17. The LEGO Movie
While at first it seemed like nothing more than an extended advertisement for LEGO products, The LEGO Movie proved to be an out of the box creative experiment that satirized everything from the hero’s journey mythology to the dangers of group thinking. More than just being an argument in favor of creativity, The LEGO Movie presents its message of collaboration through the creative framing device of a father and son acting out a story.
With its colorful, expansive universe that mashes up characters and situations from a variety of different genres and intellectual properties, the film overloads the senses with in jokes, references, and hidden gags, but they never distract from its surprisingly heartfelt story of a reluctant hero who is taken outside his comfort zone.
16. Dolemite Is My Name
Screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski have proven time and time again with films like Ed Wood, Man on the Moon, and The People vs. Larry Flynt that they can turn the most outrageous real life figures into inspirational characters that exemplify movements of change and freedom of expression. With Rudy Ray Moore, Eddie Murphy gives the best performance since his string of success in the 80s, and no matter what field Ray Moore is in, be it comedy records, stand up performances, or his outrageous films, he breaks the mold and is unapologetically himself.
The excellent costume design from Ruth Carter gives each character a flashy personality, and the brilliant score from Scott Bomar incorporates themes from the real Dolemite films in order to best exemplify the time and era. Dolemite Is My Name shows the chaotic frenzy of what a film set is like, yet reminds that out of the chaos a real classic can emerge.
15. The Death of Stalin
A pitch black satire of the inner workings of the Russian regime following the death of Joseph Stalin, The Death of Stalin shines a spotlight on the incompetence of those in power. It’s hilarious to see how all these “yes men” came to be in positions of influence and where they are once their beloved leader leaves them behind, yet filmmaker Armando Iannucci also shows the real danger that this quirky cast of characters present to common people and how competing ambitions always lead to collateral damage.
Steve Buscemi gives one of his best performances as Nikita Khrushchev, the seemingly harmless head of the Moscow government who deceives his way into more power, and in one of the film’s funniest scenes Buscemi must pass along a document to another character during Stalin’s funeral by pretending to engage in a ceremonial practice. While it’s ultimately a chilling reminded about the equally scary and inept forces at play at the top of a dictatorship, The Death of Stalin is so sharply written that it transcends the genre of political satire.
14. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
Criminally underrated, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping is a searing satire of the excess and influence of pop singers, seen through the eyes of the buffoonish Conner4real (Andy Samberg), a former boy band star who abandoned his old friends to pursue a solo career. Samberg’s performance is over the top, particularly in the amount of personal information he gives through social media, but it’s an oddly accurate depiction of how much stake fans put in the lives of celebrities and how unlimited access to someone’s private life can be destructive.
Best of all, the soundtrack is filled with some genuinely great songs from the Lonely Island, and while the music has ridiculous lyrics that parody the self-seriousness of pop songs and their recurring themes, they are genuinely catchy and do a good job at exploring the characters and their lack of self-awareness. The mockumentary style allows for a lot of fun appearances by well-known performers in side roles, with a particularly effective appearance from veteran Lonely Island collaborator Michael Bolton used to strengthen the film’s closing number.
13. Logan Lucky
While there are a lot of comparisons to be made with Stephen Soderbergh’s previous heist film Ocean’s Eleven, Logan Lucky is a distinct entity, and uses its empathy for the blue collar protagonist to be both funny and endearing. Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, and Riley Keough play working class siblings who all feel disenfranchised in their own ways from the fast paced world around them, and their goal to rob the Texas Motor Speedway during the height of a NASCAR race isn’t just a bid for survival, but a means of using old fashioned skills to pull a con on the rich and pretentious.
In a transformative performance as the veteran criminal Joe Bang, Daniel Craig sheds his James Bond performance and commits to his role as a hammy goofball masquerading as a master criminal. Soderbergh brings his signature methodical process to bring this heist to life, but it’s the standout performance that make these first time characters worth rooting for.
12. 21 Jump Street
Another reboot of an old television show seemed completely cynical and unnecessary, but thankfully 21 Jump Street became a film that mocked its own existence and parodied the unoriginality of Hollywood. The premise of putting two undercover cops back into high school to bust a drug ring is completely ridiculous, and the film frequently makes fun of the fact that there’s no conceivable way that Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill could convincingly go undercover.
The two actors have surprisingly great chemistry, and Tatum and Hill are able to make their relationship an homage to both John Hughes high school movies and outrageous buddy cop action films. There’s a lot of heart that comes from seeing these two characters try to relive their youth through their undercover personas, and 21 Jump Street doesn’t rely on any previous knowledge of the show, although Johnny Depp’s appearance at the end does rank among the decade’s best cameos.
11. Jojo Rabbit
In the fashion of classics like Life is Beautiful or The Great Dictator, Taika Waititi’s coming of age dramedy finds a way of reconciling with the horrors of the Holocaust in a comedic fashion. What’s important is that it is from a child’s perspective; Johannes Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis), nicknamed “Jojo” because of his sweet nature, is just a young boy who lacks the capacity to understand the events that surround him, but it’s his exposure to the realities of war and his friends that are affected by it that force him to grow up.
Much of the comedy comes from Jojo’s interaction with an imaginary friend version of Hitler played by Waititi, and Waititi’s performance perfectly fits what Hitler might look like from a child’s eyes. Jojo Rabbit has a very unique way of confronting fascism, and while it doesn’t ignore the serious implications, it finds humor in nontraditional ways a child would have to grow up when living in such a dark time.
10. The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
There are few directors how are able to depict family dysfunction with the poignancy of Noah Baumbach, and The Meyerowitz Stories finds solace in the fact that children born into chaotic households are never fully able to grow past their upbringing. As their father Harold (Dustin Hoffman) prepares to showcase his work at a presentation, adult children Danny (Adam Sandler), Matthew (Ben Stiller), and Jean (Elizabeth Marvel) are forced to reckon with the ways in which their father’s methods of raising them has continuously forced them to be in competition and conflict with one another.
While Adam Sandler’s routine as an immature, put upon loser often grows stale in the films he’s creatively involved with, he puts a new spin on the character in Baumbach’s story and does some of the best work of his career as a well-meaning guy looking for acceptance. With great chemistry between the entire ensemble, The Meyerowitz Stories finds the humor in watching adults act like children, but is able to justify these actions with well established relationships.
9. Game Night
While most major studio comedies have fallen into generic trends, Game Night proved to be an exception with its surprisingly nuanced direction, clever premise, and memorable side characters. Following a game night between adult friends that turns into an actual kidnapping mystery, Game Night is visually designed to look like pieces on a board, and the pop culture references all fit within the context of a trivia obsessed couple. With some surprisingly gruesome violence and exciting chase sequences (including a great tracking shot reminiscent of Goodfellas), there’s a lot of great craftsmanship here from directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein.
Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams have fantastic chemistry and feel like an authentic couple looking to put energy back into their marriage, but the film’s scene stealer is Jesse Plemons as their neighbor Gary, a cop suffering from a breakup who unexpectedly intrudes on the central characters when they’re least expecting it. With a great soundtrack and script that keeps the viewer guessing, Game Night is a wonderful surprise.