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John Michael McDonagh's favourite dark comedies

The director of The Guard, Calvary and War on Everyone reveals what tickles his ribs

John Michael McDonagh's favourite dark comedies

Three films into his career, John Michael McDonagh is already one of the most exciting filmmakers around.

With The Guard, he delivered an invigorating slice of neo-Tarantino to the Irish countryside, and in Calvary, he took a wacky premise of a priest facing death and took it to genuinely profound territory.

Now, he's gone stateside for the black comedy War On Everyone - so what better time to ask him to name his favourite black comedies?

Aaltra (2004)

"Belgian surrealists Benoît Delépine and Gustave Kervern wrote, directed and starred in this wheelchair road movie about two of the most appalling paraplegics you’re ever likely to meet. It also features Bouli Lanners delivering his now-iconic karaoke version of Sonny. Unmissable."

The Heartbreak Kid (1972)

"Charles Grodin falls for Cybill Shepherd three days into his Miami honeymoon with Jeannie Berlin. With his wife laid up in bed, Grodin basically stalks Shepherd. Only in the Seventies were romantic comedies this dark and melancholy. It also has a killer final line."

The Comedy (2012)

"Tim Heidecker plays Swanson, a complete dick who wanders around New York being a complete dick to everyone he meets. At one point he goes into a bar in a black neighbourhood and is deliberately offensive to the patrons. Comedy at its most uncomfortable. Note: the fact that real alcohol was used in scenes where characters are shown drinking only adds to my admiration for these filmmakers."

Sullivan’s Travels (1941)

"The studio wants film director John L Sullivan to shoot another of his funny comedies, you know, like Ants in Your Pants of 1939, or Hey, Hey in the Hayloft. But Sully wants to get serious and make Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? Little does he know this well-meaning but pretentious ambition will end up with him shackled to a chaingang. See if you can spot the guy hanging from a tree in the background of a scene between Joel McCrea and Veronica Lake."

Harold and Maude (1971)

"Speaking of hanging, this film opens with a title sequence of a young man preparing to throttle himself. It’s a comedy that’s entirely about death. Directed by the legendary Hal Asby, and starring the greatest romantic duo of all time -- Bud Cort (in his 20s) and Ruth Gordon (in her 70s). I played Cat Stevens’ classic songs from this soundtrack on my way to set every day on Calvary."

A New Leaf (1971)

"Elaine May’s second film on this list (along with The Heartbreak Kid). Playboy Henry Graham (Walter Matthau, bringing new meaning to the word “lugubrious”) has run out of money. He devises the perfect solution to his predicament -- he’ll marry a rich woman and then murder her. Simple as that! Apparently, May delivered a three-hour cut of the movie that was subsequently “butchered” by the studio into its current running time. If that’s the case, then this has to be one of the greatest butchered films of all time."

The Executioner (1963)

"A Spanish film about a young man who reluctantly becomes an executioner in order to provide for his new bride. Given that murderers at this time are routinely handed life sentences, he never expects to actually carry out his assigned role, but, you guessed it, a death sentence is handed down and he finds himself drawn into a Kafkaesque nightmare. Brutally funny, satirical and brilliantly written and directed."

Adam’s Apples (2005)

A violent neo-Nazi is ordered to perform community service at a church, and sets out to psychologically destroy the saintly priest who runs the place. Written and directed by Anders Thomas Jensen (also responsible for the terrific The Green Butchers), this film never asks the question, “How far is too far?” because it just doesn’t give a shit.

Observe and Report (2009)

Ronnie Barnhardt is a mall security guard who just wants to do good in the world. Unfortunately, he’s also bi-polar, has a propensity for violence, and hates cops. Starring Seth Rogen as Ronnie, and Michael Peña as Dennis, his funniest role before War on Everyone. Hilarious and disturbing. Classic dialogue, in the scene where Dennis turns Ronnie on to heroin: “I’m not gonna lie to you, Ronnie, there’s nothing good about this at all.”

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

This is my brother, Martin McDonagh’s, latest film. It’s not even finished yet. I saw an early cut and it’s going to be terrific, as long as he listens to all the editing notes I gave him. But he probably won’t because he’s a prick.

[you'll forgive us for not finding a video of this one]

War On Everyone is in cinemas nationwide from October 7