DID YOU READ

A film festival judge takes us behind the scenes of how awards are dolled out

The Sarasota Film Festival

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By Jordan Hoffman

At some point in mid-February one of the many publicists I deal with on a regular basis in New York asked if I was planning on going to the Sarasota Film Festival in April. If I had my druthers, I’d go, I said. I love film festivals. You watch movies all day and eat prosciutto-wrapped asparagus all night. But it didn’t look like it was in the cards.

My superpower, however, is getting publicists to think I am far more important than I actually am. Seriously, if it were an Olympic event I’d be a five-time medalist. I was soon offered a position on one of the three juries at this prestigious fest, which meant a couple of days down in Florida on someone else’s dime. Who was I to say no?

I’ve been on a festival jury before (2011 Fantastic Fest) and I have been a working critic for five years, but what the folks making the offer may not have known was that, in a previous life, I was (and hope to one day be again) an independent filmmaker. Two of my films have gone off to various corners of the Earth and each came back with their fair share of laurel wreaths for the poster. Did it make me rich and famous? No. But it kept me from hitting rock bottom a few times, as family members and girlfriends could remind me that, hey, at least we won that audience award up in Rhode Island.

Considering that I’d been “on the other side,” I was going to take my job as a juror very seriously. There were nine films in my section, a division dedicated to low budget and, in some cases, first time films. Five of the films were being sent to me on DVD, the remainder I’d see down during fest.

When the package came I popped ’em without doing any research. The first film I watched was called “In Our Nature,” and when the opening credits ran I was surprised to see some known Hollywood actors. Jena Malone (whom I’ve been fond of since “Contact”) and Gabrielle Union play opposite Zach Gilford and John Slattery.

The movie is awful. It’s everything you worry an independent movie is going to be. A bunch of whiners go up to a cabin in the woods to sit around and talk their feelings to one another. The camera doesn’t move, the scenes are endless and I immediately regretted saying yes to being on the jury. What if the other 8 movies were this bad?

The next movie I put it was called “Richard’s Wedding.” It starts with two people walking down a street in Brooklyn just yapping. The scene doesn’t end, but they’re being a little funny. It has a neo-Seinfeld vibe. Then I notice that some of zings get really good. Still there’s hardly anything resembling a plot and the camera and sound work make it seem like this flick cost 89 cents to make, but I find myself laughing out loud quite a bit, then really starting to like the characters.

“Richard’s Wedding” soon presents itself as something of a three-act play. In the first act, a man and a women walk to an apartment to meet up with others before going to a wedding. In the second act they hang out at the apartment and rib one another and drink. In the third act they all go to the park where the wedding is, of course, a disaster.

Something odd happened when they got to that apartment, however. When the actor opened the door my skin got cold. I KNOW that guy! The actor playing the douchey rich guy was actually someone I worked with for two years back in the early aughts. We both worked part time at a horrible place and made fun of our dipshit boss. In fact, he even showed up for one quick line of dialogue in my first film.

I was devastated. Clearly this was a conflict of interest, no? I mean, I would be rooting for my friend, right? But the thing is, I was really digging “Richard’s Wedding” on its own merits – and I haven’t seen this actor in at least five years. I pressed on.

The third film was called “Welcome to Pine Hill” and it grabbed me from the first scene. It is a moody and evocative film about an African-American from Brooklyn trying to sever the ties to his criminal past by working a boring job in Manhattan. He discovers he has inoperable cancer and decides he must settle his old debts before he can find peace.

Wow, I just made the movie sound really maudlin, and I swear it is anything but. It is artfully shot and understated – and loaded with natural performances and finely observed set pieces. I’m instantly smitten with this film and don’t see how anything else could top it.

Then I see the next film and think, hey, this one is pretty good, too. It is called “The Unspeakable Act,” and my mind is somewhat blown. The titular act is incest, but this is no exploitation film. It’s like Eric Rohmer’s “The Green Ray” meets Whit Stillman’s “Damsels in Distress.” It has mannered, almost surreal dialogue and is shot with bright colors in one of those gorgeous Victorian Brooklyn homes like in “Sophie’s Choice.” It is one of the most steadfastly true to its own peculiar vision things I’ve seen in quite a long time.

