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Thursday, January 27th, 2011

The Ten Funniest Films to Be Nominated for Best Picture

There have been a lot of funny moments in Oscar history — like when Rob Lowe sang a duet with Snow White in 1989, and when How Green Was My Valley beat Citizen Kane and The Maltese Falcon for Best Picture in 1941. But both of those are unintentionally funny, and have nothing directly to do with comedy, a common theme for the Oscars. No straight-up comedy has ever been nominated for Best Picture (for instance, Juno and Forrest Gump have funny moments, but they’re not exactly Blazing Saddles), but there have been some that at least received a nomination. Here are the 10 funniest:

Honorable Mention: The Full Monty/Good Will Hunting/As Good As It Gets/L.A. Confidential

In 1997, the Academy was feeling generous towards drama/comedy hybrids—or, more likely, they knew that anything going against Titanic was going to lose, so they figured they’d throw comedy fans a bone. None of these are comedy classics, but between ordinary looking men stripping, Ben Affleck impersonating Matt Damon, an obsessive compulsive Jack Nicholson wooing Helen Hunt, and a new version of Good Cop/Bad Cop, all of the films had their moments of hilarity.

#10. Nashville
In typical Robert Altman fashion, Nashville is wonderfully and comically chaotic. There are 25 main characters, most of whom converge at the end of the film, but not before wandering around Nashville over the span of five days. The funniest scene of the film is also the first, where we see Lil’ Ol’ Lily Tomlin in a recording studio with an all-black gospel group. What starts off as a great sight gag turns into a great scene when Tomlin and the rest of the singers begin singing “Yes, I Do,” complete with references to Jesus and handclaps.

#9. Funny Girl
For years, I attempted to ignore Barbara Streisand, putting her in the same part of my brain that blocks out Jersey Shore; if I don’t pay attention to them, it’s like they don’t exist! Then I saw Lea Michele’s performance of “Don’t Rain on My Parade” on an episode of Glee, and was awed by how good the song was. So, I decided to end my not-entirely-irrational hatred of Babs and watch Funny Girl — and you know what, it’s not half bad. There’s no reason the film has to be two-and-a-half hours long, but Streisand has surprisingly good comic timing when delivering lines like, “I'm a bagel on a plate full of onion rolls!” I still refuse to see The Prince of Tides, though.

#7. Lost in Translation
Like it is with all of Sophia Coppola’s films, you have to be in the right mood to find Lost in Translation funny — or maybe even the right person. There’s nothing in this movie that’s particularly uproarious; just small, charming moments, like Bill Murray riding an out-of-control exercise machine or Murray attempting his best Bryan Ferry to “More Than This,” while a pink-wigged Scarlett Johansson looks on, smiling. So, basically, there’s Bill Murray.

#7. Toy Story 3
I cried during the third and most likely final Toy Story film, too, which is a major accomplishment for a so-called kids film. The reason we grew so emotionally attached to Woody, Buzz, and the rest of the gang was because they made us laugh. There are so many moments in the Toy Story films that made us chuckle, like the shark in the toy box stealing Woody’s hat or the mass chaos of the children running into the daycare center, that it’s no wonder we cried like babies at the end of Toy Story 3, my pick for this year’s Best Picture. No film released in 2010 had such wonderful extremes, often going from laughing to sobbing to shocking and back to laughing again, all in the same 10 minutes.

#6. It Happened One Night
In the Seventh Annual Academy Awards, held in 1935, It Happened One Night won the Big Five: Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Picture, becoming the first comedy to win the most coveted award in Hollywood. Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert made for a winning couple, and the film was also one of the first — and certainly most successful — screwball comedies. Plus, according to Fritz Freleng, the creator of many of our favorite Looney Tunes, Bugs Bunny, Yosemite Sam, and Pepe LePew were modeled off of characters from the film.

#5. Fargo
No one does botched kidnappings quite like the Coen Brothers. First, there was Nicolas Cage and Holly Hunt stealing Nathan Junior in Raising Arizona, followed by William H. Macy hiring Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare to kidnap his wife, played by Kristin Rudrüd. Joel and Ethan’s True Grit is nominated for Best Picture this year, but it’s not of their finest works; it oddly feels too clean, especially for a Western. They’re at their best and funniest when things are at their dirtiest and bleakest — the hotel room of Barton Fink, the Great Depression of O Brother Where Art Thou, and the North Dakota wilderness of Fargo — because as we all know: tragedy is funny.

