What are the most interesting comedies movies to watch in the history of cinema? Before getting to the cinema, let’s see how the genre of comedy was born in ancient theater and literature.
The origins of the comedy
The word comedy derives from the classical Greek kōmōidía, which is composed of the 2 words feast and song, ode. The known origins of the comedy date back to Ancient Greece in some works of Aristotle, such as La Poetica, and Aristophanes. In them the Greek authors made irony about the lifestyles and contradictions of Athenian society.
The theatrical comedies were staged in the cities of ancient Greece to make social and political satire, as is the case in today’s television talk shows. Often they were performances on a current affairs conflict, on politicians and on well-known personalities of society, where there were two sides against each other. The public could identify and at the same time enjoy themselves.
The Canadian critic Herman Northrop Frye identified this main conflict of theatrical comedy of ancient Greece in the clash between the young generations and the old generations, between those who do not yet have authority and power and those who he does not want to give up the prestigious role he has won in society. The clash was told in amusing tones and paradoxical situations.
While the favorite hero in the tragedy was a virtuous man, the protagonist of the comedies was often a mediocre and flawed man. An ideal character to tell the flaws of society with a funny tone.
Comedy through the centuries
In the ancient Islamic world where Aristotle’s poetics was translated, the term comedy was not associated with entertainment. It was rather a genre associated with satirical poetry by writers and poets such as Abu Bishr, Al-Farabi, Avicenna and Averroes.
The comedy crosses all eras, from that of ancient Rome to the Renaissance, up to the works of Shakespeare.
In the Middle Ages the term comedy deviates from the meaning of funny representation and is associated with laughter and takes on the meaning of a poem with a happy ending. As in the case of Dante Alighieri’s La Commedia.
The comedy in silent cinema
Comedy is a very popular cinematic genre which has its main features in irony, satire and derision of social and moral mores. In the origin of cinema, comedy was immediately one of the main genres, especially after the creation of the Hollywood industry. The sentimental comedy was born in the ’10s with films that told of the separation of two spouses and the attendance of other partners.
The films had a purpose of containing the divorce explosion of the time. They always ended with a moralistic ending in which the two spouses returned to live together.
Thanks to the comic comedy genre and the character of Charlot, Charlie Chaplin became one of the most famous actors and directors in the world. His masterpieces are countless, starting with the comic film The Kid up to the bitter and dramatic comedy of Limelight.
In the limelight finale Charlie Chaplin stars with another comedy giant, Buster Keaton. Some Buster Keaton comedies are a must see, they are real masterpieces of the slapstick genre, a genre typical of the silent era in which comedy was focused on action and physical gags. For example in the films How I Won the War or The Cameraman.
With the advent of sound, comedy begins to use gags also through dialogues.
In 1934 the Hays code came into force and the rigidity of the censorship no longer allowed the distribution of works that spoke of marital adultery. The comedy genre then turned towards the sub-genre of screwball comedy, the sophisticated comedy.
This genre of comedies featured rich characters from the upper middle class. Sophisticated comedy was frequented by great directors such as Frank Capra in films such as It Happened One Night, 1934.
The undisputed master of sophisticated comedy in Hollywood was Ernst Lubitsch. Lubitsch’s style was brilliant, engaging and dynamic, made up of sudden changes of narrative and point of view. Among his most famous comedies to watch we can remember films such as Lady Windermere’s Fan, Trouble in Paradise, Design for Living, Ninotchka, shot between the 20s and 30s. Among his masterpieces certainly also, To Be or Not to Be, a memorable satire on Hitler, inspired by Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator.
beginning of the thirties to establish itself as a comedy in Hollywood director especially Frank Capra with his films with happy endings, endings often far-fetched and sweetened.
We are in the middle of the New Deal and after the Great Depression the United States needs trust. Production companies are happy to produce films that support the government’s political project of a new American dream.
From the 40-50s the master of comedyarrives to success Howard Hawks, with films like I am Susanna! (1938), His Girl Friday (1940) or Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953).
They are cinematic stories in which the author focuses mainly on the conflict between boring life and chaos, with an invisible direction that gives objective relevance to the events that happen on the screen.
The comedy however becomes bitter and turns into arthouse films with greater depth only withcinema Billy Wilder’s. Wilder collaborated with great writers such as Charles Brackett or IAL Diamond.
His films are a bitter critique of Western society full of black humor, reminiscent in a certain sense of the depth of the great Italian comedy.
The most important masterpieces are A Foreign Affair, 1948, The Seven Year Itch, 1955, Some like it hot, 1959, Sabrina, 1954, Love in the Afternoon, 1957, Irma La Douce, 1963.
