You’re On The Clock, Mister: 20 Great Workplace Comedies

You're On The Clock, Mister: 20 Great Workplace Comedies
You're On The Clock, Mister: 20 Great Workplace Comedies

This weekend’s broad new studio comedy “The Internship” (our review) concerns a couple of schlubs (former wedding crashers Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson) who, finding themselves out of work and hopelessly outdated when it comes to modern technology, apply to become interns at Google. While there, the movie becomes something of a workplace comedy – one in which all of their coworkers are way younger, cuter, and more brilliant. 

It’s the latest in a long tradition of movies that take our daily jobs and make comedic mincemeat out of them. Everything from wage slave drudgery to gigs in expensive offices in glass skyscrapers, few occupations have gone untouched by the movies. It was enough to get us thinking about some of our favorite workplace comedies, ones where you can practically smell the freshly cooling ink, taste the stale coffee and shake your head in recognition of the woes the characters face in those films. What made our list? Read on to find out, or wait for the TPS report….

How to Get Ahead in Advertising” (1989)
Johnny Depp doesn’t get out of bed for less than $20 million and franchise potential, right? Well, he did for the indie “The Rum Diaries” in 2011, partly because it was a Hunter S. Thompson adaptation, but also because it was directed by Bruce Robinson, the English writer/director responsible for one of Depp’s all time favorite movies, “Withnail & I.” But as fun as that depraved comedy is, we’d go as far as to say Robinson’s far superior work is the somehow kind-of-forgotten “How to Get Ahead in Advertising.” Part of that may be due to the fact it’s not readily available on DVD: Criterion had put it out more than a decade ago, but the rights seemed to lapse rather fast and it quickly went out of print. Regardless, ‘Advertising’ is a pitch-black deliciously hilarious farce and scathing satire starring Richard E. Grant as an advertising exec who suffers a nervous breakdown while trying to create a campaign for a pimple cream. Developing a crisis of conscience about the ethics of advertising, Grant’s Dennis Bagley flirts with the idea of becoming more socially conscious and perhaps even leaving his industry. But as soon as that thought enters the copywriting character’s head, he suddenly develops a boil on his neck which grows and grows until it literally takes a life of its own. Not kidding, the boil evolves into an evil talking head; a malevolent alter-ego on the ad-exec’s shoulder who constantly undermines him while whispering into his ear. There’s even a trading personas-like stage when the good self is relegated to the boil and the evil self jumps back into the vicious world of advertising with malicious zeal. All the while, his wife (Rachel Ward) has to contend with this maniac and then decide which persona she’d rather be with. Though it’s mostly a two hander, Grant playing off of Grant and a little bit of Ward, it still fits snuggly into the workplace comedy genre as office politics and the politics of advertising weigh through the film heavily.

The Front Page” (1974)
There have been a number of adaptations or riffs on Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur‘s play of the same name (including another one of our favorite workplace comedies, “His Girl Friday“), and while “His Girl Friday” is easily the most beloved adaptation, it’s also a fairly loose one. As far as the more straight adaptations go though, it’s hard to beat the 1974 Billy Wilder version, which reunited odd couple Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau and maintained the original play’s period setting (the play was produced in 1928, the movie is set in 1929). The witty back-and-forth is terrific, the script (co-written by Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond) pops, and Wilder, working with cinematographer Jordan Cronenweth, gives the movie a nice sense of scope, cramming in period detail while never letting the movie’s zippy pacing fall slack. While Wilder, who is normally quite opposed to remakes, would later claim that he wasn’t particularly proud of “The Front Page,” it’s still a great workplace comedy, showing the rather loose morals and ethical standings of people in the newspaper game back then, and even if it is often cartoonishly over-the-top, it maintains a level of emotional realism that you can easily hold onto, even without the romantic subplot invented for “His Girl Friday.”

