I feel I have to begin by saying that I was never a Nicholas Cage fan. In fact, until a few years ago, I probably would have put him very close to the top of my ‘worst actor’ list. I don’t think he has changed in that time. However, out of some sick sense of rooting for the underdog, combined with an almost masochistic curiosity, I’ve come to embrace his more recent performances. I can’t say for sure when it started. But I think it may have been when my roommate at the time (and current co-Dork) hung a giant blue tinted Cage face on our living room wall, just above the TV. Oh, Bangkok Dangerous, you bland, bland film. How I will always remember your bland, bland poster staring at me while I watched TV, read books, slept. Always, the eyes of Cage were upon me.
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice: What’s crazy about Nicholas Cage in this film is actually that he’s not all that crazy. Cage is playing an ancient wizard who battles evil, wears a goofy hat (on his goofy wig), and generally practices some nuttiness. Yet, for once, Cage turns in a restrained, almost workman like performance.
Ghost Rider: It’s almost too obvious to throw this stinker of a film on a list, but Cage is resoundingly crazy in it, so I think it deserves a place. His goofy wig (it IS a Cage film) is striking. But I think it’s the mountain of pointless affectations that really make it. The movie is relentlessly awful, and Cage must be seen to be believed. Remember, he loves comics. This is a guy who should be helping use his star power to make good adaptations. But, this is Cage, and he’s crazy.
Face/Off: When giant lump of ham John Travolta is on the scene, you’ve got to bring your A-game. No worries. Cage is on the job. All the face touching, slow motion, hand waving, and doves you can handle. Cage just goes bananas with this one. The scene where he’s dressed as a priest, head banging. Oh. So awkwardly, terribly awesome. The film sucks, and it’s boring as heck. But man, that’s some crazy Cage.
The Wicker Man: The BEEEEEESSSS!!!
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call- New Orleans: Cage turns it to eleven as a hopped up, criminal cop on a spiral of drugs, murder, sex, and madness. The movie is filled with great one-liners, mostly from Cage. And he just runs with it. His usual madness is left unchecked as he spies hallucinatory lizards, break dancing souls, and the first tolerable performance from Eva Mendes in years.
And I thought I should mention the two films I actually, genuinely liked Nicholas Cage in, and believe he did a really good job with. His supporting role in Kick-Ass, as an Adam West cadenced caped crusader is both heartwarming and creepy. And he does a great, neurotic writer in Adaptation that always made me feel very uncomfortable because of how close to me it was.
Top Five Classic Cage
Unlike the Co-Dork above me, I’ve always appreciated the bizarre pull of Nicolas Cage’s affectation acting. So consider me Owen Gleiberman to Matt’s Lisa Schwarzbaum and prepare yourself for Nicolas Cage: A Second Opinion.
The first film I ever encountered the man of many wigs & hair styles was the Coen Brothers’ Raising Arizona. But lovable dimwit H.I. McDunnough could not possibly have prepared me for the madness of Cage’s slamdancing, Laura Dern motorboating, Elvis lover Sailor Ripley. David Lynch’s Wild at Heart is a cinematic nightmare and it was the film that hooked me onto Cage. Fire Birds, Kiss of Death, 8MM, G-Force, World Trade Center, Ghost Rider, The Family Man, The Weather Man, The Wicker Man. Honeymoon in Vegas…Leaving Las Vegas. And I haven’t looked back.
Sure, it’s easy to pick apart a few of those choices but Nicolas Cage continues to put out one interesting role after the other. These are my personal favorites.
5. Con Air – Filmed just months after the explosive Blockbuster, The Rock, Con Air ups the ante of crazy by throwing in every character actor willing to work for a sandwich. John Malkovich, Steve Buscemi, Colm Meany, Danny Trejo, Ving Rhames, John Cussack. But they’re all just fodder for Cage’s wife-beater suited ass-kicker Cameron Poe. Cage is just having a good time; this is the first film where he really got to play superhero and he relishes the turn. “Put the bunny back in the box” indeed.
4. Red Rock West – The first neo-noir from dynamite stylist John Dahl is also his best. Cage’s down-and-out Texan is forced to battle wits and wills of various noirish monsters (Dennis Hopper’s Boogie Woogie Hitman, JT Walsh’s unraveling bartender, Lara Flynn Boyle’s typical Femme Fatale) and there really is nothing more enjoyable than watching an unlucky drifter suffer.
3. Kick-Ass – Sure, this comic book deconstruction is really all about Nic Cage’s mustache petting and Adam West voice, but lurking past those enjoyable affectations is also a rather heartbreaking performance. Big Daddy tied to a chair, flames licking, and screaming orders to Hit Girl—seriously emotional.
2. Adaptation – Uncomfortable, awkward, and genius. Cage does double duty for Spike Jonze and I’m pretty sure I suffered through some fairly serious sympathy flop sweats watching Cage’s Charlie sputter his way through any number of his opposite sex conversations. And that curly wig has to be one of his best.
1. 1. The Bad Liutenant: Port of Call New Orleans – One of my favorite movies of the last five years, this not-a-remake of the 1992 original is an insane trip through the twisted—no, broken psyche of an amoral scumbag police detective. It’s disgusting. It’s violent. And it’s hilarious. “Shoot him again! His Soul’s still dancing!” Honestly, I can’t describe it or recommend it enough. Run, don’t walk, to your nearest retailer and snatch up the blu ray.