As someone who came of age in the 80’s, I worshiped at the altar of two people who made you laugh no matter what they did. One was Bill Murray, and the other was Steve Martin. Just thinking of them in compared to anyone else in movies today leaves me a little sad at how far comedy has fallen. Judd Apatow and his crew are giving it their best shot, and it’s appreciated. The writing is good, but the acting falls enormously short. With that in mind, it was time for the definitive list of Steve Martin’s best movies, which are also his funniest.
I just finished Steve’s latest book, “Born Standing Up” about his days as a stand-up comic. We tend to forget about him on stage, but he was the most successful stand-up in history (at the time). The book takes you through how he crafted his act from magic and old fashion drama to filling 20,000 seat arenas with an arrow through his head. While it takes a bit of the mystery out of his brilliance, it does prove that stand-up comedy is the toughest thing a performer can do. It also shows that success comes to those that work their butt off and never take no for an answer.
The book also delves into his troubling family life and just briefly touches on his movie success. The Jerk is the only movie that he really gets into with any depth since it was his first and was the one that catapulted him to fame. He also helped write it as well, and you must have admiration for that.
If you’re a fan of Steve’s or just a fan of comedy, it’s a good read and well worth the time. If you’d like to keep the mystery a mystery, then maybe just go rent the Jerk.
While there are a lot of great movies from Steve, here are my top five.
1) The Man with Two Brains
By far the most underrated comedy of our time. It blurs the line between slapstick and absurd and is so funny because Steve plays it straight, which is brilliant. His character, Dr. Hfuhruhurr invented the screw-top method of brain surgery and fell in love with the brain of Anne Uumellmahaye. Merv Griffin is the elevator killer. I mean, what’s not to like? I love this exchange he has with a reporter who is interviewing him for a story:
Dr. Michael Hfuhruhurr: Would you read that last bit back to me? I’m afraid it might make me sound pompous to your readers. Olsen: ‘My brilliant research in brain transplantation is unsurpassed, and will probably make my name live beyond eternity’. Dr. Michael Hfuhruhurr: Oh, no, no; that’s good. But take out the ‘probably’. It makes me sound wishy-washy.
The real genius is how straight he plays it, this clip is a great example:
The brilliance of Steve Martin can be summed up with the bunny ears. He plays it so straight I can barely control myself. I mean, who puts bunny ears on the world’s most famous brain surgeon? Oh yeah, Guererro.
While this doesn’t have one great joke after another like the Three Amigos or The Jerk, it holds up best. For some reason, I’ve come back to this movie the most in the 21 years since it came out. It has a little something for everyone and still packs the punch of laughter. He also wrote the screenplay for this one.
C.D. Bails: “It must be so nice to be able to smell the coffee … in Brazil.”
3) Planes, Trains & Automobiles
This movie has become an annual classic in our family on Thanksgiving. It’s vintage John Hughes with the funniest scenes you ever witnessed followed by true emotion. Every time I see Del Griffith sitting at the train station with nowhere to go, I get a little something in my eye. I really miss John Candy.
Neil Page: “When you tell these stories, here’s an idea: have a point!”
4) The Jerk
Steve’s signature movie. It’s also the one that put him on the map and got terrible reviews from almost every critic who saw it. This is by far his best movie if you’re looking for one joke after another. It has to be one of the most quoted movies in history.
Navin R. Johnson: “I was born a poor black child …”
5) The Three Amigos
The brilliance is in its absurdity. If you don’t get it, you probably take life a little too seriously. Has there been a better character name than “Lucky Day?”
Lucky Day: “In a way, each of us has an El Guapo to face. For some, shyness might be their El Guapo. For others, a lack of education might be their El Guapo. For us, El Guapo is a big, dangerous man who wants to kill us. But as sure as my name is Lucky Day, the people of Santa Poco can conquer their own personal El Guapo, who also happens to be the actual El Guapo!”