Top 10 Cult Comedies: Laughter in a Dark Place

by | March 27, 2014 at 12:02 PM | XFINITY Streampix

"Animal House" is an all-time comedy class (Universal Home Entertainment)

What’s a cult comedy? A movie that makes you laugh, but also transports you to another world at once familiar, but somehow a little off, one that produces a late-night giddiness by portraying a universe with its own distinct set of rules, leading to a heightened awareness… For those who know what we’re talking about, here are our Top 10 cult comedies from the Streampix library. From Paul Thomas Anderson’s darkly comic vision of ‘70s porn in the San Fernando Valley (“Boogie Nights”) and Tim Burton’s surreal dramatization of trading cares from a misbegotten youth (“Mars Attacks!”)  to Sofia Coppola’s mediation on language, cultural, age and gender differences in a foreign land (“Lost-in Translation”), these Streampix flicks will tickle your funny bone while also twisting your mind.

Boogie Nights”: Paul Thomas Anderson’s brilliant 1997 movie about the ’70s  adult film business might not seem a comedy on first viewing, but Mark Wahlberg’s stunning turn as night club dishwasher Eddie Adams turned-porn-star Dirk Diggler is a study in innocence corrupted, thanks to an equally satirical turn by the satanic Burt Reynolds as sleazy, toupee-wearing porn director Jack Horner.  There are plenty of other memorable performances in the film, including Don Cheadle’s Buck Swope, John C. Reilly’s Reed Rothschild, William H. Macy’s tragically doomed Little Bill Thompson, Julianne Moore’s “Amber Waves,” Heather Graham’s “Rollergirl” and Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Scotty J. Best scene is Anderson’s homage to “Putney Swope” director Robert Downey Sr., a scene in a coke dealer’s living room which bristles with paranoid comic energy.

Austin Powers International Man of Mystery”: Director Jay Roach and writer/star Mike Myers teamed up on this 1997 spoof on the old James Bond films that turned into a phenomenon after it went to DVD and cable, spawning a pair of sequels, with a fourth installment in the works. The pair got the British setting just right, complete with Meyers’ bad accent, buck teeth, Carnaby Street clothing and playboy image, creating the catch phrases, “Shagadelic” and “Oooo…behave” in the process. Among its ‘60s satirical targets: the Beatles, the movie “Blow-Up” and popular secret agent TV show, “The Avengers.”

Police Academy”: This Hugh Wilson-directed 1984 spoof was penned by legendary comedy writers Neal Israel (“Tunnel Vision,” “The Wonder Years”) and Pat Proft (“The Smothers Brothers Show,” “Police Squad”) spawning a cottage industry that led to six sequels of descending quality between the years of ’84-’94. The first is still the best, with Steve Guttenberg as the raw cadet who joins the force after the Mayor lowers the requirements considerably in the wake of a police shortage. The colorful cast also includes ex-football great Bubba Smith and Michael Winslow, the human beat box who remains a marvel of nature.

Mars Attacks!”: Tim Burton’s zany 1996 montage to cheesy ‘50s sci-fi flicks and a memorable trading card series plays a lot better today than it did with critics back then, though his denouement—featuring the voice of the late country star Slim Whitman killing off the Martians, was stolen full cloth from a similar bit on Howard Stern’s radio show long before this movie. Jack Nicholson and Glenn Close are virtual cartoon characters as the President and First Lady, but that’s precisely the point. Burton’s unique vision is best seen late at night under the influence of something stronger than milk, as its all-star cast—Annette Bening, Pierce Brosnan, Martin Short, Sarah Jessica Parker, Danny DeVito, Michael J. Fox, Natalie Portman, football star Jim Brown, Pam Grier, Rod Steiger, Sylvia Sydney, Jack Black, Christina Applegate, Tom Jones (as himself), Joe Don Baker, singer Ray J, Paul Winfield, and moonlighting directors Barbet Schroeder and Jerzy Skolimowski—wonder how they got convinced to do this movie in the first place.

