Sacha Baron Cohen as Borat at the San Diego Convention Center in San Diego, CA (Photo by Albert L. Ortega/WireImage)
The BBC has released a list of the 100 greatest films of the 21st century, compiled from ballots from 177 international film critics. And like any ranking, it’s bound to make you both annoyed and validated in your taste. I scanned the list ready to be angry at how low the great comedies of the last 16 years were ranked, only to get even angrier when I realized at No. 100 (for which there was three-way tie) that not one comedy made the list. Sure, comedic movies — like Amélie and three from Wes Anderson — are on the list, as well as animated movies — like WALL-E, Inside Out, Ratatouille, and Finding Nemo — but what is completely lacking is capital-C Comedy. Yeah, There Will Be Blood has its moments, but a Comedy it is not. There are none on the list. Zero out of 100 — sorry, I mean zero out of 102.
At first, I tried to give the critics an out: It’s an international list and comedy often doesn’t translate to different cultures. It’s why tremendous comedies in the States end up having relatively miniscule showings abroad. But looking through each critic’s individual ballot revealed that 83 of those included are American, and a number of critics’ top-ten lists were without a single comedy.
The few comedies that actually made it to critics’ top-ten lists were generally low ranked. Here are some of the very few comedies that got one vote, along with the rank: Best in Show (9), Step Brothers (10), Shaun of the Dead (10), Talladega Nights (9), Anchorman (9), Team America (9), Jackass 3D (10). For populist comparison, Star Wars: Episode III and Episode VII both showed up on one ballot each, ranked fifth and fourth respectively. Tropic Thunder appears on two ballots, ranked eighth and ninth. Borat was put on five ballots: one as ninth and four as tenth. Borat actually appeared on more ballots than some films that made the list — like Carlos, which was only on three — but because of the weighting, it didn’t make the cut. Together, the sense you get is that many voters made their lists and added a comedy to the bottom as an afterthought.
“Okay, but what should be on the list, if you’re so smart?” you’re probably asking, a little rudely, if I’m being honest. I am aware that 100 isn’t that many films, so maybe there isn’t room for a comedy, especially if you’re only looking to replace one of the 57 English-language films. In addition to comedic-leaning films on the list, I’d propose just three more. Only three! That’s not that many.
First, what should be removed? Finding Nemo or Ratatouille has to go. I like Ratatouille better, but that’s because I like eating more than being in the ocean. I’m open to either, really. Pixar is great — it’s a bastion of cinematic storytelling — but these are still movies with kids that have jokes for babies. Remove Finding Nemo or Ratatouille — I won’t tell your daughter. Next remove Inception because that movie is fake-smart. Lastly, bye, Inherent Vice. I thought when it came out we agreed Inherent Vice was good but not, like, that good.* If you want to argue that Paul Thomas Anderson is the foremost auteur of our time, so even his lesser work is important in the grand scheme of cinematic history, I understand, but you’d actually be setting me up for the point I’d like to make. If we are partially using articulation of the vision of an auteur as a criterion, then a third PTA film is less necessary than one film from one of the great comedic minds of our time.
So, first, Borat needs to be on this list and probably top 50. Not only is it inventive in its blending of completely fictional and real-world elements, but Sacha Baron Cohen created a brilliant, loudly hilarious title character and fully realized universe for him to live in. It is both the greatest satire of post–9/11 America and a love letter to the country. Simply put, it’s a-nice! Okay, that’s an easy one.
Next, you want Bridesmaids on that wall, you need Bridesmaids on that wall — and by wall, I mean list of greatest films of the 21st century. It received two votes — a three and a seven — but it deserved more. The best version of the Apatowian mix of improvised dialogue, broad set pieces, and honest humanity, Bridesmaids’ influence on comedy, the film industry, and culture in general is undeniable.
Okay, last one: Dealer’s choice. This could go to Anchorman, Step Brothers, Wet Hot American Summer, Best in Show, Shaun of the Dead, Four Lions, Mean Girls, Superbad — really I leave that up to you, 177 international film critics. They are all great and very funny, and distinct in voice and tone, in ways some of the films on the list are definitely not. Or go rogue and pick a real weird one. If I was asked to do a top ten I’d probably put MacGruber as #1, if only because it’s the one movie I’ve seen as an adult that after watching, I knew I had to watch it again, immediately.
This is not meant to be a takedown of film critics or film criticism. I greatly respect the knowledge and passion they have for the medium. It’s more that the list affirms what many have felt for years: There is a disconnect between the film-critic consensus and the comedy consensus. It’s the same culture that leads to The Martian winning the Golden Globe for Best Comedy. And I’m not saying this is a Suicide Squad situation, where I think only fans of a thing should be allowed to review it, because I do believe that most of these film critics are fans of comedy. It’s more that comedy, to appropriately quote Rodney Dangerfield, gets no respect.
* This post previously implied the Inherent Vice book was written many years before the movie was filmed. It has since been corrected.