Working Girl” (1988)
Arguably one of the single best workplace comedies ever, Mike Nichols‘ adorably fizzy “Working Girl” is centered around a scrappy young woman from Staten Island (Melanie Griffith) who works as a secretary in a Wall Street investment bank. When her boss (Sigourney Weaver) breaks her leg and is out of the office, Griffith hatches a scheme to install herself in Weaver’s position and secure a merger deal of her own invention. Oh and she also falls in love with Weaver’s boyfriend, played by Harrison Ford. Energetically directed by Mike Nichols, with a score by Carly Simon (“Let the River Run,” which starts out the movie in an amazing sequence that follows the Staten Island Ferry as it makes its way to Manhattan, would go on to win the Academy Award for Best Song). The movie is inspirational in a way that never feels sappy or saccharine and the cast is uniformly excellent (Weaver, Griffith and Joan Cusack, who plays Giffith’s best friend and partner in crime, sporting some truly incredible hair, were all nominated for Oscars). It’s the lighter side of something like “Wall Street” and when Griffith, looking to die for, coos, in a mixture of sexuality and sweetness, “I have a head for business and a bod for sin,” you can’t help but fall in love. Or at least offer her the executive suite.  

Clerks” (1994)
For a certain generation, “Clerks” was it. If you want to know what it was like having a dead-end job in the early nineties, look no further. Largely consisting of a convenience store clerk (Brian O’Halloran) and a video store jockey (Jeff Anderson) bull-shitting about everything under-the-sun in lo-fi black-and-white, “Clerks” was the “Gimme Shelter” of Generation X: a totemic statement about the bored, disaffected youth in plaid shirts and backwards baseball caps whose lives are strictly catalogued according to the number of women they’ve slept with and how many “Star Wars” references they can make in a single conversation. But at the same time it’s more universal than that – if you’ve ever worked any kind of middling service industry or retail job, then there’s something to connect with in the slacker protagonists. “Clerks” announced the debut of an original voice in independent film, writer/director Kevin Smith, and while he might not have lived up to that initial promise, “Clerks” is the kind of cult classic that will be watched for decades to come, long after video stores and convenience stores have gone the way of the dodo. It’s telling too that Smith plans to close out his career as a filmmaker with “Clerks III,” thus ending the trilogy and concluding a franchise that would go on to include a wonderful (if frustratingly short-lived) animated series, sequel, and ongoing comic book. In a way, “Clerks” has become the convenience store that Smith probably should have left a long time ago but just can’t seem to quit.

His Girl Friday “ (1940)
A nearly perfect comedy, this Howard Hawks film adapts the play “The Front Page,” switching out the two male leads of the original for a bickering divorced couple. Newspaper editor Walter Burns (Cary Grant) wants his ex-wife – and best reporter – back, despite the fact that Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell) is about to marry another man (Ralph Bellamy) and give up the fast-paced life to be a wife and mother. To lure her away and back into the game, Walter has Hildy cover the execution of a murderer, with the story about to explode. The screwball comedy has twists and turns in its plot from there (with elements cribbed from real life), but it’s the dialogue and performances from Grant and Russell that land this on best-of-all-time lists. Screenwriters today could learn a thing or ten from the fast-paced, witty screenplay from Charles Lederer based on Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur’s play, and the chemistry between charmer Grant and spitfire Russell is a master class for actors as well. While it’s at once forward thinking and entirely backward when it comes to feminism and women in the workplace, the film feels far younger than its 70-plus years.  

9 to 5” (1980)
9 to 5” is one of the gold standards of the workplace comedy; one that all others are undoubtedly measured up against (with most found wanting by comparison). The movie, which still seems cutting edge today, concerns three women (Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Dolly Parton) who conspire to get back at their “sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot” of a boss, played memorably by Dabney Coleman at his oily best. Coleman is a character who walks through the office and people literally shudder and clutch themselves in terror. But the movie quite obviously belongs to the women, each of them fierce and terrifically funny (when Parton threatens Coleman with turning him from “a rooster into a hen,” you can’t help but giggle maniacally), even if the filmmakers’ attempt to make Jane Fonda “mousy” fails miserably (she’s still a total fox). Workplace comedies only, er, work if you can identify with your protagonists and if the professional place that the film attempts to conjure is one that you can totally believe yourself inhabiting. In the case of “9 to 5,” both are totally true. Coleman is a boss everyone has had (maybe more so before sexual harassment laws were regularly enforced) and the go-go-go eighties office is perfectly actualized. (It serves as a wonderful time capsule.) The legacy of “9 to 5” is greater than most workplace comedies, too, having inspired a television series and a well-reviewed Broadway musical (thanks largely to its immortal theme song by Parton, which we’ll be singing all day now, thankyouverymuch).   

