We’re beginning to wrap up the past decade, and to celebrate that, I have decided to make lists of the best films of the decade by genre. These ten genres will ticked-off the list one at a time, and we’ll see one article a month between now and December, each month celebrating the best films of the genre this decade. I do realize we have all the films of this year left, and so I’ve tried to plan these lists out in a way that new releases can be added to or dropped from the list as new films come out.
We are, believe it or not, getting close to the end of the year, so there’s only a couple of genres left to cover. For October, we’ll keep it light with my list of the ten best comedies of the 2010s. Just so we are clear for which films I am qualifying for this list, this is not just the yuck-yuck comedies, nor the raunchy Judd Apatow gang’s best efforts. No, this is a list of all films that spread their wings into the varying branches of comedies, so this includes romantic comedies and dramedies, too.
I have a surprisingly large number of films that I wanted to include in the top ten and the honorable mentions, so let’s go.
21 Jump Street (2012) Directors: Phil Lord and Christopher Miller
While 22 Jump Street was the rare comedy sequel that worked, there’s just no topping the original. The pairing of Jonah Hill and then risky actor Channing Tatum turned out to be magical, and the film’s non-stop laughter launched the careers of Lord & Miller into the stratosphere.
Bernie (2012) Director: Richard Linklater
Linklater’s documentary approach to telling the real-life story of mortician-turned-murderer Bernie Tiede made for something really special, and I’ve found myself rewatching this film more than I thought I would. Add to that, Jack Black gives a career-best turn, and Matthew McConaughey and Shirley MacLaine are also wonderful in supporting roles.
Birdman (2014) Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Obviously this was a very large film for the decade, and many argue it is the high point of Inarritu’s career, and there’s not much I have to say about this film that hasn’t been praised. There’s Lubezki’s cinematography, Michael Keaton’s performance, Edward Norton’s work, it’s all worthy. If I had an eleventh spot on this list, that’s where Birdman would end up, but I just found ten films I liked a little better.
The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) Director: Wes Anderson
I fell in love with this movie at first sight, and for good reason. The color scheme, the score from Alexandre Desplat, the creative screenplay; it’s all great. I also grew very attached to the lead character, M Gustav H, played by Ralph Fiennes, and I was sad when my time with him in the film ended. Grand Budapest is a wonderful movie that also packs a good amount of humor in as well.
I, Tonya (2017) Director: Craig Gillespie
I knew very little about who Tonya Harding was going into this movie, but I had a ball with I, Tonya. Margot Robbie and Allison Janney, in an Academy-Award winning role, are dynamite, and the dark-humored approach the film takes to a highly publicized 1990s cultural milestone was very refreshing.
Now here are the ten films I couldn’t stop laughing at (or with) of the 2010s.
The Best Comedy Movies of the 2010s
10. The Big Sick (2017)
Director: Michael Showalter
The Big Sick works really well as a comedy, but also as a romantic film, but since there is so much of an emphasis on comedy in the film (one of the main character’s job is a stand-up comedian, after all), I wanted it in this list rather than the romantic one. Either way, this is one of the more pleasant surprise films of the decade.
This was also my introduction to Kumail Nanjiani, and he was wonderful in this part based around his true-life experiences. Not only is he a compelling leading man in the romance scenes, but he also knows how to be gut-bustingly funny in the comedic moments. There is also a wonderful scene where he comes very close to breaking down on stage because of his girlfriend’s ailing health, and The Big Sick walks the tightrope between drama, romance, and comedy very well.
I also have to give some love to the supporting cast. Zoe Kazan gives a delightful turn as Emily, Nanjiani’s love interest, and the combination of Ray Romano and Holly Hunter (both of whom were overlooked by many awards bodies for their work) as Emily’s parents was a match made in heaven. I also found myself really enticed by Nanjiani’s family, who have a lot of highlights in a film full of them.
9. The Nice Guys (2016)
Director: Shane Black
I have always been a big fan of Shane Black, and The Nice Guys has some of the funniest moments of the decade. It also shows off some decent action scenes and a nice and twisty detective story that sometimes feel like a late 1970s version of Lethal Weapon, but I mean that as a compliment in the best way.
