Sunday, 20 November 2016

Dystopia: Not a place I want to visit

I was sitting in a pub a few nights ago and the subject of favourite comedy films came up. And as we chatted, various candidates surfaced and were discussed ... Withnail and I, Groundhog Day, Life of Brian, Airplane, This is Spinal Tap, Beetlejuice, Home Alone, Galaxy Quest, Dumb and Dumber, Blazing Saddles, There's Something about Mary, The Jerk, Carry On Screaming, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Trading Places, Dr Strangelove, School for Scoundrels, The Three Amigos, Way Out West, Return of the Pink Panther ... and many more. And I was struck by the fact that almost none of the films we discussed were made in the 21st century.

Was it possible? Has there really not been a great comedy movie made in 16 years?

We racked our brains. 'Dodgeball wasn't bad', said one person.

'But is it destined to be a classic?' I asked. 'It's 12 years' old now - do people look at it in the same way as they look at The Blues Brothers or The Lavender Hill Mob? Will people still rave about it in 20 years' time?'

'Fair point', he said.

'The Men in Black films were quite funny,' said another.

'They were', I said. 'Though the first one was 1997.'

'The Naked Gun films?'

'1988 to 1994.'

'Ah! What about Napoleon Dynamite?'

'Yes, and Anchorman?'

They had a point. 2004 was an exceptional year for comedy films. It also gave us Sean of the Dead, Meet the Fockers, Mean Girls, The Incredibles and Team America: World Police. But barring this anomaly, has there been a genuine future classic since?

In January this year, Time Out magazine published its list of the 100 best comedy films of all time. There were just 17 post-millennial pictures included: Borat, Hot Fuzz, Superbad, School of Rock, Old School, The Royal Tenenbaums, Best in Show, In the Loop, Elf, Zoolander, Bridesmaids and Four Lions, plus the 2004 films already mentioned (The Incredibles didn't make the cut). How many of those could be called classics? Some, I would say, but not all.

The Top 5, incidentally, were Groundhog Day (1983), Annie Hall (1977), Life of Brian (1979), Airplane (1980) and This is Spinal Tap (1984) at Number 1. All made within a seven year period.

I kind-of assume that the list was composed by people younger than me because there were just a handful of black and white films and they were by big hitters like Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy and the Marx Brothers. No mention of classic British comedies such as Kind Hearts and Coronets, Passport to Pimlico, I'm Alright Jack or Whiskey Galore! for example.

Now, to be fair, there's no right or wrong answer when it comes to deciding a list like this but I still stand by the fact that over 75% of the entries came from pre-2000 films. And even if we have had a few good 'uns since, the number of broad appeal hilarious comedies does seem to have dropped dramatically. Meanwhile the number of films set in some kind of dystopian, horror-filled post-apocalypse future Hell seem to be increasing exponentially.

How many more zombie movies do we need? How many more young adults do we need to see fighting to survive Hunger Games and Maze Running adventures? How many more alien invasions, earthquakes, floods, transport disasters? I'm fed up with it.

How about a little levity? I want to go to the cinema and roar with laughter at a new Trains, Planes and Automobiles. I want to be cheered by something with the cosy feel of Towed in a Hole or The Music Box. I want to hoot at terrible puns and bad jokes like I did with Young Frankenstein.

Am I really the only one who misses a gut-bustingly funny feelgood movie?

A few weeks ago (here) I wrote a similar whingeing tract about comedy in publishing. There's a real dearth of good mainstream humorous writing at the moment. Maybe that's why there's nothing to be made into good comedy movies?

The world is miserable enough without paying to see more, surely?

Oh and my Top 10?

10 - There's something about Mary (1998)

9 - Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979)

8 - Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (1982)

7 - National Lampoon's Animal House (1978)

6 - Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

5 - Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)

4 - Withnail and I (1987)

3 - Trading Places (1983)

2 - This is Spinal Tap (1984)

1 - Way out West (1937)

Not a post-millennial among them.

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