The best comedy movies on Amazon Prime

The best comedy movies on Amazon Prime

Clockwise from top left: Jeff, Who Lives At Home (Screenshot); The Farewell (Photo: A24); igby Goes Down (Screenshot); Election (Screenshot); Young Adult (Screenshot); Friends With Kids (Screenshot); Ghost World (Screenshot)
Clockwise from top left: Jeff, Who Lives At Home (Screenshot); The Farewell (Photo: A24); igby Goes Down (Screenshot); Election (Screenshot); Young Adult (Screenshot); Friends With Kids (Screenshot); Ghost World (Screenshot)
Graphic: The A.V. Club

Streaming libraries expand and contract. Algorithms are imperfect. Those damn thumbnail images are always changing. But you know what you can always rely on? The expert opinions and knowledgeable commentary of The A.V. Club. That’s why we’re scouring both the menus of the most popular services and our own archives to bring you these guides to the best viewing options, broken down by streamer, medium, and genre. Want to know why we’re so keen on a particular movie? Click the author’s name at the end of each passage for more in-depth analysis from The A.V. Club’s past. And be sure to check back often, because we’ll be adding more recommendations as films come and go.

Some titles on this list also appear on our best movies on Amazon Prime list, but we decided comedy films deserved their own spotlight since they are often not included on our year-end lists as much as other genres. The criteria for inclusion here is that (1) the film is classified by Amazon Prime as a comedy (so don’t shoot the messenger if you think something is misgenred here), (2) The A.V. Club has written critically about the movie; and (3) if it was a graded review, it received at least a “B.” Some newer (and much older) movies will be added over time as Amazon Prime announces new additions to their library.

Looking for other movies to stream? Also check out our list of the best movies on Netflix, best movies on Disney+, and best movies on Hulu. And if you’re looking for a scare, check out our list of the best horror movies on Amazon Prime.

This list was most recently updated on March 2, 2021. 

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2 / 61

2 Days In Paris

2 Days In Paris

2 Days In Paris
2 Days In Paris
Screenshot:

On paper, Julie Delpy’s 2 Days In Paris might well read like a light French farce, full of wacky characters and playful relationship banter that only turns serious toward the end of the film. The reality is much more raw. Playing a thirtysomething couple making a brief stopover in Paris after a vacation to Italy, Delpy (Before Sunrise) and co-star Adam Goldberg snipe at each other with casual venom, refusing to acknowledge or accede to each other’s calls for comfort or reassurance. When he says she’s special, she shoots back “Like in the retarded way, which is why I’m going out with you.” When she gives him more information than he wants about something, he says “It’s like dating public television.” They both seem a little neurotic and a little self-centered, but mostly, after two years together, they’ve apparently run out of reasons to be kind. And while their give-and-take is almost playful, both actors put an uncomfortable edge on it, fit to keep viewers squirming with alternate waves of sympathy and disgust. [Tasha Robinson]

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3 / 61

48 Hrs.

48 Hrs.

Eddie Murphy
Eddie Murphy
Screenshot: 48 Hrs.

Because 48 Hrs. was directed by economical genre specialist Walter Hill, it moves relentlessly, with scarcely a wasted scene or shot in its 96 minutes. And because it’s an early example of the buddy-cop movie, it features multiple scenes and elements that later became cliché, as when Nick Nolte’s shouty African-American boss tells him he needs to be “more of a team player and less of a hot dog.” It would be a solid actioner even without Eddie Murphy, anchored by the almost-as-colorful Nolte, whose character is so disheveled and abrasive that he’s constantly threatened with arrest by cops who don’t realize he’s one of them. As Nolte baits Murphy with racially charged insults (some overt, some subtle), 48 Hrs. plays with the question of which of these two men has the power in their relationship: the washed-up authority figure, or the smooth-talking law-breaker? But as good as Nolte is in this movie, there’s really no contest. As soon as Murphy steps out of his cell, it’s clear he’s planning to stick around. [Noel Murray]

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4 / 61

50/50

50/50

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen
Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen
Screenshot: 50/50

“Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion,” Dolly Parton’s character says in Steel Magnolias. Surely she would have loved 50/50, a film about cancer that aims for that sweet spot. At age 27, screenwriter Will Reiser contracted a nasty, multisyllabic form of cancer on his back, and with this film, he tells a personal story that looks a lot like a movie. Turning an agonizing experience into a viable Hollywood entertainment involves a little contortion, and at times, 50/50 seems too buffed-out and commercially minded to read as real. But it achieves the laughter-through-tears effect anyway, thanks to the lightness and wit of Reiser’s script; strong, committed performances; and some real insight into the difficulties of being supportive—or, on the other end accepting that support. Ideally cast as Reiser’s stand-in, Joseph Gordon-Levitt digs into a character role that also gives him a chance to show off the comedic chops he developed during his years on 3rd Rock From The Sun. After early scenes establish his character as neurotically health- and safety-conscious, dramatic irony comes a-callin’ when Gordon-Levitt starts experiencing acute back pain and his doctor says he has a rare, aggressive form of cancer. Before he can even process the news, he begins chemotherapy treatment at the hospital, and his friends and family struggle with the situation. His best friend (Seth Rogen) does his best to keep things light, but his mother (Anjelica Huston) smothers him with concern, and his girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard) doesn’t have the stomach for it. His young, inexperienced hospital therapist (Anna Kendrick) has trouble reaching him too, but they soon fall into a groove. [Scott Tobias]

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5 / 61

American Ultra

American Ultra

Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart
Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart
Screenshot: American Ultra

In American Ultra—a stoned, occasionally gruesome riff on The Bourne Identity, flavored with a touch of First Blood and Burn After Reading—a small-town pothead lives blissfully unaware of his past as a brainwashed super-soldier, programmed by the CIA to be able to kill anyone using anything. Then, an intra-agency power struggle results in a termination order, and within a few hours our hapless hero finds himself in the parking lot of the Cash-N-Carry, having just killed two black-ops gunmen using nothing more than a dull spoon and a cup of ramen noodles, with no understanding of how he did it or why. Operating within the logic of severely stoned paranoia, he concludes that he must be a robot. American Ultra is one of those geeky genre mishmashes that’s very clever about being dumb. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

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6 / 61

Annie Hall

Annie Hall

Diane Keaton and Woody Allen
Diane Keaton and Woody Allen
Screenshot: Annie Hall

Few films on this list have had as massive an impact on the modern romantic comedy as Annie Hall. Woody Allen’s mid-’70s masterpiece set the template for contemporary rom-coms with a staggering degree of new twists on old formulas. From the fourth-wall-breaking tactics of Allen’s nebbish protagonist to the master class in editing, the movie serves as the crowning jewel on his decade as America’s foremost cinematic humorist, and captures essential truths about urban romance at the same time. [Alex McCown]

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7 / 61

Back To The Future

Back To The Future

Christopher Lloyd and Michael J. Fox
Christopher Lloyd and Michael J. Fox
Screenshot: Back To The Future

It’s hard to imagine anyone being more perfect for the Marty McFly role than Michael J. Fox. In Back To The Future, Fox is small and squinty and breezily charismatic. Fox was 24 when he shot the film, but he was so good at stammering disbelief that he easily passes as a high schooler. On top of that, Fox was already famous for playing Alex P. Keaton, a sort of avatar of Reagan youth. The central conceit of Family Ties was that the aging-hippie parents can’t understand how their son has become a square and uptight young Republican. In the ’80s, a big part of the Republican sales pitch was a return to ’50s values. Marty McFly and Alex P. Keaton are two very different characters, but there’s still something primally satisfying about seeing this kid go back to the ’50s and learn that ’50s values are not what he thought. [Tom Breihan]

