The Funniest Movies of 1980-1990:
AIRPLANE! (1980) The ultimate send-up of the disaster genre. The directors/writers Jim Abrahams, and the brothers Jerry and David Zucker provide an avalanche of visual gags, parodies and puns. (“Surely you can’t be serious.” “I am serious, and don’t call me Shirley.”) Don’t like a joke? Wait 10 seconds and there’ll be a new one. With Robert Hays as a failed pilot, Julie Hagerty as a flighty flight attendant, and a grand cast of poker-faced stiffs, including Leslie Nielsen, Lloyd Bridges and Robert Stack.
CADDYSHACK (1980) Helming his first film, Harold Ramis swings in all directions for this cult-classic collage of comic royalty. Chevy Chase smiles through disaster, Ted Knight sneers at joy, Bill Murray hunts a ridiculous gopher puppet, and Rodney Dangerfield pretty much just plays an upbeat clone of himself. It’s a Cinderella story.
PRIVATE BENJAMIN (1980) A pampered bride (Goldie Hawn) becomes a widow on her wedding night. What to do? In the old days, men would drown their sorrows by joining the French Foreign Legion. She enlists in the U.S. Army. Her rude awakening comes when a tough drill sergeant (Eileen Brennan) introduces Private Benjamin to the rigors of military life.
NINE TO FIVE (1980) When women were women, and men were chauvinists. Three secretaries (Lily Tomlin, Dolly Parton and Jane Fonda) are mercilessly harrassed by their boss (Dabney Coleman). Director Colin Higgins never lets up, and the sexist boss finally gets his well-plotted verbal and visual comeuppance.
MY FAVORITE YEAR (1982) Although he isn’t credited, the spirit of Errol Flynn, Hollywood’s ultimate ladies’ man, hovers over this appealing film. Peter O’Toole plays an aging, hard-drinking roué; Mark-Linn Baker is the kid who brings him home to lower-class Brooklyn, and promptly causes a riot. Richard Benjamin, an actor who knows from timing, directed capably.
VICTOR/VICTORIA (1982) In 1930s Paris, struggling singer Victoria (Julie Andrews) befriends Teddy (Robert Preston) a gay nightclub entertainer. He suggests a career move. Why not tour as Victor, a man posing as a woman? Victor/Victoria becomes a smash–but comic complications attend the gender-bending: pursuit by a gangster (James Garner) and hostility from the thug’s girlfriend (Leslie Anne Warren.) Tastefully directed by Blake Edwards, who might have been vulgar but never goes over the edge.
TOOTSIE (1982) A self-centered actor (Dustin Hoffman) can’t land a job–because the only parts available are for women. So he dresses as one, gets a soap opera part, learns how the other half lives, and becomes a better man/woman for it. Smart direction by Sydney Pollack (who also plays an agent) stresses credibility and gets laughs. So do Bill Murray, Teri Garr, Jessica Lange and Dabney Coleman.
48 HOURS (1982) Nick Nolte is a large white cop with small eyes; Eddie Murphy is a small black convict with big eyes. Under Walter Hill’s direction, they fight crime, spout one-liners and create big-time havoc. A great pairing, done before the two got stale.
FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH (1982) An accurate portrait of Southern California adolescence. All the hormones are in overdrive, with expected but pleasing results. Sean Penn leads the cast. Silver-screen debuts of Nicolas Cage, Eric Stoltz and Forest Whitaker.
DINER (1982) Writer/director Barry Levinson’s funny, fond look in the rearview mirror. What he sees is the city of his youth–Baltimore–and the friends who hung out together in an eatery. First feature-film appearances for Ellen Barkin and Paul Reiser.
TRADING PLACES (1983) The title represents the truth in labeling. Eddie Murphy, a streetwise African American hustler, exchanges jobs with Dan Aykroyd, a very proper Philadelphia stockbroker. The results are everything you’d expect from these two–and more. John Landis directed.
GHOSTBUSTERS (1984) House haunted? Hire Dan Aykroyd and Bill Murray, who know how to dispel ghosts and dispense jokes. So do Sigourney Weaver, Harold Ramis, Rick Moranis and director Ivan Reitman.
THIS IS SPINAL TAP (1984) Rock ‘n’ roll has the courage to laugh at itself in Rob Reiner’s pioneering mockumentary. It follows a British heavy metal group, short on talent and money, as they tour third-rate venues across the United States on their way to oblivion. With wonderfully straight-faced performances by Chris Guest, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, Bruno Kirby and Tony Hendra.