I get a return of the queasy feeling again when I realize that the director, Dan Sallit, is someone else I know. He, at least, I haven’t seen since around 1997, but way back when I met him when I was working for an independent producer in New York.

The last film I watch on DVD called “See Girl Run” also has some known stars, Robin Tunney and Adam Scott, and it might even be worse than “In Our Nature.” And I really like Adam Scott, so this was particularly annoying.

A few days later I fly down to Sarasota and immediately proceed to get my ass kissed by volunteers and filmmakers who see the word “jury” on my badge. I’m a married man and don’t get out that much, so this was a very gratifying experience.

I quickly confess to the fest director that I kinda-sorta know some of the people involved in some of the films. I expect to be sent back to New York on a bus. I’m told, however, to just be fair, and be a professional, and let everyone else on the jury know.

I meet my two fellow jurors. One is an old friend, Keith Uhlich of Time Out New York, whose tastes often align with mine, and a fella I don’t know named Michael Dunaway from Paste Magazine. (After fifteen minutes, however, I feel like I’ve known him for years. He may be the most gregarious person I’ve met.) We were three not at all angry men.

On my own I see Kris wife-of-Joe Swanberg’s “Empire Builder.” Another story about people going up to a cabin in the woods, but this one stars the current low budget it-girl Kate Lyn Sheil, and that alone makes it stand out. It is a really emotionally reserved and subtle film about marital infidelity, but it doesn’t get too hysterical. How could it have time, it is only 72 minutes? I like the movie a great deal, but I’m not bananas for it.

After this came a real joy, Jonathan Lisecki’s “Gayby.” The premise may not jump out as the most original idea in the world – gay man and straight woman decide to have a kid, shenanigans ensue – but the writing is really hilarious and the extended supporting cast is simply fantastic. We jurors watch this as a group and everyone has a good time.

After this came another Kate Lyn Sheil vehicle, “Sun Don’t Shine.” This time she’s on the lam with her boyfriend after stabbing her husband. Even though there’s a lot more stuff going on in it, I find myself more intrigued by “Empire Buildier.” But, really, it shouldn’t be a contest. Oh, wait! Actually, it IS a contest! And I’m the judge! Pressure!

The last film we saw was called. . . um. . .oh, crap I can’t remember the name. And I can barely remember the movie. Hold on, let me look it up again. Ah, it was called “Leave Me Like You Found Me.” It’s about people walking around the woods being mad at each other.

So we’d seen our nine films. (And I snuck in two other ones not in our category, too.) Then we had to hammer it out. Where best to decide? Brunch!

The nine jurors (three panels each with three people) gathered and the head of the festival (the esteemed Tom Hall) quietly observed the discussion, fingers poised over an iPad ready to take the names of the winner.

The only rule was that we pick at least one winner. We could give jury prizes, too, but we should restrict it to only two. So this meant we could honor three films.

From my point of view, I wanted to give the awards to the movies I liked best, but also the ones that could really benefit from an additional laurel leaf on the poster.

I really loved “Welcome to Pine Hill,” and it won the best film at Slamdance. An additional award would make it seem like a mandate, and, hopefully, help the film get distribution. “The Unspeakable Act,” however, is a really challenging film, and this was its debut. An award first out of the gate could help this uncompromising film get programmed elsewhere. Then there was “Gayby” and “Richard’s Wedding,” both very funny and crowdpleasing.

Of the three groups there, we were the first to reach a decision that everyone could sign-off on. I’d like to believe that it is because we picked the right winners.

It would be unfair to my fellow jurors to lift the veil back too far, but we came up with a compromise we could live with. “The Unspeakable Act” is a movie that is intense and unique and wholly original. It would win best film. We all loved “Welcome to Pine Hill” (though, I may have been its strongest booster) and felt a special jury prize was in order. Much of what makes that film so memorable is its lead role, so we gave a prize for performance to its lead actor Shannon Harper. Next we wanted to award something for writing, and, at the end of the day, we felt we had to salute the zing-tastic “Richard’s Wedding.” We felt a little guilty about leaving “Gayby” out to dry, but just a few days later it landed a distribution deal, so I think it may have all worked out in the end.

