All things considered, 2020 has had a pretty cruel sense of humor. At the very time we’ve been mostly prevented from sitting in an audience and laughing, when we’ve needed the release of communal joy, we have this pesky pandemic preventing the responsible from doing just that. So it stands to reason we could use as many good comedies to hit the smaller screens in our homes as possible. We won’t say 2020 has delivered fully or even conspicuously on that account, but the following list does include a number of old friends: There’s a new installment in Brydon and Coogan’s Trip series, the return of Kazakhstan’s “favorite” faux son, yet another new (and wonderful) iteration of Jane Austen’s Emma, and—dude!—even Bill and Ted are back! (And now that we think about it, there’s also a veritable swarm of SNL alums.) Frankly, if you’ve made it this far into 2020, you’ve likely seen many of these. But then again, you may have missed a few, so let Paste load another chuckle or two into your self-care queue.
Here are our picks for the 15 best comedy movies of the year:
Perhaps apocryphal, Adam Sandler’s promise/threat to follow up an Uncut Gems Oscar snub with a new movie “so bad on purpose just to make you all pay” (as he told Howard Stern a year-or-so ago) may have come to collect with the ostensibly dumb Hubie Halloween. After all, if this is punishment, we deserve this, right? But somehow, despite history and common sense demonstrating otherwise, Steven Brill’s seasonal ode to the Sandman’s baby voice is as much a disarmingly, genuinely sweet endeavor as it is a rehabilitation of Sandler’s earliest successes—Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore especially, what with the cameos by a McDoyle and Ben Stiller as a vindictive orderly—once-beloved movies that haven’t so much aged poorly as just feel like they belong to a different lifetime entirely. Nostalgia may make for cheap bait in a pandemic, but amidst the predictable appearance of all of Sandler’s friends and the insistence that no matter how pathetic a titular Adam Sandler character can get, many wonderful women will always, against all odds, love him fiercely, Hubie Halloween exorcises many of the mean-spirited ghosts that have haunted his canon.
So goes the story of a grown man named Hubie (Sandler) who lives with his mother (June Squibb, lovely) and, obsessed with Halloween, takes it upon himself to make sure the denizens of Salem, Massachusetts celebrate safely every year, even though they resent him so much they throw increasingly unwieldy objects at him wherever he goes. The movie’s bloated with physical gags, often at the expense of Hubie’s face, nards and/or dignity, and flush with character actors seemingly having a blast. There’s Ray Liotta, game for getting typecast as “loudmouthed lech”; there is Michael Chiklis, his head a thumb. Shaq is here, and so is Steve Buscemi, and Maya Rudolph, and Kevin James; even Rob Schneider, typically execrable, is used sparingly, responsible for one of the movie’s funniest lines, a line that is about peeing himself. All are deployed throughout a thoroughly low-stakes plot, in which everyone learns to treat Hubie with a modicum of dignity, but rather than ring as trite and unearned, Hubie Halloween’s got 25 years of similar movies behind it—two and a half decades of cinema whose worst sin is giving all of Adam Sandler’s friends an excuse to celebrate their friendship. You may have reached your limit with that voice, and no one would blame you, but it’s hard to deny that a sweetly dimwitted movie with a simple message about taking care of one another is probably more than we deserve in 2020. —Dom Sinacola
Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is—let’s be honest here—a bit on the thin side, and a little confusing. It’s got just enough sincerity to undermine its own satirical impulses and just enough pandering snark to undermine its own sincerity. It runs long, and it leans on a trope, Ferrell’s master trope and the common denominator in most of his best performances—the lovable but fundamentally clueless and self-absorbed man-baby who can’t get out of his own way. It’s a trope that, thanks to Ferrell himself, we have mined pretty thoroughly in comedy over the last few decades. And yet, even as Eurovision Song Contest makes a number of perplexing moves in its two-hour-plus runtime, you kind of can’t help rooting for it, and for its principal characters, because its refusal to be cynical operates as a vital, oxygenating escape hatch right now.
In the end, the Eurovision Song Contest is so opulently campy in its own right that maybe it’s difficult terrain for cringe-comedy, especially given Ferrell’s very strong impulse to temper the embarrassment with liberal splashes of genuine, good-natured sentimentality. If the film went all the way to “surreal” or all the way to “spoof” or all the way to “find a 100% sincere story in the wicky-wacky framework of this cultural event,” it might be easier to know how to feel about it. Nonetheless, this is a fun film. It’ll make you laugh, sometimes out loud and sometimes in spite of yourself. (There is at least one sostenuto high note that will blow your head off in a good way.) And it is a blessed, blessed break from the onslaught of doom, rage, eye-rolling and existential angst that you’re getting a face full of every other time you look at a screen. —Amy Glynn
The grounded sobriety of Happiest Season lasts long enough for a reprieve from the still-present cornball Christmas melodrama, which director/co-writer Clea Duvall stages with the relish of someone who appreciates that melodrama in spite of themselves. But frankly, if every Hallmark movie was this over-the-top hilarious, they’d all at least be watchable as background noise, but then we’d have less reason to appreciate Duvall’s appropriation of their core components in Happiest Season.
