The decade of the 90’s had a rich assortment of fun comedy styles including; satire, spoofs, crime, romance and fantasy. Surprisingly two film biographies (Ed Wood and Man on the Moon) ranked with the best-in-class comedies. Since the best comedy-crime movies and comedy-romance films are covered in separate posts (Best of the Comedy-Crime Genre in the last 50 years, and Best Romantic Comedies That Even a Guy Will Enjoy), we will examine the others. Overall the comedy acting was on par with any decade. Two comic geniuses, John Goodman and Jim Carrey, delivered career best performances, and several actors famous for serious dramatic or action movies starred in comedy home runs (Bobby De Niro, William Shatner, Johnny Depp, Dustin Hoffman, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Christopher Walken). Some of the best light comedies were done in the Family style with young children in the cast and the humor presented in a softer, gentler fashion for a younger audience. For me, the 90’s were the peak years for watching Family style movies, as my kids were pre-teen and loved light comedies. Ladies and gents, here are a dozen 1990’s comedies with plenty of laughs, presented in order by release dates.
1. Kindergarten Cop 1990
My kids loved this movie. I lost count how many times we watched it. This is a buddy cop flick with a combination of humor, lots of cute kids, romance, and a touch of violence. The star of the film, Arnold Schwarzenegger, shows a surprisingly good flair for comedy as a tough undercover detective who gets roped into teaching Kindergarten, and struggles to find his inner Mr. Rodgers. This might be Arnold's most likable role, and he had the best lines in an excellent script. Underrated actress Pam Reed is very good as Arnold’s cop partner.
2. Home Alone 1990
Macaulay Culkin, age 8, was crowned a child superstar after his portrayal of Kevin McAllister who is accidentally left at home by his parents when the family flies to Paris for Christmas holiday. Not only has he to contend with the holiday on his own, but the resourceful kid must also defend the family home from two burglars - Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern. Great slapsticky hijinks ensue as the kid defends his castle.
3. Matinee 1993
October 1962. The Cuban Missile Crisis grips the country, and the military is on red alert. With the Cold War threatening to go nuclear hot, up steps Lawrence Woolsey (John Goodman) - King of B Horror movies. This has to be one of the most underrated comedies of all time. It is funny, touching, nostalgic, and the clincher, a cast of kids that do not annoy. Goodman has a career best performance in the role of a movie director /writer /producer with big dreams, who is also a super salesman. Classic scene not to miss – the confrontation between Goodman and protesters from Citizens for Decent Entertainment. Also outstanding is actress Cathy Moriarty. She shows a talent for comedy with her deadpan, sultry voice, and is the perfect balance to Goodman’s high energy and panache. All in all, this is a cool movie with just enough historical insight, including actual newsreels, to remind us when the USA went eye to eye with Soviets.
4. Mrs. Doubtfire 1993
Robin Williams plays a divorced, unemployed artist who disguises himself as a matronly widow in order to … no matter. A natural born clown, Williams is in prime form as a drag queen, and delivers perhaps his finest comedy performance. Trivia -- In real life Robin Williams divorced his wife in order to marry his nanny. In the film he divorces his wife and becomes her nanny. How weird is that?
5. Ed Wood 1994
Without question this is Tim Burton's career best work. Perhaps it's the total understanding and likeness of his subject that allowed him to connect, or relate, so perfectly here. Edward Wood has been crowned as the worst movie director of all time, yet some of Burton’s abysmal clunkers (Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, et al) could best Ed Wood in a race to the bottom. What really sets this movie apart is the wealth of talented actors – not a weak link in the entire cast. With Johnny Depp in the lead, we see a fun, quirky film with more humor, depth and style than expected. I just re-watched this film for the first time in years. Two classic comedy scenes replay in the mind the next day; Bela Lugosi (Martin Landau) ranting about Boris Karloff, and the movie staff at an outdoor Baptismal event, “Welcome to the fold, brother.” A must see and much underrated film. B&W.
6. Mask 1994
Jim Carrey clowning, bizarre magic, a funny dog, and Cameron Diaz debut…. Are you hooked yet? This flick was one of the first films to successfully translate the slapstick, cartoon antics of Looney Tunes into live action. It is as much about physical comedy as it is jokes. Funny movie and a good yarn to watch with entire family.
