by Aaron Peck
'Drive Angry' is hitting Blu-ray shelves this week and with that we're going to take a look at one of the most polarizing actors out there, Mr. Nicolas Cage. Personally, I think Cage gets a bad wrap. Sure, he takes on some terrible roles in unforgivable movies, but he always gives it his all. No one lays it all on the line quite like Cage does with every single one of his roles. He goes all out in every movie he's in, whether that movie is good or beyond terrible. I've never walked out of a movie that Cage has been in and said "Man, Cage really phoned in that role." I've walked out of plenty of his movies hating everything about them, but I could never say that he didn't at least try.
Sadly, I haven't seen two of his most recent films 'Drive Angry' or 'Season of the Witch' so they weren't eligible for my list here. Although I've heard that 'Season of the Witch' is truly dreadful. Feel free to add it to your worst of Nicolas Cage when compiling your own list.
I would venture to say that 'Adaption' is probably the best film that Cage has been in, but not necessarily his best overall performance (more on that later). That isn't to say Cage isn't great in 'Adaption', he is. 'Adaption' is a curious movie where its screenwriter, Charlie Kaufman, has actually written a story with himself as the main character. Cage plays Kaufman as he deals with the fame from 'Being John Malkovich', and his struggles to write his next film. 'Adaption' is an experience unlike any other and must be seen by anyone who enjoys well written, creative cinema. Hopefully, we can get a Blu-ray release of this soon.
I think this is where Cage produced his finest work as an actor. He's so great at playing a man on the brink, but here he's a man who's completely gone over the edge. Terence McDonagh is a strung-out detective who lives in two worlds. In one world he's actually trying to do the right thing. Trying to be a good, honest cop. However, in the other, McDonagh just can't handle the stress of life and ends up slowly losing it. This was a part tailor made for an actor like Cage, who is never afraid to go absolutely insane. With Werner Herzog's direction, 'Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans' is Cage's best acting performance.
Out of all the semi-blockbuster action flicks Cage has done, 'Face/Off' remains his best in my mind. He had to play duel roles here, and he did so perfectly. First he had to take on the role of crazy criminal mastermind Castor Troy, then he had to become Troy's arch nemesis Sean Archer. At one point Cage has to be Sean Archer, but pretend to be Castor Troy. It really is something to watch. Every time I revisit that movie I'm impressed at the overall range Cage shows for the expansive role he has to play.
No one plays quietly neurotic better than Cage, and his portrayal of obsessive compulsive con man Roy Waller is another great performance. 'Matchstick Men' is just a great all around movie. It's a well constructed whodunit flick with an ending that ends up being genuinely surprising.
It's nearly impossible to put together a list of Nicolas Cage's best movies without mentioning the Coen Brothers' dark comedy 'Raising Arizona'. With the character H.I. McDonnough, Cage creates one of the most memorable characters we've ever seen in movies. All I need to do is see a still image from the movie with Cage's disheveled hair and blank stare and I start giggling. Even though he was in a few films before this, 'Raising Arizona' really is the movie that launched Cage's career, making him a household name.
These are the types of movies that give Cage the sullied reputation that he has with some people. Movies that are so inept that they fail on any number of levels. 'The Wicker Man' is a remake of the a 1973 horror movie that simply shouldn't have been made. Not only does the movie prove to be one of the most scare-less horror movies out there, it also completely crumbles under scenes of unintentional humor. If you're looking for a crappy horror movie to riff on with a group of friends, 'The Wicker Man' is a perfect choice. It'll have you howling.
Yikes! Another phony action thriller starring Cage as a man who can see a few minutes into the future. 'Next' is far too hokey to take seriously, and manages to be another Philip K. Dick story which is obliterated by sheer stupidity on the big screen. I really do like Cage as an actor, but 'Next' is simply atrocious.
Speaking of atrocious, enter Cage's foray into the comic book movie world as Johnny Blaze the Ghost Rider. Ugh! Not only was this a completely stupid comic book movie, but the CG in this movie is some of the worst I've ever witnessed. Truthfully, the only saving grace (if there is any) in 'Ghost Rider' is Cage's performance. He plays it with a sarcastic tone, but goes for it, hook, line, and sinker. It's a spectacular failure, but at least Cage tries to keep the movie's head above water. To top it all off there's a sequel planned for release in 2012. Heaven (or should I say Hell?) help us.
The first 'National Treasure' was mindless fun. A modern day 'Indiana Jones' movie where a man searches for artifacts and treasure by following clues left behind by ancient civilizations. Yes, I know the comparison to the great Indy is stretching it, but that's what Disney wanted these movies to be. While I enjoyed the first in the series, the second one is awful and sleep-inducing. If there was ever a time where I think Cage didn't give it his all in a role, it would have to be in this movie. Even when they're kidnapping the President of the United States, he looks a little bored.
Oh man, this movie makes me laugh just thinking about it. It's one of the dumbest movies I've ever sat through in a theater. Cage is a hitman named Joe who takes on an apprentice. Through montages of pushups he trains him as a hitman. Coupled with Cage's ratty mullet hairdo, 'Bangkok Dangerous' feels oddly like a disjointed straight to home video release. It's just so stupid, it's almost impossible to explain. If you haven't seen it, you should. It's one of those movies that's so bad it's somewhat entertaining.
I'll usually see anything that Cage is in. Yeah he picks bad roles more often than not, but he usually puts everything he has into that character. When he finds those rare good roles, he's as good, or better, than any actor out there. If you need a sniveling neurotic mess of a man, then Cage is your guy. It's easy to dismiss him because he's done so many crappy movies, but when we remember his best we see what a great actor he can be.
What are your favorite and not-so-favorite Nicolas Cage movies? Let us know your lists in the forums. Now if you'll excuse me I really should go and watch 'Drive Angry'. I have no clue what to make of it. It could either be as good as 'Face/Off' or as bad as 'Bangkok Dangerous'. I never know what to expect with this guy and his movies, but not knowing is half the fun.