The 40 Best Comedies on Netflix (July 2019)

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ASeriousMan.jpg 10. A Serious Man
Year: 2009
Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen

Working with few recognizable stars, the Coens have made a funny but odd and inquisitive film about guilt. It’s also their most Jewish film to date, a film about physics professor Larry Gopnik and the Jewish subculture of a medium-sized late-’60s American town. Larry’s life begins to fall apart when his wife says she wants a divorce, and in the great unraveling that follows, the Coens have made Kafka’s implications explicit. The K word is often slapped onto any old symbolic nightmare, but Kafka’s own work was actually very funny, even though he could slip into gray areas without much warning. The Coens can, too. A Serious Man is one of the most fascinating, maybe even heartfelt, renderings of a Kafkaesque sensibility that I’ve seen. —Robert Davis


KungFuHustleHKposter.jpg 9. Kung Fu Hustle
Year: 2004
Director: Stephen Chow
Stephen Chow is probably the biggest name in martial arts comedy since the days of Sammo Hung, and Kung Fu Hustle will likely remain one of his most well-regarded films both as a director and performer. Gleefully kooky, it combines occasional song and dance with extremely exaggerated kung fu parody in telling the tale of a young man who ends up overthrowing a large criminal organization, the “Deadly Axe Gang.” This is not a complex film—rather, it’s simply intended as popcorn entertainment at its most absurd. The action has no basis in reality, being closer to a real-world depiction of Looney Tune physics. The characters are broad pastiches and references to famous actors from the genre’s history abound. With comedy that teeters decidedly on the juvenile or inscrutable side, it’s a film that some will dismiss off-hand, but Chow’s style has always and will probably always be “entertain first, make sense later.” That’s what he does, and he does it better than anyone else. —Jim Vorel


shes gotta have it poster.jpg 8. She’s Gotta Have It
Year: 1986
Director: Spike Lee 
Spike Lee arrived as a fully-formed talent with this small-budget, black-and-white debut, which wound up being one of the most important movies in the rise of independent films in the 1980s. Lee brought a voice and verisimilitude to the screen that hadn’t been seen before, with a movie that’s smart, funny and audacious. The central theme—that women can sleep around as much as men, and that they shouldn’t be judged or scorned for it—is still relevant 30 years later. In fact, it’s so relevant Lee adapted the movie into a Netflix series that premiered last year.—Garrett Martin


hot-fuzz.jpg 7. Hot Fuzz
Year: 2007
Director: Edgar Wright 
The second chapter in the Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy (before there was ever such a thing), Hot Fuzz is clear evidence that Edgar Wright is capable of anything. A blockbuster action flick, a thriller, a pulp plot, a winking noir, a commentary on classism in an increasingly urbanized society—the movie is all of these things, down to the marrow of its very existence. Moreso than Shaun of the Dead or The World’s End, Hot Fuzz inhabits its influences with the kind of aplomb to which any cinephile can relate: Somewhere between fascination, revulsion and pure visceral joy there walks the Michael Bays, the Don Simpsons, the John Woos, the Jerry Bruckheimers, and Wright gives each stalwart his due. Plus, he does so with total respect, showing that he understands their films inside and out. And in that intimate knowledge he knows even better that filmmaking is a conflagration: Best to burn it all down and see what remains than build it from the ground up.—Dom Sinacola


netflix 40 year old virgin.jpg 6. The 40 Year-Old Virgin
Year: 2005
Director: Judd Apatow 
Judd Apatow’s first film as a director remains his best. Rather than being a film insulting Steve Carell’s Andy and his choice to wait for sex, it creates an understanding and sensitivity towards him, turning him into the voice of reason rather than just the lonely virgin. Despite the title, The 40 Year-Old Virgin isn’t really about sex at all, but about finding a person who is right instead of just a person for the night. It’s a surprisingly conservative take on the idea, but the result is a hilarious and surprisingly romantic story that twists typical ideals on its head, without ever condemning one way or the other.—Ross Bonaime


wet-hot-am-sum.jpg 5. Wet Hot American Summer
Year: 2001
Director: David Wain
A cult film that’s long since surpassed that status, Wet Hot American Summer is a lot of things: It’s hilarious; it’s perfectly cast; and it’s a clear demonstration that Christopher Meloni has more range than simply playing a dour sex crime detective. But what makes it so brilliant, 15 years later and with a Netflix series on lock, is that it’s so painfully, relentlessly nihilistic. We could trade quotable lines for days (my personal favorites being what Jon Benjamin’s can of vegetables admits he’s acrobatically capable of, and then Paul Rudd bluntly refusing to make out with Elizabeth Banks’s character due to her burger flavor), but the key to the movie’s endurance—past its timelessness grounded in a specific brand of ’80s sex romp flick—is the way in which it treats nostalgia. Like Wain, Michael Showalter and Michael Ian Black’s Stella series, Wet Hot American Summer, which takes place over the course of Camp Firewood’s last day, exists in a bleakly amoral world. Here, bad things happen to good people—and really only to good people. Wain takes innocence and obliterates it, punishes it, gleefully destroying all nice memories anyone would ever hold dear about long lost summers, first loves and youth. Without a shred of wistfulness, Wet Hot American Summer surpasses its origins in parody and becomes something more: It earns its comedy. Taunting our very explicitly American tendency to let everything we touch devolve into sentimentality, the film proves that when we obsess over remembering ourselves at our best, we might as well be celebrating us at our worst. —Dom Sinacola


