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    my personal canon, part II

    So let's move on to comedies.

    Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton are the two obvious early giants needing acknowledgement. I'm going with Modern Times (1936) as the "canonical" Chaplin and (I'm embarrassed to say this) I haven't really seen enough Keaton to make an educated choice here. I'm picking The General (1927) (co-directed by Keaton and Clyde Bruckman) on the strength of its reputation, but I don't think I've actually seen it. Into the Netflix queue it goes!

    Marx Brothers also should be on this list, with probably Leo McCarey's Duck Soup (1933) being top pick.

    Jumping ahead a bit, trying to deal with the genre of the "romantic comedy." When thinking about the "quintessential" romantic comedies I always think of Rob Reiner's When Harry Met Sally... (1989), although I haven't seen it in years and am not sure how it holds up. I'm also prone to choose Woody Allen's Annie Hall (1977) (which functions as the perfect bridge between Allen's earlier, more absurdist films and his later, more character-driven ones).

    Mike Nichols' The Graduate (1967) isn't exactly a romantic comedy: I read it as more of an anti-romantic-comedy, which is interesting in its own right. It has some serious problems, not least of which is its blatant misogyny, but it's still pitch-perfect in its representation of a certain type of (white, male) alienation. (Plus I want Robert Altman's The Player on here (later) and you need The Graduate for some of the jokes in The Player to make sense.)

    While we're still in the 1960's, I can't leave off Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964), which is not only Peter Sellers' greatest film but also possibly the blackest of all black comedies.

    I do think the 80's-period teen comedies should get a slot: GreenApricot claims that Cameron Crowe's Say Anything... (1989) is the best of the batch, and I'm prepared to believe her. Aside from the famous sequence, I can't remember if I've seen it or not, but I'll give it a tenuous home on the list. (Including it makes me want to include both Heathers (1989) (like Scream, it's something of a genre-killer) and the wonderful post-teen film Grosse Pointe Blank (1997), but I'll leave these off for the time being.)

    As a geek, I am contractually obligated to include Gilliam and Jones' Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)—1979's Life of Brian is not without its moments, but Holy Grail is the one that people I know have memorized from beginning to end.

    I'd like a "mockumentary" to be on this list, and the choice, for me, is Rob Reiner's This Is Spinal Tap (1984). Some of the Christopher Guest films (particularly Best In Show (2000)) give it a run for the money, but Spinal Tap is undeniably classic.

    I also think a goofy absurdist parody-type film belongs on here: although the current crop of these (Scary Movie, Epic Movie, etc) are about as dreadful as you can get, I still think Abrahams and Zucker's Airplane! (1980), the father of the genre, packs in enough laughs to justify the horrible spawn it would later birth. It may be taking the slot that rightfully belongs to something by Mel Brooks: we'll see if we have room for him later.

    The 40's and 50's are pretty poorly represented in my sweep through comedy: it's a blind spot. There are a lot of critically-lauded 50's-era comedies that I haven't seen: especially Billy Wilder's Some Like It Hot (1959) and The Seven-Year Itch (1955), and Howard Hawks' His Girl Friday (1940) may be an early romantic comedy that deserves inclusion. Anything else that's missing here?

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    Sunday, April 08, 2007
    6:56 PM


    You and Ebert pick a lot of the same movies. Rushmore would be on a short list of my favorite comedies. As would Caddyshack, possibly the most overquoted movie of all time.
    Ebert and I are both populists.

    I think Rushmore will be on this list eventually, but as part of a different trajectory: or another way to put it is to say that its significance (to me) is not as a comedy per se.
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