It’s not uncommon for the best comedy actors to act like they don’t know they’re part of a comedy. A serious lighthouse in a ridiculous sea, they respond to the most outrageous situations with deadpan dedication. As a result of a formula for humorous perfection, Leslie Nielsen, recognized for his serious parts in the first half of his career, was able to shine in the 1980 classic, Airplane! Cult comedy show Police Squad! was created to honor him for his performance in this supporting role, and the ZAZ team granted him his own show. As Lieutenant Frank Drebin, Nielsen reprised his character in The Naked Gun in 1988, and the rest is history. Even though he didn’t realize it, Nielsen is today renowned as a comic genius. Modern audiences find The Naked Gun nearly rebellious in its sheer absurdity, reinforcing its competent genre plot with impeccably executed capital-J jokes. Film comedies of the 21st century rely heavily on intrinsic charms, loose runs of improvisation, and sardonic detachment. When a film dares to be well-made, the Naked Gun continues to devastate audiences.
1. The Sound of Silence
If you haven’t seen The Sound of Silence, a modest indie from 2019, you should do so now. As a first-time feature filmmaker, Michael Tyburski fulfills our every expectation: One of a kind voice. “The Sound of Silence” is unlike any other film you’ve ever seen, no matter how familiar some of its stars are (Rashadia Jones and Tony Revolori are among them), or how much it borrows from other unusual independent films (it’s like Spike Jonze and Joe Swanberg mixed together?). A “house tuner,” played by Sarsgaard, is a man who visits people’s houses to correct their acoustic imbalances, in the hopes of alleviating their symptoms of sadness, anxiety, and the like. A refrigerator hum or a squeak in the floorboards may be more important to our mental health than we think, and Sarsgaard has a long list of unusual diagnostic tools and approaches at his disposal. It’s a nice, low-key, strange indie joy to see what happens when he visits the home of a woman portrayed by Jones.
2. A Quiet Place
John Krasinski definitely pulled it off there. It wasn’t expected that The Office star, known for his talky indie dramedies, would make a pure popcorn-horror adventure that was mostly silent. But he did it for us, and we appreciate that. An Apocalyptic World in which Monsters attracted to Noise recount the story of a future apocalyptic world and the one family that had to keep everything together. On-screen and off-screen spouse Emily Blunt, who plays Krasinski’s on-screen wife, is the film’s protagonist. When it comes to genre films like Looper and Edge of Tomorrow, Blunt has always been a formidable presence, but her performance in this one goes above and beyond anything she’s done before. In addition, the on-screen youngsters, Noah Jupe and Millicent Simmonds, will break your heart to pieces. A deaf actor who worked with Krasinski on the film’s many non-verbal and ASL scenes, Simmonds in particular, shines with dazzling richness and sensitivity. In addition, A Quiet Place is creepy as hell, with its set pieces that surprise and terrify with ease. Though doing so would have been overkill, Krasinski’s 90-minute masterwork combined the best of Spielberg and Shyamalan.
3. Chicken Run
At home, we had a full-size van with a TV/VCR combo installed in the back. The VHS cassettes my brother and I wore out on long car journeys were part of a tiny collection we owned. Chicken Run, the adorable “kids’ prison escape flick” from the minds of Wallace & Gromit, is at the top of the list (not coincidentally another VHS we wore the heck out). Peter Lord, Nick Park, and screenwriter Karey Kirkpatrick collaborated to create a film that is cohesive, tight, endearing, funny, and touching for the whole family, and it does it by interacting with classic cinematic tropes in a way that never gets old. An English farm is home to chicks that will soon be on your dinner table. A lot of them have a hard time picturing themselves as food. And when a decidedly American rooster joins their flock, he just could be their guiding star on how to escape and enjoy a better life in the United States of America. Every situation in Chicken Run is played for laughter, excitement and an unexpectedly dark sorrow in the most efficient way possible. Moreover, I won’t have to worry with tracking concerns if I watch on Hulu instead of my family van’s VHS.
Tangerine is a unique film that combines the charms of Clerks, the dynamism of Crank: High Voltage, and the iPhone photos of “modern life” into a unique experience. If you enjoyed Sean Baker’s Willem Dafoe starrer The Florida Project but felt it dragged on a bit too long, Tangerine is sure to satisfy your need for action and speed. The video chronicles a day in the life of transgender worker Sin-Dee Rella (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) in sunny Los Angeles. Empathy, sincerity, and vibrancy abound in Baker’s investigation of these all-too-often neglected communities. They’re not victims of their situations, and Baker isn’t interested in profiting from their hardships. They’re always on the move, always ready to just live. They’re relentless architects of their own futures. Baker’s Tangerine shows that indie films don’t have to slow down to a crawl in order to have an impact.
5. The Stuff
When it comes to horror, The Stuff is going to be your new go-to movie. With a black comedy that also happens to feature aspects of gore/horror, genre cinema maverick Larry Cohen (It’s Alive) took a risk on this one, surprising both his studio and the audience. Since its 1985 premiere, The Stuff has only appreciated in value, much like many of the genre hybrids that were widely derided at the time. There is a peculiar, creamy material pouring out of the earth known as “the stuff.” Moreover, it’s absolutely wonderful! It’s better than ice cream or other treats! The best part is that it’s completely calorie-free! In addition, any human who consumes it is infected with a visceral brain infection that transforms them into flesh-eating zombies. However, it was still excellent! Like John Carpenter’s They Live, The Stuff falls into the “blunt consumerist satire/satirizing genre flick” category for those who enjoy his work. Make sure you don’t eat anything before you watch it.
