' ' Cinema Romantico: My Christmas List (Part 2)

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

My Christmas List (Part 2)

And so the celebration here at my dear blog continues today with my second Christmas list. Our question today is, what makes a great cameo? It's a tricky recipe that doesn't always wind up tasting good. Sometimes a good cameo can redeem a not-very-good movie (see a famed athlete showing up toward the end of "Dodgeball"). Sometimes a good cameo ups the ante of an already excellent movie (see Samuel L. Jackson in "Out of Sight"). Sometimes a cameo warms my heart even though it's not really very good and everyone else in America hated it (see Madonna in "Die Another Day"). Sometimes what would have been an awesome cameo is ruined by it being given away before the movie even comes out (see Alanis Morisette in "Dogma"). And sometimes a cameo is the greatest thing since Sierra Nevada Pale Ale (see Bruce Springsteen in "High Fidelity").

But enough yammering, what do you think? Let's get to the good stuff. My All Time Top 5 Favorite Movie Cameos. Feel free to disagree.

1. Alec Baldwin, “Glengary Glen Ross”. This is an actor who doesn’t get enough love. He’s always good. Even in the god-awful schlock of “Pearl Harbor”, he somehow manages to be the only actor to maintain his or her dignity. And in “Glengary Glen Ross” he gives his finest turn. Don’t get me wrong, the character is clearly the creation of David Mamet’s pen and Mamet deserves a solid share of what’s right about this character. But Baldwin still had to play it, and elevates him above merely a cardboard-cutout villain. He’s a real estate agent from “downtown” meant to scare the “bums” into closing their deals (“Put that coffee down! Coffee is for closers!”) If they don’t close, they’re out. He’s menacing. He's despicable. He places wealth front and center. In short, he's a perfect representation of corporate America.

2. Amanda Peet, “Changing Lanes”. This is an undervalued performance in a criminally undervalued movie. I’m convinced if it had cut the “second” ending (obviously tacked on at the asinine request of some clueless studio executive) it would have been more successful and better received. But don’t let anyone fool you, this is a quality film. And at the center is this absolutely devastating cameo that should have netted her an Oscar nomination, regardless of how brief it is. As the spouse of Ben Affleck’s lawyer, she meets him in a restaurant and gives a monologue that – to sum it all up – basically says, “Life is nothing but a steaming pile of crap. Deal with it.” And then she’s gone. Well, she shows up again for the “second” ending but I like to pretend that scene doesn’t exist.

3. Christopher Walken, “True Romance”. I doubt there’s anyone anywhere in the world that has ever mentioned this movie without making the following comment – “It’s worth it just for Christopher Walken.” That’s the definition of a great cameo. The esteemed film critic Roger Ebert invented the term “Walkenizing”. And in this film Christopher Walken’s “Walkenizing” is at its highest level. He plays an associate of a mob boss sent to locate the drugs with which Christian Slater has absconded. To find them, Walken interrogates Christian Slater’s father – played by Dennis Hopper. And Walken is as ominous as he is comical. One moment he’s punching the father in the face and the next he’s pontificating on the great Italian pantomime. But the best moment comes in the form of Walken’s expression when the father actually displays the bravado to stand up to him. He’s not just taken aback, he’s amused and even happy – he finally gets to kill someone for the first time since 1984.

4. John Turturro, “The Big Lebowski”. In theory, there is no reason for this character to be in the movie. If he were removed, the film would not suffer structurally. But we would have been deprived of one of the single funniest scenes to come out of film in the 90's. The first time we meet Turturro's over-the-top bowling god Jesus we see close-ups of everything defining the character – his bowling glove, his hairnet, his twisted expression. Then he tosses a strike, backs up, turns, and a Latino version of “Hotel California” kicks in as he busts a groove and tosses a threatening look toward his trio of adversaries. After this we get his profanity-laced monologue. If you’ve seen the movie, you know it by heart. If you haven’t seen the movie, you don’t deserve to have me mention even a single line. Rent it, and find out for yourself. But just remember, no matter what you have to say about him, that creep can roll.

5. Charlie Sheen, “Being John Malkovich”. So let’s say you’re making a film called “Being John Malkovich” in which John Malkovich, of course, plays himself, who would you make John Malkovich’s onscreen best friend? If you answered Charlie Sheen, you’re correct – though I doubt that’s what you answered. That certainly isn’t what I would’ve guessed when I walked into the theater to watch it but once Charlie Sheen turned up I quickly realized there was not another actor alive who could have so ably portrayed John Malkovich's Best Friend. Suffice it to say, Charlie Sheen nails himself. ("Maybe she's using you to channel some dead lesbian lover. Sounds like my kind of gal. Let me know when you're done with her.")


Wretched Genius said...

Honerable Mentions:

1. William Shatner in "Showtime." It was a terrible movie, and the only tme I laughed during the duration of this "comedy" was when Shatner was teaching Eddie Murphy how to investigate drugs, T.J. Hooker-style. It's a nuggest of gold stuffed inside the carcass of a dying rhino covered with flies.

2. Viggo Mortenson in "The Prophecy." He shows up as Satan in 2 scenes during the last 10 minutes of the movie. During those brief moments, he steals the entire movie away from Christopher Walken. His monologue about why he wants to help the humans is the perfect speech for Satan to give.

3. Gus Vant Sant, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck in "Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back." During the filming of "Good Will Hunting 2: Hunting Season," Damon and Affleck bicker about the artistic merits of each others' movie choices while Gus Van Sant sits in the cornor, ignoring them and counting a giant pile of money. Made me laugh so hard I missed most of the jokes the first time around.

4. Tom Cruise, Gwenyth Paltrow, Kevin Spacey, Danny DeVito and Steven Spielberg in "Austin Powers: Goldmember." The funniest opening to any movie ever.

5. Neil Patrick Harris in "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle." Doogie plays himself as a drugged-out, hooker-seeking, car-stealing ex-star. Cinematic gold. And sets up the wonderful line, "Did Doogie Howser just steal my car?"

Wretched Genius said...

Sweet Jesus, how did Nick and I both forget Walken in "Pulp Fiction?" It's the best damn scene in one of the best damn movies ever.

Rory Larry said...

John Hurt, Spaceballs. Hurt reprising his role as Kane from Alien orders the special, soon after he is in pain and something starts erupting from his chest ala Alien. When the beast emerges, he utters "oh no, not again!" Brilliant.