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8 / 61

Back To The Future Part II

Back To The Future Part II

Michael J. Fox
Michael J. Fox
Screenshot: Back To The Future Part II

Arriving four years after the original, Back To The Future Part II faced the difficult task of following one of the most beloved movies of the ’80s. And it’s successful, partly because it shifts focus. Whereas the original Back To The Future was, at its heart, a personal story about a kid learning to understand his parents, Part II is a straightforward time-travel adventure. Its shifting time-space continuum sends Doc Brown and Marty McFly to the future, then back to an alternate 1985, then back to the 1955 of the first film, with a trip to the Old West waiting in the wings. [Kyle Ryan]

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9 / 61

The Band’s Visit

The Band’s Visit

The Band’s Visit
The Band’s Visit
Screenshot:

Eran Kolirin’s debut feature, The Band’s Visit, tells the story of an Egyptian police band that’s invited to perform at an Arab cultural center in Israel, but arrives to find no welcoming committee, and—at first—no help from the locals. Through a series of wrong turns, they end up in a small town, where the troupe’s leader, Sasson Gabai, meets friendly café owner Ronit Elkabetz, who offers to put them up for the night. Over the course of the evening, the Israelis and the Egyptians feel each other out, bonding over some topics while still repeatedly hitting a wall of mutual distrust. Kolirin is particularly interested in the interaction between Elakbetz and Gabai–the former thinks of herself as a free spirit, and would love to blow her neighbors’ minds by befriending an Arab, while the latter is the kind of prim man who can’t help but be shocked by his hostesses’ bare feet and painted toenails, even though he’s too polite to say anything about them. [Noel Murray]

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10 / 61

Big Fan

Big Fan

Patto Oswalt
Patto Oswalt
Screenshot: Big Fan

Siegel’s directorial debut, Big Fan, follows the world’s biggest Giants fan—played by Patton Oswalt—as he has an unpleasant encounter with his favorite player, and subsequently contemplates a conversion. (The character’s name, appropriately enough, is “Paul.”) Oswalt also wrestles with a potential sacrifice, suffers physical pain for the sake of his team, and even briefly changes his name. It’s hard to say whether Siegel intentionally laced Big Fan with Christian themes, or he’s just drawing on the common well of spiritual-crisis stories. Either way, Big Fan is clearly a movie of ambition, and not just a melancholy comedy about a football-loving schmuck who gets his ass kicked by everyone he loves. [Noel Murray]

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11 / 61

The Big Sick

The Big Sick

Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon
Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon
Photo: Amazon/Lionsgate

Interesting anecdotes don’t always make for interesting movies; your story may kill at parties, but that doesn’t mean it belongs on the big screen. In The Big Sick, stand-up comedian Kumail Nanjiani, who plays Dinesh on Silicon Valley, and Emily V. Gordon, the writer and former therapist he married, dramatize the rocky first year of their relationship, with Nanjiani starring as a lightly fictionalized version of himself. That may sound, in general synopsis, like a story better told over dinner and drinks; besides friends, family, and fans of the podcast the two co-host, who was clamoring for a feature-length glimpse into the couple’s courtship? But there was more than the usual dating-scene obstacles threatening their future together. Collaborating on the screenplay for The Big Sick, Nanjiani and Gordon have made a perceptive, winning romantic comedy from those obstacles, including the unforeseen emergency that provides the film its title. [A.A. Dowd]

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12 / 61

The Cabin In The Woods

The Cabin In The Woods

The Cabin In The Woods
The Cabin In The Woods
Screenshot:

Where Scream put a postmodern twist on slasher films, The Cabin In The Woods takes on the whole genre and twists even harder. Director Drew Goddard, screenwriter of Cloverfield and a veteran of Lost and Alias, co-wrote the film’s script with Joss Whedon, who worked with him on Whedon’s Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel. The script brings to the fore Whedon’s love of subverting clichés while embracing them and teasing out their deeper meaning. [Keith Phipps]

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13 / 61

Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs

Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs

Illustration for article titled The best comedy movies on Amazon Prime
Image: Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs

Freely adapted from the 1978 children’s book by Judi and Ron Barrett, the new animated movie Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs feels like a warning from another era, a parable about the perils of living amid abundance. But Cloudy—co-directed and co-scripted by first-time feature-makers Phil Lord and Chris Miller—doesn’t get too bogged down with moralizing. It flits swiftly between easy-but-funny sight gags involving gin food, send-ups of disaster-film clichés, and endearing characters brought vividly to life by a pleasing visual style, plus funny vocal performances from Bill Hader, Anna Faris, Bruce Campbell, and Mr. T. Hader plays a hapless geek with a lifelong gift for building inventions that almost work. His luck changes—and with it, the luck of his island town, whose sardine-based economy has been hit hard by the revelation that, as one headline puts it, “Sardines Are Super Gross”—when he unveils a machine that makes the sky rain whatever food he chooses. But the tremendous gift works largely to make his fellow citizens lazy, and it leaves Hader no happier than before, even with the arrival of a pretty weather reporter (Faris) who shares some of his nerdy obsessions. [Keith Phipps]

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14 / 61

Clue

Clue

Lesley Ann Warren
Lesley Ann Warren
Screenshot: Clue

How do you come back from the phrase “Based on the Parker Brothers game”? Clue smartly incorporates elements of the game into a farcical structure that can sustain them and give the whole enterprise surprising legitimacy. It’s true that many of the comic situations, like the one above, are boilerplate, but even those who find Clue manic and unfunny have to admit that it’s a real effort, far more sophisticated in its design than its silly source might have suggested—or deserved. Director Jonathan Lynn and his co-writer John Landis are playful with the board-game references—divvying up the weapons like Christmas presents is cheerfully ridiculous, and giant envelopes play a prominent role—but they’re film historians first and foremost, and they use this opportunity to pay grand homage to genres that haven’t been in fashion for decades, if they ever were. [Scott Tobias]

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15 / 61

Coming To America

Coming To America

Eddie Murphy in Coming To America
Eddie Murphy in Coming To America
Image: Buyenlarge (Getty Images)

Coming To America is disarmingly sweet fish-out-of-water comedy in which Murphy’s good-natured African prince toils as a janitor at a fast-food restaurant in Queens while wooing the pretty daughter of owner John Amos. Eddie Murphy and sidekick Arsenio Hall—whose scene-stealing performance here seemed to promise a dazzling film career that never materialized—famously donned Rick Baker’s makeup to play multiple characters, but unlike in Norbit, the effect is sweet and affectionate rather than grotesque and scatological. Murphy would soon exhaust the comic possibilities inherent in donning layers of latex to become a one-man lowbrow vaudeville extravaganza, but his shtick still felt fresh here, probably because there’s an awful lot of heart hiding under all the prosthetics. [Nathan Rabin]

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16 / 61

Dazed And Confused

Dazed And Confused

Matthew McConaughey
Matthew McConaughey
Screenshot: Dazed And Confused

On the surface, Richard Linklater’s day-in-the-life comedy Dazed And Confused seems nostalgic for late adolescence, when young people are still technically kids, but old enough to begin to experience some of the freedoms of adulthood. Set over the course of the afternoon and night of the last day of school in 1976, the film follows a few groups of friends as the joy of that first taste of summer gives way to conflict and a more nebulous existential concern. For all the scenes of kids drinking, getting high, and partying, Dazed And Confused is hardly a nostalgic look back at the good ol’ days—despite what the trailer below seems to promise. As Randall “Pink” Floyd (Jason London) says toward the end of the film, “All I’m saying is that if I ever start referring to these as the best years of my life, remind me to kill myself.” [Kyle Ryan]

