It’s a funny old business, comedy. As a genre – the twin, in the eyes of Aristotle, to tragedy – it is probably the most underrepresented on this list. Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery is the highest ranking film that I’d describe as a ‘pure’ comedy film.
For the mathematically minded: this entire list of fifty contains three straight-comedy films. Airplane!, Anchorman, and now Austin Powers… Apparently, when it comes to comedies, my tastes are restricted by some odd alliterative fetish.
It’s hard to theorise much about these films because they’re not really about much, in terms of themes or characters or even plot. They exist to create laughter. This is 100% of what decides their success or failure. The pure comedy is just a collection of jokes, tied together by a porn-thin narrative.
…Which is probably why they haven’t made much appearance on this list. I’m deeply fond of numerous jokes and routines, individually, and I’m deeply mistrustful of any film that takes itself too seriously for a single laugh, but actual full comedy films that resonate enough to identify themselves as one of my favourite films? Rare.
And so the previous entries have tended towards the biographical, combined with some theorising on the nature of the genre as a whole, for pretty much exactly this reason. All I have to say on the former is that I remember bumping into International Man of Mystery earlier than pretty much any other film on the list, on a coach on a school trip. The more observant amongst you have probably noticed that we’re already knee-deep in the latter.
In the interests of not repeating myself, and avoiding the trap of merely telling you this is a ‘funny’ film (you probably already know, or you disagree) or repeating its best lines (one way or the other, you’ll have heard them), I shall leave you by pointing out:
In pretty much every way that would matter, were this a ‘serious’ film, I take issue with International Man of Mystery. The visuals lean a little too much towards the tacky for my tastes, the subject matter is all too often crass and childish, and it’s a wholly ineffective lampooning of the spy genre… But, just as much now as when I met it, its particular collection of jokes can make me laugh, heartily and repeatedly. And this isn’t a serious film. It is a comedy. And so that is all that matters.