Best Comedies of 2018
By Zach Dennis, Logan Kenny, Andrew Swafford, Malcolm Baum, Jessica Carr, Reid Ramsey, Michael O’Malley, Lydia Creech, Jordan Smith and Nathan Smith
**NOTE** This is not in ranked order
Instant Family (2018) by Sean Anders
In a year of good, big-hearted comedies — see Blockers, Love, Simon, and To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before — I’ll be the first to admit surprise at which is my favorite: Instant Family. I went into the new film from the team behind Daddy’s Home with reasonable expectations, but I was thrilled with what I saw. Featuring brilliant performances by Rose Byrne and Mark Wahlberg as a couple who decide to become foster parents only to accidentally foster three siblings, Instant Family is a brutal, tonal tightrope act of a film which made me laugh, cry, and cringe. Superficially it’s nothing more than a situational comedy, yet enhanced by writer/director Sean Anders’s own foster-parenting story, Instant Family is nothing short of a movie miracle.
Despite the occasional pitfall into studio comedy cliches, the movie succeeds by never going for the audience’s jugular. In fact, its credibility comes from constantly chasing its own characters’ motivations. Why choose to have kids? Why choose to be a foster parent? Is there anything wrong with wanting different kids? No question is off the table as Anders and crew investigate human drives and motivations. All of this heart coupled with great slapstick, a legitimately funny Mark Wahlberg, and the reigning underrated Queen of Comedy Rose Byrne make Instant Family one of the year’s best comedies. — Reid Ramsey
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018) by Susan Johnson
I’ve always been a firm believer in teen romantic comedies (Yes, even when they were really really bad), but I never really felt like I could relate to any of the leads in them. That was before To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before entered the picture introducing us all to the funny, dramatic and clever Korean-American Lara Jean (Lana Condor). This is a lead protagonist that we can all believe in! She wears collared shirts, fantasizes about romance on the daily AND writes secret letters to all the boys she’s been crushing on all these years. The real hijinks ensues when Lara Jean’s younger sister decides to actually mail out all the letters forcing her to enter into a fake relationship with the lacrosse hottie Peter (Noah Centineo).
It’s true Lara Jean is probably way wittier than the average high schooler, but her character still has the same insecurities you would find in any high school today. She is trying to navigate all of her roles as a dutiful daughter, sister, friend and girlfriend--while also trying to figure out who she is. High school is a confusing enough time without being in a fake relationship and having your undying love confessed to all your crushes at the same time, right?!
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before isn’t just any ole funny rom-com. It starts a new era where Asian Americans can start seeing themselves as the star of their own movies. I really wish something like this was around when I was younger, but I’m excited to see more YA rom-coms like it in the future. — Jessica Carr
The House That Jack Built (2018) by Lars Von Trier
The House That Jack Built follows Matt Dillon as Jack: a serial killer, an aspiring architect, and ultimately a conduit for the movie’s director, Lars Von Trier. Within the frameworks of this film Von Trier begins to deconstruct his own vulgar and violent tendencies, and question his wholesale value as an artist. Unlike most auto critiques, Von Trier is still willing to stick to his guns and produce the off-color and obscene images he’s been known to create, but this time nothing is left without extreme analyzation. Jack, and the man leading him to hell, have discussions about each of the murders, the merits of art, and Jack’s world view in general, amongst a cornucopia of other things. This results in a didactic and exhausting 2 hour and 30 minute ride, but what helps immensely is that this movie is often funny and still aims to entertain before it deconstructs. The humor here ranges from subtle at times to garishly explicit. The balance is what makes it all palatable in the end. For example, the scene where Jack tries to get into a woman’s house by pretending he’s a police officer. The scene here relies on the comedic talents of Dillon, in where we get to see him basically “yes, and” himself through a whole conversation, continuing to fail in convincing this woman of his legitimacy. Humor here can be found not only in Dillon’s off kilter demeanor and cadence, but in the amount of time Von Trier keeps the camera on Jack, allowing himself to dig a deeper hole for himself conversationally.
