Since recently relinquishing his status as one of Hollywood's most bankable stars, Nicolas Cage has been the butt of many jokes. A lot of them he no doubt brought on himself, through onscreen performance, but in the last 5 years or so it's gotten pretty excessive. Hell, I know here at AITH, we can't pen an article about the man without throwing a jab at his impressive wig collection. And impressive it is. However, with Cage set to burn all kinds of rubber in Patrick Lussier's DRIVE ANGRY 3D (in theaters today), we thought we'd go the other way and, instead of taking easily landed cheap shots at the man's acting chops, actually honor Cage's most bold career choices. Now, bold is an expansive word...so let it be known we're not necessarily talking about the best performances, worst performances, most memorable performances. While those things aren't inherently excluded, we're more interested in some of the risks the dude has undergone during his 3-decade stint in showbiz. Let's take a look!
MINOR TO MAJOR SPOILERS BELOW!
#10. RAISING ARIZONA (1987)
"Son, you got a panty on your head!" Outside of mastering the crackling hayseed dialogue crafted by Joel and Ethan Coen in the 1987 screwball comedy RAISING ARIZONA, there isn't a whole lot of Nic Cage's performance you can attribute as bold. At least, that's what I thought at first. But consider how many out-and-out comedies Cage has done, then consider how many he's done well. The number is threadbare. When you factor in how Cage had only done 7 or 8 movies prior to this, mostly in supporting roles and bit parts, it becomes clear how impressive his work in RAISING ARIZONA is. Playing a trailer-park rube and inveterate stick-up man, Cage does a good job of portraying the mannerisms of a redneck simpleton, but somehow balances it with the florid period language the Coens give him to speak. Of course, his interplay with Tex Cobb's ruthless bounty hunter, John Goodman and William Forsythe's idiot brothers and Holly Hunter's domineering wifey makes for inherent comedy.
#9. THE WEATHER MAN (2005)
Going off the beaten path a little, I thought it'd be cool to show some love to one of Cage's more understated, anti-heroic roles. In Gore Verbinski's 2005 film THE WEATHER MAN, Cage pretty much plays against type as a beleaguered weather man going through the motions. It's not a flashy performance, it's not over the top as Cage can do effortlessly, it's an honest look into a real character, one with far more problems and setbacks than triumphs. He suffers a disconnect with his divorced wife and children, lives in the constant shadow of his father's ever growing disappointment. You see, his father (Michael Caine) is a former Pulitzer Prize winner and no matter what Cage does, he can't measure up. This, along with his unfulfilling vocation and familial strain, leads to a deep malaise in the man's spirit. Look, this isn't a touchy feely film, it's a tough one. But it's one we can all relate to. We can all identify with feelings of inadequacy, of spiritual bankruptcy. Kudos to Cage for choosing to do this film at the height of his box-office superiority.
#8. VAMPIRE'S KISS (1988)
Nic Cage as bloodsucker? Bold! Rarely again finding himself in the realm of comedy, Nic Cage shines as a publisher-cum-vampire in Robert Bierman's 1988 genre mash-up VAMPIRE'S KISS. Alright, alright...sinking your teeth in Maria Concheta Alonso and Jennifer Beals isn't that tough a task, but how could we not cast some love on one of Cage's few legitimate genre efforts? Sure, that indeterminable accent Cage spews comes and goes like a westerly wind, but apparently that was scripted (he wants to sound elegant to some, apparently). Even bolder? Cage ate a real cockroach in the film, a feat that took three takes to achieve. "Every muscle in my body didn't want to do it, but I did it anyway." Now that's dedication to the craft ladies and gentlemen! Truth be told, it's been awhile since seeing the film, so I can't tell you how well it's held up over the past two decades, but it is interesting to consider how the film would have turned out if Judd Nelson, who was considered, landed the role that went to Cage.
#7. THE WICKER MAN (2006)
Come on, you knew this bastard was coming. In one of the most calamitous film debacles ever conceived, Nic Cage gives us his best/worst performance in an equally fetid movie from director Neil LaBute. The fact that THE WICKER MAN sullies its namesake, essentially bastardizing Robin Hardy's 1973 masterwork, makes it all the more difficult to swallow. However, the entertainment value on this sucker is off the charts. In case you missed the set-up, Cage plays a sheriff tasked with finding a missing girl. When he sets out for the island community of Summersisle, an inexplicable stretch of odd happenings, shady encounters, and downright stupefying dialogue ensues. Cage pops more pills than Mike Jackson, sweatily pedals a bicycle around the island looking for clues, all the while tormented by eerie visions and twisted dreamscapes, often marked by fractured black and white sequences. My favorite though, the stint where Cage sprints through a hive-field, a giant breeding ground for bees. Oh those honey draughts!
#6. BRINGING OUT THE DEAD (1999)
I'm not sure about you guys, but I really like Scorsese's BRINGING OUT THE DEAD. I dig it's soundtrack, it's morbid sense of humor, I dig the way film looks and feels, and I sure as hell love the cast, headlined by our man, Mr. Cage. In what maybe Marty's closest thing to a horror flick (SHUTTER ISLAND, CAPE FEAR), he gives Cage a role of great torment, a man so affected by the horrors of Hell's Kitchen's underbelly, he spirals into an hallucinogenic torpor. As you know, Nic plays a haunted paramedic, racked with great lassitude and insomnia-induced episodes of guilt. He can't reconcile those lives he couldn't save, and in this 3-day snapshot of his frenzied life, we sense the man is nearing the end of his sanity. At times underplayed, at times overplayed, Nic's work here works well the manic direction Marty is giving, the pace he's dictating. Props to the support from my girl Patty Arquette, as well as Tom Sizemore, John Goodman and Ving Rhames. The interplay between them and Cage is pretty f*ckin brilliant at times.
