The top 25 films of Steve Martin
We salute the finest screen work of Steve Martin, a brilliant comedy actor, and an underrated dramatic performer too...
Few people on the planet have made me laugh as hard as Steve Martin. I first encountered him when All Of Me appeared on telly one afternoon, which I could barely watch through the tears of laughter in my eyes. From that point on, I devoured every film I could lay my hands on, as well as his early comedy material. I’ve found things to like in the many remakes he’s tackled, where others, er, weren’t so keen. And I’m now going through the stages of introducing my own kids to his work.
For me, though, I had no curator. Steve Martin was the first leading actor or actress whose work I actively seeked out, back in the days when you had to wait for HMV to do a three for £20 offer on videos, or for the video shop bargain section to get one of his movies back in. That, or wait for ITV to stick one of his films on.
This, then, is clearly going to be a very subjective countdown we’re about to embark on. But hopefully we can at least be unified in the belief that Mr Steve Martin is an actor, comedian, musician and writer we should be cherishing.
There are some films you may like that aren’t on the list, because they didn’t do an awful lot for me. But rather than chat about those, I’d rather talk about this little lot…
25. Sgt Bilko
“All I ever wanted was an honest week’s pay for an honest day’s work”
Let’s start with one of Martin’s least-liked films. In truth, I can fully understand the backlash that appeared – even in pre-internet times – when it was announced that a remake of Sgt Bilko was on the way. Sacrilege, right? Who could really bring to the screen what Phil Silvers already had, in realising the role of Bilko, the US army’s most entertaining scam artist?
Nobody. So Steve Martin didn’t try. Instead, he went his own way with the character, and the resultant film is a thoroughly decent comedy in its own right. Helmed by Jonathan Lynn – the Yes Minister co-creator who also directed Marisa Tomei towards the Oscar stage with My Cousin Vinny – it’s brisk, likeable, and works. Do I rewatch it often? No. Did I enjoy it? Yes.
The original Sgt Bilko series is still a flat-out classic of 50s television, of course. The 1996 film hasn’t changed that.
24. The Pink Panther
“I would like to take a closer look at your bawls”
And whilst I’m taking hits for remakes, I’ll say this too: the first of Steve Martin’s The Pink Panther movies is really quite fun. I’m not just saying that because Jason Statham’s in it, but rather because Martin was clearly having an awful lot of fun playing Inspector Clouseau. His take on the character was different enough to Peter Sellers’ for the film to just about work, and again, if you put the originals out of your head, there’s a decent amount to enjoy here.
I do share the frustration that at the peak of his box office powers, Martin was tackling remakes such as these, and I don’t have much time for the Pink Panther sequel. But still: it’s a decent, solid comedy. No amount of hate for the project’s existence can hide the fact that Martin is a skilled comedy actor, and his Clouseau is further proof of that.
“I’ve always said the worst thing a man can lose is his teeth. It’s true, I should know”
A decent low key thriller this, that’s not the best Steve Martin film involving a dental role, but still warrants a look. Laura Dern and Helena Bonham Carter co-star, in the story of a dentist who becomes a suspect for murder, after being conned into prescribing drugs.
It’s a slightly unconventional piece of work, but perhaps not unconventional enough for people to really notice it. With elements of dark comedy to it, there’s the sense that a better film could have been made with the same ingredients, but the strong performances really do lift it.
“Wow, you’re a genius! You’re like the Ernest Hemingway of bullshit!”
Of the two movies that Martin made with Goldie Hawn in the 1990s – this, and the remake of The Out-Of-Towners (a film worth it for Hawn spitting out the line “I have grass, grass, grass in my ass”) – it’s Frank Oz’s Housesitter that I slightly veer towards. I can’t say I love the film, but there are two standout Steve Martin moments that wouldn’t work with any other actor.