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17 / 61

The Dictator

The Dictator

Sasha Baron Cohen
Sasha Baron Cohen
Photo: Four By Two Films

The Dictator keeps the gags coming as fast as it can manage, sometimes in big gross-out setpieces like an impromptu baby delivery, but more often in the general fusillade of hit-or-miss jokes that hit at a better-than-average rate. While Admiral General Aladeen certainly has a place in Baron Cohen’s gallery of human cartoons, the key point about The Dictator is that it’s a departure from his previous films and not another trip to the well. His needling instincts to shock and provoke are still present—and still merrily juvenile—but the film is both more conventional than Borat and Brüno and a more accommodating vehicle for different types of comedy. In reaching back to the past, Baron Cohen finds a viable way forward. [Scott Tobias]

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18 / 61

Dr. Strangelove, Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb

Dr. Strangelove, Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb

Peter Sellers
Peter Sellers
Screenshot: Dr. Strangelove, Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb

For those who know Dr. Strangelove well, here’s a fun experiment: Watch it with the sound off, imagining that you’ve never seen it before, and try to determine at which point you’d realize that you’re supposed to be laughing. Stanley Kubrick, collaborating on the script with Terry Southern and Peter George, deliberately warped George’s novel Red Alert (originally titled Two Hours To Doom), turning what had been a deadly serious thriller into a black comedy. Equally inspired was Kubrick’s decision to fashion the movie’s visual scheme as if nothing had been changed at all. Apart from some mugging by George C. Scott (who was famously tricked into giving a much broader performance than he wanted to) and a few especially goofy moments in the last few minutes, Dr. Strangelove looks for all the world as if it’s telling the same sober cautionary tale as does Fail-Safe, the remarkably similar movie that was released just eight months later. Only the dialogue and some new, silly character names openly express the absurdity that Kubrick and company find in the doctrine of mutually assured destruction. [Mike D’Angelo]

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19 / 61

Due Date

Due Date

Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis
Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis
Screenshot: Due Date

This rambling cross-country journey makes a lot of familiar buddy-movie stops along the way, but seldom suffers for it. Directing with more focus— and eventually, more heart—than he brought to The Hangover, Todd Phillips smartly lets his leads’ chemistry power the movie. First seen wearing a Bluetooth headset to bed, Robert Downey Jr.’s character might have been a cliché of uptightdom in other hands, but Downey makes him a volatile bundle of anger and familial concern kept from exploding only by his desire to see the birth of his child. Zach Galifianakis, on the other hand, keeps his character interesting by refusing to define what type of weirdo he’s playing. His mere appearance is a contradiction: A burly man with an effete sashay and soulful (though glassy) eyes, his character lives on the tissue-thin line dividing helpless naïveté from the disarming confidence of someone who decided he was fine being a misfit long ago. The situations sometimes feel contrived, but the characters never do, particularly because Galifianakis remains simultaneously charming and unrelentingly irritating. It’s easy to believe Downey would come to feel for the guy, equally easy to understand why he’d want to throttle him with Galifianakis’ ever-present scarf. And the film benefits—both comically and emotionally—from leaving both possibilities look equally likely almost to the end. [Keith Phipps]

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20 / 61

Eighth Grade

Eighth Grade

Elsie Fisher
Elsie Fisher
Photo: A24

Middle school is a nightmare. It’s like prison with homework, or a pitiless social experiment. For three very long years, half-adults with raging hormones and underdeveloped empathy glands prey on their peers, pouncing on any weakness, securing through cruelty their own place in the Darwinian pecking order. You don’t graduate from middle school. You survive it, if you can. Eighth Grade, the directorial debut of comedian Bo Burnham, has been made with a bone-deep and clear-eyed understanding of this unfortunate chapter of adolescence, and just how hard it can be for all but the most adaptive and impossibly popular. But the commiserative insight comes with an accompanying gust of warmth. What makes this coming-of-age film special is that it’s at once harsh and humanist: a perceptive, realistic comedy about tweenage life that’s also rich in compassion, that scarcest of junior-high commodities. [A.A. Dowd]

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21 / 61

Election

Election

Reese Witherspoon and Matthew Brodrick
Reese Witherspoon and Matthew Brodrick
Screenshot: Election

Alexander Payne’s Election centers on a divisive student-council race between three students, meant in the original Tom Perrotta novel as a sort-of echo of the 1992 presidential race, particularly the rise and fall of that year’s third-party candidate Ross Perot. But the film doesn’t really boil down to the competition that pits striver Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon) against popular doofus Paul Metzler (Chris Klein) and his wild-card sister Tammy (Jessica Campbell); from the beginning, it’s a face-off between Tracy and her teacher Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick). The conflict starts off passive-aggressive, with Broderick’s student government advisor “Mr. M” claiming genial, student-friendly impartiality (as well as expertise in both “morals” and “ethics,” neither of which ever quite get defined in the film). But his problems with Tracy are evident from their first classroom scene, where McAllister leads his morals-versus-ethics discussion and quietly looks around for any student to call on but Tracy, whose focused, goal-oriented insistence gets under his skin. The hostility simmering underneath their early interactions comes to a boil in a terrific scene where McAllister accuses Tracy of destroying opposing campaign signs and she fires back without blinking. But this isn’t a movie of dramatic confrontations. Ambition squares off against corrupt would-be decency, and life goes on. So many movies about high school pit groups against other groups: jocks against nerds, mean girls against the unpopular, students against unfeeling teachers. In Election, the showdown between McAllister and Flick resonates because both characters feel so utterly alone—before and after. [Jesse Hassenger]

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22 / 61

Extract

Extract

J.K. Simmons and Jason Bateman
J.K. Simmons and Jason Bateman
Screenshot: Extract

As with Ron Livingston in Office Space and Luke Wilson in Idiocracy, director Mike Judge centers the film around a put-upon everyman, played here by Jason Bateman, who watches his small universe collapse at his feet. Though his extract business is successful enough to win him a nice house and a pending takeover offer from General Mills, he’s having problems on two separate fronts. His sexual frustration at home leads him to make the drastic decision—encouraged by his dimwitted bartender (Ben Affleck, in top form)—to hire a gigolo to seduce his wife (Kristen Wiig) so he won’t feel guilty about cheating on her. Bateman is unaware, however, that the object of his desire, a fetching new temp played by Mila Kunis, is actually a con artist using her feminine charms to sabotage his business. [Scott Tobias]

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23 / 61

The Farewell

The Farewell

The Farewell
The Farewell
Photo: A24

If you’ve heard anything about The Farewell other than it stars rapper-turned-actress Awkwafina, maybe it’s the tagline: “Based on a true lie.” The lie in question isn’t a treacherous one, but it is illegal—at least in the States, where it’s expected that if you’re diagnosed with a terminal illness, well, you’ll be hearing about it. But in China, some follow a different protocol, perhaps a more merciful one, in which families carry the emotional burden by simply not telling a dying loved one that they’re dying. It’s an unbelievable practice from a Western point of view, but things aren’t as clear-cut when you’re standing with one foot in your native culture and the other in an adopted one. Lulu Wang’s sophomore feature captures this tension with tenderness and despair, revisiting the inter-generational family drama—the kind a pre-Hollywood Ang Lee specialized in—through the lens of first generation Chinese-Americans. [Beatrice Loayza]