Soul Kitchen” (2009)
Fatih Akin, the filmmaker behind international arthouse hits like “Head-On” and “The Edge Of The Universe,” has always marched to the beat of his own drum, pursuing whatever cinematic alleyway stokes his interest at the moment. Still, few were prepared for the filmmaker to make what is essentially a madcap mainstream comedy with “Soul Kitchen.” There’s not much in the way of bruising drama to be found in this tale of Zinos, a well-meaning but flaky and underachieving owner/chef of a barely surviving restaurant. But keeping the business afloat isn’t his only worry: his girlfriend is getting tired of watching him spin his wheels and has taken a job overseas; his brother has been recently paroled and can only stay out by (reluctantly) taking a job at the restaurant; a new chef hired for the restaurant pushes his impenetrably fancy food and this is all while a sleazy (and cartoonish) businessman eyes buying the property outright. So yeah, this is wacky in every sense of the word, but for at least the first hour of so, it’s endearing and engaging. As a workplace movie, we’d wager Akin’s depiction of the food industry is purely imaginative, and this is all heightened in the way that most movies/reality shows are about being chefs. And while the movie overplays its hand in the final act, it’s heart is in the right place more often than not, and this comedic diversion is dish worth tasting.

Career Opportunities” (1991)
While certainly not anyone’s idea of a classic, “Career Opportunities” has got major nostalgia points as well as that magical “I wonder what it would be like to be stuck in a department store all night” glimmer that still manages to capture your imagination in a very real and vibrant way. John Hughes wrote and produced “Career Opportunities,” which opened a year after his smash “Home Alone” but without a similar reception. Frank Whaley, with a doo-wop swoop of black hair, plays a Ferris Bueller-ish wise acre who is forced to get a job as a nighttime janitor at a local Target. He’s locked in overnight, however, which turns out not be such a bad thing when he stumbles upon Jennifer Connelly, who plays a comely runaway. Of course, as tends to happen in John Hughes scripts (especially from that time period), a pair of bumbling burglars (played by real-life brothers Dermot and Kieran Mulroney) break into the store and hold the two hostage. While not the best workplace comedy ever, it still manages to retain certain threads of authenticity and Connelly is at her most magnetically movie-star-ish here (something that never materialized but really should have). More importantly, it captures that moment in young adulthood when you’ve got to start doing something, anything really, and stop fucking around. A tough lesson, but one that goes down smooth when Hughes is delivering it.

High Fidelity” (2000)
If someone tried to mount an adaptation of Nick Hornby‘s beloved novel today, they would probably have to make it a period movie, since record shops like the one it’s centered around are such a rarified scarcity these days. Thankfully that wasn’t quite the case when Stephen Frears made his adaptation, swapping out the book’s London location for Chicago and changing the name of the lead character to a less British moniker. The record store is called Championship Vinyl and John Cusack owns and manages it. His employees are a team of mismatched super-geeks played by Jack Black (in a breakthrough performance) and Todd Louiso. “I knew when I was auditioning that it was going to be a very specific and special film for our generation,” Louiso recently told us. And you know what? He was right. Everything about Championship Vinyl is warmly identifiable – either you recognize yourself in the customers or the employees (or maybe the video store equivalent of the store). Championship Vinyl could be anywhere, but it’s mostly in our hearts. 