The Italian comedy
At the end of the 1950s the so-called Italian comedy was born in Italy, a genre of comedy that deals with social, political and cultural themes from a funny and ironic point of view. The Italian comedy manages to be more incisive than many dramas considered arthouse. One of the first films is Mario Monicelli’s I soliti ignoti, in 1958.
The Italian comedy will describe the Italian society of the 60s and 70s with extraordinary precision and wit, like no other genre will be able to do. The actor Alberto Sordi will be the protagonist on the big screen of hundreds of films that will tell the vices, the opportunism, the meanness and the propensity to scam of the average Italian.
The main directors of the Italian comedy were Mario Monicelli, Ettore Scola, Dino Risi, Luigi Zampa, Steno, Vittorio De Sica and Luigi Comencini.
All the great Italian actors of the time attended the comedy genre: they were Vittorio Gassman, Anna Magnani, Sophia Loren, Ugo Tognazzi, Marcello Mastroianni, Nino Manfredi, Aldo Fabrizi, Claudia Cardinale Gastone Moschin and Adolfo Celi.
One of the main sub-genres of comedy, which became one of the most commercial film genres in the 2000s is sentimental comedy. Famous Hollywood actors such as Julia Roberts and Richard Gere are mainly dedicated to this type of film, with mediocre artistic results and extraordinary box office receipts.
The more recent romantic comedy has rarely found its artistic identity and has remained a predominantly commercial phenomenon. They were often the cinematic equivalent of the mass phenomenon of the romance novel, devoid of thickness.
The black comedy
Perfect instead as a point of connection between the comedy genre and arthouse film is black comedy. The likes of Stanley Kubrick as in Doctor Strangelove, Ettore Scola, Marco Ferreri in Italy, and many others in various parts of the world.
The black comedy, in contrast to the glossy and mellow romantic comedy, inserts amusing but obscene, obscure elements into the story, often connected to death. The black comedy is perfect for telling in a lighter way i darker sides of the human being and society.
The dramatic comedy
The comedy-drama,also called bitter comedy, is a film that despite preserve the tone of comedy explores dramatic events, often without a happy ending.
The characters of the dramatic comedy frequently have a greater depth than those of the light comedy: the directors can insert more plausible elements and make the cinema more similar to life, with alternating funny moments and dramatic moments.
Many films by Federico Fellini, if we really had to assign a genre to a brilliant and unclassifiable author, are dramatic comedies, where the master of Italian cinema mixes tragic and ironic moments, drama and grotesque with rare skill.
In the 70s, in Italy for example, the Italian comedy changes while society changes. The optimism of the economic boom gives way to the years of lead and terrorism.
The comedy becomes progressively more melancholy and dramatic, starting with films like We All Loved Each Other So Much by Ettore Scola. The abandonment of the values of friendship and love in exchange for opportunism and career becomes one of the dominant themes.
The films still have that funny and ironic spirit, but it is strongly attenuated by more committed reflections, melancholy glances on an often complex reality is difficult.
Comedy can no longer afford to be too “light”, because the decline of society is beginning to be worrying, and the outlook on the world of directors is also changing.
The comedy,often distinguished from comedy, is often considered a genre of its own. Many film critics consider the comic genre to be a subgenre of comedy. It was born in the silent era with directors such as Max Linder, Charlie Chaplin, Laurel & Hardy, Buster Keaton, Harry Langdon and Harold Lloyd.
It then continues with sound cinema with artists such as the Marx brothers, Abbott and Costello, Jerry Lewis, Woody Allen and Monty Python.
In Italy, comic cinema has always enjoyed great success over the decades with actors such as Totò, Peppino De Filippo, Aldo Fabrizi, Massimo Troisi, Paolo Villaggio, Carlo Verdone.
The famous loser employee Fantozzi, played by Paolo Villaggio, is one of the most grotesque and at the same time most “black” films on existential mediocrity, a great success of Italian cinema that has given rise to a long series of sequels.
Other genres of comedy
Comedy has spawned a myriad of sub-genres, and there will likely be film critics who will identify some new ones in the future.
The anarchic comedy is a genre identified by some film critics focused on the mockery of authority and power. For example films like those of Monty Python, or irreverent American comedies like Animal House, 1978, National Lampoon and many of the Marx brothers’ films.
The bath comedy: gross and disgusting films shot with a demented approach. Porky’s (1982), Dumber and Dumber (1994), American Pie (1999).
The comedy of good manners like the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s, set in the conformism of a certain social class.
