Adam McKay is a multifaceted director known for his unique blend of humor and social commentary. Starting his career as a writer in Saturday Night Live, McKay went on to co-found the comedy website Funny or Die and later moved to directing. His most notable pure comedies include Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy and Step Brothers. From there, he transitioned to more serious dramedies and political satires like The Big Short and Vice.
Like most great filmmakers, McKay is a big movie fan who has raved about plenty of films over the years. His favorites reflect his interests, leading toward comedy, satire, and social dramas. There are many gems to be found among McKay’s recommendations, which should appeal to fans of his acclaimed work.
10 ‘Kung Fu Hustle’ (2004)
Director: Stephen Chow
This absurd martial arts comedy follows two hapless con artists, Sing (Stephen Chow) and Bone (Lam Chi-chung), who stumble into the midst of a fierce battle between the notorious Axe Gang and the seemingly humble residents of Pig Sty Alley. What follows is a spectacular and over-the-top display of kung fu skills as Sing discovers his latent powers and becomes a reluctant hero.
The film is chock-full of references to martial arts classics, alongside epic fight scenes and memorable cartoon special effects. McKay calledKung Fu Hustle “an explosion of raw imagination, action, comedy, and romance like I have never seen before. I remember standing outside the theater with friends after seeing it and being speechless. It’s a reminder that with cinema you can do anything. There are no limits.”
Kung Fu Hustle
- Release Date
- February 10, 2004
- Stephen Chow, Xiaogang Feng, Wah Yuen, Zhi Hua Dong, Kwok-Kwan Chan, Chi Chung Lam
9 ‘Office Space’ (1999)
Director: Mike Judge
Office Space is a cult classic send-up of modern work and corporate drudgery. Ron Livingston plays Peter Gibbons, an office worker at a tech company who despises his soul-crushing job and its mundane routines. When he visits a hypnotherapist and undergoes a personality transformation, he decides to rebel against the system in the most comically subversive ways, along with his co-workers. With sharp wit, deadpan humor, and iconic characters like Milton Waddams (Stephen Root) and Bill Lumbergh (Gary Cole), Office Space packs endless gags into its lean runtime, and so many of its funniest moments have become internet memes.
“It’s been 23 years since this movie was released to mixed reviews and low box office numbers, and it’s still the movie I watch if I want to laugh. Office Space’s depiction of pre-fab, low-pay, degrading capitalism has gotten even better and more on point with age. And Gary Cole’s depiction of a mid-manager who thinks he rules the world is an all-timer,” McKay wrote.
- Release Date
- February 19, 1999
- Ron Livingston, Jennifer Aniston, David Herman, Ajay Naidu, Diedrich Bader, Stephen Root
8 ‘The Interrupters’ (2011)
Director: Steve James
The Interrupters is a hard-hitting documentary that looks at urban violence in Chicago. It centers on the non-profit organization CeaseFire, which employs a unique approach to violence prevention. The organization’s “Violence Interrupters” are former gang members and ex-convicts who mediate conflicts and try to prevent acts of violence before they occur. The documentary introduces us to several dedicated Interrupters, including Ameena Matthews and Cobe Williams, as they intervene in the lives of at-risk individuals and strive to break the cycle of violence in their communities.
“The Interrupters is one of the most emotional, stirring documentaries I’ve ever seen,” McKay wrote. “It shows a portrait of the street-level violence that afflicts our country in a way that I’ve never experienced before. I remember when it came out, I was like, ‘Oh, this is the biggest documentary of the year’ […] It was amazing. It was so emotional and beautifully done. I think it’s one of the greatest American documentaries ever made, and for some reason, no one ever talks about it.”
7 ‘Mail Order Wife’ (2004)
Directors: Huck Butko, Andrew Gurland
Mail Order Wife is a remarkably funny mockumentary about Adrian (Adrian Martinez), a lonely, socially awkward doorman who decides to order a wife from Burma to alleviate his loneliness. He brings Lichi (Eugenia Yuan), his new bride, to America, but the reality of their unconventional arrangement quickly unravels, leading to a series of increasingly absurd and uncomfortable situations. The movie plays with the mockumentary format to create a biting commentary on cultural stereotypes, personal delusions, and the lengths to which people will go in search of companionship.
“[It’s] one of my favorite comedies ever made, by a guy named Andrew Gurland,” McKay explains. “His whole thing is he replicates the documentary style, but he does it through a comedy lens. I watched Mail Order Wife and I was laughing so hard. The one thing I tell people when they watch that movie is, ‘You have to remember, someone scripted this,’ because you start watching it and you forget it. Awesome.”
