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The Good, the bad and the badass: Bill Murray

02.03.2014

Having taken a week off for Sundance, this week we're back with an entry focusing on the brilliant career of a man who I'm pretty sure is impossible to hate, and a legend among legends. Of course, that man could only be...

Bill Murray

Bill Murray is God. No really, he is. Ok, well, maybe not “the God” but certainly “a God” right? Unlike many other icons of his era (cough-Eddie Murphy- cough) Murray’s been able to reinvent his super-stardom from generation to generation. Did you grow up in the seventies? Yeah- you love Bill Murray (from SNL). The eighties? Yeah- you still love Bill Murray (GHOSTBUSTERS, STRIPES). The nineties? You REALLY love Bill Murray (endless replays of GHOSTBUSTERS and STRIPES on VHS, GROUNDHOG DAY). The 2000’s? You both love him and consider him a hipster icon (LOST IN TRANSLATION, his Wes Anderson & Jim Jarmusch movies, etc). Everyone digs the Murricane.

Tales of Bill Murray’s awesomeness first took hold in the seventies, where he took over for Chevy Chase after the former left SNL following his first year. Murray quickly stood out, with his Nick the Lounge Singer, and Richard Burton impressions quickly becoming the stuff legends are made of. He moved into films with the cult classic MEATBALLS, but became a full-on star with the great STRIPES. GHOSTBUSTERS made him the second biggest box-office draw of the decade (just behind Eddie Murphy) but after it broke box office records, Murray actually withdrew from the public eye. He made a little-seen, serious adaptation of THE RAZOR’S EDGE (sadly NOT ripe for rediscovery, as he hadn’t found his niche in drama yet), and spent four years in living in Paris, studying films at the Cinematheque Francais, and only returned to the screen for the occasional cameo (his funny bit in LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS) and to host SNL. He came back in a big way with Richard Donner’s SCROOGED, as well as the possibly ill-advised GHOSTBUSTERS 2, and the hits WHAT ABOUT BOB? and GROUNDHOG DAY.

Around the mid-nineties, Murray seemed to be settling into a series of so-so B-comedies like LARGER THAN LIFE and THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO LITTLE (spiced up with the occasional brilliant supporting part in movies like WILD THINGS & KINGPIN) before utterly reinventing himself through his part in Wes Anderson’s masterpiece, RUSHMORE. From there, he became Anderson’s patron of sorts, appearing (to some degree) in all his subsequent films. He also took weighty parts in a diverse series of indies including Sofia Coppola’s LOST IN TRANSLATION and Jim Jarmusch’s BROKEN FLOWERS, which introduced him to a new generation of filmgoers, and earned him critical respect (which had oddly long eluded him) and much-deserved awards recognition (although he hasn’t won an Oscar- yet).

His Best Performance

This is a tough one. I’m tempted to say RUSHMORE, as if we’re talking straight-acting, that’s probably his finest performance (with BROKEN FLOWERS and THE LIFE AQUATIC being close behind). However, if we’re going with the most iconic, inspiring, and funny performance the man ever gave, there can only be one answer: GHOSTBUSTERS. I’ve literally seen this movie a hundred times, and I’d bet there’s not one of you reading this that hasn’t seen dozens of times and loved it. His Peter Venkman is the smart-ass hero we all wish we could be, and there are actors (no names- that would be too mean) that have made careers just aping what he does here. He’s so damn good. It’s incredible to believe that he almost wasn’t in the movie, with the part having been written with the late John Belushi in mind. Murray had to be convinced to take the part, with Columbia green-lighting THE RAZOR’S EDGE in exchange for his performance. Thank God it worked out, as otherwise screen history wouldn’t have ever been quite the same.

His Most Overrated Performance


I hesitate to call any Bill Murray performance overrated. Sure, he’s been in bad movies (PASSION PLAY, LARGER THAN LIFE, etc) but Murray’s always good in them.The only performance of his that seems to have been overrated was his turn in CHARLIE’S ANGELS, which is as close to doing a paycheck job (other than GHOSTBUSTERS 2 and GARFIELD) that Murray could ever be accused of. People loved him in it, but Murray himself clearly did not relish the experience, turning down the opportunity to do the sequel. Instead, when Diaz, Liu, and Barrymore did the second, he high-tailed it to Tokyo and did LOST IN TRANSLATION. Good choice.

His Most Underrated Performance


I’ve always thought MAD DOG AND GLORY featured one of Bill Murray’s all-time best parts. As a mob boss/aspiring stand-up comedian, Murray plays an unlikely heavy opposite Robert De Niro as the meek hero (more natural casting would be to reverse their roles). Murray manages to be both menacing, and also likable, as it’s clear that despite it all, he’s not such a bad guy, although he can’t afford to look weak. It’s a movie of his very few have seen, but it’s great (the script by Richard Price is masterful).