7. Wag the Dog 1997
By sheer dumb luck, this comedy flick with a political sex-scandal theme hit the theaters just before news broke about the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky sex scandal in January 1998. So we have here a clever satire of the American political system with enough realism to make it plausible. It is an election year. A master spin doctor (Bobby De Niro) and a nameless President (we never see his face) team together to manipulate the media to trick the American public. Dustin Hoffman is outstanding as the Hollywood Producer on speed pills who can solve any problem (This is nothing!). A true sleeper hit, and underrated film with a talented ensemble cast.
8. Free Enterprise 1998
This is not a Star Trek movie. Not even close. Eric and Rafer are two likeable Sci-Fi fans who dream of being movie directors. They happen to meet their all-time hero (Captain Kirk), and end up finding some friendship, truth and happiness. A comedy masterpiece for Mr. William Shatner. Cool soundtrack is a bonus.
9. Man on the Moon 1999
Andy Kaufman garnered modest fame for his small comic role in TV sitcom, Taxi. After a five year run, the show flamed out in 1983, and Andy moved on to continue his show biz career as a standup comedian. This is the point in Andy’s too short life (he died at age 36) that the biopic movie begins. Kaufman had a mixed bag of very original routines, disguises and spoofs including; Tony Clifton, an abrasive, obnoxious nightclub performer; an Elvis impersonation, sing-a-along with the Mickey Mouse theme song, and the controversial mixed wrestling bouts. Often his strange stage act more annoyed and offended audiences rather than leave them laughing. Andy did not care much about being likeable. Even if you do not fully appreciate Kauffman's wacky sense of humor, this film is worth seeing for the tour-de-force acting of underrated Jim Carrey. He delivers a truly inspired performance, and is so good you think you are watching the real Andy Kaufman in video flashbacks.
10. Dick 1999
Here’s a comedy treat for political junkies and anyone old enough to have endured the endless Watergate hearings on television. After all the serious-as-a-heart-attack portraits of Watergate, it is a pleasure to enjoy a funny spoof at the expense of CREEP, committee to re-elect the president (they picked that name, I’m not joking). The film skewers all the prime players, from Nixon to Gordon Liddy to Haldeman to Erlichman and the rest of the gang that spent some time in the pen. Saul Rubinek is outstanding as Kissinger, and only Checkers, the president’s hound, is shown some respect. Dan Hedaya's portrayal of Nixon is dead-on with the scowls and voice in a classic comic turn. The stars of the flick are two young girls (Dunst and Williams) who live at the Watergate apartments, witness some of the burglars then get mixed up with the White House staff. This is a stellar 70’s flashback with enough clueless charm to lampoon an ugly chapter of American history.
11. Office Space 1999
This cult movie goes out to everybody who toils in an office "cube", and I think you worker bee rebels know who you are. This is a funny movie with some classic scenes and great one-liners, but was a box office flop. The films biting satire of corporate nonsense is, if anything, more appropriate now than in 1999. Since then we have witnessed enough corporate stupidity to fuel a dozen more comedies of this sort. From the shocking 2001 Enron scandal to the epic economic meltdown of 2008, the executive suits have bankrupted huge companies, and dragged the American economy into deep recession. The level of corporate shenanigans has gone through the roof, as dysfunctional, reckless management teams drive the corporate bus off the cliff, with us in the back seats hanging on for dear life. These three scenes alone are worth the price of admission: the memo on TPS reports, the sixteen pieces of flare, and the death of an evil fax machine.
12. Blast from the Past 1999
Need an escape? Here's a ticket back to the 60s. For those of us who were teens in the 60s, this flick is a window to the past. Seeing the decade come alive in the music, baseball cards and even the furniture brings back old memories. This film never takes itself too seriously even though most of it takes place in a nuclear bomb shelter. No need to rehash the plot except to say it may be difficult for modern youth to understand the paranoia during the Cold War. The USA was constantly locking horns with the USSR and many serious people feared a nuclear war between the West and the Red Menace. The movie delivers a bit of historical insight into those days, but uses a lighthearted touch. This is a fun movie without crude humor; instead we have witty dialogue, good acting, and a simple, amusing story. Casting Sissy Spacek with Christopher Walken in this film was simply brilliant. They have Perfect screen chemistry, and are fun to watch.
Honorable mentions from webdesigner:
Night at the Roxbury, Happy Gilmore, and Beverly Hills Ninja.