Best Comedies of 2016
By Zach Dennis, Lydia Creech, Andrew Swafford, Malcolm Baum, Jessica Carr and John McAmis
**NOTE** The films are unranked, and are in no particular order
Bad Moms (2016) by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore
While buying my ticket to Bad Moms, I noticed a woman next to me buying one adult and one child ticket to the same film, which was more irony than I could handle. Make sure your kids are asleep, good parents--this one is a hard R. And it should be. One of my biggest gripes with mainstream comedy is the unspoken insistence that “crude” and “humorous” are the same thing, but in Bad Moms, vulgarity is crucial.
After stripping away the artificial niceties of domesticity inherited from the Stepford Wives era, the characters here come to a place that is less “bad” than honest, free from shame--which takes some shock and desensitization to discover. Watching the clip of Kathryn Hahn explaining to Mila Kunis and Kristen Bell how to handle an uncircumcised penis really says it all. Each character is at a different comfort level here: Hahn plays the Id (completely unabashed in her description of physicality and pleasure), Bell plays the Superego (disgusted and speechless when exposed to Hahn’s ideas), and Kunis plays the Ego (facilitating interaction between the two, questioning and observing to find a new moral center).
Watching the tension fluctuate between the characters’ social and sexual mores is what makes the sheer comedy of Bad Moms work as a rare mainstream comedy where its explicitness feels meaningful and necessary. - Andrew Swafford
The Edge of Seventeen (2016) by Kelly Fremon Craig
Mean Girls, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and Clueless, this film is not. It knows these coming-of-age high school comedies, but it tends to ignore them in the hallway and instead walks ahead to the table at lunch filled with the weird, but nice, but awkward teenagers.
Edge of Seventeen is heralded by the generation-defining performance of Hailee Steinfeld, who plays Nadine. She’s an awkward, self-obsessed teenage girl who’s main problems are guys and her brother, and her life-saver in the cesspool of high school is her best friend Krista. Nadine’s world shatters under her feet after Krista starts dating her brother - and that’s where similarities with other coming-of-age films end.
The film harnesses Steinfeld’s persona of Nadine and uses it to its full advantage, giving Kelly Fremon Craig’s script room to soar and shine. An intelligent look at the problems of an egotistical seventeen-year-old, this film gives the audiences a poignant view of the Millennial Generation. And Woody Harrelson balances Steinfeld’s performance with reason and logic as her history teacher, giving the world an original and memorable student-teacher film duo. - John McAmis
Dirty Grandpa (2016) by Dan Mazer
The slob vs. snob trope is a classic and undying trope in comedy movies. What Dirty Grandpa preaches is the side of the vulgarian. You have Efron playing Jason Kelly, a white-collar professional class type, adhering to the idea of modern civility, and DeNiro playing Dick Kelly, a grandpa whose wife just passed and is ready to engage in some sexual debauchery, despite Jason’s constant protest.
Throughout the movie Dick releases joke after joke, many of them filled with racism, homophobia, sexism, etc. and Jason is there to scowl like the modern man at his grandpa’s outdated sense of humor. As the wacky situations get more complex Dick and Jason find common ground upon to build a meaningful relationship, something Dick hasn’t been around for a while and possibly something that Jason has never had.
All of this paired with great character work by Jason Mantzoukas, Aubrey Plaza, and Adam Pally, and Dirty Grandpa is one of the most interesting American comedies in a while. - Malcom Baum
Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (2016) by Jorma Taccone & Akiva Schaffer
It is easy to view pop culture as a vast wasteland of hollowness and Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (see my full review here) is fully aware of this. I’m not sure it ever truly satisfies our satirical desires (it lacks the punch of This is Spinal Tap), but it feeds us enough and causes pause for reflection.
The film follows Connor4Real (Andy Samberg), a Justin Bieber surrogate who broke off from the boy band he garnered fame from and has begun a solo career. His first album did well, but now he is looking to make waves with his second venture. The original group (including the film’s directors Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone) have gone their separate ways with Owen (Taccone) following Connor as his band DJ and Lawrence (Schaffer) becoming a recluse.
Popstar not only comments on vapid people ingrained in popular culture, but the outliers around them. The film seems to jump around and never focuses enough to stick, but that may just be indicative of us as a modern society. We jump from each new cultural story like frogs on lily pads and tend to forget what came before the latest breaking story.
Do we really remember Kim Kardashian getting robbed in Paris? Who all died in 2016? What is Pokémon Go? And is everyone really watching Stranger Things?
Culture is bipolar, which maybe works as an excuse for Popstar’s looseness and a more SNL sketch-like approach to storytelling. Regardless, it works. It is not only one of the most underrated films of the year, but also the funniest.
(Unquestionably, this video for Connor’s song, “Equal Rights,” is one of the most hilarious videos I’ve seen all year.) – Zach Dennis
Hail, Caesar (2016) by Joel and Ethan Cohen
Someone let the Coens make a musical already. It’s about time we had one by people who actually love the form and have the clout to push it through.