So that’s how the sausage gets made. I left out all the stuff about the parties that included Mexican wrestlers, the Flying Wallendas and David Carr, but to experience an extended weekend at a place as welcoming and enriching as the Sarasota Film Festival is really something you need to do on your own. I also recommend wearing the coveted purple lanyard because it can get you in ANYWHERE.

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Bulworth Warren Beatty

Choose or Lose

The Funniest Political Comedies From the ’90s

Documentary Now! tackles '90s politics with "The Bunker," premiering September 14th at 10P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox/Everett Collection

While this election season seems like the greatest source of political comedy ever, it’s got nothing on the ’90s. During the original recipe Clinton Era, there were a large number of films that shined a light on the dark humor of politics.

As we gear up for the September 14th premiere of “The Bunker,” the season premiere episode of Documentary Now! that takes a look back at the tumultuous 1992 Ohio Governor race, let’s flashback to a simpler time when Donald Trump was just a rich guy happy to be in Home Alone 2. It was the time of flannel shirts, Beavis and Butt-head and politicians with their heads up their own butts. Grab some Crystal Pepsi and check out the funniest political comedies of the ’90s.

10. My Fellow Americans (1996)

Legendary actors James Garner and Jack Lemmon play two politically opposite ex-Presidents thrust together in an attempt to prove that the current President (played by Dan Aykroyd) is behind a bribery scandal that Lemmon’s Pres. Kramer is being framed for. My Fellow Americans was supposed to star Lemmon and his Grumpy Old Men costar Walter Matthau, who backed out of the project due to health problems. As great a duo as they were, James Garner seemed like the perfect choice for Pres. Douglas — with his natural Southern charm, his character is like an older Bill Clinton.


9. The Distinguished Gentleman (1992)

The Distinguished Gentleman might be the last movie you would shout out if you were ever on Family Feud and “Eddie Murphy movies” was a category, but it’s still a fun comedy with Eddie bringing the cool factor that made him a huge star in the ’80s. Here Murphy plays a con man who decides to run for a Florida Congressional seat because he shares the same name as the congressman in his district up for re-election who just died of a heart attack. After getting the backing of a Florida seniors organization (the Silver Foxes), Murphy’s appropriately named Thomas Jefferson Johnson runs as the “name you know” and ends up winning. He starts out buying into the idea of “playing the game” in order to get paid by lobbyists but eventually ends up changing his con-man ways. Hey, it’s a ’90s Eddie Murphy comedy. Things tended to work out in Eddie’s favor.


8. Black Sheep (1996)

The second buddy road trip comedy starring Chris Farley and David Spade suffers from being compared to the much funnier Tommy Boy, but there are still some hilarious moments here. Farley, in one of his final roles, plays Mike Donnelly, a well-meaning but goofy mess who manages to repeatedly muck up his brother’s campaign for Governor. Casting Tim Matheson, of Animal House fame, as the smarter and handsomer brother was a great choice and Farley and Spade get into plenty of shenanigans including encountering Gary Busey as a crazed Vietnam Vet. The scene where Farley takes the stage at a “Rock the Vote” concert will have you snorting Crystal Pepsi out of your nose.


7. The American President (1995)

Before he created The West Wing, Aaron Sorkin honed his presidential speech writing skills with the screenplay for The American President, a romantic comedy where Michael Douglas’ single Prez romances Annette Bening’s plucky environmental lobbyist. Directed by rom-com master Rob Reiner, the movie is loaded with sweet and funny moments, like when Pres. Shepherd (Douglas) calls Sydney (Bening) to ask her out the first time and she hangs up thinking it’s a prank call. We even get a sneak peek of President Bartlett, as Martin Sheen turns up as Shepherd’s no-nonsense his Chief-of-Staff. Sorkin claims he wrote the screenplay during a time when he smoked a crack. If that’s the case, every screenwriter should be give that method a try.


