The very nature of what defines a comedy film has changed in the last decade, as an ever expanding definition of the genre has grown to include a wider variety of films. Some of these films have been legitimate award contenders, while others have been massive box office successes, and there remains others that have sparked passionate cult followings or critical rediscoveries. Instead of relying on the same group of actors to produce the same film over and over, this decade’s comedies have introduced a ton of new voices and let master filmmakers exercise their passion for the medium.
Narrowing down the decade’s best comedies is no easy task, but these films represent the most impressive achievements in film this decade that are considered to be under the comedy banner. The goal of a good comedy is to make an audience laugh, but the best comedies can go deeper and develop great characters, make powerful statements, and create new worlds. Here are the top twenty-five best comedy films of the 2010s.
25. Drinking Buddies
Joe Swanberg and Jake Johnson have formed a terrific cinematic partnership with their bitter, observational comedies, and Drinking Buddies is another impressive deep dive into couples and relationships. Jake Johnson and Anna Kendrick star as a relatively happy couple considering marriage, but when they embark on a weekend getaway with another couple, played by Olivia Wilde and Ron Livingston, sparks fly between all four and everyone begins to question who they ended up with.
Swanberg’s methodical way of looking at the minor disagreements that cause major arguments is often hilarious, but all of these actions feel grounded and the film never deviates from its realism. As these characters get drunker, they fall victim to their pent up desires and end up revealing more than they ever intended. Each character is flawed in their own way, and the film’s inconclusive way of wrapping up who ends up with who makes for a meditative study about what a good relationship really is.
24. Seven Psychopaths
Between Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Christopher Walken, and Tom Waits, Seven Psychopaths features a great collection of actors that excel at playing offbeat, morally dubious characters, and this sordid tale of double crossing criminals and how they serve as artistic inspiration gives each actor a chance to shine. Farrell’s character Mark is a writer who desperately wants to write a screenplay, and his search for real psychopaths to fill out his pages introduces him to a variety of dangerous individuals, each of whom have their own quirks.
While he is clearly heavily inspired by Quentin Tarantino with his long, eccentric monologues and pop culture references, writer/director Martin McDonaugh establishes himself as a dynamic filmmaker who isn’t confined by structure and constantly switches focus between characters.
Harrelson is downright phenomenal as a ruthless gangster with a heart of gold, and Walken gives one of his best performances in years and avoids becoming a caricature of his past work. None of these characters are traditionally likeable, but each has such a captivating screen presence and knack for disaster that it’s impossible to look away from what mischief the get into next.
23. Moonrise Kingdom
Wes Anderson is without a doubt a filmmaker whose films are their own genre, and while Anderson is often criticized for having more style than substance, Moonrise Kingdom is a genuinely emotional tale that reverts to Anderson’s coming of age film roots. Anderson’s idiosyncratic style and blunt humor is fitting for this story, as it through the eyes of children that have a more idealized vision of reality. Sam, an orphan who runs away from his Scout troop during summer camp, and Suzy, a disillusioned daughter from a rich family, both possess an awareness of the world and contempt for others that is odd for their age, and while
Anderson plays their escape from society for laughs, he is respectful of the pressures put upon children and how sincere they can be. Bruce Willis gives one of his best performances in years as a Scout leader who leads the search for Sam, and seeing Willis command a group of adolescent boys on this search mission with his typical gruffness is often hilarious. Like many of Anderson’s films, Moonrise Kingdom is framed around characters telling stories to each other, and in this case it takes the form of the hilariously earnest letters between Sam and Suzy.
22. Midnight in Paris
While Woody Allen has continued to make one film every year, the past decade has seen a considerable decline in the quality of his work, as he often reverts to familiar formulas and relies on narcissistic characters. Thankfully, Midnight in Paris marked a return to form for Allen and gave him a chance to satirize the nature of nostalgia as a wistful writer (Owen Wilson) travels back in time to 1920s Paris across the course of an extended vacation with his fiancée (Rachel McAdams). The period setting features many cameos from famous writers and figures from the 20s, and imagines the mythic figures of Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Pablo Picasso, and Josephine Baker as down to Earth, humorous figures.
