(Photo by Focus Features/Courtesy Everett Collection. Thumbnail image: New World/courtesy Everett Collection; Neon / courtesy Everett Collection.)
The 60 Best Black Comedies, Ranked By Tomatometer
Let’s say you’re the type to laugh while handling the darkest subject matters: Murder, doomsday, blackmail, and maybe even a lil’ tasty cannibalism. If so, twisted friend, you sure have arrived at the right spot to get your gallows guffaws: The 60 Best Dark Comedies, Ranked by Tomatometer!
All this dark material ranges in variation of glib macabre glee, different styles that we’ll touch upon in our selection of the best-reviewed funny black comedies. Most common are movies about murder and the subsequent covering-up, especially when the corpses have a habit of popping up at the most inconvenient times. Think Best Picture-winning Parasite, Fargo, Burn After Reading, and Hitchcock’s The Trouble With Harry.
Another style of the black comedy movie: Mining jokes out of political fallout when millions of lives are at stake, as seen in Dr. Strangelove, In the Loop, and The Producers. Or how about movies that get you on the serial killer’s side, like being on the ride for The Voices or Monsieur Verdoux. They twist you around enough to make you feel amusingly guilty hoping they’ll get away with it all.
The emergence of the black comedy movie seemed to come around in the 1940s, when filmmaking had evolved enough to artistically interpret real-world horrors (e.g. World War II) with mordant humor, as seen in To Be or Not to Be and Arsenic and Old Lace. Of course, how would they have known their groundbreaking path through the dark side would eventually come to the taboo of cannibalism, as seen in appetizing films like Delicatessen and Eating Raoul? And lest you assume we’re not in touch with our more subtle side when it comes to comedy of the damned, we’ve included philosophical destroyers Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf?, Carnage, and the brilliant Withnail and I.
Major players in the realm of dark comedies include status quo-defecating John Waters (Multiple Maniacs, Pink Flamingos), Martin McDonagh (In Bruges, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), Todd Solondz (Happiness, Welcome to the Dollhouse), and the devilish Danny DeVito (The War of the Roses, Ruthless People). Our final stipulation for their movies and everything else on the list is that each had to be rated Fresh, and have at least 20 reviews, to ensure enough critics have shared in the gleeful discomfort.
It’s a mad, mad, mad, mad (feel free to keep adding more) world out there these days: Grab life by the ruffled lapel and throw it into the wood chipper with The 60 Best Black Comedies, Ranked! —Alex Vo
Adjusted Score: 70657%
Critics Consensus: Good and evil collide with interesting results in Adam's Apples, a dark Biblical allegory that's alternatively funny and shocking.
Following a stint in jail, Adam (Ulrich Thomsen), a former neo-Nazi, is temporarily assigned to live in a religious enclave.... [More]
Adjusted Score: 77674%
Critics Consensus: It isn't as compelling on the screen as it was on the stage, but Carnage makes up for its flaws with Polanski's smooth direction and assured performances from Winslet and Foster.
When some roughhousing between two 11-year-old boys named Zachary and Ethan erupts into real violence, Ethan loses two teeth. Zachary's... [More]
Adjusted Score: 75114%
Critics Consensus: Undeniably uneven and too dark for some, The Ref nonetheless boasts strong turns from Denis Leary, Judy Davis, and Kevin Spacey, as well as a sharply funny script.
Bickering spouses (Judy Davis, Kevin Spacey) annoy the cat burglar (Denis Leary) who takes them hostage in their Connecticut home.... [More]
Adjusted Score: 77525%
Critics Consensus: The Voices gives Ryan Reynolds an opportunity to deliver a highlight-reel performance -- and offers an off-kilter treat for fans of black comedies.
A mentally unhinged factory worker (Ryan Reynolds) must decide whether to listen to his talking cat and become a killer,... [More]
Adjusted Score: 76030%
Critics Consensus: Better Off Dead is an anarchic mix of black humor and surreal comedy, anchored by John Cusack's winsome, charming performance.
Lane Meyer (John Cusack) is a teen with a peculiar family and a bizarre fixation with his girlfriend, Beth (Amanda... [More]
Adjusted Score: 77892%
Critics Consensus: Robert Zemeckis' pitch-black satire of American culture doesn't always hit the mark, but it's got enough manic comic energy to warrant a spin.