The first looks simple: a stumble over some furniture. That Martin plays it so naturally and carries in is what makes the moment work. It’s not a demonstrative yearning for a laugh, it’s a very good actor doing some very good acting. The second is the movie’s standout moment, where he sings ‘Tura Lura Lura’. I’m just going to cheat and give you the video of that one. By distance, it’s the highlight of the movie…
21. It’s Complicated
“Did you get this high from one hit?!”
Nancy Meyers makes films that feel like they exist in a slightly different, exaggerated, middle- to upper-class world. That’s no dig, incidentally – I think she makes films that others aren’t really tackling, and there’s a familiar feel to movies such as What Women Want, Something’s Gotta Give and The Holiday.
It’s Complicated certainly fits into the Meyers Movie Universe (TM), and for her third collaboration with Martin (only one of which, Father Of The Bride Part II, isn’t listed here) she teamed him up with Alec Baldwin and Meryl Streep too, for a light romantic comedy aimed at grown-ups. It’s centred on a divorced couple who come back together for family reasons, and it’s a movie that works when its senior trio are on screen. It’s a good, solid movie this, and more of a dramatic role for Martin again.
20. A Simple Twist Of Fate
“When you turn a gift away from your door, it goes to the one who takes it in”
Another interesting low key movie this, that saw Martin star alongside Gabriel Byrne, Laura Linney and Catherine O’Hara. He wrote this one, based on the book Silas Marner by Geroge Eliot, and it’s a modern day telling of the story. It’s not an entirely successful one in truth, nor does it stick in the mind too long. But it does boast an excellent central performance from Martin, as the recluse who finds an orphan on his doorstep one day.
It’s quite a quiet and straightforward drama, nicely played and quite touching too. A bit of a tear jerker as well, if you’re in the right mood. It barely got any attention on its original release mind, and it’s so unfussy, I can understand why. But it’s a quiet, impressive piece of work.
19. Father Of The Bride
“Drive carefully. And don’t forget to fasten your condom”.
A sizeable box office hit at the start of the 90s, and for the most part, this is a straight leading man role for Martin (perhaps his most obvious movie star role of the decade). A good one, too. It’s a remake of the 1950 Spencer Tracey movie of the same name, with Martin starring opposite Diane Keaton in a straightforward story of a man watching his daughter get married. Nancy Meyers penned the screenplay for this one, with Charles Shyer directing.
There’s a real generosity to Martin’s performance here, and he’s happy to stand back and let Martin Short waltz in to steal the movie as Frank, the wedding planner. Furthermore, it’s hard not to warm to his struggle to let his beloved daughter go, contrasted with the rising cost and scale of the wedding too. A few comedy slapstick moments are thrown in – a comedy dog chase the main one – but this is actually a fairly straight character comedy for the most part, and a warm one.
The sequel, which in turn was based on the earlier movie Father’s Little Dividend, is best avoided though. Thankfully, all concerned decided that a trilogy was a bad idea…
18. The Lonely Guy
“I’m not really jogging. I only ran about fifty yards. This is not real sweat, either. I sprayed it on”
A real oddity this amongst the movies that Martin made in the early 1980s. It paired him with director Arthur Hiller, best known for making Love Story, and it contrasted deeply with the comedy roles that Martin had thus far been taking on for Carl Reiner. We’ll be talking about those shortly.
The Lonely Guy is quite a sombre film, and one that I recall Martin in an interview agreeing didn’t quite work. But still, it’s an ambitious character piece, about a man who comes home from work, and finds his girlfriend with another man. There’s humour in it too – as you’d expect from a movie penned by Neil Simon – although tonally it feels just a little uneven at times. That said, there’s still plenty to get your teeth into here, and it remains a quietly interesting film in the Martin back catalogue.
17. The Muppet Movie
“Don’t you want to smell the bottlecap?”
I’ve tried to resist including Martin’s supporting and cameo roles in this list (sorry, Baby Mama), but I couldn’t resist adding The Muppet Movie into the mix. Mainly because I love The Muppet Movie.