Speaking of comedy pairings, who didn’t love Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling in this film? While Gosling’s awards consideration that year was on La La Land, I argue the more difficult character (and in the end the most endearing) was March, not Sebastian. The two are dynamite together, and I wouldn’t be against seeing them team up again in the future, whether it be a sequel to The Nice Guys or a new venture. Either way, sign me up.
It’s also interesting to see two younger actresses get their start in this film, Angourie Rice and Margaret Qualley. Both of them are blowing up today, and we know their names for a reason. As March’s daughter, Rice is the voice of reason for two reasonless guys, and Qualley gives a nice performance as the vice for the whole story. I also enjoyed the action scenes, as simple as some of them were, with the highlight being the conclusion. This is Black’s typical sense of humor and blending of different genres, and it worked very well for The Nice Guys.
8. The Disaster Artist (2017)
Director: James Franco
I am a gigantic fan of the cult sensation The Room from goofball/film hero (depending on who you ask) Tommy Wiseau, so there weren’t too many films in 2017 that I was looking forward to more than The Disaster Artist, and while I had a couple of gripes about some small stuff, the overall product was nothing short of hilarious. This is also the most heartwarming film about bad filmmaking since Ed Wood.
Franco is a riot as Wiseau, and he does a solid job of directing, too. Obviously the fact that Franco’s off-screen antics happened to surface during the awards rush that year kept him from being nominated at the Oscars, but that doesn’t take away from his performance, which had comedy, emotion, and friendship, sometimes all at once.
I did have a little problem with the film’s choice to not show more of the actual filmmaking of The Room, where I think there could have been an even bigger comedy goldmine, but in exchange, we have a more personal story about the friendship of two men seeking to be famous, and how it brings them together, then ends up tearing them apart. As someone who has always tried to shoot for the stars, I found those sections of the film still endearing. The Disaster Artist is not perfect, but I sure had a great time during it.
For a three-hour celebration of debauchery and chaos on one of the most chaotic places in America, The Wolf of Wall Street is also one of Martin Scorsese’s funniest movies. There’s a lot that happens in the film, a lot of memorable moments, a large number of laugh-out-loud moments, so it will be impossible to mention everything, but here’s some of them.
Leonardo DiCaprio gives a high-octane, off the wall performance as Jordan Belfort, and it’s one of his best performances. I also wish that Terence Winter’s script had received more attention at the time, because it was one of my favorites of that year. Scorsese’s direction is also fabulous, and keeps this train from going off the rails, and man does it risk doing so at multiple points.
Some of the highlights for me are Margot Robbie’s introduction, and what Jonah Hill does in response, the scene with the FBI agents on DiCaprio’s yacht, and the parking lot scene between Hill and Jon Bernthal. However, my favorite part is the drug trip at the country club, which reminded me a lot of the toilet scene from Dumb & Dumber. It’s a level of physical comedy we hadn’t seen in the film up to that point, and leaves a profound comedic impact.
6. Midnight in Paris (2011)
Director: Woody Allen
Arguably the last truly great film we will see from the legendary filmmaker (for better or worse with that title), Midnight in Paris is a wildly inventive film full of surprises and creativity. There’s a lot of wonderful work in it, but a lot of that praise has to go to Allen’s script and direction. Again, the man may never work again, or never be allowed to be praised again in the current climate, but that won’t take away my enjoyment of this film.
Owen Wilson also gives one of his better performances in years as Gil, the man whose vacation in Paris becomes a nightly trip back in time to the creatively rich voices of the past, be them authors or artists. That, of course, is nicely countered with Gil’s present-day conversations with his wife and her relatives and friends, whom Gil couldn’t care less about.
There are some nice performances from the supporting cast as well, especially Rachel McAdams as Gil’s wife, Corey Stoll as Ernest Hemingway, and Marion Cotillard as Adriana, who becomes Gil’s obsession. I also like the detectives who are hired to find Gil, and the joke about one of them being chased by guards loyal to King Louis XIV. It’s well-shot, well-edited, well-acted, and overall a nice, quiet story that lends itself well to the creative choices made.