The same scene ends with Jack dragging that woman’s corpse across town with his van, leaving a big red blood trail in its path. When Jack finally reaches his destination, rain starts to pour and the big red trail incriminating our protagonist killer vanishes. Von Trier “gets away with it” again, but maybe he was never really in any trouble in the first place. So, by the end of it all, as the ultimate gesture of atonement, Von Trier sends himself to hell. Not exactly subtle, but the nature of the action is greatly appreciated. — Malcolm Baum
Never Goin’ Back (2018) by Augustine Frizzell // Support the Girls (2018) by Andrew Bujalski
Two comedies about women just trying to get by under capitalism. Both set in and around the food-service industry, these films illustrate the way small stressors pile up into an overwhelming sense of hopeless absurdity.
Support the Girls follows a manager at Double Whammies (a small-scale Hooters competitor) from opening to closing as she prevents crises and cleans up messes left and right: an emergency car-wash fundraiser needs to be organized; someone tried to rob the restaurant overnight and is stuck in the air vent; the cable is out on the day of the big UFC fight; one of the waitresses is being harassed by a patron; another waitress comes in with an enormous tattoo of Steph Curry’s face across her bare midriff; the list goes on. None of these petty problems sound like the stuff of powerful cinema, but director Andrew Bujalski is well versed in depicting the mundane–not only did he help lay the foundations for the mumblecore genre, but he also studied under Chantal Akerman, pioneer of representing women’s work on-screen. The resulting film feels both casual and profound, an incidental collection of amusing stressors culminating in a scream for catharsis.
Whereas Support the Girls takes seriously the struggle of managerial work (Nathan wrote in-depth about this) and mostly stays within the four walls of her establishment, Never Goin’ Back follows a pair of teenage waitresses and spends precious little time at their worksite, which is a local pancake house. The girls–both high-school dropouts–just want to afford a modest beach trip as a reprieve from their dead-end lives, but dozens of interrelated inconveniences stand between them and getting the shifts they need: one girl’s brother is an incompetent drug-dealer, which leads to a break-in, which leads to a police search, which leads to the girls going to juvie for possessing drugs themselves, which leads to missed shifts, which leads to an emergency meeting being scheduled with the manager, which leads to an emergency trip to the laundromat to wash uniforms, et cetera, et cetera. It is easy to laugh at these characters for their crassness and irresponsibility (my wife and I have been referring to the film as The Girls Whomst Are Bad), but the film is class-conscious enough to realize that their poverty makes every moment of life into an emergency and every decision into a split-second one. Director Augustine Frizzell also serves as the film’s editor, and she is great at emphasizing her characters interior lives with her editing style, often granting slow-motion and heavenly music cues to convey experiences as relatively small as feeling air-conditioning or smelling pancakes. – Andrew Swafford
Game Night (2018) by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein
It would seem like a relatively low bar to exclaim about Game Night solely on its distinct focus on visual comedy directing compared to the normal fare that is dispersed by studios on a yearly basis, and there is a lot of credence in that, but a comedy — especially a successful one — is dependent on a clockwork set of gears, something other genres don’t necessarily have to follow.
The directing by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein isn’t revolutionary. Many could point to someone like Edgar Wright or as far back as the silent comics to find more revolutionary ways of distilling jokes out of the minutia moments of the comedic narrative, but what Game Night succeeds at just as much as its visual flair is its allegiance to the motors of personality and acting.
No part is left for spare.
Look at Rachel McAdams and Jason Bateman, our central characters. The reason they’re effective is because they work within the confines their characters have been given. While this may seem like a backhanded compliment, it is worth noting that comedies are successful in this fashion. Establish the form and then work within it. We enjoy Groucho because he plays Groucho. The same for Keaton, Chaplin, Lucille Ball or Larry David. Establish the form and work within.
Both McAdams and Bateman do this to exceptional degrees — with more praise for the former’s work — and the same can be said for the rest of the cast from Kyle Chandler to Jesse Plemons, and special accolades to Billy Magnusson and Sharon Horgan, who about steal the show at times. Each form is set and each player works within that. There is no need for long-winded improv or filler because when you have a tight script with tight characters, it works.