It’s understandable why Wilson’s character Gi would want to escape from the materialism of current day and how his wealthy fiancé’s possessiveness is draining, but Gi learns that nostalgia in of itself isn’t a healthy way of living and that one should learn to find the things they appreciate about the present. Gorgeously shot and perceptive of Paris’s historic roots, Midnight in Paris is a warm spirited and fitting tribute to the past that finds grace in the history of writing.
While Michael Fassbender has delivered many brave and daring performances, he’s never done something quite as absurd as Frank, in which he portrays a mysterious band leader who wears a papier-mache head at all times.
Frank is a complete oddball, but his interesting method of creating his own instruments, experimenting with different sounds, and desire to help others discover themselves ends up inspiring a cult like following of musicians, including Jon (Domhnall Gleeson), a down on his luck songwriter who serves as an audience avatar as he becomes involved with Frank. Frank is keen to help Jon craft his own identity, but Jon can never completely buy the enigmatic nature of his new band, and ends up tearing the group apart as he calls on Frank to take off the mask and reveal his secrets.
While it’s often quite dark and deals with serious mental illness issues, Frank has such a goofy premise that even its heartfelt moments have a comedic edge to them. Featuring a great original song in “I Love You All” and some impressive production design, Frank is a wholly original and occasionally disturbing venture into insanity.
20. Hunt for the Wilderpeople
This sprawling journey across the New Zealand frontier is equal parts road trip comedy and fairy tale, and Taika Waititi shows that he can find something human in the weirdest characters, and proves that being a “crowd pleaser” doesn’t mean being generic. The highly entertaining story follows Ricky (Julian Dennison), a rebellious 13-year-old orphan that is adopted by the gruff stranger Hec (Sam Neill). Hec never wanted a child and only adopted Ricky due to the pleading of his wife, but both characters yearn to live away from authority and embark on a cross-country adventure to escape the law and child protective services.
Waititi crafts a perfect buddy duo, as Ricky’s talkative, gregarious character couldn’t be more different than the tough skinned, grim Hec. However, the independent streak of both characters gives them something to bond over, and their mutual love for Hec’s late wife gives them something to bond over.
19. The Big Sick
A semi-autobiographical tale from Kumail Nanjiani, The Big Sick turns the standard romantic comedy formula on its head when Kumail’s future wife Emily Gordon (Zoe Kazan) suffers a serious illness and is placed in a medical coma to heal. This forces Kumail to form an unlikely relationship with Emily’s parents (Holly Hunter and Ray Romano), and the three of them struggle to find common ground as they navigate racial and generational gaps. While Kumail’s struggles feel real and it’s easy to empathize with him as he conflicts with his traditionalist parents, he’s also willing to show how irresponsible he was and how Emily’s absence took the meaning away from his life.
There’s enough chemistry early on between Kumail and Emily that their separation feels all the more drastic, and Kumail is able to get sagely advice from Ray Romano as he waxes poetic about his own failed marriage. Kumail’s pursuit of standup comedy brings a lot of fresh material to the film, but also serves as a clever framing device for Kumail to express himself.
Compared to other teenage sex comedies, Submarine presents a wholly unglamorous view of growing up, reveling in the most awkward moments of explaining and understanding intimacy. Oliver, as portrayed by Craig Roberts, only understands the world through checking things off lists and looking for rational solutions, and he’s unable to connect with others as a result. Oliver’s strained grasp of human behavior is challenged as he attempts to mend all the relationships in his life, including a romantic encounter with his crush Jordana and a botched attempt to save his parents’ failed marriage.
Roberts gives Oliver a blunt, dead eyed stare that contributes greatly to the straightforward nature of the film’s comedy, and despite his seemingly pensive thoughts, Oliver finds that it often takes drastic action to provoke emotions within others. Despite the obvious humor of seeing Oliver’s plans go horribly awry, Submarine has a lot of wisdom and is oddly meditative on growing up, ending with a gorgeous beach backdrop that ends the film in picturesque fashion.