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24 / 61

Fort Tilden

Fort Tilden

Clare McNulty and Bridey Elliott
Clare McNulty and Bridey Elliott
Screenshot: Fort Tilden

“It’s authentically distressed,” says Allie (Clare McNulty) of the barrel she and her friend Harper (Bridey Elliott) find lying in the sand near the end of Fort Tilden. Like so many lines in Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers’ caustic comedy, it’s a sharply double-edged observation. Not only is the chipped wooden container in question more genuinely weathered than the one the women had already purchased as a conversation piece before beginning their trip to the beach, but Allie’s observation also stands as a piece of inadvertently pointed self-analysis. Harper and Allie are indeed damsels in distress, and not just because they can’t efficiently navigate the way from a Brooklyn loft to the Rockaways (a disastrous, distended day trip to hook up with some boys, which makes up the film’s entire plot). They’ve been shaped by a parentally subsidized lifestyle that permits neo-bohemian arrogance without the threat of actual starving-artist poverty; their family ties simultaneously insulate them from harm while rendering them defenseless against the smallest challenges to their egos and routines. Far from the exercise in vicarious hipster-voodoo-doll skewering its basic setup suggests, Fort Tilden is at once less sentimental and more incisive about privilege and its discontents than the recent films of Noah Baumbach. It’s also funnier. [Adam Nayman]

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25 / 61

Friends With Kids

Friends With Kids

Illustration for article titled The best comedy movies on Amazon Prime
Screenshot: Friends With Kids

While it’s true that most romantic comedies merely make minor tweaks to a rusted-out formula, it’s also true that many critics approach rom-coms with a sense of eye-rolling obligation, while solidly unspectacular movies like Lockout get praised to the skies. There’s formula in Jennifer Westfeldt’s directorial debut, but feeling as well. And anyone who thinks it’s far-fetched to see two friends of opposite gender agreeing to raise a child while they continue to date other people hasn’t touched base with single urbanites in their late 30s recently. (It’s absurd, but only by about 10 percent.) If nothing else, the film deserves endless praise for its bombshell kicker, a final line that blasts through the coy innuendo at the heart of most screen romances. [Sam Adams]

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26 / 61

The Full Monty

The Full Monty

Mark Addy
Mark Addy
Screenshot: The Full Monty

Robert Carlyle (Trainspotting) stars as a laid-off Sheffield steelworker who devises an unusual scheme to better himself in this boisterous new comedy. Inspired by the popularity of a Chippendales appearance, Carlyle begins recruiting other unemployed men to form their own stripshow. That none of them, for various reasons, are really qualified to be taking off their clothes in public is the source for much of The Full Monty’s humor—most often in the form of some very funny physical gags—but the film has much more going for it than that one obvious joke would suggest. The Full Monty takes a harsh look at the state of post-Thatcher labor in Britain, portraying some of the humiliation involved with life on the dole. Carlyle’s attempts to win the respect of his young son, and some of the other men’s insecurity with their bodies—a rarely touched topic—are treated sensitively and incorporated seamlessly into the story. [Keith Phipps]

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27 / 61

Ghost Town

Ghost Town

Ricky Gervais and Greg Kinnear
Ricky Gervais and Greg Kinnear
Screenshot: Ghost Town

It takes an awful lot of effort for a contemporary comedy to win an audience back after opening with yet another “Holy crap, that guy just got hit by a bus!” scene, but Ghost Town perseveres, and eventually emerges as a likeable time-waster, albeit more sweet than funny. The bus-victim in Ghost Town’s opening scene is Greg Kinnear, a stock “asshole New York businessman” who’s working on buying a love-nest for his mistress when the city’s mass-transit system gets the better of him. Now reduced to quietly haunting ex-wife Téa Leoni, Kinnear sees a ray of hope when he meets a living man who can talk to the dead, and potentially help Kinnear sort out his unfinished business on earth. The problem? The ghost-talker is irascible dentist Ricky Gervais, who wants nothing to do with the legion of spirits who’ve been hassling him ever since a near-death experience gave him the gift. [Noel Murray]

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28 / 61

Ghost World

Ghost World

Thora Birch
Thora Birch
Screenshot: Ghost World

The overwhelming majority of films based on comic books strain to imitate their sources’ flashy graphic elements, usually resulting in a busy mishmash of garish colors, swirling camera movements, grotesque characterization, and excessive special effects. Granted, Daniel Clowes’ celebrated graphic novel Ghost World isn’t that kind of comic. But director Terry Zwigoff’s inspired and achingly funny adaptation aims for something considerably trickier: matching the panel-by-panel rhythms of a universe that’s built on the patient accumulation of self-contained, vividly rendered episodes. Like few films since Zwigoff’s superb 1995 documentary Crumb, Ghost World sees an underlying poignancy in the lives of outcasts who combat their misery through withering sarcasm and creative misanthropy. [Scott Tobias]

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29 / 61

Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle

Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle

John Cho and Kal Penn go to White Castle
John Cho and Kal Penn go to White Castle
Screenshot: Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle

While Cheech and Chong’s career is the exception that proves the rule, there was a time when Caucasians possessed an apparent monopoly on lead roles in dopey, lowbrow stoner comedies and raunchy teen-targeted fare. Happily, cinema and society have advanced to such a degree that now Asians, blacks, gays, and other minorities all have inept teen- and young-adult-oriented comedies to call their own. The wildly uneven but intermittently funny new feature-length fast-food commercial Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle fits squarely into this brave new paradigm. It boldly subverts stereotypes and challenges conventional wisdom by presenting affable Korean and Indian antiheroes who are just as sex-crazed, irresponsible, mischief-prone, and chemically altered as their white counterparts. Danny Leiner’s theatrical follow-up to 2000's Dude, Where’s My Car?, which has enjoyed a surprising second life as a national punchline, Harold & Kumar stars John Cho and Kal Penn as twentysomethings with just two things on their minds: getting baked and grabbing White Castle food. [Nathan Rabin]

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Heathers

Heathers

The Heathers (and a Veronica)
The Heathers (and a Veronica)
Screenshot: Heathers

Heathers isn’t a perfect movie by any stretch: The heavily worked-over ending feels frantic and rushed, not the exclamation point it needed to be, and the dialogue occasionally crosses the line between clever and overly pleased with itself. (Call it “The Diablo Cody Threshold.”) Yet coming at the end of the ’80s, Heathers still stands out for questioning the prevailing stereotypes of teen movies rather than accepting them as a given. Two decades later, the Hughes model of teen comedy/dramas is still pervasive, but the goings-on at Westerburg High have only gained in potency, perhaps because so few movies have had the courage (or the approval) to follow Heathers’ lead. “It’s not very subtle,” as J.D. says, “but neither is blowing up a whole school.” [Scott Tobias]

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Hot Rod

Hot Rod

Andy Samberg
Andy Samberg
Screenshot: Hot Rod

With “Lazy Sunday” and the digital shorts that followed, comedy troupe The Lonely IslandAndy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, and Jorma Taccone—circumvented SNL’s process, brought some flexibility into an ancient format, and ushered the show kicking and screaming into the viral age. And though few at the time were hailing Hot Rod for its innovation, the film works hard to wriggle out of tired old formulas. Or if it must adhere to formula, at least the Lonely Islanders are going to make the audience aware of it and clown around as much as possible. Consider the oddest scene from Hot Rod. Aspiring stuntman Rod Kimble (Samberg) pays a visit his half-brother Kevin (Taccone) to mend fences after Kevin’s movie, intended to promote Rod’s awesome achievements, premières to mass ridicule. Rod apologizes for his public outburst; Kevin expresses sympathy for a devastating revelation about Rod’s father. “Cool beans?,” Kevin asks. “Cool beans,” Rod confirms. In A Night At The Roxbury, this is where the scene would end: Obligatory reconciliation, done as quickly and painlessly as possible. In Hot Rod, it keeps going, first with the phrase ping-ponging back and forth between Samberg and Taccone, and then with a full-on rap breakdown with piped-in beats and stuttering frames. Now, this boring apology scene has ticked out the half-brother reconciliation box while transforming into a left-field comic setpiece. It’s just one of many moments when this restless, inspired, and only occasionally slapdash comedy refuses to play by the rules. [Scott Tobias]