In Good Company” (2004)
The Weitz Brothers oeuvre is all over the map: Together they both directed “American Pie,” and “About A Boy” and when they went solo, Chris directed things like “The Golden Compass” and “The Twilight Saga: New Moon.” Paul Weitz, however, has mostly stayed within the humanistic drama field (“Little Fockers” notwithstanding) and his best film is 2004’s “In Good Company” starring Dennis Quaid, Topher Grace, and Scarlett Johansson. A work place dramedy set in the world of advertising, Quaid plays an aging ad exec whose life is upended when his company is bought and he’s faced with the prospect of a cocky, hot shot boss who is half his age (Grace). Friction is already deep in the air from the young and old dichotomy, but complications exacerbate when Grace starts dating Quaid’s younger daughter played by Johansson. It’s a bit predictable and sounds largely hackneyed and bland, but “In Good Company” is surprisingly soulful, rich and satisfying (no really, Andrew Sarris named it the Best American picture of 2004, which is admittedly, a huge exaggeration, but it does point to the fact that this movie is much more than it appears; Roger Ebert was also a fan).  Like “The Internship,” (and other workplace comedies on this list), it takes pleasure in pitting the old and potentially antiquated against the up-and-coming. And yes, there are cliches to be found. The old dog proves that not only can he learn new tricks, but he show the younger guys a thing or two, and perhaps that’s severely on the nose, but this movie about the evils of corporate culture is surprisingly charming, funny and contains a lot of heart. Another thing that doesn’t hurt the movie’s tender tone (and arguably helps a lot), and a strong soundtrack that includes David Byrne, Iron & Wine, The Soundtrack of Our Lives, Steely Dan and more.

The Boss of It All” (2006)
Lars Von Trier has dabbled in comedy before. “The Idiots” is devilishly confrontational and “Melancholia” has its twisted laughs too, but LVT’s only straight-up comedy and farce is this 2006 picture. Heavily influenced by Ernst Lubitsch’s own workplace comedy “The Shop Around the Corner,” the concept is definitely much broader and sillier than anything else LVT has done, before or since. It centers on a nervous IT company owner who invents a CEO in America who he can blame all his unpopular decisions on. But when the time comes to sell the company, the buyers insist on meeting the CEO and so in a panic, the owner hires a pretentious and desperate actor named Kristoffer (von Trier regular Jens Albinus) to portray the fictional CEO. Suffice to say, when the actor has to put on this charade much longer than he expected, hilarity ensues (though some of it is admittedly somewhat sitcom-esque). For some strange reason, LVT decided to employ Automavision, whereby filming is done with an “automatic randomized camera” that selects the shots making for laughable irregularities such as clipped bodies and miles of negative space between characters or above heads. While amusing, “The Boss Of It All” may be Von Trier’s least essential movie (or at least of his later years). And ironically, after this comedy, easily LVT’s most upbeat and happy film, the filmmaker fell into his well-documented deep depression.

Swimming With Sharks” (1994)
As the hapless underling to a Hollywood executive, Frank Whaley’s performance in “Swimming With Sharks” is all stuttering discomfort and insecurity, ready to collapse at a moments notice. His movie business idealism eventually coalesces into pragmatic survivalism as he aims simply to get through the day without a verbal dismantling at the hands of his almost supernaturally cruel boss, Buddy. Even in a career as colorful as Kevin Spacey’s, full of sniveling villains and sarcastic heroes, his Buddy is a flat-out sociopath, in a role that makes the over-reaching metaphor of the title seem not so inappropriate. Watch Spacey as he bites into fellow future “Usual SuspectBenicio Del Toro during a rant about a lack of productivity. Cringe as Spacey pins Whaley’s Guy to the wall verbally, chewing him up for confusing Equal and Sweet and Low. And watch this Hollywood mover and shaker just completely dissect a once-idealistic young hawk by demoralizing him in every single way to the point where the poor young fellow snaps. Writer-director George Huang made a strong debut here, though he made the mistake of using his real-life beginnings as inspiration, keeping him restricted to television for the rest of his career. It’s rare that you find a workplace movie so biting that it effectively boots you from that workplace, but there you go. 

The Hudsucker Proxy” (1994)
Notable mostly for being a big-time studio flop from filmmakers known for making quirky, esoteric low budget fare, “The Hudsucker Proxy” was co-written by the Coen Brothers‘ longtime friend (and infrequent collaborator) Sam Raimi and produced by Hollywood big shot Joel Silver. The workplace in question is Hudsucker Industries (a name established in the previous Coens/Raimi collaboration “Crimewave“), a kind of vaguely defined corporate conglomerate. When top boss Waring Hudsucker (Charles Durning) leaps to his death out of the boardroom window, a slimy executive (Paul Newman, clearly relishing the villainous role) hatches a convoluted plot to install a nincompoop as the head of the company, in an attempt to gain control. Said nincompoop is played by Tim Robbins and much to Newman’s chagrin, he comes up with a stellar idea for a revolutionary new product – the hula hoop. “The Hudsucker Proxy” is a workplace comedy that’s set in a workplace so fantastic it might as well be on the moon. It ostensibly takes place in 1958 but is so fantastically stylized that it could double as one of Ridley Scott‘s futuristic cityscapes. The Coens (and Raimi) were clearly inspired by the films of Preston Sturges and Frank Capra and make the most of their (for them anyway) colossal budget – this thing has truly impressive visual effects, a lush score by longtime confederate Carter Burwell, and sets that rival Tim Burton‘s German expressionist take on “Batman.” It doesn’t always work (Jennifer Jason Leigh‘s performance, for example, tips from homage to unnecessary imitation) but it’s always impressive – particularly in the way they brought to life the hustle and bustle of Hudsucker Industries, a place few people would willingly work. 