6. Wag the Dog (1997)

Before Dustin Hoffman joined Robert De Niro’s “circle of trust” in Meet the Fockers, the legendary actors co-starred in the David Mamet-scripted dark comedy Wag the Dog. You can’t capture the era of ’90s politics better than a film dealing with the cover-up of a Presidential sex scandal. Oddly, the movie actually came out before Monica Lewinsky and her dress entered the minds of Americans. Today, the plot of Wag the Dog might be an episode of Scandal, but if you look back to 1997, it was a biting political satire of what goes on behind-the-scenes of power and politics. De Niro plays D.C. spin-doctor Conrad Bean, who hires a Hollywood producer to stage a fake war in Albania as a distraction to help insure the President’s re-election. In a stellar cast that also includes Anne Heche and Woody Harrelson as a psychotic ex-soldier turned war hero, Hoffman stands out as a Hollywood bigwig who has a strong resemblance to Godfather producer Robert Evans. (Look for Bill Hader’s take on Evans in the new season of Documentary Now!.)


5. Bulworth (1998)

Warren Beatty was born with the looks of a guy who should run for Senate, and in Bulworth he plays a veteran senator who has lost his way and hires a hit man to kill him. Faced with his impending death, Senator Bulworth has an almost religious conversion to honesty and starts railing against the corruption of corporate money in politics. (We imagine Bernie Sanders has this one in his Netflix queue.) Like a lot of ’90s movies comedies, there is a gimmicky scene where Bulworth raps during a speech. Still, the film is so sharply written, the scene is both hilarious and a prescient look at the way white establishment types would go on to co-opt hip-hop culture.


4. Bob Roberts (1992)

If you love a good mockumentary with conservative folk songs (who doesn’t?), Bob Roberts is the movie for you. Tim Robbins wrote, directed and starred in this underrated comedy, which was inspired by a SNL sketch he had appeared in a few years earlier. Bob Roberts is a folk-singing, conservative self-made millionaire running for Congress in Pennsylvania who appears to be 100% All-American. Robbins is great at using his wholesome grin to mask the fact that his character is a drug smuggling tyrant with fits of rage. Look for everyone from Alan Rickman as Roberts’ campaign manager to a young Jack Black (see above) as a scarily enthusiastic fan.


3. Dick (1999)

Before the Watergate scandal informant was revealed, there were plenty of theories over the years as to who “Deep Throat” really was. The 1999 comedy Dick posits a possible alternate history of Nixon’s downfall as it follows two adorably upbeat and politically clueless teenage girls (energetically played by Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams) who randomly become “Tricky” Dick’s dog walkers after ending up meeting him on a White House field trip. Over the course of the rollicking disco-fied comedy the girls come in contact with every player in the infamous White House scandal, including a hilarious Woodward and Bernstein, played by Will Ferrell and Bruce McCulloch of Kids in the Hall fame. (The duo’s ’70s hair alone is worth watching for.) Dan Hedaya is perfectly cast as Nixon, showcasing a softer side of the infamous president after he unwittingly eats some pot cookies. An underrated comedy, Dick is a blast of ’70s fun and a great showcase for its cast of rising stars.


2. Dave (1993)

Dave is a classic everyman-turned-hero story with a winning Kevin Kline as an affable guy who just happens to be a dead-ringer for the leader of the free world. When Pres. Mitchell has a stroke while fooling around with his mistress, his Chief of Staff (Frank Langella) hatches a plan to temporarily have Kline’s Dave fill in for the President. Langella and Kline are great together, and the scene where Dave calls his accountant friend (played by Charles Grodin) to come over to the White House and balance the budget is just one of the sharp ways director Ivan Reitman and screenwriter Gary Ross (Big) poke fun at politics. Look for Sigourney Weaver, reteaming with Reitman after the Ghostbusters movies, as the First Lady who slowly begins to realize something is off about her Husband-in-Chief.


1. Election (1999)

If you think national politics is cutthroat, just wait until you meet high school president candidate Tracy Flick. Tracy, as played by Reese Witherspoon, is like a teenage version of Amy Poehler’s Leslie Knope, but without the likeable personality. Mathew Broderick hits all the right notes as the teacher who starts off being respected but finds his whole life falling apart while overseeing the election. A dark comedy that shows the downside of driven political candidates, Election is a film that remains topical with every new voting season.

Watch MTV’s Tabitha Soren covering the heated 1992 Ohio Governor race below. To find out who wins, catch the season premiere of Documentary Now! September 14th at 10P on IFC.

