7. Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006)
It seems to me Sacha Baron Cohen owes a debt to Andy Kaufman. Does anyone remember Kaufman’s Foreign Man stand-up act (a precursor to his Latka character on Taxi)? He was Borat before there was a Borat. This Borat’s pretty funny, though. I liked the scenes in Kazakhstan more than the ones in the states, although I don’t know if they could have sustained an entire movie. And I think Borat’s sister, the country’s fourth best prostitute, should have ranked higher.
6. Waiting for Guffman (1996)
Theatrical producer Corky St. Clair is hell bent on staging his original musical, Red, White, and Blaine!, for the town of Blaine, Missouri’s sesquicentennial celebration. (The town was founded by Blaine Fabin, who was leading an expedition to the Pacific Ocean, got confused in the fog, and declared the journey complete.) Along the way we learn about the side effects of being probed by aliens, meet one of the few survivors of penis reduction surgery, and become wary of “bastard people.” Make sure you keep watching through the credits, or you’ll miss the lunchbox offer of a lifetime.
5. Zelig (1983)
By inter-cutting the character of Leonard Zelig into actual newsreels of 1920s and ‘30s events, Woody Allen paved the way for Forrest Gump, and did it before the advent of digital technology. Zelig is one of Allen’s most sympathetic characters—a simple man who wants so much to be liked and to fit in, he takes on the characteristics of whatever strong personalities he finds around him. This is Allen as a sad clown, and it is absolutely brilliant.
4. This Is Spinal Tap (1984)
I don’t have to do anything but namedrop here, or maybe combine that with a little word association. Marty DiBergi. Saucy Jack. Stonehenge. Bizarre gardening accident. Smell the Glove. Eleven. David St. Hubbins. If you’re like me, you’re now at least 40% likely to dig out your Spinal Tap DVD this weekend. You can thank me later.
3. Real Life (1979)
Like the genre or not, you have to concede the people making these movies are incredibly smart. Albert Brooks is the smartest one in the group. Real Life is an early take on reality film making. It follows veterinarian Charles Grodin’s family by the use of the revolutionary Ettinauer 226XL camera system. The Ettinauer is worn on the head, so throughout the movie you keep seeing skinny cameramen (one of whom was Harry Shearer—Derek Smalls from Spinal Tap) with these enormous electronic helmet-cams over their heads getting in each other’s shots. “Only six of these cameras were ever made. Only five of them ever worked. We have four of those.”
2. Best In Show (2000)
A fake documentary about an almost-too-real dog show was a brilliant idea, brilliantly executed. Christopher Guest’s improv troupe was never funnier or more fully believable. As for the director . . . From the base doctor at Guantanamo in A Few Good Men, to the six-fingered man in The Princess Bride, to the aforementioned Corky St. Clair, to ventriloquist wannabe Harlan Pepper in this movie, who can name many kinds of nuts, has any character actor ever disappeared more thoroughly into more disparate roles than Guest?
1. Take the Money and Run (1969)
We talked about this one a couple of weeks ago. A lot of people who haven’t seen it know bits from this movie. Virgil Starkwell is a career criminal on a long losing streak. One minute he’s robbing a bank, but confusing the teller with his poor penmanship. (“I have a gub. Abt natural.”) The next he’s breaking out of prison with a gub gun fashioned out of soap. This is Woody Allen before he started hearing what a genius he was. This is as good as that Woody got.
By Michael Gavaghen