The “farce” comedy that exaggerates situations bordering on paradox as in Some like it hot. Then there is the parody, the sex comedy, the situation comedy, the straight comedy, the surreal comedy.
Comedies to watch absolutely
After this brief journey into the history of comedy and the various subgenres of film genres, here is a list of arthouse comedies to be seen. For those who love the genre but do not want to give up artistic quality and cultural depth.
Joachim Zand, a TV producer in crisis, returns to France after a long stint in the United States. Joachim had cut off all relations in France: friends, enemies, children. Inspired by John Cassavetes’ 70s American independent cinema. The main character is played by the director himself, who proves to be a high-level actor. Presented at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival where it won the Fipresci award and the award for best director. Very interesting film, not to be missed.
Thelma, Louise et Chantal
Three 50-year-old friends are invited to the wedding of Philippe, a mutual friend from their youth, who after many romantic adventures seems to have found the right woman, Tasha. A bitter comedy, a road movie with three women in their fifties, amidst joy, anger, sadness, fun and melancholy.
Zero in conduct
The holidays are over and it’s time for the kids to return to the terrible boarding school, run by obtuse and conformist tutors, unable to foster the growth of any spirit of freedom and of creativity. One of the great masterpieces in the history of cinema on the theme of childhood and scholastic and social conditioning on the younger generations. A hymn to freedom and creativity, a drive to free themselves from the invisible prisons in which they try to lock themselves up. Fundamental work to see at least once in a lifetime. A masterpiece from the genius of Jean Vigo.
A bucket of blood
Funny horror comedy by the king of the b-movie Roger Corman, filmed in 1959. One night, after listening to the words of a poet performing at the cafe The Yellow Door, the dull waiter Walter Paisley returns home to try to create a sculpture of the face of the hostess Carla, but accidentally kills the cat. Shot in record time of 5 days on a budget of only $ 50,000. Roger Corman, in addition to being king of b-movies, is also the king of low budget.
Festival in Cannes
Cannes, 1999. Alice, an actress, wants to direct an independent film, and is looking for financiers. She meets Kaz, a talkative businessman, who promises her $ 3 million if she uses Millie, a French star who has passed her youth and no longer finds interesting roles. The popular independent filmmaker Henry Jaglom, little known in Europe, shoots a sentimental comedy with great stylistic freedom, which looks like a documentary and focuses on the performances of the actors with a spontaneous and fluid improvisation method, inspired by the cinema of Cassavetes.
Lino Stella takes a period of vacation from his alienating job to devote himself to relaxation and his passion: drawing comics. But he did not foresee certain disturbing elements. A very black and surreal comedy by the director Fabio del Greco, that takes on the tones of thriller and horror at the end. The theme is that experienced by citizens every day on their own skin: the persecution by the state, taxes, condominium rules, the bureaucracy that crushes us as individuals. An anarchic and ambitious independent film that leads us to reflect on how the human being is reduced to the wheel of a cog. A cog that is not interested in his happiness or his dignity. To watch absolutely.
Charlie Chaplin – short films
Charlie Chaplin becomes known worldwide with the short films of his character Charlot, inspired by his life experience, invented in 1914. A tramp with huge shoes he adds to the comic films of the time the poetry of great cinema. Charlie Chaplin’s shorts, often less well-known than his most famous feature films, are real pearls of world comedy and cinematographic art. Film not to be missed.
Simon of the desert
Simón, a long-bearded guru, lives on a column in the middle of the desert, almost in total starvation. People worship him as a Messiah. Surreal and critical comedy of the highest level and refinement to religious dogmas by the surrealist genius of Luis Bunuel. Born as a short film project, Simon has become one of the most iconic characters of the great Spanish director. In the original Spanish version, the holy man’s way of speaking is really funny and grotesque, something completely lost in the dubbing.
Love on the run
Truffaut closes the series dedicated to Antoine Doinel with Love escapes. After seven years Antoine and Christine divorce, while remaining good friends. Antoine is in a relationship with Christine’s friend Liliane, he has published an autobiography about his loves and finds work as a proofreader and also begins a cheerful, if tumultuous relationship, with Sabine, a saleswoman in a record store. A sentimental comedy to watch absolutely. Cheerful and melancholy, passionate and detached at the same time, the film proposes the unique style of Truffaut. One of the directors who has been able to best describe love on the big screen of cinemas.
A very poor woman abandons her son hoping that he will be found by someone who can raise him in well-being. Instead the tramp Charlot finds him, but he certainly does not hold back, you take it as a very serious mission. Charlie Chaplin writes, produces independently, directs and interprets his first feature film, a masterpiece in the history of cinema which after a century retains its charm perfectly intact.