Armando Iannucci names his favourite comedy movies

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As far as true icons of British comedy go, they don’t come more significant than Armando Iannucci. Responsible for some of the finest British works of comedy ever made, including On the Hour, The Day Today, I’m Alan Partridge and The Thick of It, Iannucci’s credentials as a comedy hero are more than assured.

But of course, like any person with comic aspirations, Iannucci has his own personal heroes, and in a feature with the BFI, he once named his favourite comedy movies of all time. The selections reveal much about Iannucci’s deepest inspirations. Humour is a language unto itself, and his list shows the kind of idiosyncractic films he saw that made him want to become a comedian and writer himself.

First up for Iannucci is the legendary 1940 anti-war political satire film The Great Dictator by Charlie Chaplin, which marked Chaplin’s first true foray into sound film after years of silent movies. The film serves as a brilliant indictment of the dictatorships of Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler, with Chaplin playing both a bloodthirsty dictator and a persecuted Jew.

According to Iannucci, Chaplin showed, through The Great Dictator, the “essential” quality of a comedy movie. “An attack on the bluster and blood of fascism, mocking and exposing the moral emptiness of Hitler long before the world caught up,” he said. “[Using] cinema to create an endlessly inventive parade of shock, buffoonery and emotion.”

Up next for Iannucci is Robert Altman’s 1975 satirical musical comedy-drama Nashville, which tells of several people in the country music scene in Nashville, Tennessee, during a five-day period leading up to a concert for a populist presidential candidate. Iannucci said of Altman’s film, “At once heartbreakingly personal and yet ambitiously satirical, a whole country and culture is summed up brilliantly in one place at one time.”

Woody Allen also earns the praise of Iannucci, particularly his 1977 satirical romantic comedy-drama Annie Hall, which sees Allen also star as Alvy Singer, a man who tries to find out the reasons for his breaking up with the titular woman played by Diane Keaton. Specifically, Iannucci admired the way that Allen had shown “how comedy can be much more inventive and free in its storytelling than straight linear drama”, even if Allen himself was disappointed in the results.

Finally, Iannucci rounds off his list of favourite comedy movies with the classic Monty Python film of 1979, Life of Brian. One of the Python’s crowning moments, Life of Brian tells the story of Brian Cohen, an unsuspecting young Jewish-Roman man who is born on the same day and just next door to Jesus Christ and is then mistaken to be the new Messiah.

Explaining his impression of the film, Iannucci noted, “Again, it’s comedy that shows how huge themes can be tackled in an interesting and formally daring way. It looks lavish, but the jokes and themes stay close, intimate and real.” Life of Brian was indeed controversial, but it was equally brilliant, and many consider it to be amongst Python’s best-ever works.

The favourite comedy movies of Armando Iannucci are somewhat unsurprising in that they are all deeply satirical and take unflinching and uncompromising takes on serious issues. A true legend of the satire and comedy game, Iannucci has largely continued the tradition of some of his biggest heroes with a series of films and television that are as cutting edge as they are raucous.

Armando Iannucci’s favourite comedy movies:

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