Alexander Payne’s hilarious road trip comedy gives Bruce Dern and Will Forte the chance to shine as an estranged father and son duo who take a trip down memory lane as they go to claim a clearly fraudulent prize of a million dollars. Shot in beautiful black and white meant to reflect the sharing of memories between father and son, Nebraska is poignant in that the humor is blunt, coarse, and surprisingly sweet.
Dern does a fantastic job at breaking down the rough exterior behind a grizzled, grumpy character with a fading memory, and Forte makes for an empathetic lead who begins to appreciate his father’s life more as he recounts all the stories that he’d never heard before. Both characters are somewhat reluctant to share their feelings, but as the film goes on the viewers can become accustomed to their nontraditional ways of expressing affection.
7. Frances Ha
Greta Gerwig brings an infectious sense of energy to the titular role in Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha, and her sensibilities are well matched for Baumbach’s joyous celebration of everyday life. While many of his other films focus on characters that are downtrodden or depressed, Baumbach finds a much lighter side of things in Frances Ha through a lead character who finds the positive in the smallest aspects of her everyday life and takes joy in her freeness from responsibility and convention.
Frances could be infuriating in her inability to plan anything, but the film is keen to show the detrimental side of her nature and how her noncompliance with structure can isolate her. Between spirited escapades in which Frances dances to David Bowie’s “Modern Love” or painfully awkward dinner parties, Baumbach and Gerwig’s first collaboration as writer and director serves as a great representation of their unique comedic talents.
6. Lady Bird
Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut is one of the defining coming of age films of the decade, but it’s also one of the funniest. Saoirse Ronan’s character Christine, who proclaims herself as “Lady Bird,” is a whip smart teenager wields her independence and sense of irony as shields against inevitable setbacks, and over the course of her tumultuous senior year of high school she learns the value of sincerity.
Chistine’s self-confidence and affirmation often puts her into hilarious confrontations with others, particularly her perfectionist mother, played by Laurie Metcalf. While Christine’s journey of maturation that results in her being more empathetic to those surrounding her is very emotional, Ronan handles each line delivery with a zany sense of wit, and Gerwig’s script is able to subvert common coming of age story clichés in order to be much more profound.
5. The Grand Budapest Hotel
Wes Anderson often frames his films with a storybook sense of synchronization, and The Grand Budapest Hotel is a film in which the entire story is one that’s been passed along and retold through the eyes of different authors, thus explaining the zaniness and odd gaps in the narrative. As it is intended to be someone’s recollection, the film is able to feel like a heightened version of something that actually happens, and while it is often mindful of the tragic passing of the old guard at the story’s center it never takes away from the compelling misadventures of Zero (Tony Revolori) and M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes).
With Gustave, Fiennes gives one of his finest performances to date as an indulgent, methodical embodiment of old fashioned charisma, and Fiennes plays the character as nothing less than larger than life. Complete with Anderson’s unparalleled visual style, including elaborate sets, sharp colors, and fast paced movement, The Grand Budapest Hotel is his funniest and most meditative work to date.
4. Everybody Wants Some
Richard Linklater has always excelled at telling stories that come from the singular perspective of characters in a specific stage in life, and in this spiritual sequel to his 1993 classic Dazed and Confused, he explores the hyper competitive nature of a college baseball team through the eyes of freshman Jake Bradford (Blake Jenner). The film doesn’t focus on any actual games, but rather shows how the weeklong initiation process works before the first day of school, and how a group of highly competitive, hyper masculine guys play off each other and clash to prove themselves.
The entire ensemble is filled with fantastic character actors, each of whom bring their own unique quirk into the fold, and the viewer is able to become exposed to this eclectic group as Jake slowly learns to accept their traditions. It’s a surprisingly earnest look on friendship with a terrific 80s soundtrack, and the meandering nature of the story is exactly what Linklater intended for this high spirited hangout movie.
3. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Although there have been many films that have attempted to perfect the subgenre of cancer dramedy, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl turns into something more profound as it serves as a signature tribute to the love of cinema. Greg (Thomas Mann) and Earl (RJ Cyler) first turn to filmmaking because they’re teenage outsiders that can’t seem to fit in anywhere else, but as their friend Rachel (Olivia Cooke) begins to die, their confused feelings manifest into a unique form of catharsis.
While its subject material is often depressing, the self-effacing and constant snark of Greg makes him a fitting narrator for the story, particularly as he satirizes conventions and generic plot points. With a unique visual design that often recreates moments in miniatures, there’s a low budget charm to the films that Greg and Earl make that translates to the film’s actual craftsmanship. Etched in a morbid sense of humor and filled with clever references to iconic films, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is the perfect YA dramedy for the cinephile crowd.
2. The Nice Guys
Shane Black is among the cornerstone artists of buddy comedies, and The Nice Guys is a culmination of his best ideas about how two outsiders and weirdos could come to form a perfect comic pair. Ryan Gosling had already established himself as one of the best dramatic actors of his generation, but here he gets to do some truly outrageous physical comedy as he destroys any semblance of structure in whatever situation he’s in, and Russell Crowe couldn’t be a better straight man to play off of him.
With a fun retro feel that plays off of all the sex, danger, and intrigue of 70s Los Angeles, The Nice Guys has a plot so convoluted that its fun to see these incompetent detectives get wrapped up in it purely through accident. There’s a comic approach to violence that is stark and blunt, and the film closes on an oddly melancholic note that reflects the futility of these characters’ drive for justice. It’s the perfect throwback that throws a wrench in the traditional nature of a buddy duo, with Gosling and Crowe giving performances for the ages.
1. The World’s End
Edgar Wright has built a career off of subverting genre tropes, and the culmination of the Cornetto trilogy that included Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz is the perfect closure of this thematic trilogy about strained friendships. While the disaster film and body horror elements perfectly fit into a “one wild night” story where characters quickly lose track of their inhibitions, it’s ultimately a story about the futility of reliving your youth and how nostalgia can be a crutch to deal with a sense of unfulfillment.
As Gary King, Simon Pegg gives his best performance to date, and manages to find something infectiously entertaining in a character that is transparently self-obsessed and tragically childlike. King’s full on celebration of excess causes rifts within the group, and seeing this largely separated group of friends wrestle with their present and past identities makes for a lot of humorous scenarios.
Wright goes deep on the worldbuilding and establishes an interesting metaphor for being trapped in a hometown full of memories that seem alien, and the film’s ending represents a full commitment to its sci-fi premise. The most mature of Wright’s films, The World’s End is a breathless comic adventure that doesn’t skimp out on any of the potential in drunk escapades, but finds a potent message of looking to the future.