by Patrick Bromley
1. The Kentucky Fried Movie (1977) - John Landis' second feature as director (following Shlock! in 1973) is one of the all-time great "sketch" movies, pairing Landis with future Airplane! filmmakers David Zucker, Jim Abrahams and Jerry Zucker. It's a completely gag-driven movie, lacking the heart of Landis' later comedies but demonstrating his affinity for lowbrow humor and an anarchic comic spirit. Most importantly, it's the movie that put him on the map, making it responsible for the career of a great filmmaker.
2. National Lampoon's Animal House (1978) - Landis was still basically a director-for-hire on Animal House; outside of several touches that would reappear in some of his other films (like the spirit of comic anarchy that runs through the film, or, as JB has pointed out, his use of an orchestral score that prevents the movie from dating), Landis the auteur wouldn't really emerge until his next movie. Still, he managed to make one of the all-time classic comedies, kicking off a monster run that would last for a decade.
4. An American Werewolf in London (1981) - Here's how good An American Werewolf in London is: it gave John Landis the reputation of being a horror filmmaker, despite the fact that he's only really made two horror movies (and most people haven't seen the second one). David Naughton is attacked by a werewolf while backpacking through Europe with his friend (Griffin Dunne), then spends the rest of the movie oscillating between thinking he's going crazy (via some incredible and vivid nightmare sequences) and turning into a killer werewolf, courtesy of Rick Baker's transformation effects that STILL have never been topped (Baker's work is so good that the Academy INVENTED AN OSCAR just to recognize him). One of the very best combinations of comedy and horror ever made, and one of the best horror movies of the '80. Possibly ever.
6. Into the Night (1985) - The same year he made the much more commercially-minded Spies Like Us, Landis made one of his most offbeat and personal movies -- which, not surprisingly, is also one of his least-seen efforts. Jeff Goldblum plays an insomniac who gets mixed up with a woman (Michelle Pfeiffer) being chased down by hitmen and assassins. There's an uneasy mix of comedy and violence that speaks to the two sides of the filmmaker, and the displacement themes are more interesting this time because they're explored in the main character's own city -- in the world that exists while everyone else is asleep. This one may appeal only to the most devoted of John Landis fans.
8. Coming to America (1988) -Though Landis' movies have never known for being particularly sweet, that's the best word to describe Coming to America, which teamed him up with Eddie Murphy for the second time. Though the movie became responsible for some of Murphy's bad habits -- namely, burying him in Rick Baker makeup and having him play a bunch of roles -- the result is one of the comedian's best movies, and his only romantic comedy that actually works. Apparently, Landis and Murphy did not get along on the set, suggesting that it would be the last time the two worked together -- until, both needing a hit, they reteamed for Beverly Hills Cop III. If only they could have stayed mad at each other.
9. Oscar (1991) - Landis' most underrated movie is also an even more blatant attempt at doing post-Depression-era screwball comedy than Trading Places. The movie was doomed once Sylvester Stallone was cast in the lead as "Snaps" Provolone, a gangster attempting to go straight (former criminal displaced amidst the "straight" business world), since no one is very interested in him doing comedy (as the box office receipts of Rhinestone and Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot suggest). It's too bad, too, since Stallone isn't bad. Way better is the incredible cast of character actors that populate ever role no matter how small, including Tim Curry, Chazz Palminteri, Peter Riegert, Harry Shearer, Kurtwood Smith, Eddie Bracken, Martin Ferrero, Yvonne De Carlo, Kirk Douglas and Flash Gordon's Ornella Muti. If you're a fan of Landis and you haven't seen it, you're missing something special.
More Director Essentials!:
1. Michael Bay
2. Woody Allen
3. Ron Howard
4. Sidney Lumet
5. Paul Verhoeven
6. Steven Soderbergh
7. Tim Burton
8. Joe Dante
9. Robert Zemeckis
10. Michael Cimino
11. Wes Craven
12. Spike Lee
When in Hollywood, visit Universal Studios. Ask for Babs.