Every Adam McKay Movie, Ranked
It's easy to think of his early, pioneering days at “Saturday Night Live” and, it’s true, his movies do tend to be very funny. But as a filmmaker, he's more than that. He’s constantly experimenting and trying new things, whether its in his more mainstream studio fare or his more experimental dramatic work. But the truth is this: Adam McKay is always worth celebrating. So in honor of the home video release of his most recent film, “Vice,” we’re taking a look at his entire body of work, including some that often slip through the tracks. But he seems like a man who appreciates miscellanea, so he’d probably like this list too.
8. 'Wake Up, Ron Burgundy: The Lost Movie' (2004)
This is just bizarre -- and not in a good way, either. It's just bewildering. A loose collection of deleted scenes, discarded gags, and abandoned story elements, wrapped around a thin narrative framework and sewn together with more narration than “Casino,” “Wake Up, Ron Burgundy” is a DVD special feature masquerading as a true follow-up. (This was back when home video sales were through the roof and, in same cases, saving movies from potential obscurity.) This is something that only McKay die-hards should seek out; everyone else should just be happy with the actual sequel.
7. 'Vice' (2018)
“Vice” should have been a slam dunk – a spiritual follow-up to McKay’s rapturously received “The Big Short” that carried over many of the performers and the same vérité style and absurdist approach. And, yes, the film did score eight Oscar nominations (including one win for Make-up and Hair Styling), but it was a financial bust and many critics found it lacking. It also didn’t stimulate much conversation. And honestly, “Vice” is McKay’s most unfinished-seeming movie. Sure, it’s bursting with ideas and visual invention but few of those ideas are refined and the visuals get stuck in sub-Oliver Stone mode. Also, in drawing the line between the “Vice” of the title, Dick Cheney, and the current political quagmire, it’s just … depressing.
7. 'Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues' (2013)
Nearly a decade after the original had gone from a sleeper hit to a genuine phenomenon, McKay re-teamed with his increasingly in-demand cast (some sequences are painfully grafted together by disparate elements, with actors filming parts that they weren't physically available for, and you can tell) and set a new target: the birth of the 24-hour news cycle. You could tell by now that McKay had more on his mind than silly comedy and broad humor, and it's the weaving of the political and the pratfall that makes “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues” more difficult to love but easier to admire.
6. 'The Big Short' (2015)
This is the movie that turned Adam McKay into an Oscar winner. “The Big Short” netted McKay and Charles Randolph the Best Adapted Screenplay award, and the movie was nominated for several more awards, including Best Picture and Best Director (go, McKay, go). But, if we're being honest here, the tale of the 2008 financial crisis, while audacious and incredibly put together (the editing is phenomenal), can also be baggy, condescending, and scattershot. What exactly are we supposed to be following and who we're supposed to care about remain largely aloof. And no matter how fine the performances are (thanks to Ryan Gosling, Steve Carell, Brad Pitt, and Christian Bale), the movie remains a largely intellectual exercise, too emotionally removed for its own good.
5. 'The Other Guys' (2010)
With “The Other Guys” you could feel McKay start to shift from purely high concept madness to something more impassioned and nuanced. Yes, the idea of Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg as a pair of mismatched cops is really good, but McKay's handling of machismo-soaked heroism (exemplified by Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne Johnson's incredible performances), and the leniency of the United States government towards white collar crime, is what makes the movie so powerful. (It's easy to miss this stuff, too, even if you stuck around for the animated civics lesson during the credits.) Both in his visual sophistication and thematic interests, McKay was starting to stand out from the crowd of Apatow-appointed comedy filmmakers.
4. 'You're Welcome, America' (2009)
Now, some dude might have his name on the director credit (Marty Callner, we love you) for the version HBO broadcast, but it was McKay who directed the Broadway show that was the hottest ticket for a year, and whose brilliance turned it into a total smash (it broke the box office record for the theater it played in). So, unless you have a time machine and can travel back to watch it live, this is as close as it's going to get. Written and performed by Ferrell, those who dismiss it will say that it's nothing more than an extended “SNL” sketch. But it was more than that; it was dealing with the wounds inflicted by this president and the toxic legacy that he left behind. It also took time so that Ferrell could riff on W., saying the words “Vicky Christina Barcelona.” Brilliant.
3. 'Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy' (2004)
The movie that instigated a thousand horrible impressions by your roommate in college, “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” is so defined by its lasting effects on popular culture that it's easy to forget just how laugh-out-loud funny it is. Will Ferrell's blowhard news anchor, who has to contend with a woman (Christina Applegate) joining the team, is a joy from start to finish. It's smart, irreverent, and totally hilarious, so fully formed and deeply ambitious that it's hard to believe it was his very first film. When a comedy is this timeless, it's okay if your roommate quotes it long after it's appropriate to do so.
2. 'Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby' (2006)
It's controversial to put “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” ahead of “Anchorman,” but here's the thing: it just is a better told story. Drifting further away from slapstick and closer to cutting satire, Ferrell plays a vain NASCAR driver who has to crawl his way back to the top after a series of setbacks. This movie established Ferrell and John C. Reilly as an unstoppable comedic duo, and it also proved that McKay could do more than cut a scene of dudes riffing together; the racing sequences pop with an impressive amount of verve and dexterity. Many of the jokes still hit today, with some of them landing even harder than they did more than a decade ago.
1. 'Step Brothers' (2008)
Arguably one of the greatest comedies of all time, “Step Brothers” is bold and unforgettable. There are times when “Step Brothers” doesn't even resemble a traditional narrative, but instead works on some level of adventurous experimentalism. Incredibly, it was a hit. Reilly and Ferrell play newly appointed step brothers who fight and reconcile; the whole dynamic playing on the Judd Apatow man-child conceit but actually making them behave like children. It was McKay working on a number of levels and firing on all cylinders, assisted by an incredible cast (also included are Richard Jenkins, Mary Steenburgen, Adam Scott and Kathryn Hahn) and crew (Paul Greengrass' cinematographer Oliver Wood, shot it). Also, if you're looking for an extra kick, listen to the Blu-ray's musical commentary track; it's one of the greatest tracks ever made and it will probably make you pee a little from laughing so hard.