Broadcast News” (1987)
Broadcast News” is, if not James L. Brooks best film, definitely his most enduring. Over 15 years after its release, its incisive and cynical take on the intermingling of personal and professional relationships feels as relevant as ever. “Broadcast News” is many things: a look at the evolving news landscape, a fun and funny take on film tropes, the war of style vs. substance, but it is at its heart a film about people whose lives are defined by their work, and therefore their workplace (in this case, the world of TV news). Holly Hunter is a revelation as the outspoken and driven television news reporter Jane, in the midst of a push/pull of emotion and ethics between the charming but dim anchor Tom (William Hurt) and the principled but self-sabotaging reporter Aaron (Albert Brooks). James Brooks once said that the newsroom is a place where there is “no line between shoptalk and personal talk,” but he takes this one step further in “Broadcast News” where the lines between work and life become increasingly blurred for the characters, and one memorable extreme is the scheduling of Jane’s crying spells to the early morning. It seems, at least to Aaron, that in every arena, both personal and professional, Tom’s superficial charm and good looks win out over principles and smarts, as Tom manages to get the job he wants, and almost gets the girl, too. Hunter’s Jane would say she’s juggling her career and love life, but it’s clear which one’s getting the lions’ share of the attention, inevitable causing her personal and professional, ethical and emotional boundaries to be tested. In the end it is a work that comes between Jane and Tom, the former sticking to the moral high ground of factually driven hard news and the latter willing to make compromises for great entertainment and great television. At the end of the day none of the love triangle members end up together, as their respective hearts belong instead to the work itself.

Office Space” (1999)
Beavis and Butthead” creator Mike Judge tapped into something very primal with “Office Space” – the absolute, almost toxic frustration that goes along with modern society’s cubicle-dwelling office culture. It was like the “Dilbert” cartoon but more angry and toothsome and with a gangster rap soundtrack that (somehow) perfectly fit the tone of the rest of the movie. (Destroying a computer, it turns out, goes along quite well with a song whose primary lyrics consist of “die motherfucker, die.”) The movie is so plainspoken and devoid of style that it sometimes feels like a really goofy documentary, aided by the fact that the actors all play their characters with a lived-in relatability (Ron Livingston, Stephen Root, Gary Cole, David Herman). Jennifer Aniston is the closest thing that the movie has to an A-list celebrity but even she turns down her star wattage to dingy dive bar dimness. When it was initially released in 1999 it got lost in the shuffle; it was poorly marketed and had the misfortune of opening in a year in which a cinematic sea change was happening all around it. A tiny comedy with all the sizzle of a suburban strip mall was bound to be overshadowed. But the inherent truthfulness of the humor, along with how rewarding the movie is on repeated viewings, made it an almost instantaneous cult favorite, enjoying a second life on home video that easily eclipsed both its tepid critical response and piss poor box office haul. Judge would return to similar territory with 2009’s “Extract,” except this time he would come at it from the boss’ point-of-view. The results weren’t nearly as satisfying and, save for a truly brilliant supporting turn from Ben Affleck, “Extract” is kind of a wash. Judge is still one of America’s great comedic voices, but he could have applied that voice to better material (like his under-seen, nearly direct-to-video sci-fi satire “Idiocracy“). 