6. Stop Making Sense
By himself, David Byrne takes the stage. Hits the record button on a tape player. “Psycho Killer,” one of the Talking Heads’ most well-known tunes, is performed in a stripped-down acoustic-guitar-and-808 rendition. Another band member joins in for another song after this impressive performance. One more after that. Another one, please. When the Talking Heads take over the entire stage approximately midway through the concert video Stop Making Sense, they are a swarming entity of happy music and exploding inventiveness. It’s a brilliant device that ensures that each member of the ensemble has a chance to demonstrate their value to the rest of the group. As proof that Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs) is a great auteur who ever lived, Demme’s ability to provide the best version of anything, including (especially?) a 1980s concert picture, is undeniable. A celebration of music and fun, Stop Making Sense is one of the most pure films I have ever watched. You won’t be able to sit still while listening to this music. And you shouldn’t, either. That wouldn’t make any sense, do you get what I mean?
7. Cold War
Imagine a black and white war movie with a strong love story at its heart. Yes, I’m sure it’s epic in both scale and length. Not so much with Pawe Pawlikowski’s work, which clocks in at an incredible 88 minutes of impact, emotion, and innovation. La La Land’s European counterpart, Cold War tells the story of a music director and his muse, a jazz singer, in the post-war Polish countryside. As the film progresses, cinematographer ukasz Szal creates some of the most memorable pictures you’ll ever see in a modern film. Cold War, like Damien Chazelle’s film, shines with admiration for the old-fashioned days of cinema, art, and love stories, while making sure to complicate and poke at all of these myths with bittersweet reminders of reality. Never have you seen something quite like Cold War even in the context of other masterpieces.
Eddie Murphy made a comeback in 2019 with Netflix’s “Eddie Murphy’s Comeback Special.” To develop a low-budget action film on one of Rudy Ray Moore’s characters, he attempted Dolemite Is My Name, a biography about his efforts. It’s an obligation to yourself to see the subject of this film if you were a fan of it. Dolemite, a blaxploitation classic from 1975 that’s still relevant today. Idiosyncratic and intoxicating, Moore’s Dolemite performance is both. Dolemite is a smooth-talking and even smoother-walking pimp like many others in blaxploitation films. When it comes to hip-hop, Dolemite has become an unappreciated cinematic hero because of his unique ability to talk in rhymes that blur the boundary between profanity and enlightenment and his impressive kung-fu talents. Once released from prison after being framed by Willie Green (director D’Urville Martin), Dolemite starts on a revenge-kicking quest with the help of Queen Bee, the madam of his brothel who is a skilled kickboxer (Lady Reed). Cringe-inducingly reductive perspectives on gender and race issues are present throughout the film. Because of this, these elements aren’t only fun to watch and laugh at; they’re also a part of an analysis of the film’s status in a white-dominated film industry.
9. Down to Earth
It’s time to revisit Chris Rock’s 2001 picture Down to Earth, an underappreciated and even ridiculed entry in his filmography. Based on the classic play Heaven Can Wait, it has an enticing premise: A semi-truck kills Rock’s character, a struggling comedian. With one condition: he must return to Earth as an elderly white guy in order to redeem himself. That’s where the comedy of Down to Earth is at its best, with gags and set pieces that are both slapstick and social satire, and anchored by a romantic love story that is both heartwarming and heartbreaking (alongside the always perfect Regina King). If you haven’t seen Down to Earth, you’re missing out on an underappreciated gem from the golden period of Hollywood comedy in the 2000s.
10. Millennium Actress
In under 87 minutes, Satoshi Kon’s (Perfect Blue, Paprika) late anime fever dream mastermind Millennium Actress paints with a broad, breathtakingly strange brush. If Charlie Kaufman were to adapt F for Fake with a difficult female heroine, the result would be something like Kon and Sadayuki Murai’s meta-vision of show business identity explorations, with some of the strangest images you’ll ever see. She is one of Japan’s best-known actors, nearing the end of her career and life. In order to provide her the opportunity to tell her own narrative, TV interviewer Genya Tachibana decided to prepare a piece. Even while the lines between the real and the fictional begin to dissolve as Fujiwara explores deeper into her life, the meanings and definitions of both become fundamentally confused. If you’ve got 87 minutes to spare, it’s well worth your while to return to the source and let your brain to be melted by such a singular vision from the master of live-action filmmaking, Kon.
Coherence is a must-see, therefore don’t hesitate. Don’t waste your time reading any more about it. What’s the point of coming back? Okay, I’ll let you off the hook: Low-budget genre treat Coherence is a striking debut from James Ward Byrkit that feels like a picture that has been needed to make his whole life. It begins with a group of friends gathered around a dinner table, with Emily Baldoni as a deaf lady dealing with the awkward relationship turmoil that comes with being in your 30s. In the meantime, a comet appears in the night sky. Then, things get fascinating. ‘Cause then… The joys and surprises in Coherence, a picture that simultaneously feels like a play and a genre exercise in the best manner, are something I truly do not want to ruin. Will you just just sit down and watch this? For goodness’ sake, there are only 88 minutes left!