Comedy is often the most subjective of all film genres, and regardless of subgenre, budget, or story, a good comedy should first and foremost make an audience laugh. However, great comedies don’t need to pander to the masses to be successful, and comedies that find their niche can be insightful, touching, and even inspiring. Some great comedies use their humor to deal with serious issues, while others use these comedic elements to keep their audiences engaged in a complicated or nuanced story.
This decade has seen the emergence of many great comedies, and due to the advent of smaller studios, streaming services, and other digital distribution platforms, there are many great comedies that were released to little fanfare. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer number of great comedies out there, but these films reflect a wide variety of the types of films that deserved more attention this decade. Here are another top ten great recent comedies that you probably haven’t seen.
10. Fading Gigolo
John Turturro has long been one of the most interesting character actors in Hollywood, and his directorial debut Fading Gigolo is a delightfully offbeat and quirky romp. Turturro stars as Fioravante, a down on his luck massager living in New York who is encouraged to become a gigolo by his former employer Murray (Woody Allen), who helps him break into the trade.
This untraditional practice begins to cause unrest within their Hassidic community, particularly as Turturro begins to help a young woman named Avigal (Vanessa Paradis), who is grieving the loss of her husband. The community’s local patrol officer Dovi (Liev Schreiber) falls for Avigal, and begins investigating the curious pair of Fioravante and Murray.
Turturro doesn’t play Fioravante as a sly or even confident figure, but uses his sexual exploration as a means to rediscover youthful bliss and find a new way of making a living. In his heart, Fioravante is a healer who wants to help people cope with their trauma, and his non intimate relationship with Avigal is built on his desire to help her with her grief.
It’s a well-rounded ensemble where each character is sympathetic in some way; Schreiber’s character, while he is the antagonist, is also tragic in that his unquestioning dedication to duty has often left him separated from the rest of the community. While the story itself is ludicrous, it does make for a fascinating exploration of middle age, religion, and sexuality, and establishes Turturro as a writer/director to watch.
9. Private Life
Over ten years after her breakout feature Savages, Tamara Jenkins returned with Private Life, another brilliant depiction of middle age and adult relationships. Richard (Paul Giamatti) and Rachel (Kathryn Hahn) are a couple who are unable to conceive a child, and despite continuous medical attempts and applications to become adopted parents, they still are childless.
When Rachel’s 25-year-old niece Sadie (Kayli Carter) drops out of college and lives with her aunt and uncle in their New York apartment, she eventually agrees to become their egg donor. Not only does Sadie represent a hope that Richard and Rachel could start a family, but she also inserts a youthful spirit that has all but disappeared for this couple.
Private Life never shies away from the uncomfortable nature of Richard and Rachel’s intimate issues, and their willingness to exhaust any resource in order to find a child is often a heartbreaking process. The humor comes from the optimism that Giamatti and Hahn bring to the characters, as their quips about the people living in New York and other parents establish the couple as snippy, yet relatable outsiders. The inclusion of Sadie within the story adds a lot of humor, as her aunt and uncle challenge her optimistic view of what her future as a writer will look like. While it’s often melancholy, Private Life turns its characters’ honesty into an affecting and humorous look at what adulthood really means.
8. Elvis & Nixon
The 1970 photograph of Elvis Presley posing alongside President Richard Nixon is one of the most famous in modern American history, and Elvis & Nixon imagine an outrageous comedy surrounding how these two iconic figures decided to meet. Both men have reached the end of their golden period, with Nixon (Kevin Spacey) dealing with a soured American public and is overwhelmed by the rise of the counterculture, and Elvis (Michael Shannon) is feeling unrewarded and forgotten, and aims to convince Nixon to make him an undercover agent. While at first skeptical, Nixon actually finds a lot about this jaded, past his prime rock icon that he can relate to.
Michael Shannon offers a very different take on Elvis than one may expect, playing him as a delusional and overconfident faded icon who is convinced that his experience making films has prepared him for a real life of espionage. While he’s still able to impress common people with his swagger and overconfidence, Shannon shows that Elvis’s reversion to routine has made him out of touch with a country that is growing up, which is something that resonates with Nixon. The excellent performances from the two leads elevate these larger than life figures into real people with relatable anxieties, and they are able to play on their public perceptions to great comedic effect.
7. A Futile and Stupid Gesture
The National Lampoon gang were the ultimate group of outsiders, with most of their films revolving around uprooting the system and sticking it to the man. A Futile and Stupid Gesture tells the story of National Lampoon’s founder Doug Kenney (Will Forte), and how his provocative magazine inspired generations of comedy writers, leading to the success of Animal House and Caddyshack. Rather than trying to get all the facts right and condense Kenney’s remarkable life into a generic three-act structure, A Futile and Stupid Gesture uses Kenney’s life as a raunchy story of rebellion that borrows the best elements from the National Lampoon films.
It’s a very cheeky film, using a fictionalized older Kenney (Martin Mull) to narrate the story, even though Kenney died by suicide at the age of 33. Forte is perfect at representing the zanny energy of Kenney and the power of how he conducted his writer’s room, and the film satirizes the fact that the 49-year-old Forte is meant to be playing a character from ages 18 to 33.
The heart of the film lies in the relationship between Kenney and his longtime collaborator Henry Beard (Domhnall Gleeson), and the stone faced Gleeson makes for a good counterbalance to Forte’s wackiness. A respectful and often thought provoking tribute to a great artist lost way too soon, A Futile and Stupid Gesture is a great companion piece to the National Lampoon films.
6. Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot
While Gus Van Sant was once thought of as one of the most influential directors in Hollywood, a series of recent flops has somewhat dampened his reputation. This is a shame, as Van Sant has proven that he can still make thought provoking character pieces, and Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot is a poignant biographical film that uses indecent humor as a means of catharsis for the lead character. Following the true life of cartoonist John Callahan (Joaquin Phoenix), the film shows how Callahan’s alcoholism crippled him and lead him down a path to both sobriety and artistic inspiration.
While seeing Callahan’s life getting uprooted by his disability is often grueling to watch, he’s such a witty character that he’s able to find the warped humor in each situation. Phoenix is absolutely fearless in his performance, and seeing Callahan struggle to get through everyday tasks helps to explain how his observant, often unpleasant depictions of real life in his comic strips came to be.
The film also gives some normally comedic actors a chance to show their dramatic chops, with Jonah Hill giving a scene stealing performance as Callahan’s Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor and Jack Black as a fellow partygoer who is partially responsible for Callahan’s accident. Just like Callahan’s strips, Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot finds humor in the mundane and seeks to explore just how ludicrous a supposedly “average” life can be.