(This article is part of our Best of the Decade series.)
Choosing the top ten funniest performers of the 2010s was not easy. If there’s one thing to know about comedy, it’s that it is subjective. What’s funny to one person may not be funny to someone else.
One thing I took into account while making this list is how reliable these performers were over the past decade. Did they have stand-out moments in one film or in multiple films over the years? How should a late bloomer be evaluated? If someone delivered a breakthrough performance late in the decade, should that wipe away someone else if they were consistently reliable for years? These are the questions I pondered.
As this decade comes to an end, one can only hope to see Daniel Craig and Charlize Theron take on more comedic performances. Craig crushed it in both Logan Lucky and Knives Out. While both Young Adult and Tully were more of a dramedy than outright comedies, Theron’s performance in Long Shot shows that she’s ready to be taken seriously as a comedic actress. That being said, if a film otherwise classified as a dramedy was submitted to an awards show as a comedy, I’m counting it as a comedy.
Christian Bale probably isn’t the first person you think of when it comes to comedy. Regardless, the actor can really deliver in any film, no matter the genre. After all, this is an actor who takes a method approach to his performances. Bale lost weight for his Oscar-winning role in The Fighter while putting on weight to portray Dick Cheney in Vice. Even if it’s the smallest of subtle facial gestures or the way he interacts on screen with other actors, there’s something about the performances that Bale brings with him to his roles in American Hustle, The Big Short, and Vice, respectively. Writer-director Adam McKay directed the actor in two of these films and as such, audiences have gotten a side to Bale that they might not have expected.
Reynolds has a real knack for comedy and we see it by way of what roles he opts to take on. Look at what he did by portraying Wade Wilson in both Deadpool films. It’s hysterical even if there are some cringe-worthy moments in the sequel. Sure, he’s taken on some dramatic roles such as playing Randy Schoenberg in Woman in Gold (Full disclaimer: Randy is my cousin’s cousin). There’s also an action role in Green Lantern that he’d prefer to forget altogether. The fact that Reynolds can be self-deprecating about it in films let alone in teasers shows that the actor has an amazing sense of humor. After two Deadpool films, it was hard to watch Pokemon Detective Pikachu without thinking of the Marvel character. Or any Reynolds performance for that matter. The trailer for Free Guy shows that Reynolds is going to be off to promising start in the 2020s.
The drive-through scene alone in The Big Sick is a masterclass performance in acting. While the comedian doesn’t have that many leading film roles, he delivers in his supporting performances. His success as an actor on television has been able to successfully translate to a promising big screen career. This year alone, Nanjiani crushed it in both Stuber and Men In Black: International even if the films weren’t critically acclaimed. The latter of which came as a cute CGI alien. Moreover, The Big Sick is certainly one of the top comedies of the decade. Take away all of Nanjiani’s acting credits and his performance in The Big Sick would get him on this list without a doubt. Now that Silicon Valley is over, one can only look forward to his work over the next decade.
Prior to taking on a role in Bridesmaids, Melissa McCarthy was known for her work in Gilmore Girls. The actress had recently started on Mike and Molly when the film hit theaters in 2011. Not only did McCarthy blow us away in Bridesmaids but she would continue to do so throughout the decade. Some of the films haven’t been well-received but the films directed by Paul Feig turn into comedy gold. Listen, no matter what you think of Ghostbusters: Answer the Call, it’s a solid film and the jokes hit their landing. McCarthy is consistently reliable in The Heat, Spy, and St. Vincent. One can’t help but go back to her role in Bridesmaids because it’s a non-stop laugh riot. The actress would also display her dramatic range as Lee Israel in Can You Ever Forgive Me? When it comes to comedic talent in the 2010s, McCarthy is near the top of the Mount Rushmore contenders.
Bridesmaids is one of the funniest comedies in the 21st century and the film doesn’t happen without co-writers Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo. When Wiig first appeared some years before on Saturday Night Live, all it took was one scene before coming to the realization that Kristen Wiig is the real deal. Even when appearing in a drama, she finds a way to let the comedic light shine through. Over the deacde, Wiig displayed brilliant performances in 2012’s Girl Most Likely and a pair of 2014 films, The Skeleton Twins and Welcome to Me. Wiig has provided her voice to a number of animated films, including the How To Train Your Dragon franchise. In 2016, Wiig would join the Ghostbusters franchise when Paul Feig directed the star-studded reboot. When it comes to comedy, she’s the type of talent that is once-in-a-generation.
Paul Rudd never ceases to age but that’s beside the point. Filmmakers can always count on him to bring his A game. Rudd’s ability to improvise is one of the reasons why he’s on the list. He started the decade in Dinner for Schmucks and he finished in the biggest film of 2019, Avengers: Endgame. For such a serious film, Rudd still brought some comical relief to the ultimate MCU film. In between these films are many others, including This is 40, Anchorman 2, two Ant-Man films, and many more credits including collaborations with David Wain. It’s apparently a law that Paul Rudd is legally required to appear in every David Wain film. They Came Together will go down as one of the best romantic comedy satires of all time. While we may not know what the next decade will look like, the big question is whether or not Rudd will ever age.
Emma Stone has come a long way from breaking through in 2007’s Superbad and 2009’s Zombieland. One year after Zombieland, Stone was given her first leading role in Easy A. The actress didn’t disappoint in one of the best performances of 2010. If you haven’t read The Scarlet Letter, don’t bother as Stone’s Olive recaps it in the film. It’s one of the best performances let alone films of the last ten years. Things would only get better for Stone when she co-starred in Crazy, Stupid, Love in 2011. It wouldn’t be long before Stone received her first Oscar nomination for Birdman in 2014. She would win an Oscar for Best Actress in La La Land and then play tennis great Billie Jean King in Battle of the Sexes. While Stone’s final film role of the decade came in Zombieland: Double Tap, her performance in The Favourite shows that hard work pays off.
In a perfect world, Tiffany Haddish would have gotten an Oscar nomination for Girls Trip when the film came out in 2017. Haddish’s role as Dina was a breakthrough performance that put her on the map much in the same way that Bridesmaids did for Melissa McCarthy. Haddish has since appeared in a small number of film roles but she’s mostly taken to television and stand-up. If she gets some more regular film work over the next decade, Haddish will be a strong contender on any list.
If there’s an actress who is consistently reliable in supporting roles, it’s Kate McKinnon. She’s appeared in Ghostbusters, Office Christmas Party, Rough Night, and The Spy Who Dumped Me to name a few. When Kate McKinnon gets the chance to outright lead a film rather than be a co-lead or supporting actress, it’s going to be a complete game-changer. There’s no limit to her abilities, be it physical or verbal comedy.
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