Pee-wee’s Big Adventure”: Tim Burton’s 1985 feature debut, a star vehicle for Paul Reubens’ kiddie show host turned pop icon Pee-wee Herman, was much more successful. The screenplay was penned by Reubens with Phil Hartman and Michael Varhol, about a man-child in search of his stolen bike, which a fake psychic told him was hidden in the basement of the Alamo in San Antonio. Burton’s eclectic visual sense defines the road story, which winds its way to Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank, where Pee-wee disguises himself as a nun to steal his bike back, leading the security staff through a variety of sets in an homage to the silent era of Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. At the end, Pee-wee’s story is turned into a drive-in movie featuring James Brolin and Morgan Fairchild fighting ninjas, a movie that appeals to seven-year-old kids and stoners alike, which may just be the point.

Lost in Translation”: Sofia Coppola’s 2003 deapan comedy stars Oscar-nominated Bill Murray as a version of himself, trapped in his own midlife crisis amidst the anomie of Japan, where he meets Scarlett Johansson and embarks on a chaste romance filled with misunderstandings and culture clash. Director/writer Coppola earned an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, with the film earning four nominations in all, including Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Director. It’s more a bittersweet drama than comedy, but Murray is hilarious in one scene where he does a liquor commercial and tries to take direction from his Japanese director. Coppola has denied the character of the arrogant, obnoxious photographer, played by Giovanni Ribisi, is based on her ex, Spike Jonze.

Monty Python’s the Meaning of Life”: The 1982 comedy, directed by Terry Jones, is a series of sketches designed to answer questions about existence, dealing with original sin, the medical field, business, religion and, yep, death itself.  The movie includes song classics like “Every Sperm is Sacred,” “The Galaxy Song” and “The Penis Song,” the prelude to the flick’s classic set piece, the infamous vomit scene, where an entire restaurant throws up on each other.

Ali G Indahouse The Movie”: Long before there was “Borat,” “Bruno” or  “The Dictator,” Sacha Baron Cohen played the gold chain-wearing, malapropism-spouting would-be British gangsta rapper Ali G in his 2002 big-screen film debut. Somehow, Ali G gets involved in a plot to overthrow the British Prime Minister (a game Michael Gambon), becoming a member of Parliament and offering a glimpse of Cohen before he achieved world-wide infamy.

National Lampoon’s Animal House”: John Landis’ 1978 comedy, with a screenplay co-written by the late Harold Ramis, is one of the most successful comedies of all time, and helped launch the career of John Belushi as John “Bluto” Blutarsky, with his notorious cafeteria scene, where he stuffs his face and spews mashed potatoes like a “zit” and his impassioned war speech. “Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?” Made for $2.8 million, the movie went on to “gross” more than $141 million. A film that still stands up, with supporting turns from Tim Matheson, Verna Bloom, Thomas Hulce, Donald Sutherland, Karen Allen, Peter Riegert and  Kevin Bacon, along with musicians Stephen Bishop and Robert Cray. “Animal House” offers a template for the modern-day R-rated comedies like “The Hangover” and “Bridesmaids.”

After Hours”: Martin Scorsese’s 1985 comedy stars Griffin Dunne as a New Yorker suffering through a horrible date night in New York’s downtown Soho neighborhood, where he gets mixed up with a murderous bar owner, a flighty waitress, a pyromaniac and other denizens of the night. The movie was originally supposed to be directed by Tim Burton, but Scorsese took it on when he couldn’t get financing to make “The Last Temptation of Christ,” in between “The King of Comedy” and “The Color of Money.” The movie also starred Rosanna Arquette, Verna Bloom, Linda Fiorentino, Teri Garr, John Heard, Cheech & Chong and Catherine O’Hara. Highlight: when some punks kidnap Dunne and try to shave his head into a Mohawk.