6. The Apartment (1960) – Billy Wilder
Billy Wilder often stated that when he was sad, he’d make a comedy, and when he was happy, he’d make a drama. Well, when it comes to this Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine film, there seems to be a parting in the middle.
At first viewing, you do what Wilder expects – you laugh, cry, and feel for the characters. However, with each passing viewing, we see that the story from the beginning is a little sadder that it plays out. A man stuck in a meaningless job who allows his bosses, whom he doesn’t like, to use his apartment to cheat on their wives. Or how a fragile girl can’t live the life she wants, so she has an affair with a man who doesn’t care for her. This is what makes Wilder’s film so tender and affectionate at the closing of the film.
Though disguised as a drama, you can’t ignore the ridiculousness of the setup and the charm between its leads. It might be the perfect combo of a comedy and a drama, but take the office party and simply marvel at the timing, movement, and verbosity between Lemmon and MacLaine; it may be more of a comedy despite it growing with age.
7. Birdman: Or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance (2014) – Alejandro G. Inarritu
A film that is nuts as its title. Taking place as if in one long take, we follow Michael Keaton’s Riggan Thomson literally stage a comeback while dealing with his ex-junkie daughter, tortured mistresses, and a hubris-filled actor, just to name a few, while being plagued by the comic book character that launched him to fame decades ago.
The film is pretty on point, but take the situations you have here: Thomson storming around Times Square in his underwear; Zach Galifinakis stressing over ticket sales; Edward Norton’s method acting leading to an erection on stage; and many more. This is a screwball comedy trending along the side of cathartic drama or Greek tragedy. It’s Alejandro Iñarritu’s layering of multiple elements and themes in the narrative that each add fuel to the comedic elements.
Take the dialogue and especially the delivery of the dialogue of Raymond Carver’s play adaptation; it bleeds from what is really happening, which makes it more effective. The outlandish situations in real life now have to be dramatic for the play, causing a whirlwind of results and disasters, proving this film is a flat-out comedy with tender moments of cathartic drama, much like Thomson himself.
8. In Bruges (2008) – Martin McDonagh
It may take an Irish playwright to create an extremely existential thriller of two hit men hiding out in a small medieval town in Belgium. From the start of the film, the dialogue is never light; talking about killing the wrong people like a little boy, messing up the life of a hit men, or killing your partner in the process, not to mention racism, sexism, and morality. But Martin McDonagh’s film never loses an itch on comedic deliveries and situations.
Led by Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, the rift and chemistry between them never fails to entertain and give us a laugh. Whether it’s verbal comedy through McDonagh’s dialogue, facial expressions, or body language in pure visual comedy, we are always laughing, even at the dark situations.
As the film continues and touches on grim subject matters, and places the two leads in the height of a dark comedy of a potential murder-suicide, McDonagh takes his work in a different direction that the plot suggests. Maybe a film like this should only be left to a Irish writer with wit, humor, and prose.
9. Goodfellas (1990) – Martin Scorsese
Martin Scorsese stated that he wanted to show the life of wise guys in the film instead of making just another gangster picture. Therefore, don’t gangsters, like many other people, just want to have fun? Well, yeah, and that’s what you get during the decades-spanning film that goes by in an instant.
Whether it’s Joe Pesci’s “I’m funny how?” or ravingly shooting mad into the air, Ray Liotta’s later paranoia and frantic need to hold everything together, or Robert De Niro smacking people around if they mess up his hands – it’s all funny to them and obviously to us. The film never lets up with its hit-after-hit soundtrack and fluid camera movement to make us feel like we’re part of that life.
Take some situations, for example: the scene where Pesci and Liotta are arguing outside a Hawaiian bar going aflame that they just set up, as they are unaware of this despite the fact they are waiting. They’re too busy arguing about women and money. It’s something out of a Tati film with pure visual comedy, and Scorsese and his actors pull it off.
All the way through to the end, we get many scenes that are funny and pure fun in the cinema; therefore, it’s hard not to argue this film is a comedy despite the violence, anger, and dues paid by the characters.
10. The Rules of the Game (1939) – Jean Renoir
Often considered one of the greatest films ever made and Jean Renoir’s pinnacle of visual storytelling, his once overlooked masterpiece is a pure comedy of manners in the French sense and in the best possible way.
Taking the mise-en-scene to a new level, Renoir was allowed more experimentation and screen time for his characters. And in this case, the satire stretched out all the comedic elements of zany rapid dialogue, running around a countryside mansion, and chase scenes.
Take the blocking and camera movement of the film; it allowed for the upper and lower classes to move, dance, and skip around each other, expressing true visual comedy in the most cinematic way. For example, in the bird hunting scene, you see all of the reactions of the hunters and gatherers; it’s impossible to take in each reaction, but on a second and third viewing, so many facial expressions are given, and we laugh at each one for different reasons. And this is just one scene.
Multiple actions taking place in one frame, which continually satirize the upper and lower classes, prove the extent of this comedy, and easily the pinnacle of the comedy of manners.