#4. Pulp Fiction
I get not having seen Citizen Kane or The Godfather, especially for someone between the ages of 18-45. They should be seen at some point, of course, considering they’re two of the greatest films of all time, but I understand not having ever rented either. What I don’t understand is someone between those ages who hasn’t watched Pulp Fiction. It’s such a major part of culture, and arguably the most important, i.e. influential, movie of the 1990s, that I honestly can’t think of a good reason to have never seen it. It’s smartly hilarious, paying back attentive viewers with in-jokes, not to mention all the awesome violence and swear words. Even The Simpsons mocked many scenes from the film, including the McDonald’s conversation and Zed.

(It’s also fun playing the What If game with Pulp Fiction: it the film hadn’t been a huge critical and commercial hit for Miramax, the studio might never have become as influential as it was, meaning the following films may never have been released: Trainspotting, Flirting with Disaster, Chasing Amy, Good Will Hunting, Velvet Goldmine, Life Is Beautiful, Dogma, She’s All That (!), Amélie, Gangs of New York, Kill Bill, Kill Bill 2, Garden State, No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood, and Adventureland.)

#3. Goodfellas
The most famous scene from Martin Scorcese’s third best film (after Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, respectively) has Tommy DeVito, played by Joe Pesci, asking Ray Liotta’s Henry Hill, “You said I'm funny. How the fuck am I funny? What the fuck is so funny about me? Tell me! Tell me what's funny!” I’d explain what’s so funny about the film — mainly its depiction of Wise Guys and, yes, Pesci — but I’m still too terrified of Pesci.

#2. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
Here’s a fun trivia fact: Stanley Kubrick won as many Oscars (Best Special Effects for 2001: A Space Odyssey) as he did Razzie nominations (Worst Director for The Shining…the hell?). Three of his films were up for Best Picture — Barry Lyndon, Clockwork Orange, and, my favorite, Dr. Strangelove. It’s about as dark as a dark comedy can get (unless you consider Clockwork Orange with its rape scene set to “Singin’ in the Rain” funny), as the film’s biggest laughs come from a deformed Peter Sellers and Slim Pickens’ Major T. J. "King" Kong riding a bomb like a horse, soon killing thousands. Heh.

#1. Annie Hall
What did you expect? Shakespeare in Love? People will argue for years whether Woody Allen’s best film is Annie Hall or Manhattan, but only one won Best Picture (heck, Manhattan wasn’t even nominated). Oddly, it’s now considered a comedy, but at the time, critics saw Annie Hall as a step towards a more serious Allen, considering the films pre-dating it include Bananas, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask), and Sleeper. Woody Allen’s legacy can be seen all over the place, from TV (Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm) to music (Allo Darlin’s “Woody Allen”) to movies (When Harry Met Sally), and he’s still working, with Midnight in Paris set to be released this year. And it’s all because of Annie Hall.

Josh Kurp thinks the least funny Best Picture winner of all-time is American Beauty. Yes, even more so than Schindler’s List.

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  • http://youtube.com/user/joekcomedy Joe Kwaczala

    No Tootsie?

  • http://twitter.com/petegaines petejayhawk

    Most of the wilderness in Fargo is in Minnesota, not North Dakota.

  • http://throwingthings.blogspot.com Adam Bonin

    No Tootsie, no M*A*S*H, no Graduate, no Working Girl? You missed a lot.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Josh-Kurp/46301792 Josh Kurp

      I've never been a fan of Tootsie, ditto with The Graduate and Working Girl, which I think was only nominated because 1988 wasn't a great year for movies, Roger Rabbit excluded. Think all three are pretty overrated. MASH was tough to leave off, and on another day I might have included it.

      • http://throwingthings.blogspot.com Adam Bonin

        Well, 1988 also had A Fish Called Wanda and Married to the Mob, the former of which absolutely make this list if nominated for the top slot.

        The thing about The Graduate is that it depends on your frame of reference when you see it — if you don't get that it's a satire and not Wow, Benjamin's Taking A Stand!, you're missing half the jokes.