Sunday, November 6, 2011


They’re saying the old Eddie Murphy is back. Not quite. True, he’s back to playing a fast-talking con in the new movie TOWER HEIST but he doesn’t reach the heights he achieved in 48 HOURS or TRADING PLACES. He’s not helped by the comedy caper’s PG-13 rating that tames his tongue. Still, it’s great to see him energized and committed in a performance as opposed to the many where he merely showed up to collect a paycheck.
Eddie Murphy in TRADING PLACES (1983)

The success of former members from the SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE TV variety show in the movies remains a mixed bag. For every former cast member like Robert Downey, Jr. who’s done exemplary work on screen, you have a Chris Farley who squandered his talents in too many duds. Even more bewildering is someone like Adam Sandler, a performer capable of exceptional films (PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE, FUNNY PEOPLE) and unwatchable dreck (GROWN-UPS was my pick for worst film last year!)

The talented comedic talents who started on SNL have even appeared in some of the best dramas of the last 30 years like Dan Aykroyd who was Oscar-nominated for DRIVING MISS DAISY and Downey, Jr. who got a nod for playing CHAPLIN. But since most of the SNL alum's are comic actors, today’s list is going to dwell on the comedy genre. Here then are my picks for the 10 best comedies of all time starring SNL alumni, the ones I love, in descending order:
Kristen Wiig and Mya Rudolph in BRIDESMAIDS (2011)

10.) BRIDESMAIDS (2011)
Two of SNL’s better female talents – Kristen Wiig and Mya Rudolph - both excelled in this hilarious film about bridal party infighting. (Melissa McCarthy and Rose Byrne were superb as well.) This is more than your standard chick flick as Wiig's character plumbs great depths of despair, clinging to her maid of honor role like it’s all she has left because well, frankly it is. She's lost her business, is stuck in a disastrous relationship with a heel, and can't compete with the super rich and competent Byrne. It’s the pathos behind Wiig’s outrageous behavior that makes this so much more than just a raucous comedy. Her pain is our gain.
Harry Shearer, Christopher Guest and Michael McKean in THIS IS SPINAL TAP (1984)

SNL alum's Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer wrote and star in this brilliant comedy along with writer/producer/actor/director Rob Reiner. Together this foursome brought a new kind of satire to the movies: a fake documentary (it became known as a "mockumentary") that spoofed the navel-gazing world of celebrity. This behind-the-scenes examination of an aging metal band's grandiose concert tour contained large gags (a speaker dial that goes up to "11") and small (unexplained chancres clinging to the lips of the ribald band members).  The self-importance of celebrity was ridiculed with great relish. And never bettered.
McKean, Shearer and Guest again in A MIGHTY WIND (2003)
8.) A MIGHTY WIND (2003)
Christopher Guest again, this time a couple of decades later, and here ribbing the folk singing movement of the 1960's. The setting is a gala concert where the top acts gather to perform with Guest softening some of the satire with pathos surrounding these has-beens. The eccentrics here were played by an amazing collection of actors including Guest, McKean and Shearer again, as well as a pre-GLEE Jane Lynch, John Michael Higgins, Parker Posey, Fred Willard, Larry Miller and Ed Begley, Jr. There are terrific folk song parodies throughout that manage to be comical and eminently hummable. And as Mickey and Mitch, Catherine O’Hara and Eugene Levy played folk songbirds still pining for each other. Their shenanigans break you up. And their bittersweet longing for each other breaks your heart.
Tina Fey and Lindsay Lohan in MEAN GIRLS (2004)

7.) MEAN GIRLS (2004)
Ahh, Lindsay Lohan. Remember when she used to make terrific movies? Well, at least Playboy is helping her pay her bar tab this month. But back in 2004, she was the hottest young star in movies and in this clever comedy she played a smart girl turning into a mean one to score with the school's top clique. Written by and co-starring Tina Fey, one of SNL's best ever, she captured the contemporary snark of a modern teenage girl perfectly. And every performance here is sharp, from Rachel McAdams as the meanest of the mean to SNL’s Tim Meadows as the harried principal to Toronto stand-up Dwayne Hill as the buffoonish Coach Carr.
Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan in WHEN HARRY MET SALLY (1989)

