The list of Saturday Night Live cast members who have made us laugh is long — but the number of SNL vets who have managed to make a successful go of it on the big screen, especially over the long term, is much smaller. With over a billion dollars in global box office receipts to his name — a total that will expand when he returns to theaters with Amy Poehler in The House this weekend — it’s safe to say Will Ferrell is part of that exclusive group, and in honor of his achievements, we’ve decided to dedicate this week’s list to his 10 best-reviewed movies. Get off the shed, because it’s time for Total Recall!
Comedies are hard to make and comedy sequels are even harder, when audiences have wised up to your jokes and expect bigger and better. Ben Stiller’s Zoolander 2, coming 15 years after the original, hopes to buck the trend this Friday. And it’s this latest romp down the catwalk inspires this week’s 24 Frames gallery: the best and worst comedy part twos by Tomatometer!
The list of Saturday Night Live cast members who have made us laugh is long — but the number of SNL vets who have managed to make a successful go of it on the big screen, especially over the long term, is much smaller. With over a billion dollars in global box office receipts to his name ? a total that will expand when he returns to theaters with Kevin Hart in Get Hard this weekend — it’s safe to say Will Ferrell is part of that exclusive group, and in honor of his achievements, we’ve decided to dedicate this week’s list to his 10 best-reviewed movies. Get off the shed, because it’s time for Total Recall!
Any movie that comes with a tagline as corny as “Show Me the Monkey!” is deserving of skepticism, particularly if the film in question is an animated adaptation of an old series of children’s books — but 2006’s Curious George proved a worthy big-screen extension of H.A. and Margaret Rey’s beloved bestsellers, giving the furry little rascal a spiffy 21st-century makeover without losing any of the sweet charm that made the character an icon in the first place. As the voice of George’s longtime foil The Man in the Yellow Hat (here named Ted Shackleford), Ferrell certainly wasn’t the film’s chief draw for its target demographic, but he did add a bit of marquee value to a cast that included Drew Barrymore, David Cross, Eugene Levy, and Dick Van Dyke, helping George swing its way to a mildly surprising $69 million worldwide gross. The movie’s gentle spirit and extensive use of traditional animation couldn’t compete with the louder, flashier CGI fare prevalent at the box office, but they weren’t meant to; as Colin Colvert of the Minneapolis Star Tribune wrote, “the makers of Curious George have figured out how to make an innocent cartoon that will amuse knee-nuzzlers without hitting adults like a liter of chloroform.”
Love him or hate him, it’s hard to deny that Will Ferrell has a knack for finding (or writing) scripts built around concepts so ridiculous you can’t help but laugh — and 2007’s Blades of Glory, a comedy about a pair of competitive skaters who are forced to form an ice dancing team after an awards ceremony brawl leaves them barred from men’s singles, is a perfect case in point. Ferrell’s brand of fearlessly stupid comedy is perfect for any script that requires him to spend time in a unitard, and Jon Heder’s sleepy-eyed hostility made him a worthy foil for his louder, hairier co-star. Although Ferrell had already done more than one sports-themed comedy, Blades of Glory still packed enough laughs to satisfy most critics — it earned a 69 percent Tomatometer rating, thanks to reviews from writers like the Hollywood Reporter’s Michael Rechtshaffen, who praised it as “one of those rare comedies that puts a goofy smile on your face with the premise alone, and keeps it planted there right until its wacky finale.”
By the late 1990s, Ferrell had emerged as the next Saturday Night Live cast member to make the jump to movies — both within the SNL family, in projects like Superstar and A Night at the Roxbury, and also in non SNL-affiliated fare, such as the first two Austin Powers movies, the independently released The Suburbans, and 1999’s Dick. Supporting Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams in this 1970s-set comedy about a pair of teenage girls that exposes the nefarious deeds of Richard Nixon (Dan Hedaya), Ferrell appears as a bumbling, thin-skinned version of Bob Woodward opposite Bruce McCulloch’s equally incompetent Carl Bernstein. Though the allegedly investigative duo is more interested in insulting each other than cracking a story (in one memorable exchange, Ferrell tells McCulloch that he smells “like cabbage”), they’re eventually pointed in the right direction by Dunst and Williams; similarly, although audiences seemed not to know what to make of Dick, critics applauded it for being, in the words of Entertainment Weekly’s Lisa Schwarzbaum, “a gaily funny, shrewdly inventive satire.”
