The Top Ten Most Batshit Crazy Performances
This weekend, Harmony Korine's SPRING BREAKERS (READ MY REVIEW
) is opening wide in theaters across North America. A weird, crazy ride into the heart of American spring break culture, the weirdest thing about it is not the drug-abusing, sociopath college girls it’s about. No, SPRING BREAKERS’ ace in the hole is the absolutely insane performance by James Franco, who plays a drug-dealer/wanna-be rapper named Alien. As I've already made clear in my review, I thought Franco was brilliantly off-the-wall, and it got me thinking about some of my other favorite nutty performances- and the following is a list of my favorites. I’m certain I've forgotten some great ones- strike back below with your
Arguably the greatest actor of his generation, Daniel Day-Lewis is infamous for his method dedication to his parts. When playing Lincoln, I'm sure he was easy as pie to get along with, but as Bill the Butcher or Daniel Plainview- watch out! It's the stories about Lewis's dedication that lands him on this list- but just narrowly, as I'm inclined to call his performances just really good acting as opposed to "batshit crazy". Yet- it's his crazy method acting that gives these parts an edge they wouldn't have had otherwise.
Obviously smarting from the way people wrote him off as a pretty boy in his first burst of stardom, Brad Pitt astounded audiences by playing a schizophrenic mental patient in Terry Gilliam's TWELVE MONKEYS. Despite his limited screen-time, Pitt all but walks away with the movie. His constant tics and lazy eye certainly aren't subtle- but they are off the wall in the most awesome way possible. Since then, Pitt's given us several more really cool, gonzo performances, including his pikey boxer in SNATCH and Sgt. Aldo Raine of the INGLORIOUS BASTERDS.
Here's one that we're still trying to figure out. After a good year of generally making an ass out of himself, whether on Letterman, or trying to rap, Phoenix's lost year came to an end with the release of the pseudo-documentary I'M STILL HERE. Directed by Casey Affleck, it was sold as a documentary about Phoenix's drug fueled breakdown. The film tanked- hard, and months later Phoenix came out and said it was all a gag. No one's quite sure if what he's doing in I'M STILL HERE is acting, but if it is, you have to admire the commitment to the part. Phoenix has bounced back with THE MASTER- another gonzo performance, but I'm still not sure what I'M STILL HERE is.
These two performances are what I'd call "golden age" Gary Oldman. Sure, he's as good as he ever was, but in the early nineties, in a slew of far-out villainous roles, he chewed the scenery like no one else. In TRUE ROMANCE he plays a dread-locked pimp named Drexel, who takes a bullet to the balls after he tells Christian Slater that "it ain't white boy day". It's a small role, but in two scenes he makes an unforgettable character.
In LEON aka THE PROFESSIONAL, he plays a cop so evil he makes Harvey Keitel in BAD LIEUTENANT look like a saint. A pill-popping psycho, Oldman is the devil incarnate. The best part: "bring me everyone." "Everyone?" "EVVVVVVVEEERRRRYYYYYOOOOONNNNNNE!!!!!!!
While not appearing on as many posters as Johnny Depp in FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS, co-star Benicio Del Toro as the psychotic, ether-sniffing Dr. Gonzo just about stole the show. It’s certainly not Del Toro’s first (THE USUAL SUSPECTS) or last (SAVAGES) gonzo performance, but I’d wager it’s his most brilliant. Depp is funnier, but Del Toro is way, WAY scarier, especially if you watch FEAR & LOATHING properly “inspired”. A classic batshit piece of acting.
A weird little movie about a group of friends who discover that one of them has murdered another. Yeah- they’re not actually that upset. This is a strange group of kids, but the weirdest of all is Crispin Glover as the “leader” Layne. Anyone who knew Glover from his part in BACK TO THE FUTURE was no doubt shocked by his odd, method-y transformation into the long-haired, drug-addled Layne. Glover himself had such a tough time letting go of the part that in a David Letterman interview, he seemed to still be in character. At one point he kicked Letterman in the head- getting him banned for a while ( see the video here
). Since then, Glover’s gotten weirder and weirder- but most of us love him for it.
Darren Aronofsky’s REQUIEM FOR A DREAM is a film I’ve only seen once. It’s fantastic, but I was so disturbed by it when it initially came out, I haven’t had the guts to re-watch it, despite owning the DVD. For me, the thing that made it so unsettling was Ellen Burstyn’s performance as Jared Leto’s mother, who becomes a pill-freak because “she just wants to go on the show.” I was so frightened by her decline; I became convinced I was watching Burstyn in the thralls of a real addiction. It’s a brilliant, unsettling performance- and the fact that she was only
nominated for an Oscar but didn’t win is astounding.
Around the time David Lynch asked Dennis Hopper to play BLUE VELVET’s villain, Frank Booth, he was considered almost unemployable due to his out of control drug habit that ate up most of his career in the seventies (including a gonzo part in APOCALYPSE NOW). BLUE VELVET turned things around for him, and Hopper invested enough craziness into the part that the nitrous-oxide inhaling Booth still ranks high on the list of all-time great villains. The way he calls for his “mommy” while inhaling nitrous or raping Isabella Rossellini’s character is blood-curdling. It’s no surprise that after BLUE VELVET, Hopper became of one Hollywood’s most popular go-to bad guys.
In the fifties, Marlon Brando helped reinvent the art of screen acting. His “method” approach inspired generations of talent that followed, and to this day, young actors like Ryan Gosling and Joseph-Gordon Levitt cite him as a major influence. Somewhere around the time Brando did LAST TANGO IN PARIS, his already fragile state of mind seemed to snap, and in the decades that followed (with a few exceptions, notably SUPERMAN- THE MOVIE, and A DRY WHITE SEASON) he stopped being the actor so many worshipped, and instead become known for his wildly over-the-top performances. THE MISSOURI BREAKS, which teamed him with Jack Nicholson was the first sign that all was not well with Marlon. Off-screen, he reportedly took a bite out of a live frog, and on-screen, he was even crazier. Whether sharing a carrot with a horse, adopting an impenetrable and cartoonish “Oy-rish” accent, or wearing a dress during an extended scene, Marlon had hit the road to crazy town.
When he played Colonel Kurtz in APOCALYPSE NOW, he showed up on the set grotesquely overweight, with a shaved head, and not knowing his dialogue. It actually suits the part pretty well, but if you watch the doc HEARTS OF DARKNESS, it’s obvious that Francis Ford Coppola had to pretty much assemble Brando’s performance in the editing room, as some of his tangents were crazy even for Kurtz. The nadir of his career probably occurred in 1996, where he played the titular role in THE ISLAND OF DR.MOREAU, with white face paint, mu-mu’s, and a tiny sidekick- who inspired Mini-Me.
When it comes to “batshit crazy”, Nicolas Cage is hard to beat. Right from his early films, including his Uncle Francis’ THE COTTON CLUB and PEGGY SUE GOT MARRIED, Cage was off-the-wall. I love the guy, especially when he’s crazy, and damn, has Cage been crazy A LOT
. To me, the wildest Cage performance has to be his wigged-out (literally) crime boss in DEADFALL. A little-known 1993 thriller, directed by his brother Christopher Coppola, DEADFALL has faded into obscurity, but it’s worth seeing for Cage’s madness. He’s also pretty insane in VAMPIRE’S KISS- where he eats a live roach on camera- and ZANDALEE, a cheesy erotic thriller where during a meltdown, he covers himself in black paint. But really, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. For a good dose of Cage rage, check out this amazing YouTube Compilation