Office. Marczewski uses this weird premise to caution against restrictions on artistic expression (i.e. censorship) as the film breaks down the relationship between viewer and the screen—in its own world as in ours.
Bueller. Buelllller. Buellllleeerrr! John Hughes’ 1986 ode to skipping school—starring Mathew Broderick as the famous class-cutting rascal—has obviously aged, and yet its goofy spirit is timeless. It is an ode to nothing, really: other than youth and good-natured, hooky-practicing rebellion.
Gary Gray’s 1995 stoner classic is audacious in its nothingness, built around two characters—Craig (Ice Cube) and Smokey (Chris Tucker)—who sit on a porch, and sit on a porch some more. The director evokes a powerful sense of place, imbuing laid-back comedy with a strong community feeling. The film is in no hurry whatsoever, slowing the pace of life down to a very chill ebb and flow.
Yet another contemporary take on Cyrano de Bergerac, writer/director Alice Wu finds a fresh queer perspective in the story of a brainiac student (Leah Lewis) who writes love letters for a jock (Daniel Diemer) with wit and heart. Amiable and well paced, it’s the sort of film that comes across as effortless—only because the filmmaker made so many good decisions in the writing and directing. Modest but elevated.
Margot Robbie’s celebrity-shedding performance is the centre of this real-or-not? biopic about disgraced figure skater Tonya Harding (Robbie). Director Craig Gillespie questions who is to blame for the knee-capping incident for which the athlete is best remembered, taking a fourth-wall-breaking approach that crackles and fizzes. The film’s most compelling themes run in contrasts: humour and sadness, reality and artifice.
I am far from the first critic to liken Stephen Chow’s visually zany chopsocky period movie to a live-action Looney Tunes cartoon, but sometimes the collective wisdom gets it right. Chow (also the writer and director) plays a blunderous small-time con artist who, in a rural slum in China in the 1940s, becomes embroiled in an epic brouhaha between the murderous ‘Axe Gang’ and a trio of genuine kung fu masters. The story is fine; the execution is delightful.
While driving a convertible with no hands (naturally) Arnold Schwarzenegger fires a bullet at an assailant. This inadvertently causes an ice cream cone to kill a man by flying into the back of his head. “Iced that guy,” says Arnie, “to cone a phrase.” Best or worst one-liner ever? Last Action Hero is nothing if not self-conscious. The film—about an 11-year-old kid who enters an alternate universe—is half-hearted as a satire but trashily enjoyable.
When cardshark Eddy (Nick Moran) loses big in a rigged poker game, he and his pals set out to settle their debts by stealing from weed dealers. Surprise surprise, there are complications. The various elements of Guy Ritchie’s cockney gangster movie really gel: the snappy performances, the even snappier dialogue, the washed-out cinematography, the disciplined and energetic editing. It’s Ritchie’s first film and it remains his best.
Woody Allen’s enchanting rumination on art, romance and history follows a well-off writer (Owen Wilson) who is transported back in time to the 1920s while strolling the streets of Paris. Soon he meets the likes of Ernest Hemingway and F Scott Fitzgerald and falls in love with Picasso’s mistress (Marion Cotillard). Midnight in Paris contemplates the foggy charms of nostalgia, finding a fun and fresh perspective on romanticizing the past.
He’s not a messiah, he’s a very naughty boy! Monty Python’s beloved satire on western religion observes history and legend from a just-to-the-side perspective, with a protagonist (Graham Chapman) who was born in the stable next door to Jesus. What could have been an exhausting single joke comedy is padded out into a consistently entertaining (at times riotously so) film full of mirth, all the way till the final rib-tickling musical number.
Tilda Swinton plays the Willy Wonka-esque CEO of a company that produces a not-so-sweet product: giant genetically engineered pigs to carve up and sell worldwide. Chaos ensues when a young girl (Seo-Hyun Ahn) puts up a fight to save the titular character’s bacon. There’s Spielbergian largesse in Bong Joon Ho’s brisk direction, but he goes places Spielberg wouldn’t—with prickly messages about anti-meat consumption and corporate malfeasance.
The beloved marmalade addict became an allegorical stand-in for outsiders in general and refugees in particular in 2014’s Paddington and its even better sequel. The protagonist is embroiled in a crime caper involving a highly valuable pop-up book and Hugh Grant as an irresistibly hammy villain. Director Paul King’s visual approach is informed by great films of the silent era, such as Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times.
Jack Black’s characteristically boisterous performance as a heavy metal guitarist who becomes a substitute music teacher, leading a bunch of lovable pipsqueaks to a battle of the bands competition, fits this film so well he gives the impression of having shaped the entire thing in his image. The story is archetypal but the energy of the cast is infectious, writer/director Richard Linklater’s earnest approach matching head with heart—while rocking out.
The titular character’s dialogue-free movie spin-off sends Shaun and co to the big city, on a mission to find and return their amnesia-afflicted farmer. Evoking the craftsmanship of great silent era comedies, in addition to stylistic and thematic inspirations ranging from Jacques Tati to Luis Buñuel, co-directors Mark Burton and Richard Starzak construct an utterly delightful work of art: spirited, lively, inventive, humane.
Shot on a shoestring budget over a couple of weeks, Spike Lee’s film about a polyamorous woman with three lovers is regarded as a breakthrough in depictions of African Americans (focusing on urbanites, intellectuals and deep thinkers) as well as in the American indie movement more broadly. Lee dabbles with different styles, including fourth wall-breaking and documentary techniques, in an affecting early work that has the tactile feel and decorum-breaking chutzpah of a young iconoclast.
A sassy critique of capitalism, with notes of Pinocchio, told through the prism of one man’s attempt to climb the rungs of telemarketing hierarchy. Now there’s a sentence you don’t write everyday. Writer/director Boots Riley wittily tosses around situational and cultural absurdities, balancing satire with the surreal while making uncomfortable observations about racial inequality in America. Lakeith Stanfield is an endlessly likeable lead whose face seems to say: “I no longer know what world I’m even pretending to be part of.”
Uproarious non-PC comedy is par for the course for enfant terrible Seth MacFarlane, summoning to life a lewd bong-smoking teddy bear who is besties with Mark Wahlberg. The film’s subtext (yes, it has one) plays out like a reverse Toy Story: instead of saying goodbye to aspects of childhood, formative experiences transmogrify into forces that stunt a person’s growth as an adult. It’s highly entertaining, filthy, facetious.
On 7 October 2020, five titles were added and removed from his page to reflect changes to the Netflix catalogue. Reviews no longer available on this page (for Beetlejuice, The Blues Brothers, Hey Arnold: The Movie, Hot Fuzz and Up in the Air) can be read here.