For many comics, branching out from lighthearted comedies to more dramatic fare is seen as a rite of passage; Bill Murray had The Razor’s Edge, Jim Carrey started nudging away from straight comedy with The Cable Guy and The Truman Show, and even Dane Cook has popped up in serious films such as Mr. Brooks and Dan in Real Life. For Will Ferrell, the chance to flex his dramatic muscle came with Stranger than Fiction, a 2006 dramedy about an IRS auditor who slowly realizes that the events taking place in his life are the result of an unseen author who may be leading him to a rather unhappy ending. It’s the sort of heady premise that Ferrell’s detractors would say he lacks the depth or breadth to carry — but they’d be wrong, as evidenced by Fiction‘s Certified Fresh status and 72 percent Tomatometer rating. Though he was certainly surrounded with top talent — such as a supporting cast that included Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson, and Maggie Gyllenhaal — Ferrell’s performance was singled out by critics like Lisa Kennedy of the Denver Post, who wrote that he “delivers a moving and surprisingly delicate — though not so surprisingly funny — turn as the lonesome bureaucrat bedeviled by a voice only he hears.”
Part buffoonish comedy, part NASCAR fable, Talladega Nights sped past all the cries of “not another Will Ferrell sports comedy” to an impressive $162 million worldwide gross — and, more importantly, a 73 percent Tomatometer rating and Certified Fresh status. Though the none-too-bright Ricky Bobby was essentially just another variation of the same character Ferrell had been playing for years, Talladega proved that character could still be funny — starting with the trailer and TV spots, in which an underwear-and-helmet-clad Ricky engages in a panicked run around a racetrack, screaming for Tom Cruise to “use your witchcraft on me to get the fire off me.” In the words of Wesley Morris of the Boston Globe, Talladega Nights is “the sort of cheerfully asinine comedy that twists your arm until you submit. So, to Will Ferrell — clown, freak, bully — I scream, ‘Uncle!'”
If you’re going to adapt a Raymond Carver short story about an alcoholic loser who reacts to losing his job and being kicked out of his home by camping out in his front yard and selling off his possessions, you could do a lot worse than hiring Will Ferrell to play your protagonist. Case in point: 2011’s Everything Must Go, in which writer-director Dan Rush affords Ferrell plenty of room to explore the premise’s dramatic depths while lending a healthy amount of laughs to a situation that probably wouldn’t seem all that funny if it happened to any of us. Unlike a lot of forays into more thoughtful territory by actors known for their comedic chops, Everything earned a surprising number of critical accolades along the way, including Simon Gallagher’s review for What Culture, which deemed the movie “a pleasantly engaging, entertaining human portrait — a journey that doesn’t physically stray very far, but which treads a million metaphorical miles within its main character as he attempts to go from broken man to redeemed man.”
Long after even its most ardent and/or munchies-tormented fans had given up hope of ever seeing a sequel, Ferrell and his frequent creative partner Adam McKay managed to get a follow-up to 2004’s cult classic Anchorman off the ground, reuniting the original’s brilliant cast (many of whom had been bumped up several pay grades in the interim) to show audiences what the endearing blowhard Ron Burgundy and his largely incompetent news team had been up to over the ensuing nine years. Surrounded by a gifted comedic team that included Anchorman vets such as Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, and Christina Applegate as well as new additions like Kristen Wiig, Ferrell helped make Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues another dose of dada bliss ? and one of the rare sequels whose reviews manage to surpass those of its predecessor. “Maybe McKay and his cast simply captured another bolt of lightning in Ron’s empty scotch bottle; more likely, they were just as inspired this time around as they were during the first film,” wrote Cammila Collar for TV Guide. “Regardless, they’ve definitely kept it classy.”
For much of his film career, Ferrell has scooped added helpings of laughs out of being placed alongside well-chosen comedic foils. John C. Reilly has gotten particularly good mileage out of matching him guffaw for dunderheaded guffaw, but Ferrell can also be brilliantly funny when his bozo routine has a fussy, tight-lipped straight man to bounce off, and 2010’s The Other Guys is a perfect example. By placing Ferrell’s knuckleheaded Detective Allen Gamble opposite Mark Wahlberg’s desperately straight-laced Detective Terry Hoitz, Guys pumped a few extra chuckles into the well-worn buddy cop formula ? and worked in a little savvy bailout-era social commentary in the bargain. “Just go and see it,” ordered Nigel Andrews for the Financial Times. “And send me the bill if you don’t laugh.”
