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Will Ferrell’s Best: ‘Anchorman,’ ‘Step Brothers,’ ‘Elf’… or ‘Casa De Mi Padre’?

Will Ferrell's Best: 'Anchorman,' 'Step Brothers,' 'Elf'... or 'Casa De Mi Padre'?

Nobody seems terribly excited for “Get Hard”: critics are slamming it, whether it’s because it’s homophobic or because it’s just not very funny. Steven Hyden of Grantland even weighed the possibility that Ferrell may be in decline. But the man has made as many popular comedy hits as any other actor over the past decade, and Vulture, Rolling Stone and The Playlist all have their picks for Ferrell’s best work. Here’s Vulture’s Tim Grierson and Will Leitch’s picks for Ferrell’s ten best:

1. “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” (2004)
2. “Step Brothers” (2008)
3. “Elf” (2003)
4. “Old School” (2003)
5. “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” (2006)
6. “The Lego Movie” (2014)
7. “The Other Guys” (2010)
8. “Zoolander” (2001)
9. “Stranger Than Fiction” (2006)
10. “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues” (2013)

Here’s what they had to say about their number one pick:

The blueprint, really, not just for Ferrell, but for a whole new school of comedy that would take over the next decade: aggressive absurdism, a (often purposefully) flimsy premise existing only to stack a series of lunatic gags and setpieces end-to-end. You saw with the sequel how much special kismet is required to get this just right, but man, did this ever. We’re always hesitant to gauge the quality of a comedy by the number of compulsively quotable lines it has … but we’re nonetheless pretty certain that you can apply an “Anchorman” quote to every aspect of human existence.

The Playlist didn’t disagree much in their top Will Ferrell Characters:

1. Ron Burgundy (“Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” and “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues”)
2. Buddy (“Elf”)
3. Frank Ricard (“Old School”)
4. Brennan Huff (“Step Brothers”)
5. Chazz Reinhold (“Wedding Crashers”)
6. Allen Gamble (“The Other Guys”)
7. President Business/Lord Business/The Man Upstairs (“The Lego Movie”)
8. Mugatu (“Zoolander”)
9. Nick Halsley (“Everything Must Go”)
10. Mustafa (“Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery” and “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me”)

They have the same number one pick, but my pick for Ferrell’s best standalone performance is one spot behind it:

Often, Christmas movies are held to a lower standard of comedy if they’re gooey-centered enough but Jon Favreau’s “Elf” is the rare one that has as much wit as heart. And Ferrell has total command of both those registers as Buddy, the naive six-foot elf trying to connect with his hardass Dad in the Big City. Playing his standard manchild character with an added dash of innocent wonky enthusiasm, Buddy makes “Elf” one of the most uncynical yet funny comedies ever made — a Christmas gift that keeps on giving. 

Bilge Ebiri of Rolling Stone has several of the same films, albeit in a different order:

1. “The Lego Movie” (2014)
2. “The Other Guys” (2010)
3. “Step Brothers” (2008)
4. “Old School” (2003)
5. “Zoolander” (2001)
6. “Wedding Crashers” (2005)
7. “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” (2004)
8. “Elf” (2003)
9. “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” (2006)
10. “Blades of Glory” (2007)

His argument for placing last year’s animation hit ahead of Ferrell’s many Adam McKay collaborations:

For most of last year’s amazingly inventive, hilarious animated action-movie spoof, Ferrell is the voice of President/Lord Business — the egomaniacal yet horrifically insecure leader of Legoland who’s secretly planning a horrific fate for his fellow citizens. But towards the end of the film, the actor actually shows up as “The Man Upstairs” — in a live-action section that sends the film spinning off in a touching, oddly philosophical direction. What seemed to be a freewheeling, joke-filled trifle suddenly becomes an inquiry into the mind of God. And, perhaps even more impressively, what initially appeared to be a parody of a benevolent dictator (and possibly a riff on the comedian’s famous impersonation of a recent POTUS) turns into a performance that brings the pathos without becoming pablum. Ferrell is responsible for all of it. The funnyman contains multitudes after all.

All three lists have strong arguments for their choices and their rankings, but there’s one film I think each of them has underrated: “Casa de mi Padre,” which Ebiri places at number 34 and the Playlist at 24 (Vulture at least appreciates it, putting it just outside of the top ten at number 12).

Full disclosure: I’ve never much cared for the Ron Burgundy character, which I always found far too winking and smirky to be funny; ditto for his work in “Step Brothers” (I like “Ricky Bobby” and “The Other Guys,” as far as McKay-Ferrell goes). The key to “Casa de mi Padre” is that it’s presented totally straight-faced, with Ferrell never letting the audience know that he knows it’s absurd that he’s the star in a Spanish movie. He’s just magnificently, awkwardly out of place, speaking Spanish phonetically around a bunch of native speakers, making his man-child character seem that much more ill-suited to be the hero. It’s also a much more successfully subversive movie than “Anchorman,” with Ferrell’s un-commented on casting standing as a parody of A. Hollywood’s frequent casting of Americans in roles regardless of their appropriateness, and B. the fact that a comedy this defiantly odd could only have been made with a white comedy star in the lead role. 

“Casa de mi Padre” was taken by some as an overextended Funny or Die sketch, but its parody goes beyond Spanish telenovelas. The film’s juxtaposition of intentionally tacky fake backgrounds and animals with gorgeous, sun-baked vistas should have tipped off more viewers that it’s as much a goof on classic westerns, be they acid or Spaghetti, and that a slight tweak of the film’s plot could have easily fit it into a straighter film. Director Matthew Piedmont went on to make the underrated IFC miniseries “The Spoils of Babylon” (featuring Ferrell as a self-important writer), which mixes classic soap opera stuff with event miniseries (think “The Thorn Birds”) and Oscar movies (George Stevens’ “Giant”), suggesting that the line between prestige and trash is thinner than many might suspect. That’s the same thing that “Casa de mi Padre” is onto. And if you can’t even appreciate the film’s formal rigor and playfulness – like in a downright Python-esque scene that cuts away from a fight scene to an apology from the filmmakers for a deadly mishap on set – I don’t even know what to say. Maybe someone slipped me peyote for “Casa de mi Padre” and grumpy pills for “Step Brothers,” but change Ebiri’s “Dios mio” to “Me gusta!” for me.

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