Hail, Caesar! is a love letter not just to the musical, but the studio system of old, and it’s a real treat for Coen fans, Hollywood history fans (like, say, fans of the podcast You Must Remember This), or, really, just film fans in general. There’s something here for everybody (and not in a diluting way). Hail, Caesar! features a huge cast of lovingly weird Coen characters, gorgeous-as-always cinematography from frequent collaborator Roger Deakins, and homages to Classic Hollywood left and right.
As a would-be future film archivist, I particularly loved scenes of pristine studio back lots and Frances McDormand editing on a Moviola, but, in a way, this also lends a subtle touch of melancholia. Though certainly not in a the-old-days-were-better way, I feel the Coens are a bit sad they missed out on the studio heyday (even while acknowledging they wouldn’t be allowed work in such a system). And even though Hail, Caesar! was shot on film, that ship has sailed, according to Deakins himself. With that in mind, I suppose Hail, Caesar! can also be seen as a farewell. - Lydia Creech
Swiss Army Man (2016) by the Daniels
I never thought I’d be writing about a movie that features a farting corpse that has the ability to produce fire, drinking water, and profound conversation. Even more so, I didn’t think that I’d be so smitten with a film that featured these things. Swiss Army Man (see my full review here) has the ability to make the viewer laugh and cry simultaneously. Underneath the absolutely ridiculous plot, lies a heartfelt message about accepting the truths of life while also learning to accept your own truths. It isn’t the funniest film of 2016, but it is definitely the most ridiculous/inventive.
The fantastical adventure begins when a stranded Hank (Paul Dano) finds a dead body washed ashore the deserted island he is stuck on. Hank starts to lose hope until he realizes that his new friend, Manny (Daniel Radcliffe), may actually be able to help him survive. The two embark on an epic adventure to get back to civilization.
Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert make up the director duo “Daniels.” The pair is famous for their “Turn Down for What” video as well as a variety of other music videos. The duo creates a unique musical atmosphere for Swiss Army Man that adds a comedic element. In one scene, Hank is trying to get Manny to remember what life was like before he died. He starts to hum a few bars of the Jurassic Park theme song. Manny joins in and the theme song is transformed into a beautiful new a cappella creation. Every time music comes into play in this film, it is so weird and yet works perfectly. Songs featured on the soundtrack are very simple and quite literal.
So, if you are looking for a 2016 comedy that is unlike any movie you’ve ever seen and don’t mind a few bodily functions here and there, then Swiss Army Man is exactly the movie I would recommend. - Jessica Carr
Love & Friendship (2016) by Whit Stillman
Zach covered the cinematic qualities in his excellent write-up, which elevates this beyond, say, Masterpiece Theater (actually not fair, I love me some Masterpiece Theater). However, even without the bonus of the gorgeous visuals, this film is also working with a savagely funny script. I think most people equate “period piece” with romance, and this is decidedly not the case here.
Adapted from the Jane Austen novella Lady Susan, this is the film that reveals Austen’s keen social satirizing most clearly. Austen turns her pen to skewer class, the relationships between men and women, the institution of marriage, differences between English and Americans, parenthood, etc., etc, and Kate Beckinsale positively breezes through Victorian society as the widowed Lady Susan, leading everyone else about by their noses. She behaves… badly, but the film loves her for it, and I love her, too.
Actually, women behaving badly is probably my favorite thing about 2016 comedies right now (Elle and Yourself and Yours also fit in this mold). Society has always been kind of shitty to, uh, women in general, but women who don’t act subdued in particular, and Lady Susan just leans right into her perception as Nasty and conniving, exposing everyone else’s pettiness and hypocrisy at the same time. Being widowed in a society so structured by class and family name as Victorian England is a matter of survival, and one can only hope they’d be able to handle themselves as beautifully as Lady Susan does. She’s actually much nicer about the whole thing than she could be.
PS: if caustic wit isn’t your thing, Tom Bennett provides plenty of plain silliness, in probably the best comedic performance of the year. Seriously, you can watch just for him. - Lydia Creech
DOUBLE FEATURE: Central Intelligence (2016) by Rawson Marshall Thurber // Keanu (2016) by Peter Atencio
Moonlight may be the 2016 movie that has film critics everywhere writing about the sorrows of black masculinity (deservedly so--it’s gorgeously photographed and wonderfully acted), but there’s just as much insight to be found in Keanu and Central Intelligence, two buddy comedies (both released in June, weirdly enough?) that brought art-house mentality to the multiplex. These movies share a lot of the same strengths, complimenting each other for the perfect double feature. There is a lot of celebrity charisma on display here--Key and Peel in the former, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Kevin Hart in the latter--and the comedy always comes from seeing these beloved black male actors playing against racial and gender stereotypes seen too often in mainstream cinema.
Keanu finds hilarity in linguistic code switching, with its dorky central characters being forced to wear hardened gangsta inflections like disguises as they infiltrate a drug ring to intercept Jordan Peele’s adorable pet kitten (voiced by Keanu Reeves--that’s all you need to know), getting a bunch of trap kings into the poppy joyousness of George Michael in the process.