Martin’s cameo here is as the waiter who serves Kermit and Miss Piggy. Said waiter has a rich line in sarcasm too. “Don’t you want to smell the bottlecap?” Ah, it cheers me every time.
Martin also popped up in The Muppet Show, of course, so take this entry in the list as a commendation of his united Muppets work. I’d happily watch a fresh Muppet film, with Steve Martin as co-star.
16. Grand Canyon
“All of life’s riddles are answered in the movies”
After a string of successful comedies in the late 80s and early 90s, Martin took a part in the ensemble for Lawrence Kasdan’s drama, Grand Canyon. Furthermore, it put Martin on the receiving end of one of the most genuinely shocking moments of screen violence in the 1990s.
Here, he plays movie producer Davis, one of six central characters in 90s Los Angeles that Kasdan’s film explores. Davis’ films are violent, and that’s what he’s built his career off the back of. And in a film where each character experiences something that turns their life in a different direction, Davis becomes the victim of a real act of violence. Even writing about it now, nearly 25 years since I first saw the film, I can remember the shock at how casual Kasdan put across such a moment on screen. There’s no build up, no fanfare. Just simple, cold brutality.
Martin’s story is one of the standout narratives of Grand Canyon, a film that doesn’t quite measure up to Kasdan’s earlier The Big Chill (nor, arguably, his subsequent Mumford, a movie I have a lot of time for). It’s still, at best, a very good drama, and it has moments and performances that ensure that at least some of it sticks in the head for a good deal after you’ve watched it. Over 20 years in my case…
15. L.A. Story
“Why is it that we don’t always recognise the moment when love begins but we always know when it ends?”
A really charming film this, penned by Martin and co-starring his then-wife Victoria Tennant. Directed by Mick Jackson, who would go on to helm The Bodyguard, it’s Martin’s love letter to the city of Los Angeles. A love that’s brought home in his conversations with a traffic sign. It shouldn’t work, but it really does.
It’s a gentle, relaxed comedy this, that pokes fun at the L.A. life (and thus tends to garner a lot more love from Los Angeles folk), but also puts a sweet romance at the heard of it. L.A. Story also boasts a smart cast, not least including the mighty Richard E Grant, and at its heart is a lovely, grown-up piece of writing
14. Pennies From Heaven
“I’m Arthur… and I love you”
Early in his film career, this was the first sign that Steve Martin was willing to take a left turn and try something different. The Jerk had hit big at the box office, and he took on Herbert Ross’ film of Pennies From Heaven, adapted from his own work by Dennis Potter.
Martin was Golden Globe nominated for his work here, in a depression-era musical that tends to leave as many people cold as it does warm in truth. There’s an argument too that the 1978 television series is your better bet, and it’s certainly what interested Martin, who lobbied for the work, and spent months preparing for it.
Pennies From Heaven disappointed at the box office, but certainly doesn’t deserve to be forgotten. A bold choice from Martin, and very early proof that he had plenty to offer the screen.
Ah, no. We’ve done that thing where we split an article across two pages. Panic not, though – this is not a habit. Rather, we only do it when an article is particularly long, and it makes sense to load it in separate chunks.
With that, we’ll leave you with the rest of the article…
13. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
“I’ve got culture coming out of my ass”
Not for the first time, Martin gets put in a double act, and the two stars stand on the shoulders of each other and elevate each other’s work.
In this case it’s Martin alongside Michael Caine, as a pair of con artists looking to con Glenn Headly’s Janet out of her money. Directed by Frank Oz, who helmed several of Steve Martin’s films, for the most part this is a fun, lively comedy. But it becomes something else entirely when Martin slips into the persona of Ruprecht. His is a genuinely superb comedy performance here, and he walks away with the lion’s share of the film’s laughs. It stands the test of time well too, and for most actors, it’d stand proudly in their top ten movies.