His Most Memorable Scene


Narrowing this down to one scene is impossible. Murray's done so many classic bits that to choose one is a crime. Pretty much any scene from GHOSTBUSTERS, or RUSHMORE could have gone in here, but I've chosen a brilliant little scene from GROUNDHOG DAY. This is an interesting film in that- when it came out in 93- everyone just kind of took it for granted as a Bill Murray comedy, meaning it made buckets of money but didn't get much critical respect or awards consideration. It was in the years that followed that GROUNDHOG DAY became the classic it is now, thanks to endless cable TV re-runs, and the fact that the movie becomes funnier, and more profound the more you watch it (there have been reams of academic literature written on it's time loop premise, with many believing Murray spends decades reliving GROUNDHOG DAY). One of the funniest bits in the movie is how- at first- Murray is thrilled by his predicament, using it to break laws and seduce pretty much ever woman in town. Over time, he starts to fall in love with his producer, Andie MacDowell, wit the only hitch being that she despises him. Thus, he uses the time loop to masterfully seduce her, and the result is both hilarious and (towards the end of the film) quite affecting.

His Top-Five Films

5. LOST IN TRANSLATION
4. GROUNDHOG DAY
3. STRIPES
2. RUSHMORE
1. GHOSTBUSTERS

Up Next
Murray, who's often choosy with roles, is especially busy this year. This week, he's in MONUMENTS MEN, and later this year takes another stab at Oscar glory with ST. VINCENT (with Harvey Weinstein producing, he may have a really good shot). Following that, he'll play an aging rock promoter in ROCK THE KASBAH.

CLICK IMAGE TO OPEN GALLERY & SEE MORE PICS...

Source: JoBlo.com

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10:02AM on 02/05/2014
I agree with the movie, but not the best moment. I think his most brilliant moment is when he introduces to Rita, his producer, everybody in the diner even though there's no logical way he knows all of them. He performs this scene perfectly in that it's humorous and emotionally dramatic at the same time. It's one of my all-time favorite movie scenes and love watching it every time I can.

Good choice with Bill Murray.
I agree with the movie, but not the best moment. I think his most brilliant moment is when he introduces to Rita, his producer, everybody in the diner even though there's no logical way he knows all of them. He performs this scene perfectly in that it's humorous and emotionally dramatic at the same time. It's one of my all-time favorite movie scenes and love watching it every time I can.

Good choice with Bill Murray.
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12:54AM on 02/04/2014

Bill Murray = great actor, apparently a pain in the ass to work with

The rumour I heard was that he was chucked from the CHARLIE'S ANGELS sequel because he and Lucy Liu clashed on set. Apparently he told her "you can't act" while they were filming a scene and she took a swing at him. So he wasn't invited back for the sequel - which worked out well for him since the sequel sucked and he did LOST IN TRANSLATION instead.
The rumour I heard was that he was chucked from the CHARLIE'S ANGELS sequel because he and Lucy Liu clashed on set. Apparently he told her "you can't act" while they were filming a scene and she took a swing at him. So he wasn't invited back for the sequel - which worked out well for him since the sequel sucked and he did LOST IN TRANSLATION instead.
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11:32PM on 02/03/2014

A Request...

Chris, could we please feature Phillip Seymour Hoffman next? We've lost a lot of great talents recently, but Hoffman fits perfectly into the criteria for what this article series is all about. It would be a fine respect and an opportunity to look back at his terrific contributions to this industry.
As for Bill Murray, he also fits the bill (yeah I know). I've enjoyed his varied performance choices over the years, as well as seeing him grow as an actor. His eccentric ego can be a little
Chris, could we please feature Phillip Seymour Hoffman next? We've lost a lot of great talents recently, but Hoffman fits perfectly into the criteria for what this article series is all about. It would be a fine respect and an opportunity to look back at his terrific contributions to this industry.
As for Bill Murray, he also fits the bill (yeah I know). I've enjoyed his varied performance choices over the years, as well as seeing him grow as an actor. His eccentric ego can be a little off-putting, but that can be said of many performers. I once heard that if a producer wants to get in touch with him about a project, they have to dial a designated 1800 number, leave a message, and if Bill's interested he may reply. I don't know if that's still true or not. One of my favorite things he ever did was his cameo in Zombieland, that was one of the funniest cameos I've ever seen. Anyway here's my favs:
1. Rushmore
2, SNL
3. Stripes
4. Ed Wood
5. Hyde Park On The Hudson -and- Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
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7:33PM on 02/03/2014
I'm probably one of the few that will write this, but Murray is medi-ocre. Just something about him grinds me. I don't hate him, but I certainly don't share that love of him he seems to have nor watch a movie he is in just because he is in it
I'm probably one of the few that will write this, but Murray is medi-ocre. Just something about him grinds me. I don't hate him, but I certainly don't share that love of him he seems to have nor watch a movie he is in just because he is in it
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10:33AM on 02/03/2014
Bill Murray is one of those guys I just love. He was my favorite of the first-generation SNL cast, he's a master improviser, he's very generous with his fans, and, unlike many of his peers, he's still as relevant now as he was before.

So glad you picked Mad Dog and Glory for his underrated movie. His fight with Robert De Niro at the end was both surprising and gratifying, because it made good on the promise of him being a pretty badass gangster.