Kristen Stewart, continuing to prove wrong all the smug remarks about her one-dimensional dourness starting around 2008, remains a treasure. She’s lively, lovely, and having a wonderful time vibing with Mackenzie Davis. The latter ends up shouldering juicier theatrical speeches and breakdowns as her character, Harper, unravels under the dual pressure of being the daughter she thinks her parents want and being the girlfriend she wants to be to Stewart’s Abby. The ensemble keeps things fresh throughout these conventional plot beats, with Mary Holland coming out ahead as Duvall’s friction-seeking SRBM. Anytime the atmosphere chafes, Holland flies into the room and annihilates it with adorable, well-meaning awkwardness. She’s a gift, but the whole cast glitters in this holiday fare. Everyone’s tuned to Duvall’s wavelength, playing their human sides while keeping the mood appropriately hammy and saccharine—just sweet enough without killing the pancreas. And that’s the film’s secondary message: It’s okay to like Christmas schmaltz. The greater message, of course, is that it’s okay to struggle with the sometimes-bruising process of coming out. Duvall dovetails the seasonal pap with her characters’ pain, treating it like ointment for their mellowing emotional stings. The message isn’t just about liking Christmas. The message is that everybody deserves a Christmas movie.—Andy Crump
Get Duked! may be the best British delinquent youth comedy, hyper-violent and hip-hop-inspired action adventure, and painfully relevant satire about class struggle I’ve seen since Attack the Block. Fans of Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish’s witty genre mix-ups should find a lot to love in writer/director Ninian Doff’s feature debut: About a quartet of working class high school seniors sent on a trek through the Scottish highlands before finding themselves smack dab in the middle of a The Most Dangerous Game kind of situation, it packs murderous royals in Purge cosplay, hashish/CD bombs, raver farmers who live to trip balls, a sinister bread thief and a hilariously gory sheep death (the best this side of Bad Taste) into its barely 90-minute runtime. It’s one of the freshest and funniest movies of the year.
Doff can balance slapstick anarchy, deliciously pushing the limits of good taste, and dry humor to gives birth to many instantly quotable lines—“I’ve never seen murder; I’m home schooled” being my favorite. The cast’s chemistry not only carries the film’s pacing, but strengthens the script’s youthful passion, celebrating the fact that, no matter how many temper tantrums the old fogies throw, the future belongs to them. Wacky, smart, engaging and exciting, Get Duked! represents the next step in the Wright/Cornish school of 21st Century British comedy. —Oktay Ege Kozak
The Trip to Greece opens in the middle of lunch with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, his friend, confidant and conscience, both playing themselves, or versions of themselves. Ten years on, though, the lines between truth and fiction have blurred so much that these movies, or TV shows, give the pair space to act out their authentic personas (with some embellishment), functioning as retrospectives of their lives as well as their careers. Brydon and Coogan’s wry reflections are as much a product of their performances as their scripts. As with each preceding chapter in The Trip saga (franchise?), they co-write The Trip to Greece, though over the course of each foreign sojourn their chemistry has grown natural to the point where writing feels superfluous. By now, The Trip movies follow a strict formula, as if proving that formulas work, but its formula is part of the design: a continuation of the bickering and bantering Coogan and Brydon have engaged in since 2010.