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Igby Goes Down

Igby Goes Down

Kiernan Culkin
Kiernan Culkin
Screenshot: Igby Goes Down

Cast adrift in the loftiest realms of Manhattan, the disaffected young hero in writer-director Burr Steers’ auspicious black comedy Igby Goes Down is like a Larry Clark baby with breeding and a budget, free to test his limits without having to worry much about the consequences. From the opening scene, when Kieran Culkin and his older brother circle like vultures over their mother’s deathbed, Steers faces an uphill battle: Why should anyone care about a rich, sullen brat who spits the silver spoon out of his mouth? But once his novelistic script sets the film’s off-center, comically dysfunctional universe in motion, it stirs up great affection for a character whose very presence, by all accounts, invites more than his fair share of beatings. [Scott Tobias]

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The Interview

The Interview

Illustration for article titled The best comedy movies on Amazon Prime
Screenshot: The Interview

Because many of the best jokes in The Interview have nothing to do with North Korea, it’s worth recapping the ancillary mayhem that the Sony hackers would have suppressed. Franco stars as Dave Skylark, the foppish, airheaded host of a celebrity gossip program. He scores a coup when Eminem, on camera, makes an offhand announcement that he’s gay, prompting elation in the control room. Another of Dave’s scoops involves Rob Lowe’s coming-out as a secret bald person (“His head looks like somebody’s taint!” someone from the booth exclaims). But Dave’s producer, Aaron (Rogen), yearns for credibility. A larky call lands them an interview with Kim Jong-un (Veep’s Randall Park, a worthy foil to his better-known co-stars), supposedly a Skylark superfan. Soon, the CIA turns up with a request that the two assassinate him. Much of the film is devoted to the hit-and-miss (but strangely moving) riffing between the leading men. [Ben Kenigsberg]

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It’s A Disaster

It’s A Disaster

It’s A Disaster
It’s A Disaster
Screenshot: It’s A Disaster

An unusually eventful “couples brunch” among a neurotic group of bright, colorful friends is rudely interrupted by news of imminent apocalypse in It’s A Disaster, a droll social comedy about a party that takes a number of strange turns. It’s a smart, dark, tonally tricky affair about what happens when the bonds that hold civilization together come apart, whether through the impending divorce of a couple whose union helps keep a disparate group of friends together, or through some manner of dirty bomb or zombie attack. [Nathan Rabin]

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Jeff, Who Lives At Home

Jeff, Who Lives At Home

Jason Segel and Ed Helms
Jason Segel and Ed Helms
Screenshot: Jeff, Who Lives At Home

In Jeff, Who Lives At Home, Jason Segel plays a quintessential mumblecore fixture: the eternal adolescent whose life is locked in a holding pattern. Too old for a quarter-life crisis but not old enough for the mid-life variation, Segel lacks a rudder. But he does have a vague conception of destiny, which leads him in a series of surprising and then predictable directions. Segel begins the film with a wonderfully spacey monologue about M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs, then sets off into the world in search of symbols and codes. He’s a spiritual seeker with a mind clouded with cannabis, and an animal decency that makes it easy to root for him, no matter how misguided his actions. Life changes for Segel’s 30-year-old slacker when his mother (Susan Sarandon) sends him to the store for wood glue. Before Segel can get it, he catches Judy Greer, the wife of his estranged brother Ed Helms, with another man, and reconnects with Helms to conduct a half-assed surveillance on her. Sarandon, meanwhile, receives mysterious messages from a secret admirer at work and contemplates giving romance another go late in the game. [Nathan Rabin]

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Knives Out

Knives Out

Ana de Armas and Daniel Craig
Ana de Armas and Daniel Craig
Photo: Lionsgate

Rian Johnson’s witty and phenomenally entertaining whodunit may have been inspired by classic Agatha Christie adaptations, but its underlying story of fortune and upward mobility owes more to Charles Dickens (who had his own fondness for mystery plots). Explaining why, however, would involve spoiling some of the film’s crucial twists. After a famous mystery novelist dies of an apparent (but very suspicious) suicide on his 85th birthday, an anachronistic “gentleman sleuth” (Daniel Craig) arrives to investigate the family of the deceased—a rogues’ gallery of useless modern-day aristocrats that includes a trust-fund playboy, an “alt-right” shitposter, and a New Age lifestyle guru. Johnson, who made his name with geeky delights like Brick and Looper before hitting it big with Star Wars: The Last Jedi, finds ingenious solutions to the rules of the murder-mystery movie formula. But more impressively, he manages to stake out a moral position in a genre in which everyone is supposed to be a suspect. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

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The Little Hours

The Little Hours

The LIttle Hours
The LIttle Hours
Photo: Gunpoweder & Sky

One of the first things Aubrey Plaza says in The Little Hours is “Don’t fucking talk to us.” Anachronism, as it turns out, is the guiding force of this frequently funny, agreeably bawdy farce, which imagines what a convent of the grubby, violent, disease-infested Middle Ages might look and sound like if it were populated by characters straight out of a modern NBC sitcom. Plaza’s Fernanda, a caustic eye-rolling hipster nun born eons too early, sneaks out to get into mischief, using a perpetually escaping donkey as her excuse. Uptight wallflower Genevra (a priceless Kate Micucci) tattles relentlessly on the other women, reporting every transgression to Sister Marea (Molly Shannon, playing her dutiful piousness almost totally straight—she’s the only character here that could actually exist in the 1300s). And Alessandra (Alison Brie), the closest the convent has to a spoiled rich kid, daydreams about being whisked away and married, but that would depend on her father shelling out for a decent dowry. If the plague doesn’t kill them, the boredom will. When Plaza, Micucci, and Brie get smashed on stolen communion wine and perform a drunken sing-along of a wordless choral staple, like college girls sneaking booze past the RA and belting some radio anthem in their dorm, the true resonance of all this anachronism slips into focus: An itchy desire for a better life is something women of every century experience, regardless if their catalog of curses yet includes “fuck.” [A.A. Dowd]

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Logan Lucky

Logan Lucky

Logan Lucky
Logan Lucky
Photo: Fingerprint Releasing/Bleecker Street

As a heist picture, Logan Lucky knows just how often to alternate straight exposition with cagey withholding. The full robbery blueprint is revealed slowly—new details are still twisting the narrative even after the big heist day has passed, perfect for Steven Soderbergh’s control-freak tendencies (once again, he shoots and edits himself). The snappy script by unknown (and possibly pseudonymous) newcomer Rebecca Blunt offers some Coen brothers-like dialogue, which Soderbergh complements with his compositions. Sometimes he gets a laugh just by how he positions the actors in the frame, and there are multiple gags predicated on the timing of explosions. [Jesse Hassenger]

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The Longest Yard

The Longest Yard

Illustration for article titled The best comedy movies on Amazon Prime
Screenshot: The Longest Yard