People might forget but Billy Crystal spent a season on SNL back in 1984-1985. In fact, he was supposed to be among the very first season’s cast but did not make the cut. But in this witty and episodic romantic comedy, Crystal and Meg Ryan cut quite the iconic figure as the couple who are platonic friends struggling with life, age and other relationships until one day they realize they're in love with each other. This was a rom-com that took time to build up its relationship. (This should be at the top of Kim Kardashian's Netflix queue.) Writer Nora Ephron and director Rob Reiner made the best rom-com of the decade, perhaps of all time, with this one.
Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy in TRADING PLACES (1983)

This is one of the two movies that made Eddie Murphy a superstar. The other was his 48 HOURS spent with Nick Nolte, and both films proved that Murphy is best when playing off of a worthy foil. Here he duets with Dan Aykroyd and they bring out the best in each other. This modern day 'Prince and the Pauper' also has a dream supporting cast with a sweet & sexy Jamie Lee Curtis, a droll Denholm Elliott, a pompous Paul Gleason, and the archly villainous Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche. TRADING PLACES was not only a gem of a comedy but it was also a sharp indictment of the "greed is good" decade a full four years before Gordon Gekko came along.
Bill Murray with Jason Schwartzman in RUSHMORE (1998)

4.) RUSHMORE (1998)
Of all the SNL players to achieve movie stardom, I think Bill Murray has the best track record of all. He’s starred in so many good movies, both dramas (LOST IN TRANSLATION, GET LOW) and comedies (STRIPES, GHOSTBUSTERS, WHAT ABOUT BOB?, LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, ED WOOD and KINGPIN, just to name a few highlights). His supporting turn in RUSHMORE manages to combine a bit of both, with his eccentrically funny rich man longing for connection. Murray's tycoon befriends a precocious 15-year-old prep school student (Jason Schwartzman) and then ends up competing with him for the affections of the teacher they both have a crush on. It’s one of the strangest yet honeyed love triangles in film history, beautifully written by Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson, and directed with a deft hand by Anderson.

Mike Myers created not one, but two of the funniest characters in the history of movies in this outing. His parody of 1960’s espionage films gave us a clueless lothario in super-spy Austin Powers and even better, a clueless megalomaniac in villain Dr. Evil. The sequels were a collection of diminishing returns but everything clicked here in the original. It had ultra-groovy 60’s production design, cheeky support from Elizabeth Hurley and Michael York, and instantly quotable dialogue throughout. When Dr. Evil wants to kill Powers elaborately, he can't get any cooperation from his inept crew. “You know, I have one simple request. And that is to have sharks with frickin' laser beams attached to their heads!” bemoans Dr. Evil. You can't go to a Halloween party without seeing someone dressed as one or the other iconic character and quoting those lines all night. It's a testament to the lasting power of Powers.
Bill Murray in GROUNDHOG DAY (1993)

2.) GROUNDHOG DAY (1993)
This is the best comedy of the 90’s and also Bill Murray’s best ever, which is saying quite a lot. The intricate screenplay by Harold Ramis and Danny Rubin creates a complex and fascinating tale about a cynical weatherman who travels to Pennsylvania to cover “Groundhog Day”with all the enthusiasm of going to the dentist for a root canal. Then when he wakes the next day, he discovers that he's living the same "Groundhog Day" all over again. Each day is the same day, only he changes. Is he in hell? Some version of limbo? The film never tries to answer where God is in all of this, but Murray's weatherman does go through a profound spiritual awakening. He learns to live each day like it's his last. Or only.
John Belushi in ANIMAL HOUSE (1978)