life of brian poster.jpg 4. Monty Python’s Life of Brian
Year: 1979
Director: Terry Jones
Pretty much made on George Harrison’s dime and considered, even if apocryphally, by the legendary comedy troupe to be their best film (probably because it’s the closest they’ve come to a three-act narrative with obvious “thematic concerns”), Life of Brian got banned by a lot of countries at the butt-end of the ’70s. As a Christ story, the telling of how squealy mama’s boy, Brian (Graham Chapman) mistakenly finds himself as one of many messiah figures rising in Judea under the shadow of Roman occupation (around 33 AD, on a Saturday afternoon-ish), Monty Python’s follow-up to Holy Grail may be the most political film of its ilk. As such, the British comedy group stripped all romanticism and nobility from the story’s bones, lampooning everything from radical revolutionaries to religious institutions to government bureaucracy while never stooping to pick on the figure of Jesus or his empathetic teachings. Of course, Life of Brian isn’t the first film about Jesus (or: Jesus adjacent) to focus on the human side of the so-called savior—Martin Scorsese’s take popularly did so less than a decade later—but it feels like the first to leverage human weakness against the absurdity of the Divine’s expectations. Steeped in satire fixing on everything from Spartacus to Franco Zeffirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth, and buttressed by as many iconic lines as there are crucifixes holding up the film’s frames (as Brian’s equally squealy mother hollers to the swarming masses, “He’s not the messiah. He’s a very naughty boy!”), the film explores Jesus’s life by obsessing over the context around it. Maybe a “virgin birth” was really just called that to cover up a Roman centurion’s sexual crimes. Maybe coincidence (and also class struggle) is reality’s only guiding force. Maybe the standard of what makes a miracle should be a little higher. And maybe the one true through line of history is that stupid people will always follow stupid people, whistling on the way to our meaningless, futile deaths. —Dom Sinacola


the grduate poster.jpg 3. The Graduate
Year: 1967
Director: Mike Nichols
In the undisputed king of movies for those headed out into the real world, a hyper-accomplished recent grad (Dustin Hoffman) panics at the prospect of his future and falls into an affair with the much older wife of his father’s business partner (Anne Bancroft). It helped define a generation long since embalmed by history, but the sense of longing for an alternative hasn’t aged. —Jeffrey Bloomer


caddyshack poster.jpg 2. Caddyshack
Year: 1980
Director: Harold Ramis
There are four faces on that poster to the left, and all of them are equally crucial to Caddyshack’s enduring popularity. From Ted Knight’s aristocratic bluster, to Rodney Dangerfield’s irreverent populism, to the glib playboy Chevy Chase, to Bill Murray’s iconic idiot, Caddyshack has one of the greatest casts of any comedy in memory. Add in a sharp script from National Lampoon co-founder Doug Kenney and amiably shaggy direction from Harold Ramis, and you have an all-time classic.—Garrett Martin


netflix poster monty grail.jpg 1. Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Year: 1975
Director:
It sucks that some of the shine has been taken off Holy Grail by its own overwhelming ubiquity. Nowadays, when we hear a “flesh wound,” a “ni!” or a “huge tracts of land,” our first thoughts are often of having full scenes repeated to us by clueless, obsessive nerds. Or, in my case, of repeating full scenes to people as a clueless, obsessive nerd. But, if you try and distance yourself from the over-saturation factor, and revisit the film after a few years, you’ll find new jokes that feel as fresh and hysterical as the ones we all know. Holy Grail is, indeed, the most densely packed comedy in the Python canon. There are so many jokes in this movie, and it’s surprising how easily we forget that, considering its reputation. If you’re truly and irreversibly burnt out from this movie, watch it again with commentary, and discover the second level of appreciation that comes from the inventiveness with which it was made. It certainly doesn’t look like a $400,000 movie, and it’s delightful to discover which of the gags (like the coconut halves) were born from a need for low-budget workarounds. The first-time co-direction from onscreen performer Terry Jones (who only sporadically directed after Python broke up) and lone American Terry Gilliam (who prolifically bent Python’s cinematic style into his own unique brand of nightmarish fantasy) moves with a surreal efficiency. —Graham Techler

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