Culture

The 101 Funniest Screenplays of All Time

You’ll have your own favorites, of course, and it all depends on how you define “funny.” Should Annie Hall be No. 1? (The Upper West Side of Manhattan considers it a documentary.) Is Dr. Strangelove (No. 7) really “funny”? (Then again, what’s notfunny about the end of the world?) But who could argue with Airplane (No. 4), Tootsie (No. 5)  and Blazing Saddles (No. 8). Check out the whole list here at the link. Some of my favorites:

No. 24: Bringing Up BabyScreenplay by Hagar Wilde and Dudley Nichols, Story by Hagar Wilde

In 1989, The New York Times ran part of a speech given by Budd Schulberg at the Deauville film festival, in which Schulberg compared the “auteur theory” of directing to “that of a giant vacuum cleaner sucking up all the contributions of the writers.” The publication of Schulberg’s comments prompted a letter from the writer and Radcliffe professor Hope Hale Davis about her friend Hagar Wilde, and Bringing Up Baby. “Only the imagination of Hagar Wilde could have produced that hunt through a Connecticut night in pursuit of an escaped leopard named Baby,” Davis wrote of the screenplay, which Wilde and Dudley Nichols (Stagecoach) adapted from Wilde’s short story. “At the time she died in poverty at the Motion Picture Country Home,” Davis continued, “her film was being enjoyed by millions on late-night television. None of these showings added a penny to the $22,500 she once received for the rights.”

No. 63: Best In Show. Written by Christopher Guest & Eugene Levy

Having lampooned the hubris of a heavy metal band in This Is Spinal Tap and amateur thespian intimations of greatness in Waiting for Guffman, Christopher Guest trained his dry, satiric gaze on the Westminster Dog Show. Well, not exactly the Westminster Dog Show, but close. The film lends itself well to Guest’s pseudo-vérité and seemingly improvisational style, following five different contestants (all couples, except for Guest himself as the owner of a bloodhound) as they travel to the competition, check in at the hotel, and generally project their neuroses, hopes and dreams on this canine beauty pageant. The competition itself features Fred Willard as an over-the-top commentator. “Satires have a way of running out of steam,” critic Roger Ebert wrote of Best in Show, “but the suspense of the judging process keeps the energy high, even apart from an assist by the dog who attacks a judge.”

And one by my good friend, Dale Launer (who has two scripts on the list, the other one being Dirty Rotten Scoundrels):

No. 83: My Cousin Vinny.  Written by Dale Launer

A wiseguy in the Deep South is the fish-out-of-water premise, but only partly so. Vinny Gambini isn’t a gangster, he’s a lawyer who needed six tries to pass the New York bar and now has to get his college-aged cousin and friend out of a murder charge in small-town Alabama. Much of the film unfolds as a courtroom procedural, unique for a comedy, and a badge of pride for screenwriter Dale Launer. “That movie is used routinely in law schools, because the movie is actually an accurate representation of what you do in court,” Launer told the podcast “TV Confidential.” Joe Pesci is the criminal defense lawyer Vinny Gambini, Marisa Tomei his gum-chewing girlfriend (in an Oscar-winning performance) and Fred Gywnn as a Yale-educated Southern judge who schools Vinny in the ways of jurisprudence and courtroom etiquette.