You could put pretty much any 6’3″ actor in an elf suit and get some chuckles, but casting Will Ferrell as an orphan raised at the North Pole — by Bob “Papa Elf” Newhart, no less — was a stroke of comic genius. What tends to get lost in all the shouting and inappropriate nudity is that Ferrell excels at playing gentle, childlike men whose open-heartedness is exceeded only by their oafishness, and in Elf‘s Buddy Hobbs, he found a role that perfectly highlighted that skill. And the casting genius didn’t end there — Elf also includes inspired turns by Newhart in an elf’s cap, Ed Asner as Santa, James Caan as Ferrell’s gruff, exasperated biological father, and, for Pete’s sake, Leon Redbone as a talking snowman. Singling out holiday movies for critical beatdowns has becoming something of an annual tradition, but in this case, our top scribes were left filled with holiday cheer — such as Roger Ebert, who beamed, “this is one of those rare Christmas comedies that has a heart, a brain and a wicked sense of humor, and it charms the socks right off the mantelpiece.”
Will Ferrell’s finest films are the ones that take full advantage of both sides of his on-screen persona, allowing him to indulge his gift for playing a belligerent man-child as well as displaying some real sensitivity. It’s fitting, then, that The LEGO Movie ended up at the top of our list of Ferrell’s 10 best movies: While he’s a dangerous buffoon for most of it, lending his voice to the maniacal, order-hungry Lord Business during the animated portion of the story, he’s also on hand for some of LEGO‘s most poignant moments during the part at the end where ? well, we won’t spoil it for you. Suffice it to say that although we tend to take a hard look at animated features on most of these lists, this is one case where top honors are deserved. “It’s one of the few movies based on a toy with no explicit story behind it,” observed Katey Rich for Vanity Fair. “And it is, so far, the only one that’s really good.”
Finally, here’s Ferrell in the crystal verdant waters of the Mississippi searching for catfish and the American Dream:
Media-bashing has become so trendy that you’d almost never know that being part of the Fourth Estate was once regarded as an honorable profession — a public service, even. Of course, that isn’t to say reporters haven’t always been dogged by questions of ethics — and few directors were better at framing a thorny ethical debate than Sydney Pollack, which made him the perfect person to guide the cameras for Absence of Malice, starring Paul Newman as the son of a Mafia boss who is outed as the subject of a murder investigation by an ambitious (and somewhat scruple-deficient) reporter played by Sally Field. Though a large number of critics felt Pollack and screenwriter Kurt Luedtke failed to present a truly compelling picture — and some, like Dennis Schwartz of Ozus’ World Movie Reviews, dismissed it as a “well-meaning liberal message story” — others praised its strong performances and overall intelligence. As James Rocchi wrote, “the ultimate conclusion of the film will leave you thoughtful and even perhaps a touch sad — rare for any film, and even more rare for a thriller.”
Generations of journalists were spawned by the intrepid investigative reporting of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the two Washington Post writers whose dogged pursuit of the Watergate scandal helped fell Richard Nixon’s corrupt administration. Two years after we didn’t have Dick to kick around anymore, screenwriter William Goldman and director Alan J. Pakula collaborated to produce All the President’s Men, a dramatization of Woodward and Bernstein’s book about the case — and thanks in part to an ace ensemble that included Robert Redford as Woodward, Dustin Hoffman as Bernstein, and a roster of supporting players rounded out by Jason Robards, Jack Warden, and Hal Holbrook, it ended up becoming a huge (and Academy Award-winning) hit. “A finer political film you will not find,” declared Cinema Sight’s Wesley Lovell. “It should be declared a national treasure.”
Funny, smart, and impeccably cast, Broadcast News might be the prototypical James L. Brooks movie: razor-sharp in terms of its personal insights as well as its broader social statements regarding the massive changes afoot in the television news landscape during the 1980s, it prompted gut-busting laughs while sneaking in thought-provoking (not to mention startlingly prescient) messages, all delivered by a packed roster of brilliantly talented actors that included William Hurt, Holly Hunter, Joan Cusack, and Albert Brooks. “Broadcast News has a lot of interesting things to say about television,” pointed out Roger Ebert, “But the thing it does best is look into a certain kind of personality and a certain kind of relationship.”
Before the internet came along and turned everything into a circus, a sufficiently motivated person could bootstrap his way into media-magnate riches. Why, just look at Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane, which uses the life of newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst as the inspiration for a finely florid saga about wealth, corruption, insanity, and the quest for lost innocence. Unlike a lot of movies on this list, Kane doesn’t have much to do with the news, but since it’s widely regarded as the finest film ever made, we figured we’d make an exception. As Richard Brody of the New Yorker told it, it’s “An ecstasy of light and shadow, of clashing textures and graphic forms, such as hadn’t been seen since the silent era.”
