2023 hasn’t been a banner year for every Hollywood genre. This year’s horror offerings have, in particular, left a lot to be desired. At the same time, this year has seen Hollywood deliver more inventive and memorable mid-budget studio comedies than it has in quite a while.
Not every one of the year’s comedies has necessarily hit the mark, but even flawed efforts like No Hard Feelings have brought welcome diversity to the entertainment industry’s typical yearly release slate. Now, with only a few weeks left to go before we all kiss 2023 goodbye, there’s no better time to celebrate some of the year’s funniest films.
Without any further ado, here are the seven best comedies released this year.
Sanctuary is one of the year’s unlikeliest comedies. On paper, a film about a dominatrix who tries to blackmail her nepo baby client into compensating her for the confidence she’s helped him build might not scream “laugh-out-loud funny.” Sure enough, though, Sanctuary is one of 2023’s darkest and most depraved delights, a sexually charged farce that’s held together by director Zachary Wigon’s crafty blocking and Margaret Qualley (Poor Things) and Christopher Abbott’s go-for-broke, unhinged lead performances. It’s shocking, gross, occasionally sexy, and sweeter than anyone might rightly expect it to be.
Nothing about it, including its last-minute rom-com twists, should work. However, Qualley, in particular, finds a way to bring a knowing, humorous edge to Sanctuary’s 90-minute confrontation that ensures it’ll leave you grinning incredulously for most of its runtime. Sometimes, all it takes for a comedy to work is the nerve to really go there. Fortunately, that’s something Sanctuary has in spades.
Alexander Payne’s long-awaited follow-up to 2017’s Downsizing is a cozy yet prickly dramedy that proves, once again, why Paul Giamatti is one of the most versatile performers on the planet. The actor leads The Holdovers as a cranky ancient history teacher at a Massachusetts boarding school who ends up forced to spend his holidays on campus with a mourning cafeteria administrator (played by Da’Vine Joy Randolph) and a troubled student (Dominic Sessa). Its premise sets it up to deliver more than a few dramatic moments, and The Holdovers does exactly that, but the emotional darkness of its story never overwhelms it.
That is, in part, due to the lightly comedic tone of David Hemingson’s screenplay, but it’s also thanks to Giamatti’s lead performance, which straddles the line between caricature and emotional frankness so beautifully that he’s able to constantly lift The Holdovers up even when it’s feeling decidedly down. The film is an ode to Hal Ashby’s 1970s human comedies (see: Harold and Maude, Being There), and it works as both a tribute to those movies and a reminder of why they have such a lasting appeal.
Speaking of films that could have felt commonplace 40 or 50 years ago, Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret is an astonishingly gentle, frank comedy. Produced by James L. Brooks and written and directed by The Edge of Seventeen filmmaker Kelly Fremon Craig, it’s a film that is so tuned into the emotions and anxieties of its characters that it’s repeatedly able to make you burst out laughing in one moment and tear up in the next.
Behind the camera, Craig puts the film together so effortlessly that it’d almost be easy to take the entire thing for granted were it not for just how beautifully and patiently it paints its portrait of adolescence. It’s written and directed with a keen, empathetic eye, which is why it features more relatable, outrageously funny moments of observational humor than most other comedies released this year.
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves isn’t just the year’s most underrated franchise film — it’s also the funniest. Directed by Game Night directors Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley, Honor Among Thieves not only succeeds in capitalizing on the success of the world’s most popular tabletop role-playing game, but it also brings camaraderie, lightness, and comedy back to the fantasy genre. Featuring an all-star cast of actors, Honor Among Thieves evolves quite a lot throughout its story. It begins as a prison breakout thriller, transforms into a magical caper comedy, and then eventually turns into a save-the-world action movie.
The film is bound together at all times by its comedic spirit, which inspires a handful of unforgettably funny gags, including a recurring joke involving a birdlike patsy named Jarnathan and a use of the Speak with Dead spell that results in a series of hilarious misunderstandings. When it was released in March, Honor Among Thieves was welcomed with mostly open arms by critics. Nine months later, its rank as one of the year’s best and funniest blockbusters just seems all the more evident and undeniable.
Poor Things, Yorgos Lanthimos’ eighth feature film, is somehow the revered filmmaker’s oddest and funniest to date. Those familiar with Lanthimos’ previous work will know just how noteworthy that is. However, even those who haven’t seen any of the director’s past films don’t have to wait long to discover exactly how ludicrous and singular Poor Things is. The movie, which follows a woman with a child’s brain in an adult body as she matures in a world that desperately wants to control her, announces its screwball tone and transgressive intentions early.
From there, Poor Things quickly evolves into a gobsmackingly imaginative, stylish sex comedy, one that produces Mark Ruffalo’s funniest and best performance in years, as well as a lead turn from Emma Stone that ranks squarely as the greatest that the actress has ever given. Tony McNamara’s witty screenplay, meanwhile, fills the film with some of the year’s most ingenious turns of phrase — guaranteeing that even the most squeamish of viewers won’t be able to fully resist Poor Things’ infectious charm and sense of humor.
Several films made a bid this year to revive the R-rated studio comedy, but none did so quite as successfully as Bottoms. Director Emma Seligman’s second feature outing is an endearing mishmash of genres, tones, and influences that ultimately emerges as something completely new and fresh. A coming-of-age comedy about a pair of high schoolers (played by Rachel Sennott and Ayo Edebiri) who decide to start a female fight club in order to hook up with their cheerleader crushes, Bottoms is a hysterical send-up of American high school culture that isn’t afraid to go to even hornier and more violent places than most viewers will expect.
Its financial success may have been hurt by the strikes-related lack of promotion leading up to its release, but the film already feels guaranteed to become a cult classic comedy among both high schoolers and cinephiles alike. On the one hand, that’s a disappointing fate to befall a movie as good as Bottoms. On the other hand, it seems somewhat fitting for a film that is as energetically made and delightfully deranged as it.
Wes Anderson’s latest dramedy, Asteroid City, is one of his best efforts yet. A nesting doll film about a collection of kids and adults who end up quarantined in an American desert town after it’s visited by an alien, Asteroid City feels like the artistic culmination of a phase of Anderson’s career that began with The Grand Budapest Hotel. It is, like that film and 2021’s The French Dispatch, an exquisitely made cinematic diorama, but it’s also his most emotionally inquisitive and opaque outing since 2012’s Moonrise Kingdom.
When it was released this past summer, the film received a somewhat divisive response from casual moviegoers. The more time one spends with it, the more obvious Asteroid City’s greatness becomes. It’s among Anderson’s most compelling and emotionally stirring late-period films and features some of the greatest visual gags and jokes of any movie you’ll see this year. It only seems to grow funnier every time you revisit it, and that’s saying a lot, given how immediately and satisfyingly amusing so much of Asteroid City is.
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