The mockumentary may well be one of the finest comedic vehicles in the world of entertainment. People love to see the reactions of the public to seemingly genuine madcap characters, to witness the laughter track-less spoofing of self-righteous enterprises. The genre has been going for a while â€” with The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night perhaps the first movie to exploit its conventions â€” but it’s in the last two or three decades that we’ve seen the cream of the crop appear. Here we list our top ten moments from our top ten favorite mockumentaries of all time. Enjoy!
Ensuring that the genre of mockumentary would have a trans-Atlantic following well into the Noughties, Brit comic Sacha Baron Cohen has made his career out of spoofing the stoic, the righteous and the downright stupid with his smorgasbord of semi-believable characters. Perhaps most famous in the States is Borat, the Kazakhstani journalist intent on running amok with his politically incorrect cultural views and striking fear of Judaism (don’t worry â€” Baron Cohen is in fact Jewish). In his feature length movie, 2006’s Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, directed by the darkly humorous Larry Charles, Borat traverses the USA with his obese producer.
Whilst it’s the naked wrestle in the hotel and that mankini which stick in most people’s minds, this scene â€” in which Borat infuriates a stadium full of rednecks by singing a ludicrous Kazakhstani “national anthem” to the tune of a certain other patriotic ditty â€” is the one which made us cringe with delight the most. Is ni-ice!
9. Best in Show
It’s probably fair to say that Christopher Guest is to the mockumentary what Mickey Rourke is to failed corrective surgery â€” something of a veteran. The half-Yank, half-Brit hereditary peer (the 5th Baron Haden-Guest) has been a purveyor of the finest factual-fictional ambiguity since his 1984 appearance as guitarist Nigel Tufnel in the timeless Rob Reiner classic This Is Spinal Tap. Luckily for us, the grandfather of mock decided to go further than simply acting, getting behind the camera to make a handful of excellent mockumentaries of his own.
In Guest’s 2000 film Best in Show, the aforementioned camera follows the tumultuous bureaucratic nightmares surrounding a dog pageant, and it’s in this particular scene â€” starring American Pie‘s Jennifer Coolidge as a gold-digging wife â€” that we are treated to an example of the kind of comedy quality that goes into Guest’s creations.
8. The Rutles
The Rutles were a rip on The Beatles spanning a number of television movies and “albums,” part-created by long-time friend of The Beatles, Eric Idle. The series was a veritable tour de force of British and American comic talent, with the likes of Bill Murray, John Belushi and Michael Palin getting involved.
In this scene from the first feature length movie All You Need Is Cash, George Harrison himself cameos as a news reporter oblivious to the looting of the record label’s offices behind him. The sketch series was such a perceptive and close-to-the-bone parody that it’s rumored the real Beatles found it uncomfortable to watch.
7. The Office (UK)
The Beatles or The Stones? East Coast or West Coast? Monica or Rachel? Asking most highbrow comedy enthusiasts about which version of The Office is better is only going to lead to arguments. Whereas the UK original dealt in Ã¼ber-realistic, perceptive comedy of a kind never fully seen before in such detail, the US version is longer, more visual and, perhaps, more accessible. One way or another, it’s this scene, from the UK version which â€” after much deliberation â€” gets our vote.
Keith, a deadbeat office worker, decides to inform the female protagonist Dawn of the risks of translation when she arrives on the other side of the pond, with peculiar attention to “fannypacks” â€” and with deadpan comedic consequences. Just in case you were still wondering: “arse” means “ass,” and “minge,” well, you’ll have to figure that out yourself…
6. Curb Your Enthusiasm (Pilot)
Larry David’s genius comedy brain clearly knows no bounds. After co-creating and overseeing Seinfeld, one of the greatest sitcoms ever known, he decided against resting on his laurels and instead made a move no one could have predicted: he created Curb Your Enthusiasm, a show about a fictional version of himself versus the city of Los Angeles. Whilst the main body of episodes can only really be described as homage to the tradition of mockumentary, the pilot that started it all â€” technically a one-off special â€” played to the tradition’s rules perfectly.