PRIZZI’S HONOR (1985) Jack Nicholson is a lightheaded hit man for the mob. He falls in love with Kathleen Turner, who turns out to be a hit woman for another mob, with a very uncomfortable agenda. Black comedy–or rather Black Hand comedy–at its best. Anjelica Huston is as fine as the leads, and her father, John, did a classy job of direction.
AFTER HOURS (1985) Marty Scorsese’s affectionate glimpse of lower-Manhattan’s wildlife. Sheltered yuppie Griffin Dunne loses himself in a downtown Wonderland where, he learns, “different rules apply.” As full of surprises as the world it depicts.
LOST IN AMERICA (1985) A “white-bread” couple (Albert Brooks and Julie Hagerty) give up their jobs and drive cross-country to see the flyover country they missed. En route, they find nothing but trouble–funny trouble–especially in Las Vegas, where they lose the better part of their savings and vainly try to recoup. Garry Marshall is unforgettable as a casino owner. Brooks directed, wrote, starred and sparkled.
DOWN AND OUT IN BEVERLY HILLS (1986) A bum (Nick Nolte) attempts to drown himself in the pool of a nouveau riche couple (Richard Dreyfuss and Bette Midler) becomes involved in their lives, and wrecks everything. Paul Mazursky directed with a trowel, but it’s laugh-filled anyway.
ROXANNE (1987) Edmond Rostand’s play about Cyrano de Bergerac, a man with a talent as big as his nose, is brought up to speed by Steve Martin, who wrote and starred. As in the original, a gifted suitor, C. D. (Martin) is smitten by the gorgeous Roxanne (Daryl Hannah.) Alas, she has fallen for a handsome dimwit, Chris (Rick Rossovich). Since C. D. can’t have her, he generously helps Chris woo the lady with poems and speeches. Martin is alternately droll and poignant in this mini-masterpiece.
GOOD MORNING, VIETNAM (1987) The story, much exaggerated, of Adrian Cronauer. This one-time disc jockey was the voice of Armed Forces Radio until he was forced out in 1965. Robin Williams takes the bio and runs with it. Uneven but inventive humor with a moral. Forest Whitaker offers strong backup; Barry Levinson directed with heart as well as funnybone.
RAISING ARIZONA (1987) For their third film, Joel and Ethan Coen hit their stride by effectively trapping Nicolas Cage in a live-action Looney Tunes version of Crime and Punishment. The crime: babynapping. The punishment: guilt, dirty diapers, a police investigation, marital woes (via a fiery Holly Hunter), rude houseguests (via John Goodman and William Forsythe’s bungling brother jailbreakers,) madcap car/foot/dog chases, and an encounter with the Lone Biker Of The Apocalypse. It’s even better than it sounds.
BROADCAST NEWS (1987) James Brooks’s satiric exposé of TV journalism–as all style, zero substance. William Hurt is the anchorman with good looks and no brain; Albert Brooks is the reporter with smarts and no style. Holly Hunter is their obnoxious boss.
PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES (1987) A tired businessman (Steve Martin) tries desperately to get home. Nobody listens, except a lumpish, insensitive passer-by (John Candy.) Disaster follows. The cast plays it for reality as well as laughs, thanks to director John Hughes.
BIG (1988) An unhappy kid wishes he were a grownup. And voilà! He magically becomes one–except that he retains a 12-year-old mind in an adult’s body. Tom Hanks is just as magical as the premise. Penny Marshall directs a glowing cast.
A FISH CALLED WANDA (1988) A shaggy fish tale, written by former Monty Python veteran John Cleese, who also stars in this caper gone mad. Fellow Pythonite Michael Palin helps enormously, as do Jamie Lee Curtis and a frantically stuttering Kevin Kline.
BEETLEJUICE (1988) A young couple (Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin) are killed in an automobile accent, and return as ghosts, ready to inhabit their dream house. Alas, the place is occupied by live interlopers. The pair isn’t skilled enough to scare a mouse, so they hire the evil Beetlejuice (Michael Keaton). Fine ensemble work, and director Tim Burton supplies so many sight gags and special effects that you might want to view it twice.
HONEY, I SHRUNK THE KIDS (1989) Children accidentally point an experimental ray gun the wrong way and become minuscule and helpless. Smashing special effects, and delicious performances by Rick Moranis and a quartet of talented minors.