7. Julie Hagerty, Lost in America. 1985. Dir. Albert Brooks.
In films as varied as Airplane!, What About Bob?, Noises Off and A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy, Julie Hagerty has shown that she is a gifted comedic actress. Unfortunately, she seems mostly forgotten by modern day audiences, which is a shame because she is a true talent. Her funniest performance, though, remains her turn as Albert Brooks’ wife, Linda Howard, in the comedy classic Lost in America.
Brooks and Hagerty play a typical 80s yuppie couple who tire of their corporate Los Angeles existence and decide to sell their house, cars and possessions, buy an RV and “find America.” Of course, things don’t go exactly as they’d hope, as their luck changes once they reach Las Vegas.
While Brooks is terrific in the film, many of the film’s funniest moments come from Hagerty, especially in her scenes in the casino, where it’s revealed that she’s a ferocious gambling addict (Hagerty gets lots of laughs out of her mantra at the roulette table: “22…22…22…22!”). Hagerty captures Linda’s hopes, dreams, fears and desires perfectly, and it remains a hilarious and terrific performance.
8. Irma P. Hall, The Ladykillers. 2004. Dir. Joel Coen, Ethan Coen.
In 2004, Joel and Ethan Coen remade Alexander Mackendrick’s classic 1955 crime-comedy The Ladykillers, casting Tom Hanks in the Alec Guinness role. Of course, this exasperated most critics, who were outraged that the Brothers Coen would dare to remake a British comedy. In all of the hostile rallying, many ignored the fact that, in addition to being a funny movie, this remake also includes a wonderful performance by the great Irma P. Hall.
Hall impressed audiences with her supporting work in films like A Family Thing and Soul Food, but The Ladykillers is her film, all the way. Her Marva Munson is a classic Coen creation. Tom Hanks and his merry band of criminals have more than met their match in Marva, and Hall crafts a character that is both naïve and believably tough. It’s a terrific performance that got lost in the Oscar shuffle.
9. Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Enough Said. 2013. Dir. Nicole Holofcener.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus has been a consistent source of comedy on television for years, but she has struggled to find a successful transition to film. This changed in 2013, when she starred in Nicole Holofcener’s romantic comedy, Enough Said. In her leading role in a feature film, Dreyfus plays Eva. She is funny and believable, but the role is grounded in reality, unlike her work on Veep and Seinfeld, which can go over-the-top rather quickly.
Nicole Holofcener’s work is funny, but it’s a quieter and more subtle kind of humor. Dreyfus’ work here may remind the viewer of Jill Clayburgh’s work in An Unmarried Woman, another worthwhile film about a divorced woman’s attempts at finding love and happiness again. Unlike Clayburgh’s work in that film, Dreyfus was not nominated for Best Actress for her performance.
10. Carole Lombard, To Be or Not to Be. 1942. Dir. Ernst Lubitsch.
One of the best comedies of the forties, Ernst Lubitsch’s To Be or Not to Be is as funny today as it was when it was first released. The film features two terrific leading comic performances: Jack Benny and Carole Lombard, in her final screen role. Carole Lombard had instinctive comic sensibilities, as seen in her great work in My Man Godfrey.
In To Be or Not to Be, she plays the great Polish actress Maria Tura, married to the egomaniacal Joseph Tura, played by Jack Benny. Lombard had undeniable screen presence, and her work in To Be or Not to Be is a highlight of the film. Lombard never lived to see the film’s release; she, her mother and twenty other passengers were tragically killed in a plane crash outside of Las Vegas in January of 1942.
11. Jane Lynch, A Mighty Wind. 2003. Dir. Christopher Guest.
The improvised comedies of Christopher Guest contain a treasure trove of amazing comic performances, and it’s difficult to narrow them down to just one performance in a given film. A Mighty Wind, Guest’s terrific comedy about folk singing, has several brilliant comic performances, including Fred Willard, Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara and Harry Shearer. But, Jane Lynch, as folk singer and former adult film star Laurie Bohner, stands out.
What’s always been impressive about Jane Lynch’s performances is the way she can make a character simultaneously over-the-top and realistic, and few of her characters walk that line more surely than Mrs. Bohner.
Whether talking about the rituals of her religion WINC (Witches in Nature’s Colors) or reminiscing about her days as porn actress (much to the chagrin of her husband, played by John Michael Higgins), Lynch fully commits to the role. It is a hilarious performance, plus all that singing and guitar playing is really her.
12. Leslie Mann, This is 40. 2012. Dir. Judd Apatow.
Like Federico Fellini directing Giulietta Masina in Juliet of the Spirits or John Cassavetes filming Gena Rowlands in A Woman Under the Influence, Judd Apatow worked with his real-life wife Leslie Mann in This is 40, and created a semi-biographical, quasi-real version of their marriage.
Like Rowlands and Masina, Mann’s portrayal is raw and no holds barred. She’s the real thing. The film blends fiction and reality; for instance, their children, Maude and Iris Apatow, play Mann and Paul Rudd’s children in the film. Mann’s performance was funny, fearless, touching and completely ignored during awards season.