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Aubrey Plaza Safety Not Guaranteed

Out of Time

10 Underrated Time Travel Movies You Need to See

Catch the Bill & Ted movies Friday starting at 6P during IFC's Rotten Fridays.

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Photo Credit: FilmDistrict/courtesy Everett Collection

Reading a list of blockbuster time travel movies is like taking a trip back to our childhood. The Terminator. Back to the Future. Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. So many movies we spent countless hours obsessing over. With the Bill & Ted movies airing on IFC this month, we got to thinking about what other time travel flicks are out there that may have been missed. From head scratching comedies to experimental documentaries, these time travel movies aren’t household names, but should be. As you revisit Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey during IFC’s Rotten Fridays, here are a few more films to check out for a most excellent time.

10. Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel

This playful yarn, clearly influenced by Shaun of the Dead and the films of Edgar Wright, is worth a Saturday afternoon on the couch. Mixing laughs and heart, the twisty time travel story sees our drunk heroes start their night at the pub where they run into an American girl (played by Anna Farris) who claims to have a time machine built into her body. She’s there to prevent a “time leak,” but ends up involving the lads in a meandering tale that sees them fighting to stop the end of the world. A light trifle of a comedy, it’s got a fun cast fronted by Chris O’Dowd, and enough time travel twists to keep you guessing.


9. Project Almanac

Found footage flicks have sort of run their course, but occasionally one pops up that does something fun with the genre. Dean Israelite’s high school time travel movie doesn’t necessarily reinvent the wheel, but he tells a surprisingly gripping story of a kid who sees himself in a home video from his childhood, and then finishes his father’s experiment in the garage so he can make that footage come true. A story about being careful what you wish for, the fun of this movie is in the way it shows what most teens would do if a time machine all of a sudden plopped onto their laps — namely, hit on girls and go to Imagine Dragon concerts, and how that could quickly unravel the very thread of existence. A fun flick for the teen in all of us, Project Almanac is worth a watch when you’re craving some lighthearted time traveling vibes.


8. Predestination

Ethan Hawke has made a career out of vacillating between passion projects and blockbusters for the masses. His 2014 sci-fi drama Predestination, based on a short story by Starship Troopers author Robert A. Heinlein, isn’t easy to explain without giving away spoilers, but if you love the head scratching concept of time travelers creating a past that eventually creates them, this is the movie for you. While it failed to set the box office on fire, its 84% rating on Rotten Tomatoes should tell you that Predestination is destined to become a cult classic.


7. Sound of My Voice

A Sundance hit, this indie drama centers on the question of how would you react if someone claimed to be a time traveler from the future with all the answers to life. More psychological thriller than twisty time travel romp, director/cowriter Zal Batmanglij’s film explores the human need to believe, and what that makes us capable of. With a stripped down style that has one foot in sci-fi and another in the spiritual realm, this movie isn’t afraid to challenge its audience, and for that alone it’s worth checking out.


6. Time After Time

HG Wells! Jack the Ripper! Disco! This somewhat forgotten 1979 romp isn’t exactly a masterpiece, but for a goofy trip through the “Me Decade” of bushy mustaches and bulbous bell-bottoms you aren’t going to do much better. With genre standouts Malcolm McDowell and David Warner fronting the movie, and a charming Mary Steenburgen playing the love interest of HG Wells years before she would fall for another time traveler in Back to the Future III, director Nicholas Meyer’s (Star Trek II: The Wrath Khan) film has enough acting gravitas to sell the campy concept and ridiculously cheap thrills. If you’ve always wanted your time travel movies to feel like a Three’s Company episode about time travel and serial killers, this is definitely one to add to your queue.


5. Timecrimes

Timecrimes (or Los Cronocrímenes) is a Spanish-language film about a hapless husband who accidentally travels an hour back in time, and slowly realizes that he may be responsible for some awful crimes as a result of his trip. A puzzle of a film, the joy in watching it is peeling back layer after layer of surprising twists, as our hero becomes a villain and then back again. A truly unique film with a sadistic streak, writer/director Nacho Vigalondo uses time travel to explore why we always seem to be our own worst enemies. David Cronenberg was rumored to be making an English language version of Timecrimes at one point, and if the master of body horror was sniffing around this movie, you know you’re in for a nasty treat.


