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Updated: Apr 22

Editor's Note: This is the first in a series of "desert island" choices -- films we would take with us if stranded and could only select five in a category. Each post will have different film genres and subgenres and be curated by a variety of invited guests. We're sure there will be disagreements, even consternation, so we encourage you to share your picks and comments via




This United Artists film established Woody Allen as one of America’s greatest comedic film directors and proved a huge step forward from his smaller hits, such as “Take the Money and Run.”  The movie took home five BAFTAs and four Oscars, including Best Picture.  The fact that it beat out Star Wars for that award speaks to how well-regarded the film was by critics and audiences alike.  Although not her first Allen film, Diane Keaton became a world-wide star with her charming, loopy portrayal of the title character, and started a fashion craze as the Annie Hall style popped up everywhere. The casting is brilliant with future stars and fine character actors sprinkled throughout the film (such as Carol Kane, Colleen Dewhurst, Jeff Goldblum, Sigourney Weaver, and the incredibly creepy turn by Christopher Walken).  Wonderful sarcastic Allen commentary and asides abound and meld perfectly with the gawky, romantic relationship developing between Annie and Alvy.  Have two people ever had more fun boiling lobsters?


This mockumentary on dog shows contains the greatest gathering of improvisation masters ever captured on film.  Christopher Guest has used improv in a number of his films, but never to this hilarious extent.  Consider who pops up in this truly ensemble film:  Jane Lynch, Jennifer Coolidge, Michael McKean, Parker Posey, Fred Willard, John Michael Higgins, Ed Begley, Jr., Larry Miller, Michael Hitchcock, and the dynamic duo of Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara, long before Schitt’s Creek.  Guest himself is hilarious as Harlan Pepper, the owner of Hubert, a prize winning bloodhound.  Still laugh at Will Sasso’s parting advice to Harlan:  “If you get tired, pull over.  If you get hungry, eat something.”  Perfectly captures all the inane advice we’ve given and received as pulling out of a driveway before a long trip



Upon further reflection, this film may have been selected on the strength of two great comic scenes -- the contract scene and the incredible stateroom scene. This MGM film finds the Marx Brothers —  Groucho, Harpo, and Chico — returning to New York via ocean liner with the world's greatest opera tenor in tow.  Mistaken identity, stowaways, musical numbers, and one of the greatest physical comedy scenes ever filmed power the movie as they cross the Atlantic.  A Marx Brothers favorite, Margaret Dumont, is thankfully along for the ride as the wealthy mark.  The lover subplot slows the film down, but Kitty Carlisle and Allan Jones were trained classical singers so the musical moments are pleasing.  It is recorded that 15 people end up crammed in a tiny stateroom during the famous claustrophobic scene (“…and two hard-boiled eggs…”), although it seems like twice that amount.



Writer/director John Hughes left teenagers behind and created his most full-bodied and accomplished film.  With a simple plot of two men from widely different socio-economic worlds traveling to return home on Thanksgiving,  Planes, Trains and Automobiles contains some of the most hilarious moments ever captured on film.  Steve Martin and John Candy are at the top of their game, producing great comedic moments while imbuing their characters with great compassion.  Kevin Bacon pops up in an early cameo and Dylan Baker and Edie McClurg add exquisite comic turns.  Watching Planes, Trains and Automobiles has become a Thanksgiving tradition for many American families, ranking right up there with pumpkin pie and dry turkey.  Filled with memorable comic quotes, I can’t hear the sentence, “You’re going the wrong way,” without smiling about this life-affirming film.


If Best in Show has its generation’s best improvisation-based comedic actors, The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming contains what may be the greatest gathering of comic character actors ever.  As a Russian sub runs aground off a small New England island, Alan Arkin provides a career-defining performance (Golden Globe award, Oscar nomination for Best Actor) as the Russian sub lieutenant who must find a way out of this potential international incident.  Carl Reiner, Brian Keith, and Eva Marie Saint lead the islanders along with stellar comic performances from Paul Ford, Tessie O’Shea, Theodore Bikel, Doro Merande, Ben Blue, Michael J. Pollard, and Jonathan Winters at his most controlled, but hilarious best.  The movie goes beyond its hilarious comic moments and encourages the audience to reflect on the Cold War and its origins.  It still resonates today. 

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