The movie doesn’t waste a lot of time on setup: Director Robert Aldrich and screenwriters Albert S. Ruddy and Tracy Keenan Wynn introduce Burt Reynolds with a scene of him pushing a shrewish girlfriend around, followed by a car chase with the police, then a bar fight. Ten minutes into the story, Reynolds is in prison, and officious, American-flag-lapel-pin-sporting warden Eddie Albert is explaining the film’s premise. Albert runs a guard-staffed semi-pro football team, and wants Reynolds to coach and quarterback. Instead, Reynolds puts together a team of prisoners to give the guards a warm-up game, and through that team’s gradual assembly, the movie reveals Reynolds’ character, as well as his past as a former NFL MVP disgraced in a point-shaving scandal. Football aside, The Longest Yard draws mainly from Aldrich’s own The Dirty Dozen, plus existential prison pictures like Cool Hand Luke and I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang, where aloof anti-heroes gets punished beyond what their crimes demand. Reynolds takes on a game he can’t win (because the guards will make his stint miserable if he does), and can’t lose (because his fellow inmates will treat him even worse than the guards). The movie winds up being about small victories. Who can exploit whom, and who can inflict the most damage along the way? [Noel Murray]

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40 / 61

Love & Friendship

Love & Friendship

Love & Frienship
Love & Frienship
Screenshot:

Whit Stillman adapting Jane Austen feels at once apt and almost unnecessary. His previous films—obsessed as they are with manners, social status, and conversational diplomacy—come pretty close to fulfilling any need we might have for a modern-day Austen. Metropolitan’s characters even discuss Austen at length, arguing passionately about Mansfield Park’s virtuous heroine and her relevance to contemporary readers. Some cinephiles may still feel exhausted, too, by the deluge of Austen adaptations that hit TV and multiplexes during the mid-’90s: BBC’s six-part Pride And Prejudice, Ang Lee’s Sense And Sensibility, Roger Michell’s Persuasion, the Gwyneth Paltrow Emma. (These all aired or were theatrically released within a 16-month period, believe it or not.) Still, it’s not as if movies today offer such a surfeit of wit and sophistication that one as purely pleasurable as Stillman’s Love & Friendship can be dismissed. If nothing else, it gives Kate Beckinsale, who previously starred in Stillman’s The Last Days Of Disco, a lead role that isn’t a vampire, and doesn’t require her to battle werewolves while clad in black-rubber fetish gear. [Mike D’Angelo]

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The Love Witch

The Love Witch

The Love Witch
The Love Witch
Photo: Oscilloscope Labs

In a perfect world, Anna Biller would be swimming in the kind of grant money that Cindy Sherman was getting back in the ’90s. But this isn’t and she’s not, so we only get a Biller film every half decade or so. (It takes a long time to sew all the costumes and make all of the sets and write and direct and edit and produce a movie all on your own.) The level of control in Biller’s newest, The Love Witch, is remarkable; from the mannered performance of its lead actress to the rich interplay of colors in its mise en scène, The Love Witch is designed to evoke an extremely specific period in cinema history and to subtly undermine its ideology through that very faithfulness. Biller plays with the idea of the femme fatale by making her a fool for love and her victims straight fools; early on in the film, someone tells Elaine (Samantha Robinson), “You sound like you’ve been brainwashed by the patriarchy,” not yet realizing that that’s exactly what makes her so dangerous. Unapologetically feminine and wickedly subversive, The Love Witch is a treat for both the eye and the mind. [Katie Rife]

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Megamind

Megamind

Megamind
Megamind
Image: Dreamworks

Most decent kids’ entertainment blends material for older and younger viewers. But DreamWorks’ CGI movie, Megamind, pushes this dynamic weirdly far, squarely targeting viewers who’ll catch jokes based on the original Donkey Kong, or recognize Marlon Brando from Superman, or Pat Morita from Karate Kid. The tone draws heavily on wryly postmodern, self-aware send-ups like The Venture Bros., and it’s so packed with references familiar to longtime superhero aficionados that smaller viewers may not be sure what they’re seeing, apart from bickering and explosions. There’s nothing wrong with animation aimed at adults, but this may be the first kids’ movie that throws fewer bones to its supposed intended viewers than to their parents. [Tasha Robinson]

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Next Day Air

Next Day Air

Omari Hardwick
Omari Hardwick
Screenshot: Next Day Air

Donald Faison wanders through Next Day Air in a stoned haze as the unlikeliest of catalysts. The baby-faced Scrubs veteran plays a fuckup so incompetent that he can barely hold on to a job where his mom is his boss. Even his smoke-buddy Mos Def has the initiative to steal from his employers and customers, but Faison’s ambitions begin and end with toking as much weed as possible without losing his job. Faison sets Next Day Air’s plot in motion when he accidentally delivers a package containing a small fortune in cocaine to a trio of stick-up kids with more balls than brains: Wood Harris, Mike Epps, and a sleepy thug who spends so much time on the couch dozing that he’s become part of the furniture. Scenting a big payday, these small-timers decide to immediately sell the coke to Epps’ cousin, a paranoid mid-level dealer looking to make one last score before leaving the business for good. But the intended recipient of the package isn’t about to let Faison’s screw-up go unpunished, nor is the hotheaded Hispanic kingpin whose drug shipment has mysteriously gone missing. A very pleasant surprise, Next Day Air is the rare crime comedy that does justice to both sides of the equation. [Nathan Rabin]

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Paterson

Paterson

Adam Driver
Adam Driver
Photo: Bleeker Street

To describe Paterson, the new film by Jim Jarmusch, is to risk making it sound both cutesy and condescending. Adam Driver, gangly millennial prince, plays Paterson from Paterson, New Jersey, a bus driver who moonlights as a poet. If the wordplay of that setup doesn’t make you gag (even the casting is a pun), there’s the implied novelty of the premise: Is it really so unusual, the idea that the dude manning the wheel of public transportation could be (gasp!) a creative person? And yet for all the warning flags its log line throws up, Paterson turns out to be something really special: a sublimely mellow comedy about everyday life. And that’s because Jarmusch, that aging ambassador of cool, sincerely respects both the the ordinariness and the artistry of his blue-collar hero. One does not contradict the other. They are intimately related. [A.A. Dowd]

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Rushmore

Rushmore

Bill Murray
Bill Murray
Screenshot: Rushmore

Jason Schwartzman stars as Max, an oval-faced marvel of misdirected adolescent energy in the fast, exhilarating new comedy Rushmore. Founder and president of just about every extracurricular activity at the exclusive Rushmore Academy—including fencing, dodgeball, beekeeping, and a theater troupe that stages a faithful production of Serpico—Schwartzman is also failing all his classes. His priorities are quickly rearranged when he vies for the affections of a first-grade teacher (Olivia Williams) with a wealthy, clinically depressed man-child (Bill Murray). Since Anderson and Wilson have great respect for hare-brained schemes and wild romantic gestures, Schwartzman is encouraged to mature only insofar as he outgrows his extreme self-obsession, no small feat. Rushmore is a coming-of-age story made by filmmakers who don’t have much use for grown-ups, which is to say that Bill Murray finally gets a chance to deliver a career-defining performance. Murray has always been funny, often in vehicles unworthy of deadpan genius; imagine how unwatchable What About Bob? or The Man Who Knew Too Little would be without him. The hint of genuine pathos he brings to Rushmore tempers Schwartzman’s brash, sometimes off-putting antics, gracing an already great comedy with surprising depth and heart. [Scott Tobias]