1.) ANIMAL HOUSE (1978)
SNL's move from the small screen to the big screen started with John Belushi's auspicious debut in this enduring classic. He played Bluto, a lazy, but lovable student in his 7th year of college, struggling to keep a grade point at O.O. But more than book smarts, he had street smarts and he recognized the corrupt powers ruining his beloved campus. That's why he is the agitator who leads his fellow misfit frat brothers to rebel against "the man" in an all-out siege at the climax of the film. They're mad as hell and not taking it anymore. And their ruin of the establishment homecoming parade played less like destruction and more like just desserts. (How fitting that their float they ram the grandstand with has the words "Eat Me" written on its sides.) ANIMAL HOUSE was a political allegory when released in 1978, commenting pointedly on the corruption of American ideals during the Sixties and Seventies by our involvement in Viet Nam and the Watergate scandal. It endures to this day because it has a lot to say about the modern world we live in as well. America's youth is still disenfranchised, only now they can't get a job after earning their ridiculously expensive college degrees. I say ram the grandstand again and show today's Wormer's, Marmalard's and Niedermeyer's that anarchy reigns still!

Well, those are my picks for the 10 best ever. What film starring an SNLer really rocked your world? Keep the conversation going and share your picks in the message board below this post. Oh, and my next post here concerns the 10 worst ever starring an SNL star. That list will be quite the undertaking as sadly, there are so many awful movies to choose from!



    As for the bottom list, I would simply copy Adam Sandler's entire IMDB file. What a waste of celluloid!

  2. I liked those a lot too, Mr. Mullen. And wait 'til you see my list of worst films starring SNL alumni. Mr. Sandler will figure quite prominently on the list, believe me!

  3. Groundhog Day is not set in Iowa, its set in Punxsutawney, PA although parts were filmed in Woodstock, IL

  4. Although not a great movie, Coming To America, did have Eddie Murphy and the little twist connected to Trading Places.

  5. When ‘Harry Met Sally’ is a classic and a long time favorite of mine starring two performers I have always enjoyed watching. The uniqueness in which both are able to capture me with their talents is what reaches inside me and glues me to an actor. Facial movements and the passion in their eyes for their own art shows through and that is so much fun to watch. The movie it’s self is the ultimate drawn-out love story that keeps you interested until the finale when the two lovers finally find it intolerable to live without one another. Films like this are rare and it is hard to find resources to look for unique films that will give you an opportunity to get sucked in. Recently I found a beautiful place that allows me to do that and at such a variety, that rarity is at my fingertips. When talking with a colleague of mine that who also works for Dish Network about the October 1st launch of Dish Network’s new package The Blockbuster Movie Pass I was thrilled. As this is just another way, they are making my life easier and more fun. Welcome live streaming! I was thrilled to know that thousands of TV and movies could now stream to my laptop making life even more fulfilling for movie lovers. It seems like they are always coming up with fantastic ideas especially for individuals like me who are so passionate about film and are always looking for old and new titles to take me on an adventure. The Blockbuster Movie Pass will now be a combination of two of Dish Network’s prestigious packages the Dish Platinum and the Blockbuster by Mail package allowing me to stream thousands of movies with my laptop or my Dish receiver. How fantastic! I also now have access to thousands of DVD movies, TV shows and games by mail with unlimited exchange necessary for the movie buff I most certainly am. It remotely streams directly to my laptop or TV expanding my film intake by a huge amount, $10 seems a small price to pay to be exploding with art. Lying back on my couch with my cat and an enlightening film has always been the ultimate relaxation for me.

  6. Whogastim, you're right about Pennsylvania! My bad. Thus, changed. Thanks for catching that. And for sharing your thoughts here!

  7. Ameyer13, thanks for posting your thoughts. Indeed not enough films take their time in drawing us in and relying on such things as the subtlety of facial expressions to tell the story. I enjoy your passion for such things. And movies like WHEN HARRY MET SALLY. And thanks for posting here!