In Martin’s case, there’s a lot of competition though. Which brings us on to [dons flamesuit]…
12. Three Amigos
“Not so fast El Guapo! Or I’ll pump you so full of lead you’ll be using your dick for a pencil!”
I fully accept that, were 50% of you writing this list, The Three Amigos would instantly be promoted to the top five. I remember reading an outstanding feature on the film, for instance, in Empire magazine, that reunited Martin, Chevy Chase, Martin Short and John Landis. It was a tremendous article, that highlighted the many hugely entertaining moments in Landis’ movie. And it’s that glorious triple act at the heart of the film that really makes it work, of course.
Why not higher up the list? Nothing more sinister than there are a lot of Steve Martin movies that I really love. One thing that always strikes me about Three Amigos whenever I watch it, though: can you imagine getting a generous cast that works together as well as Martin, Chase and Short here? The fact that they seemed to have an absolute hoot making the film is there on screen to see.
You can’t help but shudder at the thought of a Happy Madison-backed remake (don’t worry, one isn’t happening. Unless I’ve just tempted fate. In which case, lots of letters of apology).
11. Little Shop Of Horrors
“I find a little giggle-gas before I begin increases my pleasure enormously”
Appreciating I said I’d try and veer away from Steve Martin’s cameo roles, his scene-stealing dentist in the glorious Little Shop Of Horrors is utterly unavoidable.
Orin Scrivello, DDS, is the screen dentist you’d least want to meet this side of Laurence Olivier in Marathon Man, and Martin makes plenty of the screen time he gets. It helps that his patients include the likes of Bill Murray, of course.
Martin’s is more a supporting role in truth here, but it means he gets to some of the absolute highlights of a relentlessly entertaining movie. You simply can’t think of the 1986 Little Shop Of Horrors without Orin springing to mind.
10. Leap Of Faith
“Death’s a breeze. Ever hear someone come back to complain?”
If you’re perusing this list on the hunt for a Steve Martin film that may have escaped you to date, then there’s a sporting chance this might be it. Notwithstanding the fact that it got turned into a short-lived Broadway musical. Leap Of Faith still failed to ignite at the US box office come the end of 1992, grossing just under $25m. It took a few months to come to the UK (films used to do that), and didn’t really fare much better.
But it’s a very good comedy drama. A bit long, perhaps, but Leap Of Faith also gives Martin a really good role. He plays faith healer Jonas Nightingale, a fake faith healer whose roadshow rolls into a small town, that’s desperately in need of rain. Therein lies Liam Neeson’s cynical sheriff, and a lot of the base story beats here are fairly straightforward.
But what lifts Leap Of Faith are the shows themselves. Martin is pretty mesmerising here, imbuing Jonas with a conviction, tricky likeability and magnetic stage presence. You’re left in no doubt why people would buy his patter.
The supporting cast is good here – you’ll find Debra Winger, Meat Loaf and Lolita Davidovich in the ensemble – but this is very much A Steve Martin Show.
9. Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid
“Dead men don’t wear plaid. I still don’t know what it means”
YouTube mash-ups are pretty much ten-a-penny now, with technology in pretty much everyone’s homes that can edit someone into a movie (not always very well, but moving on). The flat-out ambition of Carl Reiner’s noir spoof, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, simply can’t be understated, however.
This was Reiner’s second of four films he made with Martin, and technically the most demanding. The story centres on a private eye who’s hired by Rachel Ward’s Juliet, to get to the bottom of the death of her cheesemaker father. The film’s trick is then to weave in footage of the likes of Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant, and other stars of that era. It’s a clever, often very funny movie that results. For me, in terms of sheer comedy, it didn’t make me laugh quite as much as the other Reiner/Martin collaborations, but that’s a harsh criticism: this is still top grade stuff, and often ingenious filmmaking too.