Rudy Russo (Kurt Russell) is an unscrupulous car salesman who aspires to become a politician. In the meantime, however, Rudy... [More]
Adjusted Score: 77981%
Critics Consensus: A modern update on the tale of Little Red Riding Hood, Freeway is an audacious black comedy with a star-making performance from the young Reese Witherspoon.
Following the arrest of her mother, Ramona (Amanda Plummer), young Vanessa Lutz (Reese Witherspoon) decides to go in search of... [More]
Adjusted Score: 86201%
Critics Consensus: A gloriously rude and gleefully offensive black comedy, Bad Santa isn't for everyone, but grinches will find it uproariously funny.
In this dark comedy, the crotchety Willie T. Stokes (Billy Bob Thornton) and his partner (Tony Cox) reunite once a... [More]
Adjusted Score: 87672%
Critics Consensus: With Burn After Reading, the Coen Brothers have crafted another clever comedy/thriller with an outlandish plot and memorable characters.
When a disc containing memoirs of a former CIA analyst (John Malkovich) falls into the hands of Linda Litzke (Frances... [More]
Adjusted Score: 82471%
Critics Consensus: Catch-22 takes entertainingly chaotic aim at the insanity of armed conflict, supported by a terrific cast and smart, funny work from Buck Henry and Mike Nichols.
This scathing war satire follows Capt. John Yossarian (Alan Arkin), a pilot stationed in the Mediterranean who flies bombing missions... [More]
Adjusted Score: 86349%
Critics Consensus: Violent, darkly comic, and full of strong performances, Killer Joe proves William Friedkin hasn't lost his touch, even if the plot may be too lurid for some.
A cop (Matthew McConaughey) who moonlights as a hit man agrees to kill the hated mother of a desperate drug... [More]
Adjusted Score: 86489%
Critics Consensus: Uproarious and appalling, Pink Flamingos is transgressive camp that proves as entertaining as it does shocking.
A bizarre fat woman (Divine) and her misfit family compete with a Baltimore couple (David Lochary, Mink Stole) to be... [More]
Adjusted Score: 86146%
Critics Consensus: A high-concept high school reunion movie with an adroitly cast John Cusack and armed with a script of incisive wit.
After assassin Martin Blank (John Cusack) has trouble focusing on his work, resulting in a failed assignment, he returns to... [More]
Adjusted Score: 83863%
Critics Consensus: Happiness is far from a cheerful viewing experience, but its grimly humorous script and fearless performances produce a perversely moving search for humanity within everyday depravity.
This dark ensemble-comedy is centered on the three Jordan sisters. Joy (Jane Adams) moves through lackluster jobs with no sense... [More]
Adjusted Score: 100334%
Critics Consensus: T2 Trainspotting adds an intoxicating, emotionally resonant postscript to its classic predecessor, even without fully recapturing the original's fresh, subversive thrill.
First there was an opportunity, then there was a betrayal. Twenty years later, Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) returns to the... [More]
Adjusted Score: 91651%
Critics Consensus: Seven Psychopaths delivers sly cinematic commentary while serving up a heaping helping of sharp dialogue and gleeful violence.
Boozy writer Marty (Colin Farrell) is a man in search of a screenplay. He has a catchy title but no... [More]
Adjusted Score: 86326%
Critics Consensus: The Brand New Testament takes a surreal, subversive, and funny look at Biblical themes through a modern -- and refreshingly original -- lens.
God is discovered living in Brussels with his daughter.... [More]
Adjusted Score: 86959%
Critics Consensus: Men & Chicken's bizarre setup only skims the surface of a challenging, well-acted comedy with a warm heart to match its grotesque visuals and dark themes.
Two outcast brothers get to know their biological family and discover the horrible truth about themselves and their relatives.... [More]
Adjusted Score: 87274%
Critics Consensus: Its premise suggests brazenly tasteless humor, but Four Lions is actually a smart, pitch-black comedy that carries the unmistakable ring of truth.
A group of young Muslim men living in Sheffield decide to wage jihad, and they hatch an inept plan to... [More]
Adjusted Score: 89691%
Critics Consensus: Hal Ashby's comedy is too dark and twisted for some, and occasionally oversteps its bounds, but there's no denying the film's warm humor and big heart.