Clockwatchers” (1997)
The “workplace comedy featuring one of the girls from ‘Friends‘ that isn’t ‘Office Space,’ ” Jill Sprecher‘s 1997 film “Clockwatchers” is a movie due for a revival. Lisa Kudrow, Parker Posey, Toni Collette and Alanna Ubach (all of them fairly big names at the time, now sadly pushed off the screen by younger faces) play four twenty-something temps trying to while away the time at their vacuous fill-in jobs while hoping desperately for something permanent and meaningful to turn up; or, at the very least, something fun. Eventually, a plot as perfectly petty as the setting shows up, when knick-knacks begin to go missing from desks and suspicion falls on the temps because, hey, no-one really knows them (or even knows their names), and they’re easy to fire. “Clockwatchers” is bitterly and tenderly observed, a curious comfort to the tribes of temps who prop up this thing we call the economy, as well as a source of vengeful inspiration to the sort-of-oppressed sort-of-workers of the world. It might have been made in 1997, but this is a movie for the age of the internship. Patronising permanent employees, mind-warpingly dull tasks, ways to look busier than you truly are, zero job security: this is life as we know it. So modern does it feel, in fact, that one wonders if Lena Dunham has ever seen this film…

Curdled” (1996)
Your workplace doesn’t always have to be a stuffy office. In fact, it can be a crime scene, splattered with blood and draped with gooey viscera. Tangentially set in the Quentin Tarantino universe (Tarantino produced it and a TV report makes note of the events from “From Dusk Till Dawn,” with the information delivered by Kelly Preston, playing the same role from ‘Dawn’), “Curdled” stars Angela Jones (from “Pulp Fiction“) as a crime scene clean-up technician who starts to try to solve a disturbing string of serial killings attributed to The Blue Blood Killer (played, mischievously, by William Baldwin). There isn’t a whole lot to “Curdled” but it is fantastically violent, particularly towards the end, and it has a nice, jazzy tone, thanks largely to the movie’s cultural setting amongst Colombian immigrants in Miami and the actors’ playfulness with the roles. The power of the film is somewhat diminished by the occasionally slack direction of Reb Braddock, a filmmaker who never directed anything else ever again, and the movie’s obvious cheapness, which often veers from charming to distracting. Still, for a workplace comedy that definitely sits outside the comfort zone of the genre, “Curdled” is a whole lot of gory fun (and if you have even a passing interest of how it fits into the whole Tarantino framework, it’s well worth a rent). Some movies deserve cult classic status but never achieve them; “Curdled” is one of those movies.

Gung Ho” (1986)
In Ron Howard‘s criminally underrated workplace comedy, Michael Keaton plays an auto plant foreman who travels to Japan and persuades a Japanese manufacturer to reopen the stalled plant in his sleepy Pennsylvania town. The company agrees, and a bunch of Japanese executives return to the states to open the plant. Hilarity ensues. While some of the broader ethnic stereotyping doesn’t ring particularly true (it’s even more cringe-worthy today), “Gung Ho” is still a rousing culture clash comedy, with one of Keaton’s finest (and most shockingly overlooked) performances at its center. A lot of jokes are wrung out of how the Japanese overseers are unhappy with the slovenly Americans (to the point that it was rumored that Toyota would show its executives the movie as an example of how not to manage Americans) and occasionally the script falls into cliché-ridden formula (like the third act’s race against time to successfully manufacture a certain number of cars). But god damn does it work. “Gung Ho” is a finely crafted, precision machine, imbued with sleek Japanese craftsmanship (its smoky cinematography was done by the dearly departed Donald Peterman, who also shot “Flashdance“) with a healthy dose of American heart and humor. And it was released at a time when the tension between American and Japanese production was at its height. It’s also a shining example of a blue-collar workplace comedy. As we careen into whatever decade this is called, more of the workplace comedies will be centered around technology and science and movies about manual labor will be a thing of the distant past. Still, there’s something to be said for a movie with a good old-fashioned factory setting.  

