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Now, that's funny

The American Film Institute announced the 100 funniest American films, as selected by a blue-ribbon film industry panel, during a CBS special Tuesday night.

Topping the list (see chart) was "Some Like It Hot" (1959), starring Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon, and written, directed and produced by Billy Wilder.

Voters were asked to chose from a list of 500 nominees compiled by the AFI, a nonprofit film preservation group. The institute distributed a ballot with the nominated films to a jury of 1,800 filmmakers, including directors, screenwriters, studio executives, historians and critics.

Nominated films had to be in English, at least 60 minutes long, released before 1998 and representive of American cinema's rich legacy.

The announcement prompted Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert - in his guise as the Movie Answer Man - to question himself on the list of the 100 Funniest American Movies:

Q. Now that you've seen the list, what's your immediate impression?

A. It contains a lot of good video rental ideas. I've seen 96 of the 100 films, and liked or loved almost all of them.

Q. What is the significance of the list?

A. None. Comedy, like other forms of art, cannot be measured, only appreciated.

Q. What is the purpose of the list?

A. To raise money for the American Film Institute, which is a worthy cause. Like the AFI's equally meaningless lists of 100 Greatest American Movies and 100 Greatest Stars, this list exists to generate a television special and video store tie-ins, which will produce funds for the AFI.

Q. Are any lists like this meaningful?

A. Lists of box-office winners have a certain concrete undeniability. The poll taken every 10 years by Sight & Sound, the noted British film magazine, is useful as a gauge of shifting critical winds over time. But to rank movies from 1 to 100 after a vote of hundreds of "leaders from across the film community" is an exercise in statistics, not criticism.

Q. Now get off your high horse and say what you liked about the list.

A. "Some Like It Hot" is a worthy title for first place. They were right to pick "Duck Soup" as the best of the Marx Brothers films. I'm glad Mel Brooks placed three titles in the top 15, although "The Producers" is funnier than "Blazing Saddles." They remembered the silent geniuses Keaton and Chaplin, and even mentioned Keaton first - even though "The General" is indeed his best film, it is not his funniest. Where are the other silent clowns? The Three Stooges? Jim Carrey?

Q. The best titles least known to most moviegoers?

A. "The Lady Eve," "The Palm Beach Story" and "The Navigator."

Q. Titles that shouldn't be on the list?

A. I have never shared the general enthusiasm for the Coen Brothers' "Raising Arizona," but am assured at least weekly that I am wrong. Placing it at No. 31 and putting the Coens' "Fargo" down at No. 93 seems screwy. I am glad, though, that "Fargo" was seen as a comedy - a human comedy with dark undertones - and not just as a crime picture. If I had my way, it could trade places with Frank Capra's "It Happened One Night," at No. 8.

Q. Titles that should have been on the list?

A. "Kingpin." And what about "Roger & Me"? Were documentaries not allowed? If "Fargo" qualifies, why not "Pulp Fiction"?

Q. Cary Grant is in eight of the 100 films. Does that make him Hollywood's funniest actor?

A. The whole point was that he was not funny, at least not visibly. He always kept his cool. You could never spot him going for a laugh. Keaton was the same way.

But the Marx Brothers and Woody Allen each star in five of the titles, and they do try to be funny. Whatever works.

Q. What is the funniest movie on the list?

A. "The Producers."

Thank you. Thank you very much. You've been a wonderful audience. No, really.

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