Cult classic pairs Cort as a dead-pan disillusioned 20-year-old obsessed with suicide and a loveable Gordon as a fun-loving 80-year-old... [More]
Adjusted Score: 92117%
Critics Consensus: The Art of Self-Defense grapples compellingly with modern American masculinity -- and serves as an outstanding calling card for writer-director Riley Stearns.
After getting attacked on the street, Casey enlists in a local dojo that's led by a charismatic and mysterious sensei.... [More]
Adjusted Score: 91501%
Critics Consensus: Featuring witty dialogue and deft performances, In Bruges is an effective mix of dark comedy and crime thriller elements.
After a particularly difficult job, hit men Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson) head to Belgium to hide out... [More]
Adjusted Score: 85837%
Critics Consensus: The War of the Roses is a black comedy made even funnier by hanging onto its caustic convictions -- and further distinguished by Danny DeVito's stylish direction.
After 17 years of marriage, Barbara (Kathleen Turner) and Oliver Rose (Michael Douglas) want out. The trouble is, neither one... [More]
Adjusted Score: 92847%
Critics Consensus: Tongue-in-cheek satire blends well with entertaining action and spot-on performances in this dark, eclectic neo-noir homage.
Two-bit crook Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey Jr.) stumbles into an audition for a mystery film while on the run from... [More]
Adjusted Score: 99829%
Critics Consensus: With a talented cast turned loose on a loaded premise -- and a sharp script loaded with dark comedy and unexpected twists -- Game Night might be more fun than the real thing.
Max and Annie's weekly game night gets kicked up a notch when Max's brother Brooks arranges a murder mystery party... [More]
Adjusted Score: 81810%
Critics Consensus: Eating Raoul serves up its spectacularly lurid tale with a healthy heaping of pitch-black humor and anarchic vigor.
The absurd Blands (Paul Bartel, Mary Woronov) lure swingers home to be conked by a skillet, robbed and removed by... [More]
Adjusted Score: 89438%
Critics Consensus: In Order of Disappearance's black comedy doesn't always hit its targets, but on the whole, it still adds up to a sly, entertaining revenge thriller.
Adjusted Score: 99833%
Critics Consensus: Led by strong performances from Aubrey Plaza and Elizabeth Olsen, Ingrid Goes West delivers smart, topical humor underlined by timely social observations.
Following the death of her mother and a series of self-inflicted setbacks, young Ingrid Thorburn escapes a humdrum existence by... [More]
Adjusted Score: 85466%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Writer and notorious marriage detractor Mortimer Brewster (Cary Grant) falls for girl-next-door Elaine Harper (Priscilla Lane), and they tie the... [More]
Adjusted Score: 90878%
Critics Consensus: Director John Waters' affection for camp brings texture to societal transgression in Female Trouble, a brazenly subversive dive into celebrity and mayhem.
An obese woman (Divine) gives birth to an obnoxious child and embarks upon a bizarre and violent life of crime.... [More]
Adjusted Score: 91799%
Critics Consensus: Gleefully nasty and darkly hilarious, Cheap Thrills lives down to its title in the best possible way.
A series of escalating bets pits recently reunited friends against each other.... [More]
Adjusted Score: 92596%
Critics Consensus: World's Greatest Dad is a risky, deadpan, dark comedy that effectively explores the nature of posthumous cults of celebrity.
When the son of high school English teacher Lance Clayton (Robin Williams) accidentally kills himself, Clayton writes a fake suicide... [More]
Adjusted Score: 103161%
Critics Consensus: As strange as it is thrillingly ambitious, The Lobster is definitely an acquired taste -- but for viewers with the fortitude to crack through Yorgos Lanthimos' offbeat sensibilities, it should prove a savory cinematic treat.
In a dystopian society, single people must find a mate within 45 days or be transformed into an animal of... [More]
Adjusted Score: 95185%
Critics Consensus: Bursting with frantic energy and tinged with black humor, After Hours is a masterful -- and often overlooked -- detour in Martin Scorsese's filmography.
In a Manhattan cafe, word processor Paul Hackett (Griffin Dunne) meets and talks literature with Marcy (Rosanna Arquette). Later that... [More]
Adjusted Score: 92700%
Critics Consensus: Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet deftly combines horror, sci-fi, and humor in Delicatessen, a morbid comedy set in a visually ravishing futuristic dystopia.
