Movies are probably the most extravagantly used artform in the contemporary world. Their visual lucidity, generally conventional formatting and engaging dialogues make them a very genuine representation of thematic conveyance. But as the art engages in self-indulgence, striving to be a more refined version of itself, with the progression of time, it develops a sense of elusiveness. This, unfortunately in most cases is a distancing factor for the attachment between cinema and the masses, who look at art not to appreciate it but to enjoy it. There’s eventually a collective shift of interest to genre abiding works, mostly comedy films.
Comedy films are usually light hearted and primarily composed of humor that reaches out to a wide audience. Most of them though, are guilty pleasures with monotonous narratives and characters, incorporating different themes and settings, leading to the implication of a neo-loop. On the contrary, in the initial stages artists like Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin were revolutionary forces of not only the genre but the film industry as a whole. Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn’s pioneering work on romantic comedies that blended humor with serious subject matter was of great importance, and there were many more legends to follow.
But I believe comedy really became a force to be reckoned with after the motive changed from entertainment to social awareness, which led to the birth of dark comedy. Chaplin’s The Great Dictator, Bergman and Kubrick’s works left a lasting effect on the audiences’ minds with their use of humor in situations demanding a considerable amount of seriousness. This unfortunately was the truth that these minds saw, for the society was heckled with the most inhumane issues disguised under various aspects, and were quietly making a favorable mockery out of people. Dark comedy movies over the years witnessed a lot of changes with its use becoming common with any underlying issue that harm the society. Now, dark comedies have become more compact and evolved into character studies of a variety of people present in this world and their perception of society, and because of their growing acceptance have become a great source of entertainment. Here is the list of dark comedy movies of the 21st century you just cannot miss. You can watch some of these dark comedy movies on Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime.
1. American Psycho
The first thing that flashes in most minds when they hear the name Christian Bale is ‘The Dark Knight’. However, truly, nothing comes close to Bale’s Oscar worthy performance in ‘American Psycho’. American Psycho is a very misunderstood movie, and even incessantly accused of being a quirky slasher flick. It’s a hysterical den of iniquity, honestly, but that shouldn’t deviate from the fact that it’s one of the greatest character studies ever put on the big screen. It’s a grisly satirical take on Manhattan in the 70s with a domineering emphasis on the puppy lifestyle.
The whole movie takes place through a first person p.o.v, with constant echoing voice-overs brilliantly signifying the massive space between the real Bateman and his image. Everything from the title to the most tense moments reeks of comical castigation for Patrick Bateman, a fantastic irony for his flawed search for catharsis. Bale’s wide range of emotions perfectly conveys Bateman’s fragile state and his inner struggles, which is on full-fledged display during two remarkable monologues within a span of 10 minutes. Mary Harron’s only masterpiece, this is arguably the best dark comedy from this century.
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2. In Bruges
‘In Bruges’ is a modern masterpiece and something that will be revered as a classic, decades from now. McDonagh’s style of using typical Irishmen against the backdrop of a grim quintessential European setting to illustrate themes of death, purgatory, sacrifice and love produces a very matured farcical story, that could very well be considered among the greatest screenplays of this century, owing to his history as a playwright.
The trio of Farrell, Gleeson and Fiennes are at the helm, with their un-criminal mien adding a delightful touch to confrontations and elevated by dialogues that can only be bettered by Monty Python, in terms of quotability. The cinematography is flawless and exhibits Bruges like a shadow looming behind the characters, a vague personification of death, which is very reminiscent of Bergman’s Seventh Seal. The ambiguity in which it leaves you, is of a very compound nature, asking you to ponder over its metaphoric reality.
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Before Sacha Baron Cohen sported the big beard, black shades and ruled over Wadiya, he used to be Ali G and Borat on ‘Da Ali G Show’. He brought his fictitious character ‘Borat’ from the show to the big screen in this ultimate no holes barred movie which fantasizes downright filthy satire, which most aren’t capable of ingesting. It’s a superlative travesty of the stereotypical values and demeanours, that are still prevalent in certain sections of the underdeveloped Eastern European world. It is a road movie, and hence trusts its lead to carry it forward, which is rightfully repaid by a Golden Globe winning performance by Cohen.
It’s a story of a simpleton from a maligned background, trying to find his way in the U.S, subjected to a variety of social whims, influencing him and incorrectly molding him during particular situations. Borat is clever. It fools you into believing its priority is Kazakhstan, while it smartly takes the piss out of the rich and racist American society and the redneck culture by using real life interviews, which I believe is a tremendous feat.
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4. Thank You For Smoking
“Here is a satire both savage and elegant, a dagger instead of a shotgun”, Roger Ebert said of the movie. A highlight from a rather tipsy topsy career of Jason Reitman, ‘Thank You For Smoking’ is a brilliant comedy taking sharp digs at the cigarette industry. It’s not deep layered like ‘American Psycho’ or ‘In Bruges’, it’s pretty straightforward in-your-face humor. Revolving around the fallacious life of a cigarette lobbyist, successfully executed by a career best performance from Aaron Eckhart (‘The Dark Knight’), and his interactions with people from different spheres of life, including his own son who looks up to him.
It reveals the true face of the lobbying industry and how they manipulate the masses with their spin tactics and also targets the ignorance of the same masses and their malleable nature. The movie is stylishly made, with the corruptible people carrying a resonating aura that is usually reserved for the good characters in most movies. It wants you take the humor seriously, because the laughs are made at your expense. You are laughing at the present state of affairs capable of influencing your day to day lives and that is why it is so effective.
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5. Lars and the Real Girl
Ryan Gosling, I believe, is an unlucky man. He is an actor whose archetypal romantic roles cast a veil over his tremendous acting prowess. While mainstream audiences know him through ‘The Notebook’ or ‘Crazy, Stupid, Love’ or maybe even ‘Drive’, his finest performance up to date is on display in this hidden gem.
