The Writers Guild of America, the organization that represents screen and television writers, is putting together a poll of the 100 funniest movies of all time. They’ve asked their members to each submit a list of 15 films, and they’ll tally the votes to come up with the list of 100.
My nominees (in no particular order):
The Pink Panther
A Shot In The Dark
Weekend At Bernie’s
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Driving Miss Daisy
The Long, Long Trailer
My Cousin Vinny
What makes a movie funny? To me, the bottom line is great comedic acting. I love watching a talented actor who can take a mildly-funny line of dialogue and make it into something uproarious, using facial expression, body language, voice inflection, and – most importantly – timing.
The great comedians all share the quality of having an exquisite sense of when to speak and when to shut up. A great comedian know that a moment of silence, in exactly the right place, speaks volumes. Peter Sellers, the star of those wildly funny Inspector Clouseau films (including the two on my list) was a master of all of the comedic qualities, but especially timing.
What kind of funny movies are not on my list? Those that are mean-spirited in their making fun, and those in which the only ingredient is stupid people doing truly stupid things. If I laugh, and then immediately feel guilty about laughing, I know I’ve just witnessed bad humor.
The movies on my list aren’t unreservedly funny. They contain elements of drama, conflict, even sorrow. But the dark places make the humorous ones stand out and give the characters depth and texture. One of my favorites, Driving Miss Daisy, is a perfect example. Daisy Werthen is pushing back hard against the ravages of advancing age, and the humor in her combat touches something deep in us.
You’ll have your own list of funny movies, and your list is as good as mine. We’ll see what my fellow Writers Guild members come up with, and then I’ll share the poll of the 100 funniest.