Each of these actors plays within those parameters and mines their laughs from playing into and against their established personality. If other comedy minds are to take note of Game Night’s success, they should be reminded of this as much as the visual flair, and reckon with this hidden gem of a comedy from 2018. — Zach Dennis
The Week Of (2018) by Robert Smigel // Adam Sandler: 100% Fresh by Steven Brill
If you’re among the small minority that believes Adam Sandler to be a serious artist, the schlemiel second coming of Jerry Lewis, the past few years have been especially rich. 2017 brought us Sandy Wexler, his best and most earnest film since Click, and Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories earned him some of the best reviews of his career and a respect he deserves but is rarely given. 2018 might have been even better: the Sandman quietly released the year’s best American comedy and best American comedy special straight to Netflix. The Week Of, the directorial debut of his longtime screenwriting partner Robert Smigell, is the closest Sandler has come to Cassavetes, a mumblecore dramedy about two families brought together under one overcrowded Long Island roof by the wedding of Sandler’s daughter and Chris Rock’s son. It’s not just about the marriage of individuals, but how family units marry each other—intermingling, mixing, and blending—a subject of earlier films like Jack and Jill and Blended.
Adam Sandler: 100% Fresh is the summation of a nationwide stand-up comedy tour, teleporting us seamlessly from small, brick-walled clubs to oversized stadiums with single cuts. His songs are the funniest they’ve been in years, and his emotionally overwhelming tribute to Chris Farley is one of the best things he’s ever done. And if you need a more respectable artist to co-sign Sandler: some of it was even filmed by Paul Thomas Anderson! Both on Netflix now, because Sandler is for the people. — Nathan Smith
Alex Strangelove (2018) by Craig Johnson // Candy Jar (2018) by Ben Shelton
Alex Strangelove, in simple terms, is a movie about coming out the closet. It’s about the agonizing and frustrating process of realizing that you are queer and being forced to figure out what you’re gonna do with your life now. The questions in your head about how you’re gonna tell people, the possible bouts of self loathing coming from not being a heterosexual or cisgendered person, all the paranoid thoughts and heart wrenching scenarios hit you like a brick. This film takes a genuine and at times, devastating look at what it’s like to both claim your identity and also lose someone that means the world to you, not out of hatred, but because you can’t be the person you thought you were. In an essence, it’s about the teenage experience, about having to let people go because you have changed since the time they fell in love with you, framed through an unapologetically queer lens. It’s funny in the way that most teen comedies of its ilk are, it has sharp writing and the occasional hysterical scenario along the way but the humor only adds to the feeling of sadness in your chest as two people have to let each other ago.
The lead actors, Daniel Doheny and particularly Madeline Weinstein, give incredible performances, convincing you of their deep connection before wrestling with the drastic changes to their relationship. It’s intimate and touching how much they love each other and how much they always will, and is the rare queer movie with a straight POV that doesn’t come off as exploitative or unnecessary. Eventually, hope and joy flow through you as you get to see a queer man with all the love in his heart live his life for who he is, with the support of those he thought he’d lose forever. Your tears turn from being caused by emotional annihilation to overwhelming bliss before the credits start and long after they’re over. There are legitimate faults to it but it’d be hard to find a movie with more love in its heart than this one from 2018.
Netflix’s promotion of heterosexual romantic comedies in 2018 helped them find a distinctive way to brand their original movies, a phenomenal selling point for teenagers and young adults typically to embrace and tweet about their content. Films like To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, Set It Up, The Kissing Booth and Sierra Burgess is a Loser all got significant traction on platforms like Twitter and left a concrete cultural impact for the generations they were aiming for. Candy Jar, despite being of the same genre and released on the same platform, did not get similar promotion and has largely been ignored despite being arguably the best of the lot. The structure of its enemies to lovers plot is far from original but the way in which its handled makes it feel like a perfect blend of contemporary and classical romantic tropes, especially given the chemistry of the two leads. Jacob Latimore in particular, once again proves himself as one of the best young actors working (he also gave a stellar performance in 2017’s underrated Sleight) and creates a sense of character and individuality not often found in this genre. It also understands the awkwardness of first love and the total denial that people force themselves into when faced with romantic feelings they don’t desire to have. The more comical sequences, particularly with the protagonists’ mothers, are hysterical in their staging and constant escalation of ludicrous tension. The dialogue flows naturally and feels genuine, the romance is well done and avoids most of the contrived saccharine pitfalls that the genre can fall into, and mainly at the end of it all, you’ll have a big smile on your face and want to talk to the person that you love.