#5. PEGGY SUE GOT MARRIED (1986)
While some might frown on Nic Cage's part in Francis Ford Coppola's PEGGY SUE GOT MARRIED as a nepotistic hire, it doesn't really discount the brazen attempt to sing on film. Yes, it's a schmaltzy chick-flick of sorts, but there's no denying what a gutsy turn Cage gives at such an early part of his career. In fact, basing his voice on Pokey from "The Gumbi Show" nearly got him fired, but he convinced uncle Francis to trust that what he was doing was right. Granted, his performance does border on the annoying, but when you croon out Dion and the Belmonts onstage, or better yet Jerry Butler's "He Don't Love You", you're clearly a confident cat. I'll admit, most of this movie's appeal to me is strictly born out of nostalgia...in particular the heart-wrenching score by the recently deceased John Barry. It's also cool to see a mid-80s Jim Carrey stealing scenes from Cage like a hardened gonif, and of course we'd be remiss not to mention how charming Kathleen Turner's Oscar nominated turn is. A guilty pleasure for sure, but I love it!
#4. BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL - NEW ORLEANS (2009)
You want bold? Trying surpassing Harvey Keitel's tour-de-force turn in Abel Ferrara's 1992 film BAD LIEUTENANT. Brass balls, my friends! Which is why, as comparatively absurd and downright laughable as Werner Herzog's BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL - NEW ORLEANS is from the onset, Cage's work need be mentioned. It's a performance of sheer excess, which has to be by design given the addictive nature of the character he's playing. Seemingly stuck on volume ten the whole damn picture, Cage knows no subtlety here, he instead opts to revel in the madness, to roll around in the utterly bizarre. Betting, boozing, stealing, smoking rocks, seeing iguanas, abusing authority, slamming some trollop in public while he forces her boyfriend to watch, nothing's off limits for this lieutenant. The reptile motif would seem to symbolize the officer's coldblooded nature, but Herzog insists he doesn't indulge in metaphor or symbolism. As he puts it, a "fish is a fish." Can't argue with the mad German's logic!
#3. FACE/OFF (1997)
Let's frame it this way, what about partaking in John Woo's hyper-ambitious actioner FACE/OFF is NOT bold? Seriously, in a film premise dangerously straddling the edge of disaster to begin with, when Woo picked Cage and John Travolta to so believably pull off a notion this absurd, people must having been raising a brow. It's a testament to not only Woo then, but Nicky and Johnny as well. They're that convincing. Furthermore, in a two-and-a-half hour action flick, the dual-role consistency Cage is able to maintain throughout is not only fun to watch, it had to have been difficult to achieve. Remember, he's not only playing two parts, he has to reflect the tone and intensity of what Travolta introduced us to. He's playing two characters, but one of them is dependent/modeled after the creation of another actor entirely. Again, it's a bold move, one that could have easily flew off the rails into straight up hokum, but with all involved, the film actually holds up pretty well. Castor Troy all day bitches!
#2. LEAVING LAS VEGAS (1995)
I know it'd be easy to slate Nic Cage's only Academy Award winning performance in the top spot, but truth be told, Elisabeth Shue probably deserved the Oscar more than her leading man in Mike Figgis' LEAVING LAS VEGAS. It's HER movie. That being said, the heartbreaking drama of a boozehound so enslaved to his illness that he's actually intent on drinking himself to death is almost as tough to swallow as the contents in Cage's bottles. The sad beauty in the film comes when Shue's character forfeits her attempt to help cage recover, instead accepting the fate of a damaged soul as part of her own. I'll admit, this is an even more difficult movie for me to watch given the poignancy of my own life. My pops is a recovering alcoholic (18 years sober), and even sort of looks like Cage. When I see the film, in particular the scenes of Cage pounding sauce in the shower, or being unable to sign a document unless he's lubed up on drink...that shit hits home harder than a Lincecum 1-finger.
#1. ADAPTATION (2002)
In his second Oscar nominated performance to date, Nic Cage was tasked with the most meta of roles in Spike Jonze's ADAPTATION. Essentially playing the film's writer, Charlie Kaufman, as well as Kaufman's fictionalized twin-brother, Cage nails the duality inherent in the opposing nature of the two brothers. On one hand he's a scared, neurotic introvert...or if you want, an intellectual. on the other he's a gregarious, happy-go-lucky extrovert...or if you want, the philistine. It's a bold choice for any actor to play twins, but when one twin is based on a real person, and the other a figment of that real person's imagination...well, that's gotta be pretty f*ckin' difficult. Then consider who Cage had to perform opposite of...only Meryl Streep and Chris Cooper (the latter of which won a Supporting Oscar). Cage not only holds his own with such acting heavyweights, at times he flat outshines them. Fusing narration with well timed body language and facial expressions, he creates genuine laughs when Charlie and Donald interact. I believe this is Cage's best and boldest performance!