8. The Spanish Prisoner
“Always do business as if the person you’re doing business with is trying to screw you, because he probably is. And if he’s not, you can be pleasantly surprised”
Clever man, David Mamet. We’ll never know for sure how many dramatic, non-comedic roles Steve Martin was offered and turned down (unless he tells us), but Mamet clearly saw something in his acting that he tapped into wonderfully for The Spanish Prisoner.
He gives Martin a pivotal supporting role, in the kind of twisty confidence trick movie that Mamet excels at. There’s an undertone of real menace to the role of Jimmy Dell too, that Martin conveys in a restrained, non-showy yet highly effective manner.
Martin’s role isn’t a big one in terms of screen time, but it’s a pivotal one in the context of the film. Like most thrillers of this ilk, The Spanish Prisoner is best left discovered knowing as little as possible about it, so I’ll leave it there. Just know that it’s well worth digging out…
“The Lord giveth… and he just kept on giving, didn’t he?”
There’s superb writing at the heart of Roxanne, a modern American take on the Cyrano De Bergerac story. You thus may not be surprised to hear that it’s a Steve Martin screenplay here. He sticks close to the spirit and structure of the original play, with his character, C D Bales, a fire chief who has intelligence, romance, and a giant nose.
Thus, he lends his help to Rick Rossovich’s Chris, who’s trying to get together with Daryl Hannah’s Roxanne. And the film is primarily more romance than comedy, skilfully put together by director Fred Schepisi.
But that doesn’t mean it’s shy on laughs, and arguably Roxanne‘s standout scene sees C D Bales having to come up with 20 different jokes about the size of his hooter. It’s Steve Martin gold, and the highlight of a joyful film that’s happily stood the test of time.
6. Planes, Trains & Automobiles
“Our speedometer has melted and as a result it’s very hard to see with any degree of accuracy exactly how fast we were going”
I know. There are still people annoyed that The Three Amigos didn’t make it this high up the list. But lord: Planes, Trains & Automobiles is some piece of work.
As strong a leading man as he is, Steve Martin has also shown several times on film that he’s excellent at working in tandem with other performers. The double act at the heart of Planes, Trains & Automobiles is one of the very best examples, even better, I’d argue, than the union of he and Michael Caine in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.
It’s a towering achievement from the late John Candy that he makes a character as potentially unlikeable as Del someone to root for. And oftentimes in Planes, Trains & Automobiles, Martin stands back a little, and lets him take the lead. He still injects delicate doses of sarcasm, rage, and marvellously sardonic delivery here. It’s a masterclass in that respect.
The pay offs are regular too, and picking a standout scene from John Hughes’ one film as director that wasn’t overtly aimed at a teen audience (even if lots of teens watched it anyway) is near impossible. And yet three words alone always crease me and leave me wanting to reach for the DVD: “those aren’t pillows”.
Bona fide comedy gold.
5. The Jerk
“What’s happening to my special purpose?”
Ask me another day, and The Jerk would top this list. It’s a constant delight that’s aged in some way, but has at its core a comedy masterclass. This was Martin’s movie debut, coming off the back of his already-hugely successful stand-up comedy work. What it proved was that not only is Steve Martin very funny, but he can also act.
Granted, Navin isn’t one of his most contained roles, but the childlike innocence of the character is quite wonderful. Carl Reiner’s movie is structurally pretty straightforward, and leaves plenty of room for the many memorable stand-out moments. The pulling of the small church. The finding of the special purpose. The moment where he’s told that his parents aren’t really his parents. Everyone has a favourite part of The Jerk, truth be told.
But I also like the commitment to good gags throughout. The simple standing at the bus stop for hours right near the start of the film is a delight in itself.
“This film is only for Madagascar and Iran, neither of which follow American copyright law”
To date, the last outright comedic film that Martin has written himself, and it’s a real joy. Bowfinger arrived in 1999, just as Hollywood comedies were about to follow the lead of that year’s American Pie for the next decade. And it had that rarest of things at the heart of it (Bowfinger, not American Pie): an original idea.
