The Year Comedy Came Back | The 16 Funniest Films of 2016
Twelve months ago I called 2015 “the year comedy died,” and I meant it. Motion picture comedies were in absolute shambles, seemingly trapped in tedious riffs and tired conventions, devoid of human emotion and cultural insight. And I maintain that I was right, damn it. Comedy died in 2015. There were no funny films, let alone funniest films and it was a fucking tragedy.
But to my surprise, comedy back roaring back from the dead in 2016, and it wasn’t even decomposed and gross. The comedy genre thrived this year, in quality if not necessarily in success. For whatever reason, many of the funniest movies of 2016 failed to find an audience at the box office, and a lot of the comedies that were big hits were fairly conventional affairs that rested on the unambitious laurels of obvious jokes, like “your pets are weird” (The Secret Life of Pets) and “offensive humor is offensive” (Sausage Party).
Still, great comedies were everywhere, and came out on a semi-regular basis if you bothered to look for them. We had indie comedies with biting senses of humor, throwback comedies that evoked beloved classics while expanding the concepts in exciting directions and at least three instant animated classics. These films made the otherwise difficult 2016 a lot more palatable, reminding us that laughter is still possible in tough times, and giving us new observations with which to interpret the world around us.
Those are literally the two reasons why comedy matters, and quite a few films achieved those great heights over the last year. These are the 16 funniest comedies of 2016, ranked by how much they made us laugh, how much they made us feel, and how those two elements balanced each other out in the end.
Funniest Films of 2016
16. A HOLOGRAM FOR THE KING
Tom Tykwer’s adaptation of David Eggers’ novel, about a disgraced American salesman trying to secure a business deal in Saudi Arabia, was released with little fanfare and made no money to speak of. That’s a pity because it’s a charming tale about obvious differences and unexpected similarities between disparate cultures, rife with fun supporting characters and enriched with a thoughtful, romantic drama between Tom Hanks and Sarita Choudhury. It’s the sort of feel-good, mid-life dramedy that used to have a bigger audience, and still deserves all the eyes it can get. A Hologram for the King made me feel quite a bit better about the world we live in, and I’d say that’s fairly high praise.
15. CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE
The biggest comedy surprise of 2016 wasn’t that Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart would be funny together, but that they would defy also all odds and turn up in a movie that was actually worthy of their efforts. Kevin Hart plays a former jock, Dwayne Johnson plays a former nerd, and despite twenty years of personal growth they’re still living with all the expectations placed on them in high school. Dwayne Johnson is wonderful as a mountain of muscle with a major inferiority complex, and Hart is equally great as a former wunderkind who seems to have settled for mediocrity. The plot is a perfunctory but fast-paced spy game; it’s the performances and the underlying message about the lingering effects of young trauma, particularly bullying, that make Central Intelligence one of the funniest films of the year.
It’s not as funny as the original Ghostbusters, but few movies are or ever have been. Fortunately, Paul Feig’s reboot of the iconic sci-fi/horror comedy franchise has plenty of laughs on its own merits. A team of paranormal investigators unites to save the city, overcome their marginalization and kick ass in the process. The great gags make up for the occasionally lame ones, and a scene-stealing performance by Kate McKinnon elevates the whole proceeding into a very entertaining comedy romp. It’s an empowering and colorful comedy that deserves more credit for its distinctive additions to the beloved franchise.
13. SING STREET
It’s not so much “hilarious” as “consistently bemusing,” but John Carney’s 1980s teenaged rock band dramedy certainly gets by on charm. Lots and lots and lots of charm, actually, and some amazing music. Ferdia Walsh-Peelo stars as an outsider who starts a futurist rock band to impress an aspiring model, constantly redefining his own persona as he discovers new kinds of music and discovering, surprisingly, that he has a lot of talent. Sing Street is a sweet romance, a solid rock musical, a light comedy and ultimately a very endearing tale of an older brother, played by Jack Reynor, trying to bring out the best in his sibling… and vice-versa.