Clapet (Jean-Claude Dreyfus) is a butcher who owns a run-down apartment building in post-apocalyptic France. The building is in constant... [More]
Adjusted Score: 94922%
Critics Consensus: An outstanding sophomore feature, Welcome to the Dollhouse sees writer-director Todd Solondz mining suburban teen angst for black, biting comedy.
Middle-school student Dawn Weiner (Heather Matarazzo) faces degradation at school -- where she is teased constantly -- and at home.... [More]
Adjusted Score: 98131%
Critics Consensus: A hilarious satire of the business side of Hollywood, The Producers is one of Mel Brooks' finest, as well as funniest films, featuring standout performances by Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel.
Down and out producer Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel), who was once the toast of Broadway, trades sexual favors with old... [More]
Adjusted Score: 98155%
Critics Consensus: Blending dark humor with profoundly personal themes, the Coen brothers deliver what might be their most mature -- if not their best -- film to date.
Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) is a physics professor at a 1960s university, but his life is coming apart at the... [More]
Adjusted Score: 122112%
Critics Consensus: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri deftly balances black comedy against searing drama -- and draws unforgettable performances from its veteran cast along the way.
After months have passed without a culprit in her daughter's murder case, Mildred Hayes makes a bold move, painting three... [More]
Adjusted Score: 89885%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
When a local man's corpse appears on a nearby hillside, no one is quite sure what happened to him. Many... [More]
Adjusted Score: 94528%
Critics Consensus: As proudly tacky as its titular fabric, Polyester finds writer-director John Waters moving ever so slightly into the mainstream without losing any of his subversive charm.
A frustrated housewife, Francine Fishpaw (Divine), tries to maintain her sanity while taking care of her dysfunctional household. Elmer (David... [More]
Adjusted Score: 90268%
Critics Consensus: The Firemen's Ball is an uproarious comedy of incompetence, mining laughs and sharp satire from an allegory that is amusing and distressing in equal measure.
In Milos Forman's satire on Communism set in a small Czechoslovakian town in the 1960s, the local firemen decide to... [More]
Adjusted Score: 94272%
Critics Consensus: A brutal, often times funny, other times terrifying portrayal of drug addiction in Edinburgh. Not for the faint of heart, but well worth viewing as a realistic and entertaining reminder of the horrors of drug use.
Heroin addict Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) stumbles through bad ideas and sobriety attempts with his unreliable friends -- Sick Boy... [More]
Adjusted Score: 106397%
Critics Consensus: A thrilling leap forward for director Alejandro González Iñárritu, Birdman is an ambitious technical showcase powered by a layered story and outstanding performances from Michael Keaton and Edward Norton.
Former cinema superhero Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) is mounting an ambitious Broadway production that he hopes will breathe new life... [More]
Adjusted Score: 96068%
Critics Consensus: Dark, cynical, and subversive, Heathers gently applies a chainsaw to the conventions of the high school movie -- changing the game for teen comedies to follow.
Veronica (Winona Ryder) is part of the most popular clique at her high school, but she disapproves of the other... [More]
Adjusted Score: 100328%
Critics Consensus: Violent, quirky, and darkly funny, Fargo delivers an original crime story and a wonderful performance by McDormand.
"Fargo" is a reality-based crime drama set in Minnesota in 1987. Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) is a car salesman... [More]
Adjusted Score: 91700%
Critics Consensus: Richard E. Grant and Paul McGann prove irresistibly hilarious as two misanthropic slackers in Withnail and I, a biting examination of artists living on the fringes of prosperity and good taste.
Two out-of-work actors -- the anxious, luckless Marwood (Paul McGann) and his acerbic, alcoholic friend, Withnail (Richard E. Grant) --... [More]
Adjusted Score: 96673%
Critics Consensus: It's sometimes crude and tasteless, but Ruthless People wrings acid-soaked laughs out of its dark premise and gleefully misanthropic characters.
Sam Stone (Danny DeVito) hates his wife, Barbara (Bette Midler), so much that he wants her dead. He's ecstatic when... [More]
Adjusted Score: 100010%
Critics Consensus: In the Loop is an uncommonly funny political satire that blends Dr. Strangelove with Spinal Tap for the Iraq war era.