Empire Records” (1995)
Why Rex Manning Day isn’t celebrated as a national holiday (complete with themed cakes and a parade), we’ll never know. This ‘90s film covers 24 hours in the course of a flailing indie record store’s history as the shop is under threat of being bought by corporate giant Music Town on the same day it is visited by former pop idol Rex Manning (Maxwell Caulfield). There’s not much work actually happening here, which is probably why it made us want a job at a record store, where we’d use M&Ms to determine who got to choose the music, apprehend Whitney Houston-loving shoplifters and finish the day off with an impromptu concert by our fellow employees. Dialogue runs the gamut from terrible (“I want to sing in a band, but I don’t have the guts”) to the less terrible (“Who knows where thoughts come from? They just appear.”), but “Empire Records” hasn’t aged as well as the best teen movies of the decade, despite its strengths as a workplace comedy. It’s rooted in a moment filled with crop tops, Gin Blossoms and chain record stores, but nostalgia isn’t quite enough to make our eyes roll any less when watching it almost 20 years later. What makes it almost watchable is the quotable lines, a Gwar hallucination and the cast, which is filled with people who went on to be much more famous (Renee Zellweger, Liv Tyler) and those recognizable only to those with a full DVR of police procedurals (Anthony LaPaglia, Rory Cochrane, Robin Tunney, Ethan Embry and Johnny Whitworth).

Observe and Report” (2009)
While largely overshadowed by the superficially similar “Paul Blart: Mall Cop,” “Observe and Report,” from “Eastbound & Down” creator Jody Hill, concerned a bipolar mall security guard played by Seth Rogen and his attempt to apprehend a serial flasher who has been targeting shoppers at the mall. It’s one of the few movies to adequately capture the weirdly distilled, floating-in-a-fish-tank atmosphere of most malls, as well as the utter desperation of those who are stuck there. Rogen’s character is a sick, sad man and Hill is utterly fearless when it comes to pushing the boundaries of good taste, something that got him in hot water during a sex scene that many understood to be an endorsement of date rape. When Hill told the press, prior to the film’s release, that it was inspired by “Taxi Driver,” few could have understood how dead-on this statement was. It’s dark. But it’s also really, pathetically funny and true to life, from the food court employees saddled with funny hats, to the weird kiosk guy played by Aziz Ansari (one of the movie’s best moments is a prolonged conversation between Rogen and Ansari consisting mostly of the words “fuck you”) to Anna Faris‘ beautifully realized cosmetics girl. “Observe and Report” is like a workplace comedy that’s been left out in the sun and curdled. It’s gone wonderfully bad.

Honorable Mention
Long before “The Internship,” “The Devil Wears Prada” showed how awful it was to be an underling at a highly coveted company, anchored by a pair of wonderful performances by Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway; “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” is a wonderfully bizarre look at the local news game in the seventies but is such an obvious choice we thought we’d kick it down to second fiddle status (we can’t wait for the sequel either); until someone brought it up, we had almost entirely forgotten about “The Promotion,” a movie starring Seann William Scott and John C. Reilly about dueling grocery store managers (directed by Steve Conrad, who wrote Gore Verbinski‘s tragically underrated “The Weather Man“); crazed Frenchman Michel Gondry‘s charming misfire “Be Kind Rewind” celebrates the low-rent fun of working in a video store (with Jack Black and Mos Def, no less); Ryan Reynolds restaurant comedy “Waiting” has developed something of a cult following (enough to warrant an even more mediocre direct-to-video sequel) despite some pretty obvious shortcomings; “Barbershop” is like those amazing segments of “Coming to America” turned into a feature-length movie except way less amazing; Mike Leigh‘s hard-to-track-down 1982 TV movie “Home Sweet Home” is all about three postmen; Spike Lee‘s inherent, sometimes outright ugly sexism often gets in the way of the otherwise enjoyable phone sex comedy “Girl 6;” “Thank You For Smoking” took you into the day-to-day operations of a hustling political lobbyist (played  with two-faced smoothness by Aaron Eckhart); and now to remind you of a movie that you barely knew existed in the first place – “Employee of the Month,” a workplace comedy set in a Costco-style “big box” store that starred the box office-obliterating triumvirate of Dane Cook, Jessica Simpson and Dax Shepard. Let us never speak of it again. There’s also of course, “Horrible Bosses,” which had one of the most delicious premises of 2011, plus the promise of Colin Farrell as a bad boss in comb over. Sadly, the film turned out to be really forgettable and that’s being kind of generous. – Drew Taylor, Gabe Toro, Rodrigo Perez, Kimber Myers, Kevin Jagernauth, Ben Brock

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