The central conceit is that Martin’s Bobby Bowfinger is a filmmaker working at the lower end of the budget spectrum. Think Uwe Boll, but with fewer sweary videos. He hatches a scheme whereby movie star Kit Ramsey – played by Eddie Murphy – will appear in his new feature, just without him noticing. To do this, he must play on Ramsey’s paranoia, not least of shadowy cult-masquerading-as-religion (behave yourselves) MindHead (cue an excellent cameo from Terence Stamp, that would be recreated fairly closely in 2009’s Yes Man).
Then there’s Bowfinger‘s other trump card, Eddie Murphy’s second role in the movie, Jiff. There’s generally an inward groan at the thought now of a comedy where Eddie Murphy plays multiple characters, but he proved his skill at this in the 80s (hello, Coming To America!), and he utterly excels in Bowfinger.
I’m going to come to the awards snub argument again shortly, but seriously, overlooking Eddie Murphy’s arguably career-best acting in Bowfinger – to create two distinct, quality, hugely entertaining and funny roles with no mask required – is a scandal. Murphy would go on to gain awards recognition and an Oscar nomination for Dreamgirls, and therein lies bare the failure of awards voters to see past their own stuck up noses. A lesser performance in a more awards-friendly movie? Oscar nod. Two excellent performances in a comedy? Don’t let your door hit your backside on the way out.
At the heart of Bowfinger is the kind of lovable rogue character that Martin too is in a different class at putting on screen. His Bobby Bowfinger is a conman with a good heart, lurking in the shadows and working on his wits to get from A to B. And yeah, I’m less keen on Heather Graham’s character in Bowfinger, but for me, it’s the one misstep in a film that should be remembered as a 1990s comedy classic. It certainly is around these parts.
Oh, and if Chubby Rain had ever been made, that’d be top five too.
3. The Man With Two Brains
“If there’s anything wrong with my feelings for Dolores, just give me a sign”
I hardly know where to start. The Man With Two Brains is, simply, a sublime, very funny comedy. It’s based on a daft idea, committed to deeply by an incredible comedy performer, and it’s very, very funny. They’re not bad ingredients for a start are they?
Here, Martin plays Dr Michael Hfuhruhurr, the world’s best brain surgeon, and the inventor of screw top, zip lock brain surgery. Said surgery involves, basically, opening up someone’s head and taking their brains out. Easy peasy.
But the absolute gold here is Michael Hfuhruhurr’s relationship with Kathleen Turner’s Dolores Benedict. The pair are married, but Dolores is, it’s fair to say, more in it for the money. It’s a thankless role in the hands of some, so thank the lord for Turner, who has a ball as Dolores. She’s withholding panky of the hanky nature from Hfuhruhurr, and it’s those moments where he tries to be caring and understanding that absolutely crease me. Well, that, and “send me a sign”
I do accept that, even though I’ve put this third in the list, that The Man With Two Brains is a bit patchy. But then I also love just how of its time it feels. Can you seriously imagine something like this coming through the Hollywood system now? We’d end up with Will Ferrell doing his manchild thing again, and really, who wants to see that?
That The Man With Two Brains features cinema’s finest erection joke to date is further collateral to justify its heady position on this list. But truthfully, for me, if I’ve had a crappy day and I just need to laugh, The Man With Two Brains is never far from my reach. It’ll always be special to me for that.
And bonus trivia? It’s co-written by George Gipe, who penned the legendary novelisation of Back To The Future, as well as co-writing Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid. You are very welcome.
“Show him, honey”
It’s no fluke that the movie Parenthood has inspired two TV series to date, one of which went on to become one of the most grown-up, interesting comedy drama shows in recent US television history. Because the core film tapped into something: the concept of parenting, viewing from different angles.
