Netflix perfected the wholesome, popcorn-perfect rom-com in 2018, and its approach to straight-up comedies often veers toward low-effort—*cough* eight Adam Sandler originals *cough*—stoner-optimized films. It’s easy to forget how many brilliant gut-busters the platform has to offer in January 2019. Cult classics like recently blasphemed Coen Bros flick The Big Lebowski, genuine blockbusters like Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz, and foreign funnies like Jackie Chan’s breakout, Drunken Master, are just a few of the iconic titles hidden in the crevices of the great Feed. Here are the best straight-up comedies available on Netflix right now.
Despite the earlier Adam Sandler dig, it is our responsibility to inform you that Happy Gilmore, the best and second dumbest of Adam Sandler’s “good” movies (Billy Madison being slightly worse and much stupider), is currently streaming on Netflix. With a killer cameo by Bob Barker and Ben Stiller as a devious, mustachioed, quilt-hawking orderly, the rags-to-riches story of a shitty hockey player turned pro golfer is the cream of the dumb-fun crop.
F. Gary Gray’s first film introduced the world to Chris Tucker and cemented the acting career Ice Cube kicked off with 1991’s Boyz n the Hood. Gray is a consistent hitmaker, knocking it out of the park for nearly 15 years with The Italian Job, Be Cool, and Straight Outta Compton, not to mention his new Men in Black movie coming out in 2019. Friday’s biggest strength is in Tucker and Ice Cube’s dynamic, youthful back-and-forth, but Gray’s talent for delivering consistent laughs in the face of violence and crime also serves the movie well. One minute Tucker’s taking a shit on someone’s lawn, the next he and Cube are dodging a drive by. It’s goofy and fun, but it doesn’t shy away from harsh reality.
Plus, this GIF is the first thing that comes up when you search fro “smoking weed.” What more do you need to know?
The Big Lebowski
Netflix has landed a solid set of the Coens’ movies in addition to their original series The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. All of them are comedies, of a sort, even No Country for Old Men; who can help but let out a tense giggle after Javier Bardem’s Anton Chigurh flipping a coin to determine whether a gas station worker will live—and then actually sparing him? The site has their crushing political thriller spoof Burn After Reading, and their most Jewish movie, A Serious Man. But the funniest of their films currently streaming is The Big Lebowski, an endlessly quotable marriage of their writing and directing talents with the perfectly dissonant personalities of John Goodman’s Walter Sobchak, Steve Buschemi’s Theodore Donald 'Donny' Kerabatsos, and Jeff Bridges’ Duderino. Hell, this is the picture that revitalized Sam Elliott with a part that was designed just for him, and, as he tells it, made him feel free from being pigeonholed in Westerns. What are you doing? Grab a White Russian—not a Stella Artois—and load ‘er up ASAP.
The Legend of Drunken Master
It’s hard to push Jackie Chan’s questionable support for the Chinese police state to the back of your mind, but one way to do so is watching his first box office success, The Legend of the Drunken Master. Set in early 20th century, long before China and the US were jockeying to be the world’s biggest superpower, Chan plays a loveable, if immature, martial artist whose true strength only comes out when he’s wasted. It’s the perfect film to celebrate the end of dry January, and it has a number of genuinely useful fighting lessons.
She’s Gotta Have It
Spike Lee’s debut film is about romance, and there are plenty of funny moments, but it’s definitely no rom-com. Perhaps it’s the stacks of detached French New Wave influence, complete with black-and-white film and jazzy score, or the critique of relationships altogether that make the label seem inappropriate. But it’s still hilarious, even in some of the darkest moments. Lee’s trademark rants are plentiful throughout the story of Nola Darling (Tracy Camilla Johns) a polyamorous Brooklynite who juggles relationships with three men. The main villain in this story is monogamy, and it’s equal parts hilarious satire of male entitlement in love and brutal examination of how people use relationships to control and hurt each other.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Don’t let the sci-fi backdrop fool you, this film based on the Douglas Adams novels is a brilliant British wit at its best. Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman) is a schlubby nobody whose house has just been demolished to build a bypass when aliens arrive and destroy the Earth—to build an interstellar bypass. The plot that would normally be drawn out over the course of a whole two-hour action flick ending with Will Smith blowing up the aliens only takes about 15 minutes. Luckily, the next 90 minutes are full of Dent kicking around the galaxy with his friend Ford Prefect (Yasiin Bey, a.k.a. Mos Def), who rescues him by hitching a ride on one of the alien demolition ships. They encounter Dent’s ex (Zooey Deschanel) and the M.I.A. president of the galaxy (Sam Rockwell) in an epic journey to find the meaning of the universe and not be so sad. There are also excellent cameos by John Malkovich and the voices of Alan Rickman and Stephen Fry. If a little absurdity doesn’t freak you out, this movie will make you smile.