4. Primer

With a budget of just $7,000, there’s no earthly reason why Primer is as effective as it ends up being. Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival, this low budget mindbender follows two engineers who accidentally discover time travel. Heavy with the supposed science behind their invention, and delivered with a dry, spare style, this movie’s complex plot is really an excuse to explore a fundamentally human question: What makes you you? Director Shane Carruth, a former engineer with a degree in mathematics, also starred in the movie, wrote it, scored it, and edited it, and the bare bones style is part of the fun here. With a heady plot fans are still debating, Primer is about as far from a dumbed-down Hollywood blockbuster as you can get. You’re going to need your own time machine to watch this gem a few times before it really starts to make sense.


3. Safety Not Guaranteed

Director Colin Trevorrow has become one of the biggest names in Hollywood — helming the recent smash hit Jurassic World and due to direct Star Wars: Episode IX — but it all started with this small, character-based comedy about a man who places an ad in the back of a newspaper asking someone to join him on a trip through time. With few special effects or time travel twists, this movie rests on the backs of its ensemble, a likable mix of Mark Duplass, Aubrey Plaza and Jake Johnson. A movie for genre and non-genre fans alike, this one is for the dreamers in all of us, and the cynics who would rather just have a stiff drink.


2. La Jetee

French New Wave cinema isn’t the first thing you think of when it comes to time travel, but this 1962 short film from writer/director Chris Maker takes the conventions of the genre and runs them through a psychologically surreal blender. Set in a post-apocalyptic future, the story centers on a prisoner who’s returned to a traumatic moment from his childhood in an attempt to save the world. Using still imagery and the conventions of a documentary, the film is only 28 minutes long. Still, for such a short run time, it rewrote the rules of the genre, and inspired countless future filmmakers, most notably Terry Gilliam for his classic sci-fi thriller 12 Monkeys.


1. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time

A modern anime classic, this 2006 Japanese film is a sequel to the novel of the same name. Much like Project Almanac, it explores the idea of a teenager discovering time travel, and using it for her own selfish whims. Retaking exams, mastering karaoke and keeping a buddy in the “friend zone” are the motivations here. A highly relatable story with lush animation, this reverse Groundhog Day tells the tale of one girl trying to keep her innocent, perfect high school world the same forever, and slowly realizing that life always moves on.

Catch Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey this Friday at 8P on IFC’s Rotten Fridays!

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Leslie Nielsen Naked Gun trilogy

Nielsen Ratings

10 Leslie Nielsen Comedies Ranked From Best to Worst

Catch the Naked Gun movies this month on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection

Leslie Nielsen has had a long and varied career with his comedies being some of the best of all time. But not every film was a winner, with his Rotten Tomatoes scores ranging from 97% to 0%. So, as you enjoy The Naked Gun movies this month on IFC, you can reflect upon the highs and lows of everyone’s favorite straight man.

1. Airplane!

Paramount
Paramount Pictures

Airplane! is one of the best comedies of all time and managed two historic feats: It popularized the film parody genre and introduced the world to the comedy side of Leslie Nielsen. Though Nielsen was already a very successful actor — playing mostly romantic leads, captains and cops — Airplane! was the first example of his stellar deadpan delivery. With a bevy of classic quotes, critics and audiences agreed that this was surely a seminal comedy. But don’t call him Shirley.


2. The Naked Gun: From the Files from the Police Squad!

Based on the underrated freeze-frame filled TV show Police Squad!, Leslie Nielsen honed his performance of Lt. Frank Drebin in The Naked Gun. His most definitive character, the first Naked Gun is just as funny today as it was in 1988. The memorable moments are endless, from “Nice beaver” to Drebin’s enthusiastic appearance as a baseball umpire. Though many more parody films were made, none ever topped this take down of cop dramas. (Click here to see all airings of The Naked Gun on IFC.)


3. The Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear

Paramount
Paramount Pictures

Though the sequel doesn’t match the original, it still features tons of the high-level slapstick and absurd dialogue that we came to love from the Leslie Nielsen parody genre. Plus, this one features Robert Goulet as a criminal mastermind, so it certainly gets point for that.