Central Intelligence, on the other hand, knowingly casts Kevin Hart in his typical gay-panic role (see: Get Hard) opposite Dwayne Johnson as a beefcake flamboyant who has a unapologetic and sincere love for unicorns, fanny packs, and John Hughes rom-coms. The film’s opening scene shows Johnson being mercilessly bullied, establishing early on that jokes at another person’s expense aren’t funny--and Central Intelligence goes on to find consistent humor not in Johnson’s femininity, but in Hart’s socially programmed and irrational discomfort.
No comedies made me happier in 2016 than these two, and it’s likely due to their refusal to mock characters that could have easily been punching bags for toxic masculinity. Keanu and Central Intelligence embrace positivity and sincerity with no equivocation, and in doing so, proudly represent many different ways to live in one’s own skin. - Andrew Swafford
Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016) by Taika Waititi
Trees Birds Rivers Sky
Running with my Uncle Hec
This haiku perfectly describes the heartfelt nature of Hunt for the Wilderpeople (see my full review here) and is also written by its protagonist—spunky 13-year-old Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison). I adore director Taika Waititi and pretty much anything related to New Zealand so, it really comes by no surprise that I chose this film as one of my picks for the comedy canon. But even without my personal bias, this film features some of the funniest moments in film that 2016 had to offer.
You have no sense of humor if you didn’t even crack a smile during the funeral scene in Hunt for the Wilderpeople. Okay, that sentence sounded weird…but if you’ve seen the film then, you know what I mean. It is a scene that you would expect to feel the most emotional pain—but Taika plays a quirky reverend that delivers a sermon that is anything but sad. I couldn’t help feeling a little bad at laughing during a funeral scene, but then I realized it’s exactly what that character would’ve wanted so it actually made sense.
Hunt for the Wilderpeople combines elements of humor with themes of sentimentality, loss, and hope. I always enjoy a comedy more when the movie seeks to do more than just provide the viewer with a few laughs. This film gives the audience characters to love, a compelling journey, and hilarious moments to hold on to. I can’t help but chuckle every time I picture Ricky Baker saying, “Tupac is a rapper and my best friend.” I don’t think Hunt for the Wilderpeople is Taika’s funniest film, but I do think it belongs in the ranks for one of the best comedies of 2016. - Jessica Carr
Weiner (2016) by Elyse Steinberg and Josh Kriegman
While political entanglements in Weiner can be muddied, as a movie it is very simple, and for that reason it is spring loaded with humor. The story of a politician who cant stop sending pictures of his penis online is hilarious enough, Kriegman and Steinberg, the directors, know this and stick to the fly on the wall technique to capture the absurdity.
Modern satire is so toothless and this packs more of a punch than most milquetoast centrist liberal talk shows that are expected to be consumed by the more intelligent and reasonable sectors of society because Tony and Huma are the viewers who became the punchline. Without using a marker Weiner shows the downfall of neoliberalism, akin to it’s downfall in the 2016 Presidential Election.
Pair this with HyperNormalisation and Hillary’s America (NOT an endorsement of this movie and its politics) and you’ve got a broad scope of the current American political landscape. - Malcolm Baum
Sing Street (2016) by John Carney
John Carney has made a career of following the same formula: put a musician and their instrument into a room with a person they’re romantically interested in and allow for magic to take place. It’s an obvious plot, but an effective one due to his ability to charm the audience and feed them catchy songs to pair with the story.
Sing Street (see my full review here) is no different. In fact, it combines elements of Carney’s previous two features — Once and Begin Again — into a concise package that feels even more personal.
It’s the 1980s in Dublin, Ireland, and Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) is adrift. His parents are moving towards a divorce, and because of this, he is uprooted from his school and planted into a new Catholic one with more restrictions. The pitfalls of the move cause him social trauma, but that (coupled with the more normal strains of adolescence) lead to him finding an outlet through music.
I wouldn’t say this film works as directly as a comedy as others on the list (it features comedic elements, but better sets itself up as a romance), but it is a well-enough movie that it needed to find a home in one of these lists. Carney has an innate sense for finding escape in life through art, which makes watching Conor’s journey all the more inspiring.
Life is going to hit us, but we can hit back…and do it much more creatively. – Zach Dennis
The Lobster (2016) by Yorgos Lanthimos
Most people - cinephiles or not - will ask each other this question after seeing the film: What animal would YOU choose to be turned into if you didn't find love in a hotel in 45 days? And though it’s no-doubt an interesting question, it is not the one you should be asking after seeing The Lobster.
Lanthimos’s film raises endless, wild, weird, and frightening questions about what it means to be in a relationship with another human being. What are relationships? is the one of the questions you’ll ask. Why the hell are we in them? is another. And Is it all worth it? is the one that might just have you rethinking your current partnership.
The film follows David (Colin Farrell) after his wife leaves him for another man, which in turn forces him to check-in to The Hotel in order to find a mate in 45 days. In Lanthimos’s richly visual and expertly-directed dark comedy, it is a criminal offense to be single, and marriage licenses are reviewed more than gun permits. John C. Reilly, Ben Whishaw, Rachel Weisz, Olivia Coleman, and Lea Seydoux also star and give incredible performances. - John McAmis