Mark Harris says something's funny about the new American Film Institute poll

By Mark Harris
Updated June 16, 2000 at 04:00 AM EDT

EW critiques the top 100 comedy films of all time

Talking about what’s funny is like talking about what’s sexy — it’s so completely in the eye and ear of the beholder that rendering quasi-objective judgments seems pointless. Of course, that didn’t stop the American Film Institute from announcing its list of the 100 funniest movies of the last century, culled from the votes of 1,800 ”experts” (what, did they all graduate from Clown College?). And who are we at Entertainment Weekly to criticize anyone for the creation of a gratuitous/ provocative pop culture list?

Actually, this year’s AFI list has generated less criticism than the Institute’s previous rankings of Hollywood’s greatest stars and greatest movies, primarily because it covers most bases shrewdly, including Woody Allen (five times, although not for anything after 1979’s ”Manhattan”), Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton (for an undeniably evenhanded four films apiece), Cary Grant and Mae West, Tracy and Hepburn, Mel Brooks, and Abbott and Costello, along with, for more contemporary tastes, the brothers Coen, Zucker, and Farrelly.

So much for fairness. Now let’s tear ’em apart. First of all, AFI’s obsession with drag is deeply peculiar. ”Some Like It Hot”, which takes the No. 1 slot, may not be your favorite comedy, but few would argue that it’s a reasonable consensus choice. But ”Tootsie”’s No. 2 ranking seems ridiculously high, and the inclusion of ”Mrs. Doubtfire” (No. 67) and ”Victor/Victoria” (No. 76) on the list is a double groaner. (Where, by the way, is the movie that contains what may be Robin Williams’ funniest performance, as the genie in ”Aladdin”?)

Some other quarrels. ”Beverly Hills Cop” (No. 63) isn’t Eddie Murphy’s funniest movie; his remake of ”The Nutty Professor” is at least as worthy of inclusion as the Jerry Lewis original, which sneaks in at No. 99. The AFI list betrays a fondness for any number of movies that haven’t aged well, or that may, in fact, not have been that great to begin with — ”Auntie Mame” (No. 94), ”Harvey” (No. 35), and ”City Slickers” (No. 86) come to mind. And has anybody taken a cold, hard look at ”M*A*S*H” (No. 7) lately? The list also includes a number of films that, though great, overstretch the definition of comedy to include musicals (”Singin’ in the Rain,” at No. 16), light mysteries (”The Thin Man,” at No. 32), and nostalgia pieces (”American Graffiti,” at No. 43). And even if you don’t find the Marx Brothers as unbearable as I do, giving them five spots (including two in the top dozen!) is overkill.

A final complaint: Keeping British films off this list seems damaging to its overall integrity (especially when such British-seeming movies as ”A Fish Called Wanda,” at No. 21, ARE included). A list of the funniest movies of all time that doesn’t include ”Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” to name but one, is no laughing matter. To round out a top 10 list of movies that didn’t make it and should have, I’d skew mostly towards the recent — 74 of the AFI’s choices are pre 1980. I’d add ”Heathers,” ”Waiting for Guffman,” one of Richard Pryor’s concert movies, one film from the criminally unrepresented John Waters (probably ”Female Trouble”), ”Kind Hearts and Coronets,” ”Life of Brian,” ”Hannah and Her Sisters,” ”Prizzi’s Honor” (as long as we’re stretching those definitions), and ”Local Hero.” Your votes?