Top 11 Saturday Night Live Movies

SNL 40th Anniversary SpecialIn honor of Saturday Night Live’s 40th Anniversary, I have decided to recognize the impact the show has had cinematically by listing the top SNL films. In terms of criteria for this list, I will consider films that include at least 2 actors and/or writers who can owe their success to the show. That means no Martin Short, no Christopher Guest, no Billy Crystal, and no Robert Downey Jr. Almost 50 films fit my criteria, but only 11 films have been made that are truly based on an SNL skit, and honestly most of them are terrible. Therefore, I have prepared a Top 11 list to replace that one and here they are!

Austin Powers11.  Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery – Clearly some of you are already calling shenanigans on this pick, but hear me out. Yes, this is a Mike Myers vehicle all the way and you have to go pretty deep to make this film fit my criteria but a relatively unknown Will Ferrell does play the scene stealing Mustafa, henchman to Dr. Evil. However, what really makes this film deserving of this list is the fact that Myers admits that his portrayal of Dr. Evil is directly based on an exaggerated version of SNL creator and executive producer, Lorne Michaels. Groovy, baby!

Happy Gilmore10.  Happy Gilmore – Adam Sandler films, on the whole, are relatively unremarkable, and at times they are downright insulting and offensive. However, as you’ll see later on this list, when SNL and golf get together, sometimes lightening strikes twice. Adam Sandler plays a hockey player turned golfer with a knack for the tee shot but that’s about it. Sandler’s buddy and cast-mate Kevin Nealon plays the zen-like foil to Sandler’s temperamental Happy and SNL writer Robert Smigel shows up for a moment to put the SNL stamp on this one.

Spies Like Us9.  Spies Like Us – This one may not have aged as well as the previous two, but it is the first one you can’t deny belongs on the list. Chevy Chase and Dan Aykroyd are two dopey government employees who get chosen by the CIA for a mission as decoys for two other real spies who are working to take down Soviet defenses. The Paul McCartney theme song alone is worth it, but the film works in the style of the old Bob Hope/Bing Crosby Road movies.

Bridesmaids8.  Bridesmaids – Don’t worry ladies, SNL is not just for the boys (although, this list does lean heavily in that direction). Kristin Wiig and Maya Rudolph craft a real crowd pleaser with Bridesmaids. Sometimes discussed as the female Hangover, this film is undeserving of such derivative talk. There’s real magic in the comedy of this film and it has everything to do with the chemistry of the stars and Wiig’s clever script, which earned an Oscar nomination, rare for SNL films.

Blues Brothers7.  The Blues Brothers – Oddly, as “SNL” as these characters are, Aretha Franklin, Cab Calloway, Ray Charles, and James Brown are the reason to watch this film. Still the “getting the band back together” plotline to complete a “mission from God” is a lot of fun. Whether they’re leading 100 cops on a car chase through a mall or taking down the Illinois Nazi party, Jake and Elwood and their sunglasses are always on!

Trading Places6.  Trading Places – Based on a rather high-brow social experiment, Trading Places finds the lives of socialite Dan Aykroyd and street-bum Eddie Murphy suddenly switched as part of a wager between two rich CEOs.  The nature vs. nurture wager revolves around whether Aykroyd will resort to crime when he loses everything and whether Murphy will become a responsible executive when given opportunity.  As serious as this may sound, the movie is a triumph of the comedy legends.

Tommy Boy5.  Tommy Boy – Spade and Farley were a great team on SNL, so it was only a matter of time for the two to hit the big screen. Tommy Boy is a road movie with loads of quotable lines and some real smart supporting characters, including Dan Aykroyd and Rob Lowe. It’s definitely a film that can be viewed over and over and still be funny, of course it helps if “your brain…has a shell on it.”

Caddyshack4.  Caddyshack – This is one of those movies that is beloved by everyone. Bill Murray and Chevy Chase may have had a cantankerous relationship on the set of SNL, so much so that this film nearly did not contain a scene between the two of them, but there’s much more comedy to go around thanks to Rodney Dangerfield and Ted Knight. The sequel should be avoided at all costs, but Caddyshack may be the film that proved that the not-ready-for-prime-time players may just be ready!

Waynes World3.  Wayne’s World – “It’s Wayne’s World, Wayne’s World!” Mike Myers and Dana Carvey take Wayne and Garth’s public access show out of Wayne’s basement and onto the big screen in clearly SNL’s most successful skit-to-screen film ever. The key to its success is how smart this dumb movie ended up being. Chris Farley and Brian Doyle Murray make this the SNL-iest film on my list, and resident sleazebag, Rob Lowe is at his smarmy best. It really is excellent, party on!

