Monday, March 7, 2011

Nicolas Cage: Essential B-List Films

Love him or hate him, Nicolas Cage has become a film phenomenon.  There are people out there who get a weird boner every time they see a trailer for yet another steaming pile featuring Cage in a bad wig.  Why?  It's hard to say but I think the key factor is the sheer variance in the quality of his "films."  For every Adaptation there is a Wicker Man and for every Raising Arizona there is a Windtalkers.  No one else soars so highly (Leaving Las Vegas is a flat out amazing performance) yet slithers so intently around the bottom of the film barrel, submerging himself in the filth and muck with Bangkok Dangerous and Ghost Rider.  There is always that chance that he's going to be good.  You get into sort of a Russian roulette situation with him except that you keep getting shot in the head.
I have to admit to being a devotee of his decidedly lesser work.  I'd probably sit through a three or four of these celluloid bowel movements, in a row, before I watch Red Rock West again.  Not that there's anything wrong with Red Rock West, it's just that it's, well, good.  It's a good movie and he's good in it.  But I'm not interested in his successes, I'm enthralled by his failures.  So without further ado, here are the essential Cage B List films:

Fire Birds

Fire Birds offers the first glimmer of what is to become.  At this point in his career he's already appeared in some of his most stable and lasting work.  Valley Girl, Rumble Fish, Birdy, Raising Arizona, and Vampire's Kiss all lead right up to this nostalgic favorite that is, in all actuality, a huge turd.  I mean check out this scene, it's classic Cage.  I haven't seen this movie in years, I'd love for it pop up on Netflix.  After this movie Cage appears in Wild At Heart which is a really divisive film for Cage and David Lynch aficionados alike and then the slippery slope that has become the rest of his career begins.

Kiss of Death

After a string of seriously questionable film choices (Honeymoon in Vegas, Amos & Andrew, Guarding Tess, It Could Happen to You, and Trapped in Paradise) creates the first cinematic desert in his wildly fluctuating career.  It only rains once, so to speak, during the first half of the 90's when he appears in the little seen neo noir cult hit, Red Rock West.  But he lands his first serious slam dunk in a long time with this piece of junk.  Have you seen this movie?  It's fucking hilarious.  Just watch the trailer.  This is Cage's first real attempt at villainy and it is amazing.  He plays Little Junior Brown and he bench presses his girlfriend.  If David Caruso wasn't the lead in this, everyone would have loved it.  Instead everyone wanted to lambast it into movie oblivion.    To think that this movie came out the same year that Leaving Las Vegas did is fascinating.  Who knew out of the two movies he appeared in that year that this one was going to be far more indicative of his career.

8 mm

His Oscar winning performance in Leaving Las Vegas spurned what is probably the most successful yet unwatchable period of his career.  He does a series of action films and weepy dramas with the only real quality work being turned in during Bringing Out the Dead.  8mm offers a lot of great stuff.  It has a lot of stalwart 90's character actors: James Gandolfini, Peter Stormare, Catherine Keener, and an early performance by Joaquin Phoenix.  Gandolfini is especially creepy in this one.  There's something about Cage in this one.  He adopts this weird crusader attitude that he takes in a lot of his later films, he may be a flawed individual but he has determination and he has a mission and nothing is going to get in his way.  The best part of this movie is the scene from the picture above where he watches the snuff film he is subsequently supposed to track down.

World Trade Center

Between this movie and 8 mm, Cage actually does some decent work.  He's in Adaptation and Lord of War (which is actually not bad) and he's in the first movie that sort of marks his strange current status.  It's not World Trade Center though, it's National Treasure.  National Treasure is the first of his movies where I thought god, this is a shitty movie but I can't stop watching Nicolas Cage.  But it's too popular to be considered on his B List films.  So I go with World Trade Center.  Leave it to Oliver Stone to have the balls to make a comedy about 9/11,  I guess he didn't intend to but it's what happened.  I get the feeling that Nicolas Cage was in it just so he could grow that hilarious mustache. World Trade Center also launches Cage into his current stratosphere.

The Wicker Man

This is his classic.  His Hud, his Badlands.  If you haven't seen this movie, why are you reading this list.  This is the film by which to judge all subsequent Nicolas Cage films.  


Cage's recent foray into SF has been less maligned than some of his other forays and these two films rarely come up when people talk about loving bad Nicolas Cage stuff.  I don't know why.  Next is utter, laughable garbage.  Julianne Moore gives one of the worst performances of her career and Cage isn't much better.  Add to the mix a shaky Jessica Biel and you've got a pretty tasteless cocktail.  Knowing is basically the same movie but much better.  It's sort of like he had a second chance and he delivered.  When I say it is much better, it's still a pile just not quite as inept.

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