12. FINDING DORY
The story doesn’t have the same impact as Finding Nemo, but that doesn’t mean Finding Dory isn’t a great comedy sequel. A fish named Dory, voiced by Ellen DeGeneres, finally remembers something about her lost family and embarks on a journey to reunite with them, teaming up with a pod of hilarious aquatic characters who inhabit a Marine Life Institute. Watching the odds stack up to absurd degrees against these little heroes is funny enough, but director Andrew Stanton manages to make the solutions to their problems – including a high-speed freeway chase, somehow – equally amusing. And the film’s pervasive and empowering theme about overcoming personal disabilities is the sort of nuanced and positive message that could inspire each and every one of us to greatness.
Old school Disney fantasy tropes abound in Moana, a film that plays a lot like the animated classics The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, but with an updated sense of humor, gorgeous CG-imagery and a series of hilarious jokes that all hit the mark. An idealistic young hero (Auli’i Cravalho) teams up with an egotistical demigod (Dwayne Johnson) to defeat a giant glamorous crab, a fleet of Mad Max coconuts and then, ultimately, save the world. Meanwhile they have to deal with the world’s dumbest chicken, testy living tattoos and an ocean that refuses to let our heroine fall overboard, all of which result in great recurring gags that earn laugh after laugh after laugh.
Deciding whether Finding Dory, Moana, and Zootopia is the funniest film may simply be a matter of preference. Whatever your order may be, it’s hard to deny that Disney was firing on all cylinders this year, churning out witty and socially conscious family entertainment, all of them brimming with great characters and amusing set pieces. Zootopia is the broadest comedy of them all, set in a world inhabited by anthropomorphic animals with sight gags in the background of practically every shot, telling the sort of mismatched buddy cop comedy that that provides a great set-up for non-stop bickering. And despite all that silliness, the political message of Zootopia, about politicians using xenophobia to cling to power, is disturbingly topical and relevant.
9. HAIL, CAESAR!
The Coen Bros. are back with their best broad comedy since the 1990s, a madcap farce set in the ludicrous backstages of a fictional Hollywood studio, where thigh-slappingly homoerotic musical numbers abound with nary a hint of irony, and a charming cowboy has been tragically miscast as an erudite romantic lead. Meanwhile, the dopey star of a historical epic has been kidnapped and an aquatic dancer is getting distractingly pregnant. A wonderful ensemble cast – George Clooney, Josh Brolin, Channing Tatum, Alden Ehrenreich, Tilda Swinton (twice!) and Scarlett Johansson, to name a few – brings the wonderfully silly words to life. Hail, Caesar is a trifle, but it’s one of the funniest films in years.
8. OTHER PEOPLE
Dying of cancer isn’t a laughing matter, but when you spend a whole year with anybody, at any time, they’re bound to be pretty funny sometimes. Writer/director Chris Kelly’s sensitive and amusing dramedy stars Jesse Plemons as a struggling TV writer who moves back in with his dying mother, played by a revelatory Molly Shannon, and strives to give her what she needs while also going a little insane trying to live his own life at the same time. Other People is an encouraging story, a thoughtful and lovely examination of a family doing everything in its power to keep their spirits high. Usually it works, sometimes it leads to weeping, and even those tears have a couple of chuckles in them.
7. PEE-WEE’S BIG HOLIDAY
Paul Reubens returns as his endlessly affable Pee-wee Herman character, and he manages to evoke our favorite memories of the comedy classic Pee-wee’s Big Adventure while adding an impressive new layer to his character. Pee-wee has literally never left his small town at the beginning of Pee-wee’s Big Holiday, but a chance encounter with handsome actor Joe Manganiello – playing himself, delightfully – sends him traveling to New York City to visit the actor for his birthday party. Hijinx ensue, but the gag is, Joe Manganiello wants to see Pee-wee just as much as Pee-wee wants to see Joe Manganiello, and ultimately the whole, hilarious affair plays like a potent allegory for coming out of the closet, boldly and kindly, and being accepted for who you are. Oh yes, and the whoopee cushion scene is one of the comic highlights of 2016.