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Shanghai Noon

Shanghai Noon

Owen Wilson and Jackie cHAN
Owen Wilson and Jackie cHAN
Screenshot: Shanghai Noon

Even in the summer of 2000, Shanghai Noon felt a bit outdated. On multiple levels, it’s a throwback: to the kinds of odd-couple action-comedies that littered the multiplex in the’80s and ’90s, but also to the silly ’60s Westerns that trafficked in broad stereotypes about native people and pioneers. The movie’s schtick is slick and satisfyingly familiar but creaky. Still, that’s where having a great cast helps. Liu brings uncommon poise and dignity to the thankless role of the damsel in distress, while Roger Yuan and Xander Berkeley make suitably cocky villains. There’s even a small, hilariously nutty Walton Goggins turn as the loose cannon in Roy’s gang. Yet what mostly makes Shanghai Noon so easy to rewatch 20 years later is that director Tom Dey lets his leads do their thing. Chan gets to be the overlooked little guy with the big talent, performing dazzling stunts with crack comic timing. And Wilson gets to be the lovable dreamer, who gives us the essence of The Owen Wilson Experience when he survives a near-death experience and then becomes all sappy, saying, “I’ve never noticed what a beautiful melody a creek makes. I’ve never taken the damn time.” [Noel Murray]

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47 / 61

A Simple Favor

A Simple Favor

A Simple Favor
A Simple Favor

Gallons of ink have been spilled on Paul Feig’s female-focused approach to comedy, so why isn’t one of the year’s best vehicles for women getting more press? Starring Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively in a twisted tale of suburban intrigue, A Simple Favor pioneers the subgenre of mommy-blog noir. But while it lives in the mundane realm of play dates and PTA meetings, the film also recognizes that, while they might spend a lot of time with kids, its characters (and target audience!) are still intelligent adults with sophisticated tastes, from dry gin martinis to designer menswear. [Katie Rife]

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Smiley Face

Smiley Face

Anna Faris
Anna Faris
Screenshot: Smiley Face

The world probably doesn’t need another stoner comedy—not with the likes of The Big Lebowski, Dazed And Confused, Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle, and Dude, Where’s My Car? in constant rotation—but it gets one anyway in Gregg Araki’s Smiley Face, which probably connects to the experience of being baked better than any of them. To wit: In one scene, a completely toasted Anna Faris is scarfing down a bowl of corn chips in a stranger’s house when she notices a framed black-and-white picture of an ear of corn. She surmises that the person who took the picture must love the corn that went into those chips, and thus has framed this thing that he loves. That gives her the idea that she should start framing pictures of things that she loves, like lasagna, which of course Garfield loves, so maybe to be “meta,” she should frame a picture of President James Garfield. This is how the stoned mind operates, making brilliant, inspired connections that are usually completely inane. [Scott Tobias]

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Something’s Gotta Give

Something’s Gotta Give

Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson
Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson
Screenshot: Something’s Gotta Give

In Something’s Gotta Give, Jack Nicholson plays a man who’s worlds apart from Warren Schmidt, but who comes to wear Schmidt’s knowledge for all the world to see. That adds a touch of gravity to Nancy Meyers’ pleasantly but deceptively lightweight film, a romantic comedy that takes a rare tack by leaving its characters different from how it finds them. Nicholson begins the film as a man happy to keep reminders of aging at arm’s length: He’s driving to a romantic Hamptons weekend with girlfriend Amanda Peet, the latest in his string of nubile twentysomethings. But their getaway is interrupted by the arrival of Peet’s playwright mother, Diane Keaton, then by a mild heart attack that leaves him recuperating in the latter’s beach house. The setup is about as obvious as they come, but Meyers steers away from romantic-comedy clichés until she has no other choice. But mostly, it’s just a pleasure to watch Keaton and Nicholson learning new steps in an old dance, stumbling to grab at happiness before it’s too late. [Keith Phipps]

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Spaceballs

Spaceballs

Illustration for article titled The best comedy movies on Amazon Prime
Screenshot: Spaceballs

Spaceballs wasn’t one of Brooks’ great successes, but it’s endured in the shadow of Star Wars as a lone “official” parody version. In retrospect, its comic deconstruction of the most successful movies of all time looks more respectful than Lucas’ own prequels, which ultimately seemed to understand less about the appeal (and pitfalls) of their source material. Certainly, George Lucas had good intentions when he tried to redo his own greatest hits, but as Spaceballs teaches us, good is often very, very dumb. [Adam Nayman]

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Spanglish

Spanglish

Paz Vega and Tea Leoni
Paz Vega and Tea Leoni
Screenshot: Spanglish

Set in Los Angeles, a city where nearly half the population is Hispanic, James L. Brooks’ pleasing dramedy Spanglish grapples with meaty issues that face many people who cross national borders, including the difficulties of finding work, overcoming the language barrier, and assimilating to a new culture. But really, it’s about a dilemma specific to rich Hollywood types: What to do about the help? When a full-time housekeeper/nanny enters the picture, it becomes impossible for employer or employee to think about the arrangement as merely a job, because their lives become entangled in ways that go beyond business. Consequently, the master-servant dynamic can grow increasingly awkward and unsustainable, since there’s more at stake for everyone than merely keeping the house in order. Brooks is known for genteel, intelligent entertainments like Broadcast News, Terms Of Endearment, and As Good As It Gets, and he isn’t the man for seething ethnic tension, but he handles these issues with characteristic sensitivity and good humor. [Scott Tobias]

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52 / 61

The Squid And The Whale

The Squid And The Whale

The Squid And The Whale
The Squid And The Whale
Screenshot:

In Noah Baumbach’s remarkable The Squid And The Whale, Daniels plays a profoundly bitter failure who rages joylessly against a world that long ago rejected him, and he futilely tries to assert his fading sense of superiority by dividing the world into intellectuals (who like books and interesting movies) and philistines (who don’t). There’s not a whole lot to like or admire about Daniels or most of the film’s compellingly flawed leads, yet Daniels maintains a certain dour magnetism throughout, and the film’s academically brilliant but emotionally challenged upper-middle-class New Yorkers are all the more fascinating for their many spiky edges and glaring faults. Baumbach can obviously see through his characters, with their crippling pretensions and noxious self-delusions, but his empathetic writing and directing engender a healthy affection for them anyway. [Nathan Rabin]

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53 / 61

The Terminal

The Terminal

Tom Hanks
Tom Hanks
Screenshot: The Terminal

Scripted by Andrew Niccol, Sacha Gervasi, and Jeff Nathanson, The Terminal draws its inspiration from the true story of Iranian dissident Merhan Nasseri, who has been living in Paris’ Charles De Gaulle airport since 1988 thanks, at least at first, to a series of political snafus. The film has much softer politics in mind, as it uses JFK as a stage to play out the American immigrant experience in miniature. At first confused, threatened, and hungry—think E.T. in out-of-fashion Eastern European clothing—Tom Hanks becomes resourceful in order to survive, making friends with those who can help him and plugging into the airport economy by returning baggage carts for a quarter a pop. Director Steven Spielberg gives the bulk of the movie over to this upward climb, and even fits love into the picture through Hanks’ makeshift courtship of Catherine Zeta-Jones, a stewardess still in thrall to her latest affair with a married man. Told “America is closed” when he first tries to make his way out of the airport, and continually encouraged to move on and become someone else’s problem by status-quo-minded customs chief Stanley Tucci, Hanks instead finds a little America inside, complete with the opportunity to pursue happiness, though there’s no guarantee that he’ll find it. [Keith Phipps]

