Coffee, chocolate and Comedy: The Blacker the Better!Jul 17, 2001 Write an essay on this topic.
Popular Products in MoviesThe Bottom Line All are different shades of black, from just above gray to midnight, but all have bite, wit, and a sick funny bone.
Like coffee and chocolate, comedy is better when it's dark. Black comedies are a bit like expresso: strong, bitter, and when brewed to perfection, taste so good. Black comedies don't sell out for the happy Hollywood ending. They force us to confront the evil side to human nature, and as we laugh at on-screen antics, we shiver as we recognize our secret selves.
I believe it was either Bob Hope or Groucho Marx who said, "drama is easy, comedy is hard." Well, if that's true then black comedies are even harder because they need to strike that delicate balance between amusement and repulsion, horror and hilarity. When they're done poorly ("Jawbreaker", "Very Bad Things") it's painful. When they're done right, pure pleasure. Here are my picks for the top 10 black comedies.
10. Citizen Ruth (1996) Dir. Alexander Payne.
To have the cajones to make a comedy about abortion is reason enough for consideration. But the wicked execution, the fine acting (especially from Laura Dern), and equal opportunity to be ridiculed, helped this make my list. Dern plays a pregnant drug user at the center of an abortion controversy, and it's hilarious and sad to see how easily swayed she is by the side with the best pitch. Payne reminds us that when personal decisions become political campaigns, no one comes out unscathed.
9. American Beauty (1999) Dir. Sam Mendes
Suburban family dysfunction is an easy topic for satire, drama, and comedy, but this movie rolled it all up together. Kevin Spacey is dead-on perfect as Lester, a man who has reached the end of his rope and decides he might as well enjoy swinging from it. Watching him raise his fist and triumphantly declare "I rule!", one has to agree. The supporting cast also delivers terrific performances, especially Wes Bently. Annette Benning is a bit too shrill and over the top, but this is an otherwise fine movie that I recommend you "look closer" at.
8. To Die For (1995) Dir. Gus Van Sant
Based loosely on a real case from New Hampshire, Nicole Kidman proves she's more than just the ex Mrs. Tom Cruise in this comedy about fame wh*res. Kidman plays Susanne, a woman so focused on getting on TV that she's stop at nothing to realize this (including almost giving a BJ to Wayne Knight-Newman from Seinfeld). Her candy colored K-Mart outfits and prim determination is then turned on and against three teens who are hungry for adult encouragement. To watch her manipulate and mold these young minds is truly chilling. Casey Affleck, Joaquin Phoenix, and Alison Fullard give great performances as does Illena Douglass.
7. Grosse Point Blank (1997) Dir. George Armitage.
Even the title has word play. In this comedy, written by and starring John Cusack, a hitman goes to his 10th high school reunion and has to confront both is past and present. Minnie Driver is dry as the Saharra and Cusack has never been better. Watching him take out an assassin one minute and hold a classmate's baby the next is hysterical. He reminds us that certain milestones force us to confront when, and if we're going to grow up. Dan Ackroyd is also darkly funny as the popcorn-shooting mentor.
6. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Tim Burton produced this darkly comic take on the holidays, starring a skeleton and a Frankenstein-like rag doll. Although this doesn't take on the commercialization of the holidays like "The Grinch", "Nightmare" captures the frustration of being locked into one job, one life. When Jack Skellington's Halloween world collides with Christmas, the results are hysterical. He and his friends mean well, but they bring the children of the world shrunken heads and creatures that eat the family dog and Christmas tree. The macabre world of Halloween land is imaginative and sweet in its own weird way.
5. Better Off Dead (1985)
Another John Cusack gem. This movie was a welcome break from those '80's "teen movies". In this twisted take, Cusack plays a love lorn high school student who decided to off himself after his girlfriend dumps him. Watching Cusack mope around, creating elaborate, yet half-hearted suicide attempts is a pure pleasure and it gives one an early glimpse of his talent. And, of course, the psychotic paperboy ("I want my $2!") makes you forgive the rather typical show-down ending.
4. Fargo (1996) Dir. Joel Coen
"Hiya hon!" Frances McDormand was so dead-on perfect in her role as the very pregnant police chief of a small Minnesota town that most people forgot she was acting. She shines whenever she is on the screen, whether inquiring, "I suppose that's your partner in the woodchipper, eh?" or trying to apprehend William H. Macy ("He's fleeing the scene!! Oh jeez...how do I get an outside line here?"). The Coen brothers capture the desolation, desperation, and sheer determination of the midwest in their cinnematography, characters (especially Macy), and the little details. There's more blood in this one than a Tarrantino flick...and more heart than Nora Ephron could ever muster up.
3. Election (1991) Dir. Alexander Payne
Another one directed by Payne, but this time he decides to take on high school as a microcosm for society at large..namely politics. It's creepy how the election mess in this movie foreshadows the Gore-Bush debacle this past November. We can finally forgive Reece Witherspoon for wasting her talents in terrible movies like "Freeway" and "Cruel Intentions." Here, as Tracy Flick, she gives an outstanding performance, right down to the accent. She's like Sweet and Low...saccharine and totally artificial. She butts heads with Matthew Broderick as she schemes to become the student government president. This is perfect casting, as Broderick's Ferris Beuller has now grown up and feels what it's like on the other side of high school hell. Anyone who's ever suffered through a high school assemby will appreciate this movie.
2. The House of Yes (1997) Dir. Mark Waters
If Tennessee Williams have written "The Glass Menagerie" while on acid and had dipped the pages in poison, this would have been the result. Parker Posey shows why she is the reigning indie queen in this twisted tale of incest and Thanksgiving. Tory Spelling also proves she's more than just Hollywood nepotism as she and Posey square off for the affection's of Posey's twin brother. Spelling is the new fiance and Posey isn't too happy about that ("Oh, she's a waitress at Donut King. Does that make her a princess? Are we entertaining royalty?" the WASPY Posey asks nastily). Watching them in the piano scene, as they try to impress Jack, will make you squirm and laugh. Freddy Prince Jr. also does a decent job as the youngest brother who has the hots for Spelling and just complicates the mix. Too bad he then moved on to be the King of Mediocre Teen movies.
1. Heathers (1989)
This was my first black comedy and everyone always remembers their first time. Winnona Ryder and Christian Slater are a teen-age Bonnie and Clyde in this one that pokes fun at the '80's in a way "American Psycho" only wished it could have. Ryder and Slater kill off their snotty classmates, making it look like suicides, with completely unexpected results ("Suicide," Ryder muses "gave Heather depth, Kurt a soul, and Ram a brain."). A pre-90210 Shannen Doherty is also perfectly witchy (and forever since typecast) as a scheming social climber.
Well, those're my picks. Hope you get a chance to check them out!
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