Today! Because nobody’s looking for a puppeteer in today’s wintry economic climate –
Being John Malkovich (1999)
Directed by Spike Jonze
Starring John Cusack, Cameron Diaz, Catherine Keener (x2), John Malkovich (x2), Orson Bean, Mary Kay Place, Charlie Sheen (x2), Willie Garson (x5), W. Earl Brown (x2), Octavia Spencer (x2)
Featuring the greatest single performance where someone is credited playing himself, Being John Malkovich’s crazy premise could’ve easily overwhelmed the movie. Seriously, it feels like this film was one casting misstep away from Being Charlie Sheen, and who knows how it would’ve played out. Hey, maybe great – maybe that’s all Sheen would’ve needed to re-jumpstart the film career, never do Two and a Half Men, never have catastrophic public meltdowns, and would now be regarded as one of the pillars of the acting community. Instead, he starred in a sitcom on FX for a few years and lost his damn mind. This is all speculation about what could’ve been, of course.
By all indications, it was Being John Malkovich the whole way across, and we are better for it as a people. Wildly creative, and surprisingly touching, this movie bends reality to the near breaking point while still grounding it in a believable-ish reality. Finding a door that leads into another person’s head! And making the decision that not only is it a famous actor’s head, but have them gamely play themselves and in such extraordinary fashion as to blur this 4th wall (5th wall?) and create something so indelibly new and unpredictable.
This was the first big screen outing for both director Jonze and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, immediately establishing both as major creative talents on the cutting edge of cinema (cliched but true!). They would follow this up to varying degrees of success, together and independently, but always with intriguing products, including Adaptation. (wonderful in its way), Synecdoche, New York (a little too out there for the mainstream, still pretty great), Where the Wild Things Are (terrific achievement, okay movie), Her (wonderful in its way as well), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (the greatest movie of the decade?), and Anomalisa (I’ve had this on the Netflix queue for years – one of these days!).
Everyone is terrific in this one – even later days Sheen! – with longtime actress Keener finally breaking out in her Oscar nominated performance as Maxine, the scheming object of literally everyone’s affections. To call the whole thing “trippy” does it a bit of a disservice – it’s lunacy coupled with high art jammed into a mainstream movie. It’s an almost literal mind fuck of a film.
Jonze, Kaufman, and Keener were all Oscar nominated, in addition to Globe nominations for Diaz and Best Comedy Musical Motion Picture, and a litany of screenplay and director guild nods, and in a relatively strong year for movies, critically speaking. It’s hard to say at least some of these awards weren’t due to the Best Literal Introspection sequence, where Malkovich enters his own head, and blows everyone’s damn mind.
Malkovich (#335 In the Line of Fire), Keener (#358 Switch), W. Earl Brown (#315 The Master), Spencer (#381 Spider-Man), and Sheen (#276 Hot Shots!) all enter the Two-Timers club today, but for those continually rooting for underdogs out there, today is your day too! We currently have no higher honor than the Five-Timers acting wing, and our fourth member comes today in an unlikely package – #313 Fever Pitch/#310 Mars Attacks!/#269 Kingpin/#259 Soapdish role player Willie Garson! That makes the current group American treasure Bill Murray, biggest movie star of the ’10s Robert Downey Jr., the most beloved Canadian comedian of all-time John Candy, and the great, unsung tenth credited lead in Sex and the City 2 and Kim Cattrall Twitter beefer,Willie Garson!