• Jack Black and Shirley MacLaine in Bernie

To echo J.R. Jones’s sentiments from last week, this was an exceptional year for film comedy in general and for American comedies in particular. I didn’t include Bernie, Magic Mike, Moonrise Kingdom, or Silver Linings Playbook in my top-ten list, but only because I couldn’t decide which one I liked best. All four movies are formally accomplished and made me laugh a lot. In addition, they’re so thematically similar that I have trouble thinking about them individually.

Notwithstanding Jack Black’s exceptional lead performance in Bernie, all four can be described as ensemble comedies—or, more to the point, communal comedies, as they concern the workings of close-knit groups. The groups are quirky in nature but ultimately functional—the subtext of these films is that misfits work together more successfully than “normal” people, since they realize they can’t make it through life alone.