For his second directorial effort, George Clooney took a surprising turn, dramatizing the efforts of legendary journalist Edward R. Murrow to thwart Joseph McCarthy’s Communist witch hunt. Inspired by the increasingly vituperative political atmosphere of the early aughts, Clooney laid more than his career capital on the line for Good Night, and Good Luck — not only did he forsake his usual salary, collecting a dollar apiece for his directorial, screenwriting, and starring roles, but he also went so far as to mortgage his home as collateral. (Well, one of his homes, anyway. But still.) This black-and-white plea for journalistic ethics was a film out of time in the 24-hour cable news era, even with a stellar cast that included Clooney, David Strathairn, Robert Downey, Jr., Patricia Clarkson, and Frank Langella — but it still had enough Luck to rack up six Academy Award nominations and an impressive $54 million worldwide gross, not to mention raves from critics like the Daily Mirror’s David Edwards, who wrote, “George Clooney is emerging as one of America’s bravest, boldest filmmakers. And with this highly-charged political thriller, he’s also emerging as one of its very best.”
For a modest little comedy that failed to break $100 million at the box office during its theatrical run, Groundhog Day has done pretty well for itself in the 15 years since its release: It’s been added to the United States Film Registry, ranked in the top 40 of the AFI and Bravo “100 Funniest Movies” lists, the top 10 of AFI’s fantasy list, and lauded by Roger Ebert in his “Great Movies” series. Starring a perfectly caustic Bill Murray as a miserable newscaster who falls into a time loop that forces him to relive Groundhog Day — and, of course, learn something about himself in the process, although not before using his newfound awareness of the future in all sorts of brilliantly funny ways — the movie was a sizable box office hit whose pop culture cachet has only grown over the last 20 years, to the point that the annual tradition might now be more closely associated with Murray than Punxsutawney Phil. And for good reason: it remains one of his funniest, most finely tuned performances. In the words of TIME’s Richard Corliss, he “makes the movie a comic time warp that anyone should be happy to get stuck in.”
Who has time for the news when there’s witty banter to be bantered? Let’s ask His Girl Friday, starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell as a pair of wisecracking reporters (and ex-spouses) whose complicated relationship is put to the test by a hot story — right on the eve of Russell’s impending wedding. Future filmmakers attempted to use director Howard Hawks’ effervescent template as a blueprint for remakes, to no avail; there’s simply no substitute for the real thing. As Joshua Rothkopf wrote for Time Out New York, “One is tempted to throw away any semblance of persuasion and simply demand that you go see this movie.”
Russell Crowe picked up his first Best Actor Oscar nomination for his work in this Michael Mann film, which dramatizes the real-life story of Jeffrey Wigand (played by Crowe), the tobacco executive whose willingness to speak the truth about his industry’s unsavory activities helped lead to a massive financial settlement — and some rather incredible behind-the-scenes drama at CBS News, where a 60 Minutes report on Wigand was temporarily silenced despite the best efforts of producer Lowell Bergman (Al Pacino). As you might imagine, neither Wigand nor Bergman ended up terribly popular with their superiors, and some of the same interests that fought to keep their story silenced also worked to blunt The Insider‘s commercial prospects; in fact, in some cities, Wigand’s former employer sent representatives to screenings of the film to hand out cards directing filmgoers to an 800 number providing a more company-friendly spin on the story. For whatever reason, The Insider never really caught on with audiences, but it was a critical and awards season favorite, netting no fewer than seven Academy Award nominations. Not bad for a movie that, as more than one critic pointed out, spent two and a half hours talking about tobacco. As Andrew Sarris put it in his review for the New York Observer, “What I didn’t expect was an intelligently absorbing entertainment that ran for two hours and 40 minutes, during which I didn’t once look at my watch — just about the highest praise I can bestow upon a film these days.”
Frank Capra, Clark Gable, and Claudette Colbert — what else do you need? Academy voters of 1934 didn’t want much more than It Happened One Night, awarding this whip-smart screwball comedy all five of the year’s major Oscars. To modern viewers, the plot’s framework — which tosses together a gruff reporter (Gable) and a spoiled heiress (Colbert) on the run from her domineering father (Walter Connolly) — might seem like pretty boilerplate stuff, but you don’t need a high concept when you’re dealing with wit this sharp. And if its ingredients look familiar now, it’s because Night‘s been imitated so often; as James Berardinelli opined for ReelViews, “Its opposites-attract melding of screwball comedy and the road trip elements has become one of about a half-dozen standard love story formulas. Most years, there’s at least one theatrical release that owes a debt to this film.”