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54 / 61

Terri

Terri

 Jacob Wysocki and John C. Reilly
Jacob Wysocki and John C. Reilly
Screenshot: Terri

Written by Patrick deWitt and directed by Azazel Jacobs, Terri has Jacob Wysocki playing an overweight teenager who lives with his mentally ill uncle Creed Bratton, and suffers through days at a high school where his classmates honk his man-boobs and tease him mercilessly. And Wysocki doesn’t make it easy on himself, either. He’s a sweet, smart kid, but he’s sullen, and frequently tardy, which doesn’t get the teachers on his side. Plus, he wears pajamas to class. The one person who tries to help is his principal, John C. Reilly, who had a rough boyhood himself, and considers counseling the school’s misfits to be a personal crusade. He knows—and Terri knows—what it’s like to stumble through the war zone of adolescence, looking for allies. [Noel Murray]

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55 / 61

Thank You For Smoking

Thank You For Smoking

Aaron Eckhart
Aaron Eckhart
Screenshot: Thank You For Smoking

The concept of journalistic balance is premised on the notion that there are two sides to every story, but what happens when one of those sides is wrong? For tobacco lobbyist Aaron Eckhart, the deliciously fatuous hero of Thank You For Smoking, that’s never an issue: “The beauty of argument,” he says with a grin, “is that if you argue correctly, you’re never wrong.” Ideally cast as a smug operator not unlike his character from In The Company Of Men, Eckhart proudly declares himself the face of cigarettes, spinning away on behalf of a lobbying group bankrolled by Big Tobacco. Along with drinking buddies Maria Bello and David Koechner—who represent the alcohol and firearms lobby, respectively—Eckhart styles himself as a “Merchant Of Death” (together, they’re “the M.O.D. Squad”), but public contempt ricochets off him. With the industry facing heavy losses in court rulings and a decline in its core users, Eckhart hatches a plan to boost sales by putting cigarettes into Hollywood movies. Over his ex-wife’s objections, Eckhart takes his impressionable son (Cameron Bright) out to Los Angeles to see what dad does for a living. Meanwhile, a Washington reporter (Katie Holmes) tries to profile Eckhart for a major newspaper, but the two quickly find ways to compromise the story. [Scott Tobias]

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56 / 61

There’s Something About Mary

There’s Something About Mary

Ben Stiller
Ben Stiller
Screenshot: There’s Something About Mary

There’s Something About Mary opens with a high-school loser (Ben Stiller) being asked to the prom by dreamy Cameron Diaz after he comes to the aid of her retarded brother. He is unable to realize his dream date because of, in the first in a series of disgusting gags, an unfortunate zipper accident. When the detective (Matt Dillon) he hires to find her 13 years later also falls for her, hilarity ensues. The Farrellys deliver visual and spoken gags at a relentless pace; no subject is taboo in its quest to make the audience laugh and cringe at the same time. Just when you’ve recovered from one scene, another jumps off the screen, without any sense of condescension in the the jokes’ delivery. There’s Something About Mary feels as if the writers, directors, and actors are all enjoying themselves as much as the audience is, and the casting is nearly perfect. Stiller is immensely likable as a pleasant but unfortunate everyman who only wants to find love; Dillon displays a comic panache only hinted at in Singles; and Diaz is the ideal straight woman, unfazed by the buffoonery that surrounds her existence. There’s Something About Mary is one of the funniest movies of its era, but you may need to shower afterwards.

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Thunder Road

Thunder Road

Jim Cummings
Jim Cummings
Screenshot: Thunder Road

Jim Cummings’ deeply discomfiting comedy Thunder Road takes its title from the majestic opening track of Bruce Springsteen’s breakthrough album, Born To Run, but its spirit recalls the Boss’s throatier cries from the heart and yawls of confused blue-collar emotion. In a terrific opening scene (basically a remake of Cummings’ award-winning 2016 short film of the same title, with one key change), a Texas patrolman named Jimmy Arnaud (Cummings) takes to the front of a church to deliver an improvised eulogy for his mother. He is the only one of three siblings to have made it out to the funeral, though we don’t know why. It’s obvious that he doesn’t want to be there either. His rambling, devolving 10-minute monologue slips from thank-yous and reminisces about his problems with dyslexia and his mother’s love of Bruce Springsteen (specifically “Thunder Road”) into flop sweat and meltdown, breaking into ugly, fully-body crying and finally a bizarre, silent interpretive dance of despair. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

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Up In The Air

Up In The Air

George Clooney and Vera Farmiga
George Clooney and Vera Farmiga
Screenshot: Up In The Air

George Clooney plays a man who has perfected a dubious but widely applicable skill in Up In The Air: He fires people. Somewhere along the line, he also offers some advice that makes their dismissals sound like the beginning of a glorious new tomorrow. It’s canned, but it sounds sincere coming from Clooney, and not just because he offers it with an unblinking gaze that suggests utter conviction. He really believes it. Or at the very least, he believes in a life without attachments, in which he drifts from airport lounge to hotel room while racking up an inhuman number of frequent-flier miles and returning to his sparsely appointed Omaha apartment only when need requires. Jason Reitman’s direction nicely translates the seductive appeal of sterile public places while letting the assured performances do much of the work. The film isn’t shy about laying out its themes, but Clooney’s understated work at the center lends them added complexity. What Up In The Air lacks in surprises—apart from an elusive final scene—it compensates for by conveying the pleasures of living from landing to landing, and the terror of floating away. [Keith Phipps]

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Wet Hot American Summer

Wet Hot American Summer

Michael Showalter and Christopher Meloni
Michael Showalter and Christopher Meloni
Screenshot: Wet Hot American Summer

Wet Hot American Summer flatters its audience just like any other spoof, but the fact that its targets are so narrow and particular makes it perversely inspired. Here’s a movie from 2001 that doesn’t concern itself with yesterday’s box-office hits, but with a sub-sub-genre of comedies from the late ‘70s to the mid-’80s, starting with Meatballs and its sequel, and including other disreputable standards like the TV movie Poison Ivy (with Michael J. Fox and Nancy McKeon), SpaceCamp, and the non-gory scenes in their slasher cousins like Friday The 13th and Sleepaway Camp. But it doesn’t stop there: WHAS is pitched specifically to Reagan-era latchkey kids who grew up watching these movies on television, and have a certain generalized nostalgia about the fashions, hairstyles, graphical elements, and other minutiae that seeped into their wood-paneled family rooms. Moreover, the film also speaks to a generation of middle-class Jewish boys and girls whose parents shipped them off to summer camp for one or two months at a time. So if you’re a middle-class Jew who came of age in the early ‘80s, watched a lot of television, and are given to nostalgia for misspent youth, Wet Hot American Summer is the movie for you. [Scott Tobias]

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Young Adult

Young Adult

Charlize Theron
Charlize Theron
Screenshot: Young Adult

Characters reminisce about the ’90s, wear Pixies T-shirts, and maintain collections of hand-painted action figures in Young Adult, all in line with what viewers might expect from a film that reunites Juno’s writer and director, Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman. What’s different this time around? They’re on the sidelines, gazing with bewilderment, dislike, and/or awe at their heroine, played by Charlize Theron as the type of girl who once upon a time walked all over them. Though her character’s high-school glory days are almost two decades behind her, she’s dredged them up with an unstable determination that attests to the years of disappointment that followed them. It’s an empathetic but bravely brittle portrait of an aging queen bee that showcases a nuanced performance from Theron as a woman too used to being admired to admit how lonely and desperate she’s become. [Alison Willmore]

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