Four Empire writers. Eight legendary funnymen. One top 10.
’80s comedy icon movies.
Chris: I’ve wanted to do ’80s comedy movies in The Ranking for a long time. But I wanted it to be a little more focused. As chance would have it, Empire’s own Nick de Semlyen has written a book called Wild And Crazy Guys, which focuses on the stars who rose to prominence during the 1970s and 1980s. Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, John Candy, Rick Moranis, Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy. Not a bad little octet there. So we’re going to discuss those guys’ movies that came out between 1 January 1980 and 31 December 1989.
Ian: I’m peeved about the date thing. Chris: Have I knocked something off? Ian: Yes. Steven Spielberg’s 1941, which came out in December 1979. And it just missed this mad window. We’re also missing Animal House and The Jerk. Nick: And Groundhog Day.
Chris: And Meet Dave. Meet Dave would be a walkover. So I had to do that. Nick: I love this period of comedy.
I love these guys. I love these movies. I genuinely think they transformed big-screen comedy. Ghostbusters, nothing like that had been done before.
Chris: There are some absolute stinkers, let’s be clear about that. Does anyone have Best Defence on their top 10 list? Nick: No. It was a Dudley Moore comedy, and it was so terrible they decided to parachute in Eddie Murphy. They did a week of reshoots with Murphy in a tank, just yelling stuff. David: Did they Bowfinger him? Did he know he was in it?
Nick: He may have just been trapped in a tank. He and Dudley Moore never crossed paths on it. Modern Problems is probably the worst thing I had to watch for the book. Chevy Chase levitating off the floor while doing a massive line of cocaine. That’s the climax of the film. Chris: Again, did he know they were making a film?
Ian: The closest Chevy Chase got to my top 10 was the ‘You Can Call Me Al’ video.
David: That’s harsh.
Ian: It’s a smug persona. It hasn’t worn well for me.
Chris: He’s not smug in the Vacation movies, where he’s playing a put-upon, browbeaten, everyman dad.
David: That’s the Chevy Chase I like.
I’ll give him those films.
Chris: There are lots of high-concept comedies here, but there’s a lot of interesting character work also. You get absolutely daft films like The Man With Two Brains and ¡Three Amigos!, but also stuff like Planes, Trains And Automobiles, Trading Places, Ghostbusters. I’ve said this before, but Ghostbusters is not a hilarious film. It is not filled with zingers and one-liners, but the character work is really great in that.
David: I watched Stripes as part of my research for this and I didn’t smile once. I find a lot of those Bill Murray and Chevy Chase films so loose. That’s why I like the Carl Reiner-steve Martin films. The scripts are really tight and everything is funny and they’re not going to let people make it up as they go along, or feel like they made it up as they went along.
Ian: You can say that about The Blues Brothers in a sense. How funny is The Blues Brothers? It has lots of other qualities, but is it laugh-out-loud funny? Nick: It’s very deadpan. I think it’s laughout-loud funny. I think Ghostbusters is laugh-out-loud funny. It’s got loads of great one-liners. Blues Brothers is a weird film. That’s what I like about this period of comedy. There’s a lot of experimental stuff going on. You’ve got Steve Martin doing Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, which is completely unlike anything anyone has done before or since.
Ian: Apart from the Holsten Pils adverts with Griff Rhys Jones.
Chris: I was trying to figure out who is the most talented member of this group. It’s a toss-up between Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy. What age was Murphy when he started doing SNL — 12? 13?
It’s incredible what he was doing.
Nick: He was 17, 18. A lot of the other guys were in the right place at the right time. Eddie Murphy made it happen. He was going around town telling everyone he was going to be a movie star when he was a nobody. He just kept going until he was the biggest star in the world. Beverly Hills Cop was bigger than Ghostbusters in 1984. It was the biggest film of the year. That’s insane. It’s got no effects, a banana in a tailpipe, and a guy talking fast.
Chris: He’s that guy you drop into the middle of a scene… everyone else around him is bewildered and trying to keep up. Let’s move on to Steve Martin.
David: Five of his films are in my top
10. Some of them quite close to the top. I love The Lonely Guy. I literally wouldn’t dine alone in restaurants for 20 years because of what happens to him in that. Nick: He was the biggest out of all those guys to start with his stand-up tours.
Out of them all, he’s the most restless in terms of thinking about what he does and plotting it and trying new things and being quite daring and experimental. The Man With Two Brains is probably my favourite of his. The gag rate is incredible. David: He has the intellect and the absurdity. But to also have the physical, to be able to play Lily Tomlin in one half of your body and Steve Martin trying to resist the other half of his body that is Lily Tomlin, while you just walk down the street, is unbelievable.
Chris: Bill Murray is probably the most enduring out of all the people on this list. Ian: What is the iconic Bill Murray role? It’s Venkman, isn’t it? That’s his appeal, that kind of cool, cynical…
Chris: Vaguely problematic, especially looking back with modern glasses on. Nick once maintained Ghostbusters II is better than Ghostbusters.
Nick: I’ve softened on the Ghostbusters II thing. I still think it’s vastly underrated. But Ghostbusters, that’s the biggest Bill Murray moment, isn’t it?
David: Is it, though? Ghostbusters is a film I have a very strange relationship with. I don’t love the film. I love the music, I love the car, I love the actors, I love some of the dialogue, I love the story, I love the logo, I love the premise…
Nick: But you hate the production design. David: I don’t think it hangs together as a movie in the way Ghostbusters II does. Which is why I would choose to watch Ghostbusters II over Ghostbusters.
Ian: This is fucking madness.
Chris: Right, enough squabbling.
WILD AND CRAZY GUYS BY NICK DE SEMLYEN IS OUT NOW IN HARDBACK AND DOWNLOAD