5. The Muppets (2011)
Director: James Bobin
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t big into the Muppets when I was a kid, so it was really the marketing campaign for this movie that won me over into seeing it. I was glad I did, because not only is The Muppets a fun movie for fans of the Jim Henson creation, it’s also a delightfully fun self-aware comedy/musical that entertains the hell out of you.
Jason Segel and Amy Adams might have been the human stars of the film, but make no mistake, the star of the film is Kermit the Frog. Kermit is not just a wonderful puppet being strung along for 90 minutes, he is personified as a Gloria Swason-esque ex-star yearning for the glory days. The difference, though, is that Kermit doesn’t go as extreme as Gloria did in Sunset Boulevard.
While I found a great deal of the self-aware jokes laugh-out-loud funny, I was also amazed at the number of cameos in the film: Jack Black, Mickey Rooney, Jim Parsons, Alan Arkin and Neil Patrick Harris (just to name a few). It really becomes more than just a forced reboot from Disney for financial gain. It’s a celebration of the Muppet brand and how wonderful it can be. Also, props to Chris Cooper as the villain, who has a lot of fun.
I run pretty hot and cold with Noah Baumbach, and I remember the same year as Mistress America seeing another of his films, While We’re Young, and being pretty bored. Mistress America, on the other hand, was a delightfully charming film from the first scene to the last frame. This may be Baumbach’s best, or at the very least his most underrated, effort.
Lola Kirke stars as Tracy, a college freshman who is new to New York City. She feels completely alone, and ends up seeking to kindle a relationship with her future step-sister, Brooke, played by Greta Gerwig, who co-wrote the script with Baumbach. Their misadventures lead them down a path less traveled in films, as we see their relationship ebb and flow through time.
The highlight for me, though, is a long stretch of the film that takes place at Brooke’s friend’s house. Brooke and Tracy take Tracy’s friends Nicolette and Tony with them, and the four have more misadventures in the house with Brooke’s friend Mamie-Claire and Dylan, Mamie-Claire’s husband, who used to be an old flame of Brooke. Isn’t that fun? This thirty-plus minute stretch of the film feels like a French comedy akin to Molinaro’s La Cage aux Folles, where all sorts of funny and hurtful admissions come out between all the characters, and relationships once broken are mended, and those once mended are now broken.
There’s also a lot to be said about the film’s final act, where Tracy’s goal of being an accomplished writer is completed, but at the price of losing Brooke’s friendship. There is an initiation of sorts established where the college’s esteemed writing club welcomes their newest members by sneaking into their rooms late at night and hit them in the face with a pie. The difference here is that Tracy’s writing was more satirical and making fun of Brooke’s entrepreneurial lifestyle, and when Tracy is accepted and hit with the pie, it causes great distress. It’s a wonderfully dark moment in this comedy that still comes off as slightly funny, because who doesn’t laugh at a pie in the face?
3. American Hustle (2013)
Director: David O. Russell
I know there are a great many moviegoers who just didn’t go for this film, but I was someone who did. American Hustle spins quite a yarn through its 138 minute runtime, but there’s so much juicy material, so many interesting characters, and such a fun environment established that I went along for the whole ride and had a ball.
David O. Russell and Eric Warren Singer’s script is masterfully well done with funny dialogue, and it’s an intriguing and ever-changing story. Russell’s direction is also reminiscent of a Scorsese approach, but with the late 1970s setting and decor, and arguably camerawork, it feels less like a rip-off and more like Russell emulating what he would have done if he were Scorsese in that time period making a movie.
Make no mistake about it, though, I also love the cast, all of whom play roles that we don’t expect them to take. We don’t exactly picture Christian Bale as a devilish con-artist, nor Amy Adams to be an ex-stripper play-acting as a British rich gal. It’s also fun to see Bradley Cooper as a deranged FBI agent on his last leg, and Jeremy Renner is a less mysterious character than he’s played in the past with his open and loud-speaking Mayor Carmine Polito.