‘Lars and the Real Girl’ is an indie, with an introverted subdued lead. Sounds worn-out, but that’s not it. Like all highly regarded indies, this movie takes your normal story and adds its individualistic charm to it, the sex doll, in this movie. It’s about an introverted subdued guy who falls in love with a sex doll, owing to his inability to communicate with people. The movie wants to convey that the form love takes is immaterial, and what truly matters is a sense of happiness and hope in its presence. It’s always a difficult job to not let a plot such as this sway towards a cliched comedy filled with innuendos and Gillespie totally deserves the plaudits he received. “Its weapon is absolute sincerity. It has a kind of purity to it.” – Roger Ebert.
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6. Burn After Reading
The Coen Brothers have had a distinctive brand of comedy. Its farcical, characterized, ruthless and mostly accompanied by a deadpan. Many would argue over ‘A Serious Man’s’ exclusion, but that is mainly due to Coens’ trademark blend of dark humor in most of their films, while ‘Burn After Reading’ could be singled out for its true comedic roots. Its multi faceted with highly contrasting characters drowning in their own murky bathtubs.
An edgy aeging woman who yearns for liposuctions and her vibrant dull witted friend intend on extorting money from a sacked CIA agent who suffers from alcoholism, is a very subtle and misleading way of putting it. The plot on paper is just ridiculous. It’s a hilarious example of the domino effect, with each error leading to another and mangling up all the characters with it.
The Coen Brothers destroy sections of the society with trite representations of the alcoholics, middle aged men and women, government employees, unfair partners and womanizers to be specific. It comes up with a few surprises that would have had a completely opposite reaction, if it were to take place in real life. It’s not their best, but it surely makes up for some good shady enjoyment in someone else’s misery.
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7. Hot Fuzz
The second movie from ‘The Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy’, is nderappreciated compared to its predecessor, ‘Shaun of the Dead’. Edgar Wright pays a witty tribute to ‘The Wicker Man’, by crafting a story around a law enforcer who’s transferred to a remote English town where things start to get pretty ugly. Complacent colleagues, suspicious folks, a string of murders, unusual cults and a fight sequence right out of a Schwarzenegger movie.
Like Woodward’s character, he encounters absurdly ridiculous traditions and ideals predominant among the people. Unlike its inspiration, it’s light hearted at the core and enjoys its themes, with delightful performances from the dynamic chavvy duo of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. The writing is the real deal, with amusing gore not getting out of hand and the humor staying away from extreme slapstickness, combined with the brilliantly choreographed action scenes to produce a thrilling unadulterated comedy. And yes, its got the dark charming presence of Timothy Dalton too!
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8. Death At A Funeral
Not the dull American remake, which relies on forced humor delivered by a handful of black comedians. Black comedians are great, no offence, but it just doesn’t work every time. Coming to Frank Oz’s original, ‘Death at a Funeral’ is shamelessly blatant at ridiculing fundamental human nature. Oz who’s known for voicing Yoda and for his history of one good movie per decade (he hasn’t made a single one since then), takes the most sombre situation in normal life and forges it into an over the top adult comedy with scenes involving nudity, drugs, bashing of dogmas and strange death and postmortem problems while incredibly keeping intact the funeral setting. The screenplay by Dean Craig brings all the zany things that go through people’s minds during a funeral out in the open, which is acted out brilliantly by the likes of Peter Dinklage, Matthew Macfadyen, Alan Tudyk and Ewan Bremmer. It’s a laughter riot and pretty grim at times, but for the dark comedy enthusiasts it’s a must watch.
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9. Little Miss Sunshine
‘Little Miss Sunshine’ is the most beautiful dark comedy on this list. Its nothing delicate like its title and deals with a topic that affects all of us. Dreams. Not Nolan’s parallel worldly dreams, but dreams of hope and achieving happiness. Dayton and Faris, criminally underappreciated for both Ruby Sparks and this, have a knack for a style that has become a benchmark for indie comedies. Vivid characterization, basic themes, slow paced (not wrong paced) for plot development, characters’ lack of awareness of their contribution to the satire with their normal activities, weird upcoming constructs in the society and their influence, intimate moments to make us realize despite all the hilarity that ensues we are still observing people like us and foremost, a lesson about the myth surrounding winning and losing.
Dark comedies depend on their actors, because they are character studies at the core, and the cast does not disappoint with some incredible and heartfelt performances from Breslin, Carell, Kinnear, Dano and Arkin. It’s not a film for kids, not because it’s filled with sexual innuendos, but because it’s too heavy, and maybe not a film for people who get influenced a lot by what happens on screen.
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10. Adam’s Apples
The only non-English language film on this list because of the presence of Mads Mikkelsen, who’s a relatively familiar face among movie fanatics. ‘Adam’s Apples’ is the third film in a trio of dark comedies directed by Anders Thomas Jensen succeeding ‘Flickering Lights’ and ‘The Green Butchers’ with Mikkelsen featuring in all of them. The two main characters in this film are a convicted neo nazi and a dogma blinded priest. Sounds offbeat and more like a comedy of errors that plays during the whole movie but that’s not the case.
This Danish movie, inspired from The Book of Job, takes social and religious cynicism to a new level. The idea of why bad happens to the good is given a comical angle with humor so dark, it can rightfully be called an ideal black body and like an ideal black body, it absorbs all the menace and murkiness of nature and reflects the same through the lives of the characters. The cinematography is pretty decent, but its the dialogues that leave the biggest impression and they are given due justice by the well composed deliveries from Mikkelsen and Thomsen. Jensen’s trilogy deserves a marathon, not only because of its satirical allegory, but also because this is shown through a culture most of us are unaware of.
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