A movie that you can watch on a date night and laugh with your partner about how stupid the process of falling for each other was, or a movie you can watch alone and think about how lovely that would be to have with someone. Just exceptionally cute. — Logan Kenny
Green Book (2018) by Peter Farrelly // Gotti (2018) by Kevin Connelly
What does a lousy fluff piece for John Gotti and well-intentioned but factually dubious Oscar bait have in common? The two are bound together, of course, by their portraits of Gabagool Excellence. In Gotti, Travolta boldly declares New York to be "the greatest fucking city in the world" within the first thirty seconds before original music from Mr. Worldwide himself plays over mundane news footage of Gotti getting out of limos and walking into courthouses. Directed by Kevin Connolly of TV's Entourage and shot in the Queen City of yours truly, the film continues down this monotonous path of Gotti doing boring shit and telling us how awesome it is. But it's the strangely committed Travolta, like Twitter's NYC Guido Voice made sentient, who delivers lines like "he didn't even have hair on his prick" upon the sudden passing of his son that elevate this boondoggle to potential cult status.
Peter Farrelly's debut, on the other hand, is at least handsomely filmed and carries with it a patina of respectability. As a "white guy dismantles racism" movie, you could do much worse. (Though Don Shirley's family, who claims most of the onscreen friendship depicted in Green Book was fabricated, deserves much better.) You know what's going to happen. You know all the beats. But what you don't know is that Viggo Mortensen is going to fold an entire pizza in half and eat it like a sandwich while sitting up in a cheap motel bed. There's a certain je ne sais quoito Mortensen's outsized turn that pushes it beyond your typical Italian caricature so that a line like "This place looks like my ass!" scans almost as a non-sequitur. — Jordan Smith
The Death of Stalin (2018) by Armando Iannucci
I am far from the first to point out that The Death of Stalin is both uproariously funny and abjectly horrifying. One of the things that works so well about The Death of Stalin is that the laughter it elicits (or doesn’t) is not merely incidental to the film’s larger themes but foundational to the movie’s political posture. Our laughter at the floridly profane Soviet politicians as they cravenly scramble for power in the wake of the titular autocrat’s demise coexists with that deep pit in our gut at having seen desperate people dragged off to prison or to a gulag or just flat-out shot. The juxtaposition of the decorous ceremonial pomp that is the film’s political stage--comedy in the classical sense, culminating in marriage and unity, at least metaphorically--with the chaotic and capricious tragedy as the Soviet Union cannibalizes itself is profoundly dissonant. And as the disconnect between the comedic elation of the foreground text and the horrific suffering in the background grows into a yawning chasm that envelopes the whole film, there is no choice but to consider the comedy and the violence as one and the same. The magic of modern politics is its ability to make the violence of the state appear somehow separate from the state itself.
The Death of Stalin’s insistence on putting its comedy and violence into the same political scene allows no such sleight of hand, and its casting of British and American actors, performing in their native dialects, as the Soviet leads refuses us viewers any of the distance that sweetens cinema set in a bygone era in a faraway country. “Then” and “Now,” “There” and “Here”--these are illusions. To say this comedy has teeth is the understatement of the year. — Michael O’Malley
Set It Up (2018) by Claire Scanlon
It has been mentioned in many of the above posts, but Netflix seemingly took it upon themselves to revitalize the not dead, but fledgling, genre of romantic comedies, offering a number of diverse options that hearkened back to some classic favorites, mixed up the formula with a focus on diverse casting or played to the younger audience on the site and gave them their own go-to rom-coms as people got in the 1980s and 1990s.
Set It Up probably falls in the first category, with a hint of the third, as the charming romance feels pulled from the lost files of Nora Ephron with a more modern understanding.
Romantic comedies can be easy to produce, but it is difficult to produce them right. As I remarked with acting in my write-up on Game Night, the rom-com needs two leading characters that work effortlessly, feeling almost like you’ve met them before while still being introduced at the same time. Luckily, both Zoey Deutsch and Glen Powell succeed at this and effortlessly swoon us through these 90-plus minutes.
If the romantic comedy is going to be revitalized by Netflix, it is nice to see it giving chances on a variety of offerings rather than hashing the same old formula again and again. Maybe I’m being contradictory by saying that, since I just said it feels like something done before but in a new dress, but that’s the nature of stories and Set It Up feels fresh thanks to its lead performances and an old school charm that feels like Ephron but could reach as far back as Lubitsch or Capra as well. — Zach Dennis