4. The Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult

Paramount
Paramount Pictures

Usually, comedy trilogies end on a disappointing note. (Looking at you, Hangover III!). But even though Naked Gun 33 1/3 was critically panned, its mix of crass jokes and “celebrity” cameos helped it to be chosen as one of IFC and Rotten Tomatoes’ movies that are “too rotten to miss.” Fans of the series get great moments of Frank going undercover in jail and ruining a dance routine at the Academy Awards. Most importantly, it has the best sequel title since Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo.


5. Wrongfully Accused

Warner Bros
Warner Bros

Airplane! and the Naked Gun series were outliers in the parody genre that got both great reviews from critics and audience acclaim. Now we come to the first of Nielsen’s comedies that didn’t fare so well amongst the critics. Sure, this 1998 spoof from Naked Gun cowriter Pat Proft only got 22% on Rotten Tomatoes, but you can’t help but enjoy some great riffs on the “falsely accused man on the run” genre. Mostly parodying The Fugitive (though there’s a Titanic parody thrown in because, you know, late ’90s), Wrongfully Accused has a great train chase scene and silly, absurd sight gags akin to the Naked Gun series. Plus, Nielsen nails it as always.


6. Dracula: Dead and Loving It

Warner Bros
Warner Bros

Sure, this isn’t Mel Brooks’ greatest film, but it’s still Mel Brooks. Here, Nielsen plays Dracula with Brooks as Van Helsing and the perfectly cast Peter MacNicol as Renfield. This parody veers a little bit more towards puns and Borscht Belt-style punch lines, but Nielsen makes for a pretty great Dracula. Honestly, if Gary Oldman and Leslie Nielsen were pitted against each other in a ’90s Dracula-off, one, that would be amazing and two, our vote would go for Nielsen.


7. Spy Hard

Disney
Disney

Released in 1996 after the Naked Gun films had sputtered out at the box office, Spy Hard is mostly an action movie parody with a bit of James Bond thrown in. (And a catchy theme song from Comedy Bang! Bang! bandleader and musical parody genius “Weird Al” Yankovic.) Partially because of the movie’s lack of focus and specificity, the jokes never quite work. Plus, the Hot Shots! movies did action parody better and Austin Powers came along a year later to perfectly send up James Bond. Despite the film’s poor reviews, no one said a bad word about Nielsen. They just wanted better for him.


8. Repossessed

New Line Cinema
New Line Cinema

A lame spoof of The Exorcist, Repossessed has a rare honor of a 0% Rotten Tomatoes rating. (That’s right, Adam Sandler’s Jack and Jill fared better than this thrown-together parody.) Linda Blair gets possessed by the devil again and seeks out Nielsen’s Father Mayii to exorcise her. There’s not much to say about this other than it was made 17 years after The Exorcist came out and no one was clamoring for more gags about Linda Blair’s pea soup vomit. While an abysmal movie by every definition, there are a few chuckles here and there for Nielsen completists.


9. Mr. Magoo

Mr Magoo
Walt Disney Productions

With a whopping 4% score on Rotten Tomatoes, the 1997 big screen adaptation of the cartoon character of the same name was offensive to both the blind and Nielsen fans alike. Basically 87 minutes of tasteless jokes at the expense of sightless people and the elderly, Mr. Magoo is a low point even by the standards of the ’90s trend of big screen versions of forgettable TV shows. (It makes McHale’s Navy look like a comedic masterpiece.)


10. An American Carol

Vivendi
Vivendi

Though Mr. Magoo and Repossessed technically have lower Rotten Tomatoes ratings than An American Carol (which comes in at 11%), this political-themed “parody” from Airplane! and Naked Gun director David Zucker is offensive garbage, which kicks it to the bottom of the list. The story, so to speak, is about Michael Malone (a Michael Moore proxy), a filmmaker who hates America and wants to cancel the 4th of July. Eventually he’s visited by ghosts and is asked to make movies for terrorists. While a parody of Michael Moore could be great, this film sadly paints every liberal like a moronic, terrorist-loving hippy and indulges in other base stereotypes. Luckily for Nielsen, his part is small. Unluckily for us, he plays a dual role of Grandpa and Osama Bin Nielsen. Yes, Osama Bin Nielsen. Sadly, An American Carol was one of a number of subpar parodies Nielsen popped up in towards the end of his career.

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