But I have to save the best performance for Jennifer Lawrence, whose portrayal of Rosalyn, Bale’s character’s wife, is nothing short of glorious. It’s an addicting performance, meaning to me that I wanted her on-screen more often, and when she wasn’t there, I was always wondering what she was up to. As I have mentioned in previous lists, I love the 1970s settings in movies, so I was in heaven with Russell’s affinity for showing it off in American Hustle. All the sets and costumes and hairstyles on display gives off the feeling that the setting is another character in the film. I find that to be a welcome addition, and another strength for a film that already has so many.
2. The Edge of Seventeen (2016)
Director: Kelly Fremon Craig
I’m sure most other bloggers and writers out there who make a list similar to this will have a coming of age comedy on the list, probably something like Lady Bird or Booksmart or Eighth Grade. While I enjoyed all those films, I found the most refreshing of them to be The Edge of Seventeen, which does everything that, for example, Lady Bird did, but better.
The praise for this movie starts and ends with Hailee Steinfeld, and her charismatic performance as Nadine. She’s a broken character, a loner and a rebel, and becomes helplessly more so when the only friend she has betrays her and starts dating her brother. Steinfeld is not only very funny in the role, but endearing, charming, and likeable to a fault.
The supporting cast, meanwhile, also has a lot of aces up their sleeves. Hayden Szeto steals almost every scene he’s in as Nadine’s would-be crush, Woody Harrelson nails it as the unsympathetic teacher Nadine bonds with, Haley-Lu Richardson has some fun as Krista, Nadine’s ex-best friend, and Blake Jenner has some heartfelt moments as Nadine’s douchey older brother. I also really liked Kyra Sedgwick as Nadine’s mom.
Coming of age movies in the 2010s were at first exciting, fresh and original, but then after this film and The Spectacular Now, it felt like everything had already been done, so the big scenes in Lady Bird, Booksmart, Eighth Grade, and the others didn’t come off as “big” as the directors intended. Edge of Seventeen may have the same tropes as some of these other films, and yes a couple of them are predictable, but with a character like Nadine, played by an actress as talented as Steinfeld, something clicked here that didn’t click with other films this decade.
1. Nebraska (2013)
Director: Alexander Payne
It’s hard to top a film that hits so close to home for me. As a guy from the midwest, there was much to love about Nebraska, and how it’s really a tragedy at heart, but goddamn does it have some laughs. Alexander Payne’s crowning achievement is a film that harkens back to his early days of About Schmidt and the life of a defeated man in his elder years.
Nebraska, like The Edge of Seventeen, has a lot of positive attributes to talk about, but my big praise starts with the lead performance. Bruce Dern gives the performance of his career as Woody, an aging retiree who lives in Billings, Montana, but treks back to the small town he used to live in in rural Nebraska so he can claim a million dollar sweepstakes fortune.
As you can imagine, there’s plenty of road-trip jokes and returning home jokes, but the film really shines in its jokes about today’s life in rural midwestern towns that are living on a razor’s edge. As someone who can name several towns just like Hawthrone, the town Woody travels to with his son, this is a brilliant move to show to those who aren’t from here just how life goes in this part of the world. It’s funny, yet truthful in its portrayal.
This is really helped by the black-and-white cinematography by Phedon Papamichael, who was nominated for his work. Also nominated was June Squibb as Woody’s long-suffering wife Kate, and man has she had enough of Woody. Her spitfire performance was massively overlooked in the 2013 awards season, and like Lawrence’s character in American Hustle, we as an audience yearn for her to have more screen time.
As I mentioned, Nebraska really does have a lot of comedic moments, several of which have you laughing into the next scene, but there’s a real tenderness to this story about how life in these small towns is sad. The people who live here aren’t given too many excuses to be happy anymore, and the helpless venture of an old-timer like Woody, out on a doomed quest to claim a million bucks from a magazine sweepstakes, fills them with joy. Likewise, we are filled with joy at Woody’s plight, hopeless as it may be.
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