Not that returning helmer Michael Winterbottom, Coogan and Brydon treat food as an afterthought—whether it’s in the pan or on the plate, Winterbottom’s cinematographer, James Clarke, photographs each dish with mouth-watering clarity—but the fellows have increasingly more on their minds, especially Coogan, who spends the whole movie confronting his dad’s mortality, a struggle dramatized in black and white arthouse dream sequences worth describing as “Bergman-esque.” Coogan is The Trip to Greece’s font of ego as well as withheld melancholy. As usual, he talks a good talk and cracks wise with Rob, and anybody within earshot, in part to avoid dealing with his feelings. His successes fail him: All the BAFTAs in the world can’t prepare a man for his dad’s imminent passing. Might as well whip out the ol’ Mick Jagger impression.—Andy Crump
It can be difficult to organically thread “romance” into horror-comedy, broadening a film to equally weigh a third major genre, but it’s the quirky relationship fodder where Extra Ordinary ultimately displays its greatest strength. This Irish indie never truly takes the frightening side of paranormal investigation seriously—it’s a true comedy all the way, and probably stronger for it—but it’s the unexpectedly quiet, thoroughly human lead performances that make it memorable. Those come from Irish actors Maeve Higgins and Barry Ward as two unassuming but uniquely talented people, imbued with abilities that allow them to touch the spirit plane rather more easily than they’re able to socialize with living, breathing humans. Higgins in particular really owns the character of Rose Dooley, imbuing her with a good-natured and immediately relatable soft-spokenness on top of an aura of melancholy that belies her ability to bring closure to spirits stuck in limbo. The scenes the two have together contain a certain warmth, a feeling that two people have been brought together who complete one another nicely—if only Ward’s ex-wife wasn’t still in the picture (in poltergeist form). Nevertheless, it’s Will Forte’s charismatic performance as washed-up prog rock star/demonic cultist Christian Winter that is likely to draw more U.S. viewers to Extra Ordinary, given that he’s the film’s most recognizable star. He makes the most of the opportunity to play another deeply eccentric character in a career that has been full of them, although his performance almost feels like something from a different movie when compared to the more grounded focus on the relationship between Higgins and Ward. That central duo, and their emerging rapport, make Extra Ordinary a heartfelt, breezy entry that gets a lot of mileage from very few moving pieces. —Jim Vorel
The second Aardman film featuring the smirking, chuckling lil’ scamp Shaun the Sheep, A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon takes all the painstakingly lovely claymation of the studio’s previous film and its Wallace and Gromit and Chicken Run-filled filmography (which see cameos over the course of the media-stuffed movie) and gives it a broad coat of sci-fi paint. The resulting slapstick, which sees cute baby alien Lu-La stumble onto Mossy Bottom Farm, traverses territory familiar to any fan of the genre while making it accessible to everyone—think of it like a hilarious silent comedy giving young kids a piggyback ride through the likes of E.T., Close Encounters, and The X-Files. Helmers Richard Phelan and Will Becher keep things lively and sharp, with a rollicking pace and diverse antics that are as timeless, hilarious, and age-agnostic as the work of Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd. Just fluffier.
Farmageddon even taps a bit into a Pixar-esque message system (albeit a simpler theme targeted towards a younger set) about kindness and empathy regardless of differences. It’s a soft and simple movie, with much more in common with the easygoing vibe of kid’s animated TV rather than the sharpest of British comedy, but it’s one that’s completely enjoyable—and that’s a rarity for any film, let alone one basically guaranteed to put at least one livestock-driven smile on your face. —Jacob Oller
Our enjoyment of Bill & Ted Face the Music may only be the direct result of living with a kind of background-grade dread for what feels like the whole of our adult lives. Those of us who will seek out and watch this third movie in the Most Excellent Adventures of Bill S. Preston, Esq. (Alex Winter) and Ted (Theodore) Logan (Keanu Reeves) are bound by nostalgia as much as a desire to suss out whatever scraps of joy can be found buried in our grim, harrowing reality. Sometimes, death and pain is unavoidable. Sometimes it just feels nice to lounge for 90 minutes in a universe where when you die you and all your loved ones just go to Hell and all the demons there are basically polite service industry workers so everything is pretty much OK. Cold comfort and mild praise, maybe, but the strength of Dean Parisot’s go at the Bill & Ted saga is its laid-back, low-stakes nature, wherein even the murder robot (Anthony Carrigan, the film’s luminous guiding light) sent to lazer Bill and Ted to death quickly becomes their friend while Kid Cudi is the duo’s primary source on quantum physics. Because why? It doesn’t matter. Nothing matters. There may be some symbolic heft to Bill and Ted reconciling with Death (William Sadler) in Hell; there may be infinite universes beyond our own, entangled infinitely. Cudi’s game for whatever.
A sequel of rare sincerity, Bill & Ted Face the Music avoids feeling like a craven reviving of a hollowed-out IP or a cynical reboot, mostly because its ambition is the stuff of affection—for what the filmmakers are doing, made with sympathy for their audience and a genuine desire to explore these characters in a new context. Maybe that’s the despair talking. Or maybe it’s just the relief of for once confronting the past and finding that it’s aged considerably well. —Dom Sinacola
On its face, the prospect of resurrecting two franchise IPs which have been endlessly re-made decade after decade teeters on the banal and unimaginative. Yet director Christopher Landon’s Freaky effortlessly weaves together the conventions of Freaky Friday and Friday the 13th, eschewing the confines of “remake,” instead creating a unique genre hybrid that’s slick and endlessly entertaining—all the while maintaining a clever self-awareness which enlivens the film’s jump-scares and punchlines without descending into the horror-comedy pitfall of self-referential metaness.
