This parody of action movies and Hollywood personalities follows the disastrous filming of the fictional Tropic Thunder, a big budget adaptation of Vietnam veteran “Four Leaf” Tayback’s (Nick Nolte) memoir. The film assembles an all-star cast, including action star Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller), junkie comedian Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black), and method actor Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.), who, suffice to say, goes to absurd lengths to portray his African-American character. The film shoot gets off to a terrible start, thanks to the diva antics of the stars, prompting Four Leaf and director Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan) to throw the cast into the jungle with minimal support, hoping to get authentic suffering on film. Unfortunately, the jungle is under the control of an armed and vicious drug syndicate, eager to eliminate the outsiders. Tropic Thunder is a frenetic action comedy, with outlandish characters and some stunningly accurate parodies of Hollywood tropes.
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
One of Wes Anderson’s most iconic films, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou follows the titular explorer (Bill Murray), an oceanographer and documentarian, who sets out to hunt the shark that ate his best friend. Unfortunately, Zissou’s films have been on a downward trajectory, and so he must steal equipment and take a donation from his fan — and possibly his son — Ned Plimpton (Owen Wilson). Along the way, Zissou must confront his declining career and worth as an artist. Those who hate Anderson’s quirky style of filmmaking will probably not be swayed by The Life Aquatic. Those who appreciate his idiosyncrasies, or want to see something far from mainstream filmmaking, will surely appreciate the film’s droll humor and vibrant charms (the soundtrack, including several Portuguese covers of David Bowie songs).
One of the rare musicals to win an Academy Award for Best Picture, this 2002 adaptation of the classic stage show is the story of two women in 1920s Chicago, Roxie Hart (Renee Zellweger) and Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones). Velma is a vaudeville star; Roxie is a fan, and an aspiring singer herself. After both women end up in prison for murdering their lovers, they both enlist the aid of lawyer Billy Flynn (Richard Gere), who turns each of them into celebrities to gin up public sympathy. Chicago is a funny — though somewhat dark — satire of celebrity culture. Of course, musicals live or die by the quality of the music, and Chicago’s soundtrack is full of big, brassy jazz numbers that are as superb as the acting.
A Western parody that puts six rounds in the notion of political correctness, Blazing Saddles showcases Mel Brook’s satire at its finest. In an effort to drive townsfolk off a valuable plot of land, a greedy industrialist hires a black man named Bart (Cleavon Little) to be the new sheriff, in the hopes that the white citizens will leave the town in disgust. Together with gunslinger/wino Jim (Gene Wilder), Bart cleans up the town, gaining the admiration of the townspeople. All throughout, the film mercilessly skewers racism in America and the Western genre as a whole. Although some of the humor might go over the heads of modern audiences — there is a running gag involving a man whose name is confused with Hedy Lamarr — Blazing Saddles is still very bold in its tackling of race. Indeed, it is hard to imagine a movie being made today that bucks political correctness so blatantly.
This is Spinal Tap
Christopher Guest’s mockumentary parodies the “hair metal” scene in riotous fashion. The film follows fictional British rock band Spinal Tap as they tour the United States in an effort to promote their upcoming album, Smell the Glove. Director Rob Reiner also appears in the film as the director of the documentary, with Guest, Michael McKean, and Harry Shearer playing the primary band members. From on-stage wackiness to behind-the-scenes trouble, Spinal Tap makes light of every facet of the music industry — and does it well. Cameos from several famous celebrities — Billy Crystal, Fred Willard, Anjelica Huston, etc. — also help sell the shtick, ensuring the film’s hilarity is never cranked shy of 11.
O Brother, Where Art Thou?
The Coen Brothers’ sepia-toned adaptation of Homer’s Odyssey is a delightful romp through Depression-era Mississippi, one that follows three bumbling convicts — Ulysses Everett McGill (George Clooney), Pete Hogwallop (John Turturro), and Delmar O’Donnell (Tim Blake Nelson) — who escape their chain gang and set off in search of Everett’s buried treasure. Their journey takes them across a surreal vision of the South, as they encounter several characters and events inspired by episodes in the aforementioned epic. In addition to the dusty color palette, the film makes extensive use of period-appropriate music, including blues, gospel, and bluegrass tunes. It’s safe to say that T Bone Burnett’s production has never been so on point.
There’s no finer take on high school cliques than Tina Fey’s Mean Girls. The cult classic stars Lindsey Lohan as Cady Heron, a 16-year-old girl who is forced to attend public school once her family returns from a decade-long research trip in Africa. Lohan joins the school’s most exclusive outfit, but soon finds herself grappling with psychological status warfare when she falls in love with Aaron Samuels (Jonathan Bennett). It showcase girl-on-girl cattiness at its best (and funniest).
Caddyshack is a film for the books. The legendary comedy sees greats such as Chevy Chase, Rodney Dangerfield, and Bill Murray headline an all-star cast that spends much of their time romping around Bushwood Country Club, a suburban golf paradise littered with crazy characters. The ensemble film focuses on a host of unforgettable characters, including greenskeeper Carl Spackler (Murray) and Al Czervik (Dangerfield), a loud-mouthed man whose wealth and mere presence irks the club’s more affluent members. Murray, of course, spends the bulk of his time trying to rid the course of a gopher infestation, while a young Danny Noonan (Michael O’Keefe) caddies for Ty Webb (Chase) in an effort to earn money for his college tuition. Harold Ramis (Groundhog Day, National Lampoon’s Holiday) directs, lending the film plenty of crude humor and more quotable dialogue than anything in his catalog.
Burn After Reading
Another day, another wacky comedy from the Coen brothers that quickly spirals way out of control. In this black comedy, a former CIA analyst (John Malkovich) loses a CD-ROM that contains meaningless ramblings on various government activities, many of which are intended for his soon-to-be memoir. When two certifiable dimwits (Frances McDormand and Brad Pitt) find the disc and think they’ve stumbled upon a treasure trove of valuable secrets, hilarity ensues. George Clooney and Tilda Swinton provide excellent supporting performances as well, but it’s the film’s neurotic score and the tight scripting that truly makes it an anti-spy thriller worthy of the Coen name.
Few directors, writers, or producers showcase a visual or narrative style as distinct as Wes Anderson’s. The whimsical Moonrise Kingdom is one of his best to date. It tells the story of a young scout (Jared Gilman) and a bookish girl (Kara Hayward) who decide to run away together in an effort to temporarily escape their lives — and more so, the parental figures surrounding them. A beautiful, subdued palette makes this oddity of a film a joy to watch, while a tremendous supporting cast — which includes Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Bruce Willis, and others — helps capture an eccentric summer filled with affairs and beachside portraits.
Michael Cera and Jonah Hill made a name for themselves in this hilarious 2007 teen comedy, directed by (who else?) Judd Apatow. Seth (Hill) and Evan (Cera) are high school seniors looking to end their pre-college days with a bang. The film somehow combines ridiculous circumstances with relatable humor, as the two attempt to navigate their way to an end-of-year party with mountains of booze and attractive women. Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Kick-Ass) steals the show as geeky friend McLovin, who spends much of his night with two deadbeat cops.