6. Thank You for Smoking (2005) – Jason Reitman
The directorial debut by Jason Reitman adapting the novel by Christopher Buckley is pure American satire at its finest. We see Aaron Eckhart as a tobacco lobbyist whose job is to simply talk. Out of this character, we never fail to see an intelligent, provocative, and persuasive man at his best.
Of course, plenty of comedic drama plays out as trying to be a moral father, using spin tactics to fight his murdering company, and routine dinners with alcohol and firearm experts. But Eckhart’s charm and persuasive nature, certified by Reitman’s approach, make this a home run.
What makes this witty film unique is that it doesn’t deny or use the witty embrace as a style, but it is first and foremost. We constantly see and hear Eckhart’s Nick Naylor teaching his son how to communicate, lobbying against Congress, and using his defensive approach as purely offensive. It elevates the witty style because it’s essentially a film of using wit as your occupation and persona.
7. The Thin Man (1934) – W.S. Van Dyke
Kicking off the franchise with William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Charles, this murder comedic B-movie ramp never tires on the fast delivery and characters that know the true nature of the play at hand.
The film is known for the chemistry of Powell and Loy while solving a mystery but they are relatable as people this way. Sure, being a retired detective and his wife, you are prone to certain angles on a scene, but their bickering, pestering, and arguing with one another in a delightful, fun way make them human. Therefore, the audience understands their reason even while leading to the cliched reveal all in front of the suspects’ climax.
The film sparked numerous sequels with great success, but the original shows and, more importantly, establishes these characters as witty but all too relatable in the best possible way.
8. Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988) – Pedro Almodovar
The film that launched the career of Pedro Almodovar about lovers, terrorists, and murder, oh my! Combining crime, melodrama, and screwball, these characters might dress pretty and live in stylized apartments, but they will stop at nothing to achieve their dreams, thus pouring out their wit.
How else can you have a film where cops drink spiked gazpacho or a lunatic escapes an insane asylum? These characters are witty; they use, with razor sharp and speedy dialogue, their wit and charm to take revenge, escape and murder. Sure, you have to go along the ride with these nutty people, but Almodovar’s charm himself as director thrusts you into this world.
Arriving just under 90 minutes, so many plot points occur, but who cares when you have characters played by Carmen Maura to Julieta Serrano to Rossy de Palma and Chus Lampreave. It’s impossible to resist their own smartness and cleverness. You don’t want to be on the opposite side of these women, but from afar, nothing can be more delightful.
9. Raising Arizona (1987) – Joel Coen
The Coen brothers, wanting to do the very opposite of their feature debut, turn to a dark screwball comedy of oddball characters. Even though these people might seem clueless, the Coens knew exactly what they were doing.
After Joel Coen emerged from a preview screening, he stated a woman complimented him on getting the mind of an Arizona inmate correctly, showing that these characters portrayed by Nicolas Cage, Holly Hunter, John Goodman and Frances McDormand might come off as stereotypical or over the top, but truly are sly and clever people to achieve their goals.
From chasing diapers to prison escapes and explosions never harming bunny rabbits, it’s a crazy, zany film but never detracts from the heartbreak of the film and why the thieving, robbing, and killing to achieve personal gain by the characters are committed. Proving their facade is not what it seems, they are very witty indeed, fooling themselves but not those around them.
10. Arsenic and Old Lace (1944) – Frank Capra
Frank Capra diving back into his dark screwball comedy adaptations again, this time from Joseph Kesselring’s play, we see Cary Grant as a marriage-denouncing playwright to uncover the truth of his family heritage on his wedding day! He only discovers his two adorable aunts are actually serial killers and his brother thinks of himself as Theodore Roosevelt. Therefore, let the hilarity ensue.
Composed almost entirely in one Brooklyn house, we might get the zaniest Grant ever as he tries to hide, discover, and every action in between of a dead body while dealing with these over-the-top characters. Lunacy, verbal exchanges, and slapstick follow, but not without self-evidence of wit. Why? Inspired by a real-life case, these characters admit their doings, know the literate ways, and even invite the law into their house, completely against cliche and genre.
Capra was on a roll by this time and he certainly didn’t slow down here. All of the characters might be a bit off the wall, but their wit certainly helps them achieve their goals. How else could two elderly women convince older men to come into their house on their free will and never see the light of day again?