What follows is a binary-bending comic exercise in sexual fluidity and gender expression which juxtaposes Vince Vaughn’s hefty stature with Kathryn Newton’s petite frame in order to prod at the horror genre’s previously held notion of who is perceived as weak, both in attitude and appearance. Vaughn and Newton give stellar performances, channeling the other’s mannerisms while poking fun at their own corporeal limitations and their immediate (dis)comfort within their new vessels. It’s heartening to see that the horror genre—still undeniably male-dominated—persists in its commitment to pushing boundaries. Whether those boundaries demarcate what we are able to stomach in terms of violence or what we are able to unpack within our own internal concepts of gender and sexuality, Freaky joins these tenets in order to craft a horror story rife with unexpected, imaginative kills all while subverting societal expectations of who we should really be afraid of—and why.—Natalia Keogan
The gung-ho hilarity and up-for-anything attitude Bulgarian actress Maria Bakalova brings to the Borat sequel (playing Borat’s daughter, Tutar) makes for the closest thing to a can’t-miss-it performance that 2020 has provided. It’s one thing that Bakalova holds her own against Sacha Baron Cohen and his seasoned on-camera bravura. It’s another thing altogether to supplant him as the breakout of the sequel, shepherding the soul of a movie—that nobody expected to be as perversely touching as it is—while keeping in hilarious lockstep with the scuzzy legacy that the Borat name implies.
Since Borat Subsequent Moviefilm dropped on Amazon Prime, Rudy Giuliani has unsurprisingly remained the movie’s most noteworthy conversational export. News headlines about Giuliani and his most unusual way of removing a mic were the topic of the day at whatever the pandemic-era equivalent of the watercooler is. But it’s to the credit of Bakalova, the mockumentary’s other buzzed-about element and secret weapon, that its shocking climax is as effective as it is in targeting Donald Trump’s private attorney.—David Lynch
Out of context, “accessible Quentin Dupieux” is oxymoronic, like “jumbo shrimp,” “bittersweet,” and “compassionate conservative,” but Deerskin, though every bit as strange as is to be expected from the Parisian DJ-cum-electronic musician-cum-filmmaker, makes sense without undercutting the qualities that define Dupieux’s body of work. It’s entirely unlike every other movie presently enjoying a last-minute VOD release, being a well-made, proudly weird, genre-agnostic commentary on themes ranging from middle age male vanity to navel-gazing, self-obsessed independent cinema. Unlike Dupieux’s prior work, à la Rubber, Wrong and Reality, Deerskin’s determination to explain itself as little as possible is complemented by its internal logic. The delight the film takes in the script’s eccentricities is inviting rather than alienating.
Restraint, even in a black comedy laced with charm and gory carnage, is a virtue, and it’s Deerskin’s best merit. Coming in a very close second is Jean Dujardin’s performance, simultaneously low-key and commanding: He keeps his cards close to the fringe vest, an inscrutable presence in a story hanging on his every move. Georges makes no secret of his dream (or is it the jacket’s dream?) to be the only person in the world to wear a coat. It’s the motive that’s elusive. But the elusion is part of Deerskin’s pleasure, and Dupieux’s filmmaking persuades viewers to embrace the inexplicable. Fashion is worth suffering for. Here, it’s worth killing for.—Andy Crump
A Christian’s hypocrisy is accurately measured by their piety: The louder they caterwaul about other people’s sins, the more likely they are to have a closet packed with their own perversions. Karen Maine gets it. Her debut feature, Yes, God, Yes, adapted from her debut short of the same name, is glazed around a big, moist cake of sexual sanctimony. Fart-sniffing Christian holier-than-thou gossipmongers fall on the perceived weakling of their flock, young Alice (Natalia Dyer), accused of tossing salad even though she doesn’t even know what the blue hell that means.