Edgar Wright is also well-represented on Netflix’s infinite feed. His first feature-length film with lifetime collaborators Nick Frost and Simon Pegg, Shaun of the Dead, is the ultimate zombie movie spoof, and his ode to relationship baggage and video games, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, is a truly fun and inventive movie. It even managed to make Michael Cera look sort of cool. But in terms of pure gut-bustability, Hot Fuzz is the strongest of Wright’s films available on Netflix at the moment. It follows a police prodigy (Pegg) relegated to a seemingly peaceful countryside hamlet by his superiors because his skill and dedication are making the rest of the force look bad. The resulting culture clash leads to a great spoof of action movies that is also a great action movie that really showcases how to land a joke with editing alone.
The Life of Brian
There is a TON of Monty Python material preserved in the Netflix database, from the Flying Circus years to documentaries about John Cleese, Eric Idle and the rest both before their rise and after their heyday. Even Absolutely Anything, a mediocre film where the Montys voice aliens who are deciding whether or not to destroy the planet (and Robin Williams appears as the voice of a dog in his last movie role), is on there. Monty Python and the Holy Grail is there too, and while it’s widely regarded as their best work, The Life of Brian is a better movie. It has just as many iconic jokes, from “Yes, we are all individuals,” to the crucified criminals singing “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.” Plus it has a more coherent plot and a stronger message about the thing its satirizing.
Noah Baumbauch is another director who has a good chunk of his filmography on Netflix. Alongside his debut, Kicking and Screaming (not the Will Ferrell one), the streamer has his mid-life crisis movie While We’re Young, and his first original film for the platform, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected). But Baumbauch’s best movie is still Frances Ha, the intimate portrait of a young woman trying to make it as an independent dancer in New York. This movie that introduced the world to both Ladybird director Greta Gerwig and future emo Jedi Adam Driver. Gerwig’s capacity for inhaling and exhaling unbridled joy is undoubtedly the best part of the movie, but it shines especially bright within Baumbach’s knack for finding comedy in the awkward situations he puts her in. Dislodged from her roost in Brooklyn when her roommate moves to Tribeca, Gerwig’s Frances is forced unexpectedly to suss out her place in the world. She journies into her past by spending the holidays with her family Sacramento and her infinite potential futures in a brief trip to Paris. She returns to the present with a waitressing stint in her college town before settling back in New York. It’s a movie about growing up, and how funny and human it is to follow our dreams and fail—or find another definition of success.
After 18 years, Stephen Chow’s hysterical satire of both American sports movies and Chinese kung-fu movies is still a slam dunk. It follows a ragtag group of kung-fu masters who are struggling to make ends meet in fast-paced, civilized society. A disgraced soccer coach adopts them and tries to turn them into the best team in the world, which involves each of them figuring out a way to use their special martial art in a way that makes sense for soccer: the one with Lightning Hands Style, for example, eventually becomes the perfect goalie. Obviously, they wind up facing an evil soccer team that also has superpowers. The funniest thing about the whole story is that the main character, Mighty Steel Leg Sing (Chow) is just doing it because he wants to make kung-fu cool again. Mission accomplished!
A revenge flick so wild it’s little surprise it almost didn’t make it to theaters, Heathers also a teen comedy so dark that it may actually turn viewers into its star, Winona Ryder. She plays Veronica, a popular girl who murders other popular girls—all named Heather—at the behest of her psycho loner boyfriend, J.D., played by a young Christian Slater. The comedy here is in just how far director Michael Lehman leads viewers away from reality. One of the punchlines is literally a suicide bomb! This is pre-9/11, so it must have seemed pretty wacky at the time, but damn this film packs a wallop in 2019.
I Love You, Man
It might be a stretch to say I Love You, Man single-handedly made straight guys more comfortable saying “I love you” to each other, but it probably helped. Starring Paul Rudd as the straight-laced Peter Klaven and Jason Seigel as unintentional sleazecore icon Sydney Fife, it’s a tale as old as time: a guy realizes he has very few guy friends, so latches onto the first slacker who can tolerate his personality in the hopes that he will eventually be the best man at his wedding. Director John Hamburg’s loving portrayal of male friendship has wonderful performances by Rashida Jones, J.K. Simmons, Andy Samberg, Aziz Ansari, Jon Favreau, and Nick Kroll. However, it’s also responsible for that weird year where everybody was saying “Slappa da bass” for no reason all the time, which was not great.
Before Martin McDonagh’s controversial foray into small town American politics with Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, he applied his dark humor toward a couple of hitmen grappling with moral relativism in the small Belgian town of Bruges. In one of Colin Farrell's most memorable roles, he plays Ray, a despondent Irish killer who accidentally murders a kid while knocking off a priest. Throughout the film, he and the other members of his illicit organization, Ken (Brendan Gleeson) and Harry (Ralph Fiennes) talk, drink, and shoot their way through the quandary of whether one can ever be forgiven for such a crime, even if it’s an accident. It’s an ethical and narrative labyrinth of a film that gets deeper and darker with every minute, yet manages to squeeze out full belly laughs in spite of the dark subject matter.
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