Groundhog Day2.  Groundhog Day – While Groundhog Day may just be my favorite film of all time, I reserved spot two for it on this list as its SNL ties are not quite has strong as my number one pick. Chris Elliot and Robin Duke, along with Brian Doyle Murray (of course) are all SNL alums, but unlike most of the films listed prior, there is not a strong second SNL acting presence as this film is all about Bill Murray as Phil Connors who is trapped in a time warp, forcing him to relive that peculiar title holiday over and over. This film is by far the best overall film on this list and is genius writer/director Harold Ramis’s masterpiece, but as for SNL films, if there’s one Bill Murray and Harold Ramis film worth mentioning…who you gonna call?

Ghostbusters1. Ghostbusters – Murray and Aykroyd along with Ramis play university scientists in New York City who strap proton accelerators on their backs and start busting ghosts. Originally written for John Belushi, the film was rewritten and turned out to be a real solid hit. And the legacy continues as SNL cast alums Kristin Wiig and Kate McKinnon will head up the all female Ghostbusters reboot, to be released in 2016 and co-written by Dan Aykroyd.  Ghostbusters represents what the best of SNL films all strive for, to touch the pulse of pop culture in a way that kids, teens, and adults can all appreciate.

The Way Way Back

ImageThere is something compelling about Nat Faxon and Jim Rash’s new coming of age comedy, The Way Way Back.  In the tradition of Little Miss Sunshine, Juno, and Moonrise Kingdom, The Way Way Back unfolds in a deliberately subtle way, drawing audiences in with charm and substance.

The story follows 14-year-old Duncan (Liam James), a wallflower who spends the summer with his mother at her new boyfriend’s seaside resort home on the East coast.  Duncan’s mother Pam (Toni Collette) hopes the trip will give Duncan a chance to bond with her boyfriend Trent (Steve Carrell) and his teenage daughter Steph (Zoe Levin) as well as give Duncan a chance to make some friends and come out of his shell.  Things do not go as planned as Trent’s overbearing personality clashes with Duncan’s, and Steph is more interested in getting a tan than hanging out with Duncan causing him to feel more isolated and undervalued than ever.  It is not until he stumbles upon the nearby Water Wizz waterpark and unexpectedly befriends its manager, Owen (Sam Rockwell) that Duncan discovers who he really is and what is most important.

It is difficult to put your finger on exactly what it is about The Way Way Back that is so engaging.  On the surface, it is simply a story about a young boy who doesn’t fit in until he meets a group of confident, expressive people that teach him to value himself.  This is all well and good, but there is more to this film than just that.  What writers/directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash have made is a subtle allegorical film that symbolically captures the nature of growing up, and that’s what makes it special.  Scenes where characters argue over the rules of Candy Land, discuss the ocular abilities of ghost crabs, and ponder the mythology of what happens within the tube on a waterslide all assist in deepening the figurative message of the film.

Furthermore, the film sets its aim on the hypocrisy of adults who have it set in their mind that they deserve an extended childhood of poor decision making but shouldn’t expect such behavior from their own children.  Many of the adults in the film are seen shouting orders to their kids, setting curfews for their kids, and giving advice about how their kids should act only to turn around and get fall-down drunk, cheat on each other, and disappear all hours of the day and night.  This is perhaps the film’s most dynamic and serious theme and it is worth noting that the film does not attack the idea of an extended childhood for adults, but rather it attacks childish adult role models who have unrealistic expectations for those who look up to them, given the example they set.  This point is most successfully made in the character of Owen.  As a water park manager and perpetual goofball, Owen is constructed as a foil to the other adults in the film.  His character is honest and dependable while also being a child at heart.  The relationship that develops between Owen and Duncan is touching and welcomed.

Beyond the writing, what makes The Way Way Back such an enjoyable and poignant film is its ensemble cast.  James is very good as Duncan, who in the film’s first act successfully depresses the audience with his extreme “introverted-ness.”  Collette expertly reveals Pam’s conflicted nature throughout the film, and Rockwell gives an immensely enjoyable performance as Owen where he gets a chance to showcase his warmth and quick wit rather than his usual quirky, off kilter types.  Steve Carrell does well against type as the highly unlikable Trent and Allison Janney adds one more scene stealing role to her already abundant resume as Trent’s neighbor, Betty.  Additional side characters are well cast including Duncan’s potential love interest, Susanna (Annashophia Robb), mismatched couple Joan and Kip (Amanda Peet and Rob Corddry), and Owen’s girlfriend Caitlyn (Maya Rudolph).  The strength of the cast and the film’s symbolic texture do well to balance out the fairly predictable story and the audience familiarity with the shuffling, depressed American teenager (which is becoming a somewhat unwelcomed cliché).  Rash, fresh off of his Screenwriting Oscar for 2011’s The Descendants, emulates his enigmatic title by illustrating that he will not be sent to the “way way back” of the film industry any time soon.   B+

The Way Way Back is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 1 hour and 43 minutes.  As summer winds its way to a close, this is a fitting film to make an effort to find and see. 

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