Alice actually is innocent, unlike her peers. Her only wrongdoing isn’t wrong at all: She stumbles onto an AOL chat room, catches a glimpse of some hardcore porn sans context, and then decides to start discovering her own body just before she’s sent off on a retreat run by Father Murphy (Timothy Simons), a man with a necessarily wide smile, stretched so far that his face is primed to split but in danger of collapsing should he stop. Yes, God, Yes stitches Alice’s coming of age to a culture where talking about coming is verboten; Maine looks for humor in her experiential screenplay and finds it, but it’s a bleak kind of humor punctuated by hopelessness. If the authority figures in a society break the rules they set out for everyone else to follow, then navigating that society as a reasonable person is impossible. But Dyer’s spirited work as Alice gives the film a plucky heart. Maybe she can’t affect actual change here, but she can, at least, do right by herself. Dyer’s star has risen in the last half decade or so, and Yes, God, Yes further validates her gifts as an actress. Maine lets the camera linger on Dyer’s face when she’s confronted with obscenity, and Dyer lets her eyes and mouth and cheeks perform hilarious, expressive gymnastics. At the same time, she conveys fear—the fear of realizing that the adults of Alice’s life are all bullshit artists, the fear of having no one to confide in about her natural curiosities and urges—with wounded brilliance. She’s the perfect actress to realize Maine’s deft critique of religious sexual duplicity. —Andy Crump
Working off of a script written by Hannah Marks and Joey Power, director Benjamin Kasulke finds a delicate balance between sweet and sour in Banana Split, a teen rom-com with less emphasis on the “rom,” enough on the “com,” and greater emphasis on complicated friendships between its leads, April (Marks) and Clara (Liana Liberato). They come together not over common interests but a common boy.
Watching Marks and Liberato together on screen is a genuine joy to behold; they’re apparently close off screen, which helps, but even with the camera presiding over their chemistry, they’re unfailingly natural. Nothing they do feels forced, or artificial. Whoever Marks and Liberato are when they’re not on a movie set is irrelevant. What matters is how they engage with each other before Kasulke’s lens (manned by Darin Moran). April’s cool in her way. Clara’s cool in hers. Making this a story of the popular girl getting chummy with the outsider wouldn’t suit Banana Split’s purpose, so Marks and Power have made it a story about two young women looking for how they’re alike, not how they’re different, and discovering the ways they complement each other. —Andy Crump
Shot as though each frame were a frothy realist painting, scored as though it were a Chaplin-esque silent film and pulled together by a cast of comedically impeccable performances, Autumn de Wilde’s feature-length debut, Emma., is made up almost entirely of thrillingly executed moments. More comedy of manners than straight romance, both Jane Austen’s novel and de Wilde’s film take as their subject a happily single Emma Woodhouse (Anya Taylor-Joy), the “handsome, clever, and rich” mistress of an English country estate, as she fills her days as by mounting a series of ego-driven (if well-intentioned) matchmaking schemes. Signaled by the film’s opening in the soft dawn hours of the village’s latest Emma-orchestrated wedding day, these schemes have a history of being remarkably successful—successful enough, at least, that on one side, Emma has her co-dependent, doom-and-gloom father (a charming, if anxious, Bill Nighy) cautioning her not to start any schemes that might take her away from him, while on the other, she has the Woodhouses’ handsome family friend, Mr. Knightley (a refreshingly fiery Johnny Flynn), cautioning her against riding so high on her previous matchmaking coups that she starts an audacious scheme even she can’t pull it off. Beyond creating what would be a solid moviegoing experience in any context, the warm, boisterous sense of community this deep attention to detail works to build is, as Paste’s Andy Crump highlights in his thoughtful interview with de Wilde and Taylor-Joy, exactly what any 2020 take on a 205-year-old comedy of manners needed to cultivate. With our current cultural moment so defined by protracted digital isolation—and its cousin, anonymity-enabled cruelty—the best thing de Wilde’s Emma. could do was lean so hard into the sublimity of Austen’s original that, for the entirety of its gloriously phone-free two-hour runtime, its audience might feel, collectively, transported. —Alexis Gunderson
Imagine living the same day of your life over and over, stuck within an hour and a half of Los Angeles but so closely nestled in paradise’s bosom that the drive isn’t worth the fuel. Now imagine that “over and over” extends beyond a number the human mind is capable of appreciating. Paradise becomes a sun-soaked Hell, a place endured and never escaped, where pizza pool floats are enervating torture devices and crippling alcoholism is a boon instead of a disease. So goes Max Barbakow’s Palm Springs.
The film never stops being funny, even when the mood takes a downturn from zany good times to dejection. This is key. Even when the party ends and the reality of the scenario sinks in for its characters, Palm Springs continues to fire jokes at a steady clip, only now they are weighted with appropriate gravity for a movie about two people doomed to maintain a holding pattern on somebody else’s happiest day. Nothing like a good ol’ fashioned time loop to force folks trapped in neutral to get retrospective on their personal statuses.—Andy Crump