During an interview, British Cabinet Minister Simon Foster (Tom Hollander) delivers an off-the-cuff remark that war in the Middle East... [More]
Adjusted Score: 100133%
Critics Consensus: Led by a volcanic performance from Elizabeth Taylor, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is a scathing adaptation of the Edward Albee play that serves as a brilliant calling card for debuting director Mike Nichols.
History professor George (Richard Burton) and his boozy wife, Martha (Elizabeth Taylor), return late one Saturday night from a cocktail... [More]
Adjusted Score: 109390%
Critics Consensus: The Death of Stalin finds director/co-writer Arnando Iannucci in riotous form, bringing his scabrous political humor to bear on a chapter in history with painfully timely parallels.
When tyrannical dictator Joseph Stalin dies in 1953, his parasitic cronies square off in a frantic power struggle to become... [More]
Adjusted Score: 97764%
Critics Consensus: Charles Chaplin adds an undercurrent of malice to his comedic persona in Monsieur Verdoux, an unsettling satire that subverts the tramp's image to perversely amusing effect.
Monsieur Verdoux (Charles Chaplin) is a dapper Parisian family man who loses his job as a bank clerk. In order... [More]
Adjusted Score: 101664%
Critics Consensus: A complex and timely satire with as much darkness as slapstick, Ernst Lubitsch's To Be or Not To Be delicately balances humor and ethics.
Acting couple Joseph (Jack Benny) and Maria Tura (Carole Lombard) are managing a theatrical troupe when the Nazis invade Poland.... [More]
Adjusted Score: 101639%
Critics Consensus: Brazil, Terry Gilliam's visionary Orwellian fantasy, is an audacious dark comedy, filled with strange, imaginative visuals.
Low-level bureaucrat Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce) escapes the monotony of his day-to-day life through a recurring daydream of himself as... [More]
Adjusted Score: 105894%
Critics Consensus: Stanley Kubrick's brilliant Cold War satire remains as funny and razor-sharp today as it was in 1964.
A film about what could happen if the wrong person pushed the wrong button -- and it played the situation... [More]
Adjusted Score: 127973%
Critics Consensus: An urgent, brilliantly layered look at timely social themes, Parasite finds writer-director Bong Joon Ho in near-total command of his craft.
Greed and class discrimination threaten the newly formed symbiotic relationship between the wealthy Park family and the destitute Kim clan.... [More]
Adjusted Score: 101661%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
The Cavalcade of Perversion, a traveling freak-show, is a front for a band of psychotic kidnappers and murderers.... [More]
Adjusted Score: 102580%
Critics Consensus: The Ladykillers is a macabre slow-burn with quirky performances of even quirkier characters.
Mrs. Wilberforce (Katie Johnson) likes to report suspicious behavior to the police. Unaware of her reputation, the dapper thief Professor... [More]
Adjusted Score: 96272%
Critics Consensus: Elaine May is a comedic dynamo both behind and in front of the camera in this viciously funny screwball farce, with able support provided by Walter Matthau.
A spoiled and self-absorbed man who has squandered his inheritance, Henry Graham (Walter Matthau) is desperate to find a way... [More]
Adjusted Score: 104483%
Critics Consensus: Performed with chameleonic brio by Alec Guinness, Kind Hearts and Coronets is a triumphant farce.
When his mother eloped with an Italian opera singer, Louis Mazzini (Dennis Price) was cut off from her aristocratic family.... [More]
This week on streaming video, we’ve got a handful of acclaimed indie films available for purchase, as well as two well-received films from 2014 on Netflix, a sci-fi series on Hulu, and some classics on Fandor. Read on for the full list:
Available for purchase
New on Netflix
New on Hulu
New on Fandor
There aren’t many big new releases available this week on home video, but we’ve at least got one seasonally appropriate release (Deliver Us from Evil), along with a well-received indie dramedy and a handful of smaller films. In addition, we’ve got the complete series of a classic sitcom and a couple of noteworthy releases from the Criterion Collection, including a Jacques Tati compilation. Read on for details:
Also available this week:
- Life of Crime (66 percent), starring Jennifer Aniston and Will Forte in an ensemble caper comedy about a kidnapping gone awry when the corrupt land developer being squeezed decides he’d rather not pay the ransom.
- Zach Braff’s famously crowd-funded Wish I Was Here (46 percent), starring Braff and Kate Hudson in a dramedy about a thirtysomething man coming to grips with his adult life.