Roland Joffé’s The Killing Fields relays the heartrending true story of the friendship between three journalists — Cambodian Dith Pran (Haing S. Nor), American Sydney Schanberg (Sam Waterston), and British Jon Swain (Julian Sands) — during the early days of the Khmer Rouge’s rise to power in Cambodia. John Malkovich co-stars in the supporting role of American photojournalist Al Rockoff, who was part of the unsuccessful effort to get Pran out of Cambodia before the regime change; the real-life Rockoff was publicly unhappy with the way he was portrayed, but he was part of a small minority — The Killing Fields was ultimately nominated for seven Oscars, and it became an instant critical favorite. “It must be nerve-racking for the producers to offer a tale so lacking in standard melodramatic satisfactions,” wrote Time’s Richard Schickel, “But the result is worth it, for this is the clearest film statement yet on how the nature of heroism has changed in this totalitarian century.”
Much as many of our favorite television pundits like to argue that we’re living in one of the medium’s great golden ages, there’s no denying that wide swaths of the dial have been abandoned and given over to lowest-common-denominator fare. But long before anyone started worrying about trashy talk shows or “reality” TV, screenwriter Paddy Chayevsky had an inkling of the dystopian landscape looming on the horizon — and the result was 1976’s Network, a bitingly bitter satire about a veteran news anchor (Peter Finch) whose unorthodox response to being fired serves as the unintended catalyst for a new era of ever-more-provocative nightly news. “One would assume that a 1976 film about network television would feel dated today,” admitted Forrest Hartman of the Reno Gazette-Journal, “but director Sidney Lumet and screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky had such a fine concept that Network seems downright contemporary.”
Director Ron Howard reunited with his Night Shift star, Michael Keaton, for a very different kind of project in 1994: The Paper, an ensemble dramedy about the frantic goings-on behind the scenes during 24 hours in the life of a New York City newspaper. While things have changed drastically for the publishing industry in the years since The Paper‘s release, rendering the movie’s backdrop rather quaint, the sharp writing (from brothers David and Stephen Koepp) and rock-solid acting — rounded out by a showy cast that also included Robert Duvall, Glenn Close, Jason Robards, and Marisa Tomei — are timeless. “Howard, after stumbling with Far and Away, is back in form, and perhaps at the top of his game,” enthused Chris Hicks for the Deseret News. “There are times when the sheer size of the film seems enough to throw it off the track, but Howard manages, for the most part, to keep things rolling along in his usual slick, if sometimes obvious fashion.”
An epic 194-minute biopic about the tortured affair between radical journalists John Reed (Warren Beatty) and Louise Bryan (Diane Keaton) during the early 20th century, set against the backdrop of the Russian Revolution, Reds wasn’t exactly the most commercially friendly film of 1981 — but thanks to positive word of mouth and a stellar cast that also included Jack Nicholson, Paul Sorvino, Gene Hackman, and M. Emmet Walsh, it ended up grossing more than $50 million during its theatrical run, on the way to picking up three Academy Awards (against a dozen nominations). Calling it “Political drama and sweeping romance in one,” Carol Cling of the Las Vegas Review-Journal marveled, “Only Warren Beatty would, or could, do it.”
We know how great television is at creating images that seem so real we can’t help but believe them in the moment, which makes it the perfect tool for ginning up a distraction — like, say, a fake war — in order to distract American voters from a budding scandal in the Oval Office. That’s the idea behind Wag the Dog, adapted from the Larry Beinhart novel about a commander-in-chief (Michael Belson) whose unfortunate appetite for underage girls leads him to hire a spin doctor (Robert De Niro) who enlists a Hollywood producer (Dustin Hoffman) to whip up a staged conflict in Albania. It seemed a little outlandish at the time, but real-life events would quickly conspire to make Wag seem positively prescient. “Between the laughs,” observed the San Francisco Chronicle’s Mick LaSalle, “there are moments that ring so true they can raise goosebumps.”
Kind of a big deal, yes: Will Ferrell’s blowhard anchorman Ron Burgundy — and his thicket of facial hair — is back in cinemas this week. To celebrate, why not put down that razor and take a trip through some of movies’ most memorable mustaches.
Will Ferrell, David Koechner, Meagan Goode, James Marsden, and Christina Applegate discuss the finer points of Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, such as what colognes their characters wear, as well as how to finish intense headlines ripped from today’s top stories.
It all started out as an innocent question. But then, Grae Drake’s purest of intentions quickly snowballed into a bacchanalia of tongues and giggles. And they didn’t talk about Anchorman 2 at all.