2. The Hangover (2009)
Over a decade after its release, The Hangover remains a monumental achievement. For Todd Phillips, for Warner Bros, for Hollywood, and for the cinema of the United States, The Hangover is among a very small group of narrative-based blockbuster comedies to have pierced the zeitgeist. Alongside Bridesmaids, it may well be the best popular, original, non-IP comedy that the United States has produced in close to twenty years that doesn’t involve the sketch-style formula of the Will Ferrell and Adam McKay partnership.
Perfecting his comedy formula forged in the likes of Road Trip, Old School and Starsky & Hutch, Todd Phillips united his celluloid-quality grand-scope visuals with his unique characterisation and instincts for situational comedy to deliver the most complete comedy of his reputable career, The Hangover rightly earning status as one of the most fresh, surprising and funny comedies of its era.
On the screen, The Hangover is constructed as if a microcosm of Las Vegas culture: the mix of outlandish attitudes shared between the characters, the message of short-lived highs and long-lived memories, the drugs, the hangovers, the raids and the prostitutes. Narratively it plays out like some of Vegas’ most memorable films – most notably Ocean’s Eleven – asking you to piece together clues as the characters try to piece together what happened to them on their boozy, drug-fuelled and consequently forgotten bachelor party the night before.
As with any film worth the kind of status The Hangover has demanded over the years, the soundtrack is stellar, there are a number of iconic stills (think the gang in the elevator, Alan proudly boasting his “satchel”), and it is infinitely quotable. It is, for an entire generation, a party movie, and given its investigative nature and the quality of the visuals, it remains entirely rewatchable.
Rapid, funny, quotable, fresh, and the pinnacle of Todd Phillips’ comedy career: The Hangover.
Todd Phillips Cameo: Caught on his knees with his face in the crotch of a short-skirted woman when the elevator doors open for the four leads in their hotel.
1. Joker (2019)
As controversial as it was successful, Warner Bros/DC adaptation Joker signified one of the most prominent filmmakers of his generation reaching his apex. If any film can be considered the most important of Todd Phillips’ career, it’s Joker.
Adapted from the universe of Batman and continuing the evolution of one of cinema’s (and wider media’s) most interesting and timeless villains, Joker captured the mood of its time – dark, distressing, at times hopeless, but always divisive.
A lot was made of Joker upon its release. The US army publicly denounced the film for its revolutionary undertones, and the wider discussion surrounding the film was geared towards blaming it for stoking the fires of protest during a year of huge political unrest – the media’s fascination with a comic book film causing rioting was undoubtedly a veiled attempt to absolve then President Donald Trump from the ongoing volatility in the nation, because when it comes to politics it’s much easier to blame art than it is to blame politicians.
Joker wasn’t a perfect film by any means, its ambiguous political stance being one that reflected the values of those watching it as opposed to make any thorough political statements, thus creating the impression of a filmmaker unwilling to make the points necessary to truly evolve the superhero sub-genre. But, like the rest of Phillips’ work, it had zero fat, wasted no time, and was so tightly focused on Joaquin Phoenix’s phenomenal lead performance that it was simply unforgettable.
Joker was the 2nd big hit of Todd Phillips’ career, but by far his most significant. The Hangover inevitably became a bastion for an old style of comedy blockbuster and a signifier of the times, but Joker was all over the news, cinemas had notices in place regarding its content, the US army became involved, the President commented on its release, and all of this antagonisation (that so aptly captured the attitude of the titular Joker himself) earned the film over $1billion at the worldwide box office, making it the highest grossing 15/R-Rated film in history; a monumental achievement for a filmmaker who cut his teeth on mid-budget comedies.
Recommended for you: Live-Action Jokers Ranked
Do you agree that Joker is Todd Phillips’ best film? What are your thoughts on him as a filmmaker in general? Let us know in the comments below and be sure to follow The Film Magazine on Facebook and Twitter to keep up to date with more movie lists.