The scene in question â€” pertaining to hotel “porn” â€” is pretty self-explanatory, and although the acknowledgement of camera and crew were dropped for the commissioned series, it’s this hour-long exploration of the world’s grouchiest man that started a dynasty. Larry David might not be God of no-laughter-track comedy awkwardness, but he’s pretty, pretty close.
5. I’m Still Here
One might be forgiven for judging Joaquin Phoenix and Casey Affleck as a couple of doe-eyed Hollywood gas bags riding on the wave of their fame, so it was a pleasant surprise when the two most punchable men in America managed to pull the kind of stunt Andy Kaufman would have been proud of and provide an excellent movie documenting it. Whether or not I’m Still Here is truly a mockumentary is certainly debatable, but it sure ticks a lot of the boxes. The “plot” is thus: Joaquin Phoenix goes seemingly crazy, growing his hair and beard and making ever more bizarre appearances promoting his supposed new rap career.
A year’s worth of footage is purportedly captured in documentary style before being released as an ambiguous movie in 2010. The act was so convincing that it had film buyers, critics and celebrities perplexed. This is one of the best moments â€” Phoenix so brilliantly portrays a man on the edge of sanity it makes for genuinely cringe-worthy watching.
4. Drop Dead Gorgeous
Might Drop Dead Gorgeous be one of the most underrated movies to have graced that neon, baggy period we call the Nineties? We certainly think so. The Michael Patrick Jann, 1999 beauty pageant spoof has everything an awesome mockumentary needs to be a hit, plus an ensemble of utterly buff babes (Dunst, Murphy, Richards). The darkly comic movie follows the behind-the-scenes politics of a town beauty pageant with the girls â€” and their mothers â€” becoming increasingly violent in their competitiveness.
Allison Janney plays out this particular scene as Loretta, a trashy trailer park girl convinced that her best friend’s daughter â€” Kirsten Dunst’s Amber â€” deserves the top prize.
Having already waxed lyrical about Sacha Baron Cohen’s ability to incite anger and outrage from the simplest of people through careful character acting, we think he deserves a second entry in our list. Though the 2009 hit BrÃ¼no â€” following a gay Austrian fashionista â€” was not necessarily his best work (or character), it still provided plenty of comedic moments (who could forget the Harrison Ford “interview”?). What’s more, even off the screen BrÃ¼no was causing chaos, disrupting the 2009 MTV Movie Awards awards with an elaborate prank involving him landing in the groin of rapper Eminem (who later revealed that he had been in on the act). It seems the best way to oust meatheaded homophobes is by aiming the campest possible explosion of color and noise at them directly, which BrÃ¼no did perfectly.
Our favorite scene from the movie, however, is this one, in which our hero decides to introduce his new “son” to a talk show audience, with a host of hilarious consequences… O.J. the Gayby indeed…
2. A Mighty Wind
The second Christopher Guest-penned spoof on our list, 2003’s A Mighty Wind, is another of those movies that may well be a little too subtle to have ever been a big hit. Certainly it’s underrated, with a stellar performance from Eugene “too much American Pie” Levy, and a cast of Christopher Guest favorites. The action follows a folk music reunion gig, and, as usual, the attention to detail is superb (one of the songs was so convincing it was nominated for an Academy Award).
The scene we chose â€” featuring the excellent Fred Willard â€” is understated, but perfectly demonstrates the fine depth given to the characters’ back-stories. A menagerie of buffoons! Genius!
1. This Is Spinal Tap
The most iconic movie to have graced the annals of mockumentary history, Rob Reiner’s Eighties epic This Is Spinal Tap truly deserves the accolade “timeless.” The movie has a simple but perfect synopsis: an obliviously past-it British rock band tour America to promote their album, with an ensemble of rock stereotypes in tow making up their increasingly calamitous entourage. With a plethora of hilarious scenes, it’s difficult to pick one above the rest. There’s the legendary “goes up to eleven” guitar amp scene, the moment that the Stonehenge backdrop is unveiled on stage â€” in ludicrously small scale â€” and the two simple words: “Shit sandwich.”
We still managed to pick a favorite, however. The band are stopped at the airport metal detector thanks to bassist Derek Smalls and his makeshift penile extension. Comedy perfection… and in case you’re wondering, that’s a Shrewsbury Town soccer shirt he’s wearing. Never mind…