5. Matchstick Men
Ridley Scott is one of the most versatile filmmakers of the past several decades, and has done terrific work in a variety of genres. Scott’s funniest film to date captures all of the ferocity and cynicism of the Roy Garcia novel, which follows conman Roy Waller (Nicolas Cage) as he reconnects with his daughter Angela (Alison Lohman). Even if the story itself becomes sentimental as Roy and Angela form a bond, it never shies away from the eventuality of Roy’s profession or the psychological effect it has on his ability to form relationships.
The film is able to deal with darker themes when it shows the traits that Angela learns from Roy. Roy is used to putting on a persona and pretending to be someone else, and in many ways his fatherhood is just another facade. Cage brings his signature eccentricities to the role and is able to explore the depths of Roy’s obsessive nature as he suffers from panic attacks throughout the course of the film. With many twists that keep the story compelling, Matchstick Men has a shocking ending that is preceded by a hilarious satire of the conman lifestyle.
4. War Machine
There have been many films that have dealt with the ramifications of modern warfare, but War Machine stands out due to its satirical tone. Brad Pitt stars as General Glen McMahon, a high ranking general who finds himself tasked with ending the war by any means necessary. Pitt plays McMahon as occasionally sympathetic, as he is in over his head and is ultimately replaced by another man with similar values, but the film also doesn’t shy away from showing the ramifications that McMahon’s buffoonery have on the larger war effort.
Director David Michod is known for his dark, gritty thrillers, such as The Rover, The King, and Animal Kingdom, and in War Machine he once again shows his ability to tackle difficult subject material, depicting wartime combat and military procedure with an incredible attention to detail. The brutality of the war scenes don’t distract from the comedy, and in fact they enhance the satirical edge that the film is going for. Ending with a brilliant cameo, War Machine is a savvy mirror of current events that is hilarious, despite its somber themes.
3. The Weather Man
Nicolas Cage is not always known for his subtle performances, but his role as weatherman David Spritz in Gore Verbinski’s underrated 2005 dark comedy requires him to deliver more subdued, understated work. Spritz is a seemingly successful television weatherman, but despite his success, he’s hated by his viewers and shamed by his father Robert (Michael Caine) for not doing more with his career. Cage allows the audience to empathize with him as Spritz’s life collapses around him, but the situations are so idiosyncratic and peculiar that it’s impossible not to laugh as things get worse for this sad sack character.
Director Gore Verbinski is best known for handling blockbusters like the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy and The Ring, but he shows a different side of himself with this low key character drama. The scenes of Spritz reconnecting with his children are touching, but they don’t take away from the darker elements, which include the psychological effects Spritz faces when being hated by his viewers. With a whimsical edge and only slightly uplifting ending, The Weather Man is a thoroughly funny and thought provoking depiction of a mid life crisis.
2. War Dogs
The Hangover trilogy director Todd Phillips has received recent acclaim for his dark comic book film Joker, but Phillips previously showed that he could handle more serious material with his 2016 satirical biographical film War Dogs. Miles Teller and Jonah Hill star as David Packouz and Efraim Diveroli, two childhood friends who became arms dealers for the U.S. Government. Like Phillips’s past films, which often featured wacky characters getting in over their heads, War Dogs is able to laugh at its own absurdity, but the fact that the story is true and the ramifications are real give the story more serious implications.
Hill gives one of his best performances as an erratic and ignorant character who nonetheless finds high profile clients, and his ability to push Teller’s character into increasingly dangerous situations is one of the story’s highlights. Teller also does some of his best work here, as his character is forced to abandon his own morals as his operations gains more success. Offering a devastating critique of its main characters, War Dogs was a film that merged Todd Phillips’s talent for outlandish physical comedy with his ambitions to explore darker material.
Michael Fassbender delivers one of the greatest performances of his career as the titular role in Frank, a dark comedy about a mysterious musician who runs a secret band that creates their own instruments and experiments with new forms of music. The catch is that Frank constantly wears a paper mache mask over his head and masks his true identity, and when new recruit Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) joins the group, he becomes obsessed with unmasking this mysterious man. Behind Frank’s facade is someone hiding pain and mental health issues, and the film explores this strange coping method with razor sharp comic wit.
Frank is a thoroughly entertaining screen character, as his strange mannerisms, odd observations about life and music, and complete control of his band add a great deal of absurdist humor to the story. However, despite Frank’s hilarious original songs and the humor of seeing him never reveal his real face, the film is able to explore the strange psychology of a character who feels that it’s necessary to have this facade. Strangely thought provoking and grimly humorous, Frank is one of the decade’s most underrated gems, and deserves to be recognized as a great cult classic.