On a side note, I wish PSH got one of these
Bill Murray is one of those guys I just love. He was my favorite of the first-generation SNL cast, he's a master improviser, he's very generous with his fans, and, unlike many of his peers, he's still as relevant now as he was before.

So glad you picked Mad Dog and Glory for his underrated movie. His fight with Robert De Niro at the end was both surprising and gratifying, because it made good on the promise of him being a pretty badass gangster.

On a side note, I wish PSH got one of these columns before he died. That no one has gone completely negative about the actor in his life is a testament to how badass he really was.
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10:25AM on 02/03/2014
CHIVE ON!
CHIVE ON!
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2:03PM on 02/03/2014
please don't infect this website with bro culture.
please don't infect this website with bro culture.
8:51AM on 02/03/2014
What was so 'ill advised about ghost busters 2' ? Although it probably wasn't as good as the first it is still a solid sequel and a great watch when ever it is on.
What was so 'ill advised about ghost busters 2' ? Although it probably wasn't as good as the first it is still a solid sequel and a great watch when ever it is on.
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10:30AM on 02/03/2014
I dig just about everything but the damn Statue of Liberty. And Murray has MUCH less kind words for the movie. . .
I dig just about everything but the damn Statue of Liberty. And Murray has MUCH less kind words for the movie. . .
7:46AM on 02/03/2014
No love for Quick Change?!
I'll watch that movie every time it's on...
No love for Quick Change?!
I'll watch that movie every time it's on...
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10:28AM on 02/03/2014
LOVE that movie!
LOVE that movie!
5:38AM on 02/03/2014
I thought it was brilliant that he took the role in Zombieland and played himself. That line about Garfield was too funny!
I thought it was brilliant that he took the role in Zombieland and played himself. That line about Garfield was too funny!
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4:12AM on 02/03/2014
Murray is one of the true definitions of badass and is one of the best comedians to perfect the balance of comedy and drama (like Robin Williams, Jim Carrey, etc). The man is a legend and is one of my favorite actors. My favorite films of his are Caddyshack, Lost in Translation, Ghostbusters, Rushmore, Kingpin, and Groundhog's Day. The range on this guy is unbelievable and he's still kicking ass at age 63 with every role and film he does.

I do hope he wins an Oscar one day for his
Murray is one of the true definitions of badass and is one of the best comedians to perfect the balance of comedy and drama (like Robin Williams, Jim Carrey, etc). The man is a legend and is one of my favorite actors. My favorite films of his are Caddyshack, Lost in Translation, Ghostbusters, Rushmore, Kingpin, and Groundhog's Day. The range on this guy is unbelievable and he's still kicking ass at age 63 with every role and film he does.

I do hope he wins an Oscar one day for his incredible work. The speech alone would be worth it.
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3:21AM on 02/03/2014
My favorite films of Bill Murray are Ghostbusters (1&2) and Stripes. "That's the fact, Jack!". Boom chaka la ka Boom chaka la ka Boom Chaka la ka Boom!
My favorite films of Bill Murray are Ghostbusters (1&2) and Stripes. "That's the fact, Jack!". Boom chaka la ka Boom chaka la ka Boom Chaka la ka Boom!
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2:15AM on 02/03/2014
Loved him a lot in Lost in Translation. There are a vocal bunch of people who cry "overrated", but to me, his performance is what makes it a great movie. The down on his luck, washed-out actor is a character type we've seen many times, but Murray brought a humanity, a sadness and most of all a relatable sense of humour to the role. He also had excellent chemistry with Scarlett Johansson; it's hard to believe she was 18-19 when the movie was being made.
Loved him a lot in Lost in Translation. There are a vocal bunch of people who cry "overrated", but to me, his performance is what makes it a great movie. The down on his luck, washed-out actor is a character type we've seen many times, but Murray brought a humanity, a sadness and most of all a relatable sense of humour to the role. He also had excellent chemistry with Scarlett Johansson; it's hard to believe she was 18-19 when the movie was being made.
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1:41AM on 02/03/2014
The Murray performance that gets tons of love but which I've never really liked was Caddyshack. I've seen it a dozen times and I've never understood its status as a classic, for any of the characters or performances.
The Murray performance that gets tons of love but which I've never really liked was Caddyshack. I've seen it a dozen times and I've never understood its status as a classic, for any of the characters or performances.
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10:27AM on 02/03/2014
WOWZERS. I think he may be a TAD bit overrated/not that funny in it, but Ted Knight & Rodney Dangerfield OWN that movie, in my opinion.
WOWZERS. I think he may be a TAD bit overrated/not that funny in it, but Ted Knight & Rodney Dangerfield OWN that movie, in my opinion.
10:38AM on 02/03/2014
When I finally watched that movie I thought "This has no plot." I think it's close to a cult movie for that reason. But it's also a good example of Bill Murray's genius. The "Cinderella story" scene, his character had no written dialogue. That was all Murray.
When I finally watched that movie I thought "This has no plot." I think it's close to a cult movie for that reason. But it's also a good example of Bill Murray's genius. The "Cinderella story" scene, his character had no written dialogue. That was all Murray.
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