6. THE NICE GUYS
An alcoholic private detective and a well-intentioned professional bone-breaker team up to solve an absurdly complicated crime in The Nice Guys, the latest ribald crime comedy from Shane Black. And if it’s not as good as Kiss Kiss Bang Bang that’s okay, because that still leaves a lot of room for greatness. It’s still definitely one of the funniest films of the year. Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe have impressive comic chemistry, and Black’s whipcrack direction keeps the witty dialogue and ludicrous plot points coming at an exhilarating clip.
5. HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE
Taika Waititi’s follow-up to the horror-comedy What We Do in the Shadows is the sort of cheerfully naughty family film that used to fill theaters in the 1980s, but that rarely get made anymore. Julian Dennison plays a “bad egg” who’s literally placed with the last foster family in New Zealand, but tragedy strikes and soon he’s stuck in the woods with his disapproving foster father (Sam Neill), who accidentally winds up Public Enemy #1. Tough love, awkward bonding and a series of bizarre misadventures ensue, and you’ll laugh your head off the whole time. Imaginative and sweet filmmaking if ever I’ve seen it. Also surely one of the funniest films of the year.
4. LOVE & FRIENDSHIP
Whit Stillman has long been our contemporary master of bourgeois nonsense, so pairing him with the works of Jane Austen – the all-time grand champion of the subject – seemed like a recipe for greatness. Love & Friendship doesn’t disappoint in the slightest: it’s a rapid-fire comedy of manners, with a scheming Kate Beckinsale undermining the whole British aristocracy to stay out of the poorhouse after her husband dies. Watching her work is a Machiavellian delight, and hearing her co-star Tom Bennett say of the some of stupidest things in movie history is an absolute laugh riot.
Keegan Michael-Keye and Jordan Peele take their comedy schtick to the big screen in this absurd little comedy, about a pair of beta males who have to impersonate hardened criminals to rescue their kidnapped kitten. The contrast between tough guy façades and the totally adorbz title cat they fawn over never stops being funny, and the pair’s natural comic rapport translates effortlessly to the big screen. I literally almost lost consciousness because I laughed so hard at Keanu, and if that’s not a recommendation for one of the funniest films of the year, I don’t know what is.
If you’ve noticed that the superhero genre has a lot less piss in it now, that’s because Deadpool took it out. This raunchy, self-aware, ultraviolent action-comedy calls out all the dumb clichés of the most popular blockbusters of our day, but also proves it can do them better than most of the competitors, making what could have been an insulting parody into a good-natured, satirical riff. And credit goes to Ryan Reynolds, who knows that the protagonist of Deadpool only uses humor to hide the fact that he’s dying inside, literally and figuratively, giving even his most offensive comments a welcome dose of humanity.
1. POPSTAR: NEVER STOP NEVER STOPPING
The funniest film of 2016 is a non-stop laugh machine, loaded with catchy songs that play like real pop hits but feature the dumbest lyrics you’ve ever heard. Craziest of all, they’re not that far off from the real thing. The Lonely Island stars as a 1990s boy band who fell apart, leaving only one major superstar (Andy Samberg) whose ego has gotten so out of hand that everyone’s afraid to tell him all of his ideas are stupid. The cast is great, the cameos are surprising and brilliant, and when all is said and done, Popstar plays like a lot contemporary version of This is Spinal Tap; both films present to us the silliest parts of our contemporary culture with the sort of insightful comedic distance that most storytellers could only achieve with after generations of hindsight.
Top Photo: 20th Century Fox
William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on The B-Movies Podcast and Canceled Too Soon, and watch him on the weekly YouTube series Most Craved, Rapid Reviews and What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.