16. Down By Law (Jim Jarmusch, 1986)
“Down By Law” is another point of reference in American independent filmmaking of the 80’s, along with the rest Jarmusch movies of this particular decade.
New Orleans provides the melancholic urban scenery, and South Louisiana the natural watery vastness (both beautiful matches to the black-and-white cinematography), while the three protagonists come up with the comic goods, as three wrongfully arrested unknowns who get to know each other inside the same cell. John Lurie and Tom Waits are wonderful as usual, but it is Roberto Benigni who steals the show at his American debut.
Other Jarmusch comedy-dramas worth checking out: “Stranger Than Paradise” (1984), “Mystery Train” (1989), and “Broken Flowers” (2005).
17. High Hopes (Mike Leigh, 1988)
Mike Leigh’s heartfelt direction shines through a family story that serves as an accurate portrait of the Thatcher years in England.
The sociopolitical nature of the film is obvious from the beginning… On one side there is a courier named Cyril and his girlfriend Shirley, both Marxists, old hippies, and in true love with each other, while on the other side we find his lonely conservative mother, his upstart sister and her husband, and finally some yuppies of the worst kind living next door to his mother.
Despite the fact that Cyril detests his family ideologically, he genuinely cares about them – his aged mother most of all -, but his self-reasoned apathy makes things worse in the long run, especially for Shirley.
Other Leigh comedy-dramas worth checking out: “Naked” (1993), and “Another Year” (2010).
18. Do The Right Thing (Spike Lee, 1989)
“Do The Right Thing” made Spike Lee a worldwide symbol of indie filmmaking, and elevated his artistic status as one of the African American culture greats.
The film is set in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, in a neighborhood full of diverse and outgoing people of different ages, the vast majority of them black (intense street beats and animated dialogs are all over the place). We get to know some of them during the hottest day of the summer, focusing mainly on Mookie – portrayed by Lee himself – and his friends.
What’s special about Mookie is that he works in the central pizzeria of the area, which has been owned by the Italian-American Sal for 25 years. The racial controversies between Sal’s hothead son and Mookie’s pals start mixing things up, and a conflict seems unavoidable.
19. Crimes And Misdemeanors (Woody Allen, 1989)
With “Crimes And Misdemeanors”, Woody Allen managed to dive into Dostoevskian philosophical territories, and also maintain an ideal amount of his trademark intellectual and entertaining comedy in the mix at the same time.
The action shifts between the storylines of two men; Judah, a reputable doctor and family man who has been cheating on his wife with an air hostess, and Cliff, a not so successful documentary filmmaker who takes up the job to shoot a biographical documentary about his former wife’s conceited brother, a famous TV producer (who also happens to be his new employer). Judah tries to end his affair, while Cliff tries to start one from scratch with his brother-in-law’s associate producer.
Both men have to deal with extreme conditions of panic, anger, guilt, and pain, and as their paths meet towards the end of the film, we become evaluators of their progress.
Other Allen comedy-dramas worth checking out: “Manhattan” (1979), and “Hannah And Her Sisters” (1986).
20. The Match Factory Girl (Aki Kaurismäki, 1990)
Of all the masterful Finnish filmmaker’s beautiful dramedies, “The Match Factory Girl” is definitely the most cold-blooded one, since that it describes a young woman’s complete transformation while retaining an unaltered deadpan mood.
The young woman is Iris, a guileless laborer in a match factory who stays with her mother and stepfather. At the beginning of the film, the emphasis is on her daily routine, as the monotonous production cycle of the matches seems to go hand to hand with her life outside work. This changes when she meets a man in a dance club who mistakes her for a hooker… After spending the night with him, a new more intriguing and darker chapter of her life is about to commence.
Other Kaurismäki comedy-dramas worth checking out: “Drifting Clouds” (1996), “The Man Without A Past” (2002), and “Le Havre” (2011).
21. Three Colors: White (Krzysztof Kieślowski, 1994)
The second part of the acclaimed “Three Colors” trilogy refers to the French Revolution ideal of equality. Although it differs compared to the other two films tone-wise (it is the only one containing funny characters and comic moments), it still succeeds in being similarly effective dramaturgically, and equally virtuosic regarding its visual style.
The “White” is about a bizarre romance between the newly married couple of Dominique, a beautiful French woman, and Karol, a cute non-speaking French Pole guy, which went terribly wrong due to the man’s inability to satisfy his wife sexually.
This results in a divorce, which brings a cosmogonic change to Karol’s life, as he is forced to lose pretty much everything (job, legal residency in France, money, personal belongings, plus the woman he loves). He is given a reason to hope when he meets a mysterious compatriot of his who offers Karol the opportunity to go back to Poland, but demands a big favor in return…
Other Kieślowski comedy-dramas worth checking out: “Decalogue X” (1988).
22. Sátántangó (Béla Tarr, 1994)
“Sátántangó” is an arthouse cinema milestone by any standards; its tango-like structure, the 7½ hours of total running time, Tarr’s typical affinity for long takes and hypnotic black-and-white cinematography, and some unique naturalistic performances from a mixed cast of amateurs and professionals.
It is set in a semi-apocalyptic landscape in post-communist Hungary, where some workers of a former collective farm try to outsmart their ignorant companions by stealing the farm’s money and run away. Their plans are interrupted upon hearing about the return of their old coworker Irimiás – a cunning man of unknown motives – from the dead. Hence the themes of sovereignty over people, and the absence of it are the center of attention.
23. Underground (Emir Kusturica, 1995)
An epic scale historical war dramedy about the course of the Yugoslav nation through World War II, the Tito years, up until the Yugoslav Wars of the 90’s, “Underground” is Kusturica’s most ambitious and criticized work, and a true ode to the culture of the Balkans.
It tells the story of two close friends and members of the Communist Party, who seem to know a few things about how to enjoy life to the maximum… they may be different personalities, but they are both addicted to women, music (the whole movie is driven by the furious horns of Goran Bregović) and booze, while employing their slyness and craziness to protect their loved ones and overcome any difficulties. When war arrives they prove themselves ready for it, but every hero has his own personal burden to bear called pathos.
Other Kusturica comedy-dramas worth checking out: “Time Of The Gypsies” (1988).