Thursday, July 14, 2011

Nine Great Film  Cameos
As the old sayings: There are no small roles, only small actors. Here are ten smallish roles and, in reverse order, the actors who filled them in unforgettable ways:

9- Marshall McLuhan, Annie Hall. Media theorist Marshall McLuhan breaking through the fourth wall to correct a loudmouth Columbia media professor waiting to see a film is perhaps the most perfect “meta” cameo film moment of all time.

"I speak Jive"
8- Barbara Billingsley, Airplane. How indie is Airplane? Novelist and public intellectual Gore Vidal said of the Zucker brothers by way of an endorsement, “they are superb--the Michelangelos of our culture. Watch ‘Airplane!’” That;s the sort of blurb that Vidal gives to people like Italo Calvino. An argument could be made that Airplane! though not contemporary to the artistic movement, adheres as much to the tenets of Surrealism as do the Marx Brothers comedies of the 1930s.
More to the point: the Zucker-Abrams-Zucker helmed slapstick comedy featured an unforgettable cameo by America ’s most wholesome stay at home mother as a jive speaking translator. For even the most jaded movie aficionado there are few cinematic instances as surprising or as downright funny as seeing a multilingual June Cleaver telling an ailing African-American passenger, “jus' hang loose, blood. She gonna catch ya up on da' rebound on da' med side.”
Billingsley, who died last October, lives forever.

gritty in the city
7- Martin Scorsese, Taxi Driver. Martin Scorsese likes to put himself in cameos in his films, perhaps to add a bit of organicity to the process. Scorsese has cast himself in bit parts in Raging Bull and The King of Comedy. He even had been cast in a cameo in Akira Kurasawa’s Dreams.
But Scorsese in Taxi Driver, as the seriously creepy cuckolded husband interacting with
The profoundly gritty Robert DeNiro is true blue. The director confronting his alter ego here is just amazing. 

My grandfather was a what?!
6- Christopher Walken, True Romance. The “Sicilians” scene in True Romance, you know the one I’m talking about. It’s the one where Walken and Hopper have a psychological chat with Walken to the improbable sounds of the “Flower Duet" from the opera Lakmé by Leo Delibes. Sick.
Two stubborn and serious men engage in a little one-upmanship. Dennis Hopper is a dead man, but as a last gambit he gets inside the head of Walken’s gangster.
Few actors could express so perfectly the mixture of intrigue, fury and amusement as Walken did when he threw off that false laughter listening to Hopper’s head game. Haunting.

"It's time to play the music/ It's time to dim the lights"

5- Orson Welles, The Muppet Movie. It would be so much better if instead of remembering Orson Welles, who might be the greatest American director of them all, for the excesses at the end of his life, we remembered him for his films and for this wonderful light-hearted cameo.
Welles gets big points for chucking his grave cinematic caution to the wind and playing Lew Lord, the head of World Wide Studios in the Muppet Movie, one of the high points of the 70s.
4- Sheryl Crow, The Minus Man. Felled by spiked Amaretto.
In Minus Man, subdued serial killer Owen Wilson’s first victim is Casper , a defeated self-destructive junkie played masterfully by rock balladeer Sheryl Crow in her first film role. The subtle vulnerability that Crow expressed here with such little on screen time makes one wonder what she’d do with a starring role.
3- Stephen King, Creepshow. In The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verill, Stephen King, one of the richest and most prolific writers in history, did some acting. In it he slowly morphed into a vegetable form of life -- not an easy task as a first role, to be sure. King, who has done more than a dozen cameos, didn’t write himself an Oscarowrthy part, but he is surprisingly competent in the role.
King is hysterical as an intellectually challenged farmer that finds a meteorite. Who knew a guy with so much horror in his soul could play so funny on screen?

2 - Bill Murray, Zombieland. Cameos are most effective when they are utterly unexpected. This is one of those instances.
The story behind Bill Murray’s brilliant cameo in Zombieland is almost as eccentric as the story itself. Murray, legendary for being hard to get a hold of, apparently reads scripts sent to him from a FedEx/Kinko’s in New York . After Woody Harrelson suggested Murray to take over a role originally meant for Patrick Swayze before he fell sick, the writers spend two hours writing a draft. Murray , at the FedEx Kinko’s, tweaked the script a bit, changing his role from one of the rotting to one of a human pretending to be a zombie.
Bill Murray might be the coolest actor who doesn’t have an email.
Guess who wasn't invited to Dinner?
1-Betty Buckley, Another Woman. Woody Allen’s Another Woman is a minor masterpiece that tends to get overshadowed when compared to the director’s more fully realized works of the same period. That having been said, no other cameo in all of Allen’s star-studded films jars the viewer as much as that of this one.
One of the reasons this Another Woman is so worthy of a look at if you haven’t already is the pitch perfect, intense appearance of Betty Buckley as the discarded first wife who drops in the middle of a book party for her husband’s mistress as her former friends celebrate. “What would Emily Post say about a man committing adultery with a philosophy professor in a Holiday Inn while his wife is having her ovaries removed?" Excruciatingly brilliant, particularly when that line is delivered by Betty Buckley, an accomplished Broadway actress and singer best known for playing the sympathetic mother and wife Abby Bradford on Eight is Enough. My favorite cameo of all time.

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