6 ‘Silent Running’ (1972)
Director: Douglas Trumbull
In a dystopian future, Earth’s last remaining forests are preserved inside massive geodesic domes on a spaceship called the Valley Forge. Freeman Lowell (Bruce Dern) is a botanist and caretaker of the last forested ecosystem. When orders come to destroy the forests and return the ship’s resources to a dying Earth, Lowell rebels, going to great lengths to protect the precious natural world he has come to love.
“Silent Running is just way ahead of its time. It’s an environmental film. It’s beautiful, it’s heartbreaking and it’s a movie that’s more relevant now as we stare down the collapse of the livable climate. Thinking about it right now, I get emotional,” McKay wrote. “You watch Silent Running,and you can tell it was the first awakenings of an environmental movement. It’s a beautiful, beautiful film that I never hear talked about. That might be number one on my list of ‘Watch it and watch it now.’ An important, historical film.”
5 ‘Creep’ (2004)
Director: Christopher Smith
Creep is a lean, mean horror movie that takes slasher conventions to a new setting: the London Underground. It stars Franka Potente as Kate, a young German woman who, after missing her last train, becomes trapped in the subterranean maze beneath the train system. There, she is stalked by a relentless killer. Kate makes for an interesting slasher protagonist, defying most final girl clichés.
“Horror is a really interesting genre because you’re able to be funny […] Creep is a great example of a movie that just blows through these different genres of satire and horror. I think it really captures the feeling of what it’s like to be alive now, with social media, the ability to dox people, the ability to SWAT people. A really great, great movie,” McKay wrote.
4 ‘Get on the Bus’ (1996)
Director: Spike Lee
Spike Lee directed this drama about a diverse group of Black men from different backgrounds and generations, all traveling to the Million Man March in Washington, D.C. Each character represents a different perspective, from a father and son seeking reconciliation to an ex-convict trying to make amends. As the bus travels across the country, the men engage in candid and often heated discussions about their experiences and beliefs.
“Every moment of that movie had me on the edge of my seat, as far as all the different issues that were floating around,” McKay wrote. “Get on the Bus was really hard viewing and really charged. It came out at a point where America was distinctly turning towards the right with Bill Clinton, who was supposed to be the left-wing president and was veering hard to the right. So it’s an important moment in American history, and as usual, Spike Lee doesn’t blink in bringing us the portrait of all these characters.”
3 ‘Series 7: The Contenders’ (2001)
Director: Daniel Minahan
Series 7: The Contenders is a mockumentary that purports to be a reality TV show in the future. Called The Contenders, the show selects everyday citizens to participate in a deadly game of survival. The catch? Contestants are chosen by lottery, given a weapon, and then pitted against each other in a fight to the death, a la Battle Royale. The film centers on Dawn (Brooke Smith), a pregnant woman who is reluctantly drawn into the game as a returning champion.
In contrast to other entries in this subgenre,Series 7 is more comedic and pokes fun at reality TV and celebrity culture. Director Daniel Minahan takes ideas from Videodrome, Rollerball, and Westworld, tosses them into a blender, and then gleefully takes them to their extreme conclusion. McKay called it “a movie that was a good ten years ahead of its time.”
2 ‘Tin Men’ (1987)
Director: Barry Levinson
Richard Dreyfuss and Danny DeVito star in this comedy as B.B. and Ernest, two rival door-to-door aluminum salesmen who get involved in a fender bender. Each blames the other for the accident, leading to a full-blown feud between them. Dreyfuss and DeVito make for a surprisingly great comedic duo, with their wild energy bouncing off one another.
Tin Men was directed by Barry Levinson, the brains behind Good Morning, Vietnam and Rain Man. It’s more chaotic and goofy than those movies, but it’s also a surprisingly clever comedy. It serves up some food for thought about the cutthroat world of business and the dog-eat-dog pursuit of the American Dream. McKay called
Tin Men “the greatest ‘men who won’t grow up’ movie ever made.”
1 ‘Flirting With Disaster’ (1996)
Director: David O. Russell
Silver Linings Playbook‘s David O. Russell directed this offbeat comedy starring Ben Stiller and Patricia Arquette. Mel Coplin (Stiller) embarks on a cross-country journey with his wife, Nancy (Arquette), and an adoption agent, Tina (Téa Leoni), in search of his birth parents. The misadventures that follow include absurd encounters, mistaken identities, and laugh-out-loud situations.
The supporting cast is rounded out by Alan Alda, Mary Tyler Moore, and Josh Brolin, all of whom are memorable. However, the highest praise goes to Stiller, who is at the top of his comedic game here. Anarchic and darkly funny, Flirting with Disasterbreezes by at just 93 minutes long. It’s proof positive of Russell’s knack for handling sensitive subjects smartly without letting up on the jokes. In particular, McKay praised the “Richard Jenkins nude acid trip.”
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