To Max Evry‘s list of the best misanthropic comedies of the modern era [see below], I would add Rainer Werner Fassbinder‘s Despair (’78), which you can’t get, by the way, on DVD. Despair isn’t particularly “funny,” but it’s amusingly and relentlessly pessimistic about everyone and everything. My favorite moment is when Dirk Bogarde looks right at the camera and gestures as if to say, “See? Do you see how predictable and utterly banal the people closest to me are?”
The Facebook link doesn’t work so here’s Evry’s piece, pasted:
“In honor of the excellent (and lovably nasty) trailer for April’s Seth Rogen vehicle Observe and Report, I thought I’d make a list of the most misanthropic movie comedies of the modern era. When I say ‘misanthropic I don’t mean like As Good As It Gets where the main character is hateful in his distrust of mankind but is ultimately redeemed by pills and the love of a pretty Helen Hunt. I’m talking about the DARKEST, CYNICAL-TO-THE-BONE films that do not wimp out when it comes to portraying humanity at its most despicably irredeemable.
“Not surprisingly, many of these filmmakers have made similarly-themed dark comedies that wouldn’t qualify for one reason or another, and they get runner-up status!
1. Ware of the Roses / (runner-up: Death to Smoochy)
“God bless Danny DeVito for making what is probably the darkest major studio comedy of all time. If you thought Revolutionary Road was cynical about marriage…
2. Bad Santa / (runner-up: Art School Confidential, Ghost World)
“Billy Bob’s title character is the lowest of the low, the scum of the earth, a foul-mouthed fornicating thieving mall santa… and he may also be the most redeemable character in the film. Terry Zwigoff has built a career on making movies that are abrasive, harsh, and funny, but the fact that this one was a bonafide box-office smash is still jaw-dropping.
3. Death Becomes Her / (runner-up: Used Cars)
“I personally find the characters in this movie too deeply unlikeable to get much enjoyment, but that’s also part of the fun of Robert Zemeckis’ last real throwback to his early dark comedies. Used Cars is an infinitely better movie, but the characters are too darn sweet despite their sleazy antics to fit this criteria.
4. Happiness / (runner-up: Welcome to the Dollhouse, Storytelling)
“I’ll never forget the first time I saw this, how in simultaneous shock and awe I was at Todd Solondz’s fearlessness in making comedy out of some of the most deeply flawed people ever committed to film. Dylan Baker’s character is truly sick, but somehow never becomes the full-on monster we all wish he was. He remains, tragically, human.”
5. Barton Fink / (runner-up: Burn After Reading)
“You could easily argue that the Coen’s movie is more of a Kafka-esque nightmare than a comedy, but this take on the moral wasteland that is Hollywood features a title character of relentless egotism and repugnance, surrounded by a literal circus of idiots.”
6. Crimes and Misdemeanors / (runner-up: Deconstructing Harry)
“According to Woody Allen, if you’re not famous you’re nobody and if you can get away with murder and not be bothered by it, it’s all good!”
7. The Player / (runner-up: California Split)
“It feels like Altman was sharpening his knives for a long time before he dug them right into the heart of Hollywood with this film.”
8. Dr. Strangelove / (runner-up: Lolita)
“This film is just as potent and ballsy as it was 45 years ago. Almost all of humanity is destroyed to the tune of big band music… how much more gleefully misanthropic can you get?
More great misanthropic comedies: American Psycho, Heathers,To Die For, Network.