- James Franco’s Child of God (37 percent), starring Scott Haze and Tim Blake Nelson in an adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy novel about a Tennessee man whose life misfortune isolates him from society.
- Good People (12 percent), starring James Franco and Kate Hudson in a thriller about a couple in debt who discover a bag of cash and keep it, running afoul of the thief who stole it in the first place.
- The Prince (0 percent), starring Bruce Willis and John Cusack in a thriller about a retired assassin who jumps back into action when his daughter is kidnapped by his old rival.
- Shout! Factory is releasing the Complete Series of WKRP in Cincinnati for all you fans of classic sitcoms. The Emmy-nominated series, which ran from 1978-1982 and followed the eccentric staff at a struggling radio station, aired successfully in syndication for years after its cancellation.
- And lastly, two rereleases from the Criterion Collection: George Sluizer’s 1988 thriller The Vanishing (100 percent) is available in a new DVD and Blu-ray; and a DVD and Blu-ray box set of The Complete Jacques Tati, which contains all six of the French director’s films, including Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday (100 percent) and Playtime (100 percent), as well as seven of his short films and a ton of special features.
In the latest adaptation of an Elmore Leonard novel, Life of Crime, Jennifer Aniston talks about her character’s triumphs. John Hawkes discusses his history of hitchhiking, and Will Forte talks about his favorite way to set the romantic mood.
On screen, John Hawkes is something of a chameleon, looking completely at home on the dusty, swear-heavy roads of Deadwood, the raging seas of The Perfect Storm, the snowy fields of Winter’s Bone, or the emotionally complicated modern world of Me You and Everyone We Know. His beginnings in a rural community, as he points out a couple of times in this interview, got him used to the certain kinds of classic films that were readily available to him, and later set him up for some memorable experiences with different kinds of art. His list has both, and he would like for it to be known that he could easily pick five completely different films if I were to return in five more minutes and ask again, which I would have happily done.
The Wizard of Oz (Victor Fleming, King Vidor, 1939; 99% Tomatometer)
I grew up in a rural area and with four channels on a black and white TV. Birdman of Alcatraz would come on TV, anything with Don Knotts, like The Incredible Mr. Limpet, but Wizard of Oz was a big deal. That movie came on a couple times a year and as a little kid, as all kids are, I was pretty skeeved out by the flying monkeys. But I got past that and just really, really loved the film. I think that I related to the fantastical story as a whole, and also to the idea of being in a rural area and wondering what else is out there — what’s on the other side of the rainbow, so to speak. It was formative.
When I was 19, I moved to Austin, Texas, and I went to the Varsity theater — rest in peace, Varsity theater — and saw the movie as an adult. When they’re in Oz and it’s suddenly color, I gasped, because I only had a black and white TV, and in the back of my head I knew the movie turned to color, but I had forgotten. That was a really wonderful surprise. Also, seeing it on a big screen made the movie that much more of a great gift.
It’s corny but dark, dark, dark in spots. It was really dark when Jimmy Stewart is having his existential breakdown, wandering the town, having been given a chance to see what the world would be like had he not been there. We all kind of wonder that on some level — if not consciously, it’s probably part of what’s inside us. Something that is interesting about that film, there’s a character actor named H.B. Warner — he’s in all Capra films, playing a wide variety of roles. In this one, he plays the drunken druggist Mr. Gower. There’s a scene early on where Jimmy Stewart’s not even in the film yet. Young George has injured his ear in a sledding accident and Mr. Gower, drunk and depressed, accidentally sends George out with a prescription of poison to give a patient. When he figures it out and goes back, Mr. Gower is incensed, and beats him savagely. He hits him in the ear, and then when Mr. Gower realizes that the kid has saved this woman’s life and come back and he’s made a horrible mistake, he tries to embrace the boy. The boy’s fighting and the druggist is trying to comfort him, and himself at the same time. It’s a scene that if I think too hard about it, I’ll weep. It’s such a beautiful moment between two human beings. The kid was a great kid actor, but H.B. Warner is such a master, and I relate to character actors in a lot of ways. He was this guy who just bounced around from project to project, making everything he does, every story, richer for his presence. I have a lot of respect for that.
Harold and Maude (Hal Ashby, 1971; 86% Tomatometer)
This was a life changing experience for me. I went to one year of college at a small college in Minnesota, and during that year I befriended an older student named Tim Streeter who I hung out with a lot. He played Tom Waits for me and handed me On The Road by Jack Kerouac. Since I’m from this small farming community, I wasn’t exposed to a lot of unusual art. I had seen The Seventh Seal when I was a kid on PBS.
One night [Tim Streeter] said “There’s a movie playing at the student union and you should go.” It was Harold and Maude, and I was amazed by it. There’s no dialogue for the beginning of the film, and it begins with Harold killing himself. His mother berates him for it. Bud Cort’s performance is so great, that this is when I began to become a Hal Ashby fan. I could name his films as all of my Five Favorites if I wanted. Being There is certainly near the top.
I chose this one because it was so formative for me. Ruth Gordon, when she tells Harold to go out and love and have experience and give him something to talk about in the locker room, it’s such a great thing, such a beautiful moment.
When Ruth Gordon throws the ring or piece of jewelry that Harold’s given to her, and she said, “Now I’ll always know where it is,” I think it’s in that scene where the camera catches a concentration camp number on her wrist that’s never mentioned or talked about. It gives me chills because it’s so affecting and subtle.
Jim Jarmusch film. So wonderfully done in black and white. John Lurie stars and does the music. It’s weird because there are no close ups in the film, it’s an objective viewing experience, and yet it’s subjective in the way that Jarmusch points you. You’re given anything to look at, but you’re always looking at the right things. And the idea that it began as a short, just called The New World, but they raised money to make the other two or three acts, is really interesting to me. Great performances, a lot of humor, really slow pace. These were things I wasn’t really used to — the European pace, even though I love The 400 Blows, it was a revelation at the time in 1984. And I saw it when it came out in Austin, and just I think it opened up a new world of storytelling and filmmaking to me on some level.
The Big Lebowski (WJoel Coen, Ethan Coen, 1998; 80% Tomatometer)
I could go with Shadow of a Doubt, any number of Woody Allen movies, Paul Thomas Anderson, Wes Anderson — The Royal Tenenbaums I love — but I’m going to go with The Big Lebowski because it’s such a fully realized, beautiful film. John Goodman is amazing, [John] Turturro, [Steve] Buscemi, Sam Elliot — and then Jeff Bridges was fantastic. Julianne Moore. Just really, really, really, really such a satisfying film to watch, and so quotable, and something that I could have on a loop 24 hours a day in my home and never be bored with. Fantastic film. I’ll say no more.
Life of Crime opens Aug. 29 in select theaters.
Click here for more Five Favorite Films.
Also opening this week in limited release:
Starred Up, a British drama about an imprisoned teenager who attempts to change his life, is Certified Fresh at 98 percent.
Patema Inverted, an anime about a princess who escapes from her staid underground life, is at 89 percent.
Kundo: Age of the Rampant, a martial arts film about a group of bandits that rises up against the aristocracy, is at 86 percent.
The Notebook, a drama about 13-year-old twins abandoned in a small village who bear witness to the violence and hypocrisy around them, is at 75 percent.
The Congress, starring Robin Wright and Harvey Keitel in a half-animated, half-live-action fantasy about the movie business, is Certified Fresh at 73 percent.
Canopy, a World War II drama about a pilot who’s been shot down in enemy territory, is at 71 percent.
The Calling, starring Susan Sarandon and Topher Grace in a thriller about a serial killer who preys on the terminally ill, is at 64 percent.
Jamie Marks Is Dead, starring Cameron Monaghan and Liv Tyler in a drama about the ghost of a teenager who visits some of his old classmates, is at 63 percent.
Life of Crime, starring John Hawkes and Jennifer Aniston in a caper comedy about a man who refuses to pay the ransom for his kidnapped wife, is at 61 percent.
The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears, a thriller about a man whose search for his missing wife leads to disturbing places, is at 45 percent.
Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People, a documentary about how photography helped to shape African American culture, is at 45 percent.
Last Weekend, starring Patricia Clarkson in a comedy about a dysfunctional family that gathers at a summer cabin, is at 43 percent.
The Last Of Robin Hood, starring Kevin Kline and Dakota Fanning in a drama about the last years of Hollywood swashbuckler Errol Flynn, is at 38 percent.
The Damned, a horror film about a man who discovers a mysterious child in the basement of a remote hotel, is at 13 percent.