That’s the wonderful trick to Ron Howard’s film, a movie I maintain is one of his very best. Based on his own experiences, and those of writers Babaloo Mandel and Lowell Ganz, along with producer Brian Grazer, Parenthood feels very real and very relatable. Sure, it’s set in a middle-class Hollywoodland, as a big family each with large houses fret over well paid jobs and well-dressed kids (on the whole), but the problems are relatable. It’s just most of us have a lot less cash.
Steve Martin heads the ensemble, and is on absolutely top form. The trailer highlight is Cowboy Dan’s party tricks, and truthfully, I could watch that whole sequence on a loop. But it’s the education in delivering a line that’s also on offer here. That “show him, honey” quote at the top creases me, as does “waiting for her head to spin around”. “But the moments he shares with the late Jason Robards, and the wonderful spark with Mary Steenburgen deserve mention too. Lest we forget, Rick Moranis, playing straight for most of the film, then comes in to try and steal the whole thing with a Carpenters number.
Parenthood is very much a comedy drama, and a very funny one, and along with the brilliant, brilliant Dianne Wiest, Martin holds those moments in place too. I’ve mentioned his generosity before, but it’s all over Parenthood, a film where everyone gets a moment in the spotlight to shine. It’s something of a comedy classic in my house, and a film I watch time after time after time…
1.5. Born Standing Up
I’m cheating, but if you think I’m going to get through a look at the movies of Steve Martin without talking about his wonderful autobiography, Born Standing Up, then I must let you down.
I can’t apologise for doing so though, as Born Standing Up, a book about Martin’s childhood, and early music and comic days, is a first rate lesson in economy. It’s funny, interesting, beautifully written, tells you lots of things you don’t know, and leaves you wanting more. What it doesn’t do is give you too much insight into Steve Martin’s movie career, which is just starting up when the film ends. But what you do get is an autobiography in the truest sense. A genuine talent, telling their own story in their own way, with not a ghostwriter in sight.
Lots of stand up comedians cite Born Standing Up as a masterful book, but don’t believe it’s just for comedians: it’s a book that any fan of Steve Martin’s can get an awful lot out of. Hugely recommended, and like many others, I’d love to see a follow-up book. Please.
1. All Of Me
“I want my body back. And I want my freedom and privacy. And most of all, I’d like to be able to take a leak without being fondled”
He should have won an Oscar for this. Perhaps more than any other role that he’s been overlooked for.
The reason he didn’t is the Academy’s outright comedy snobbery. That he didn’t win any acting awards here – it’s not just Oscar that’s to blame here – says to me that movie awards organisers need to get their head out of their backsides, and look beyond what’s printed on a ‘For Your Consideration’ advert.
Still: a rant about awards not representing anything outside of a narrow corridor of movies is nothing new. So let’s chat about All Of Me a bit more.
In years gone by, I always had The Jerk has my favourite Carl Reiner-Steve Martin collaboration. But the more I watch it, the more I appreciate just how special All Of Me is. It’s such a tough ask, what Martin has to do here, spending the bulk of the film pretending that he’s sharing a body with Lily Tomlin. He starts off Roger Cobb, putting in the kind of wonderfully cutting comedy performance that he can do and nobody else really can.
But when events transpire to leave Lily Tomlin’s Edwina’s soul in his body too, a comedy masterclass ensues. I should note before I wax lyrical too much more that the film around Martin is very strong, and there’s a mighty toilet flushing joke that’s hard to beat.
Yet Martin’s performance? It demands so much, yet he makes it look so easy. The sheer physical comedy on display here is majestic in itself, with him capturing the mannerisms of two characters in one. His vocal work – and I’ve not talked about Martin’s animated films here, although could easily have done so – is superb too. It’s a controlled performance, pitched exquisitely, and the heart of one of the very best comedies of the 1980s.
Talk comes up every now and then about a possible remake of All Of Me. Yet the central problem remains: who do you cast in the lead role? Coming full circle, Martin gives an Oscar-worthy masterclass here, and it’s hard to think of any contemporary comedy actor who could come anywhere close.
Next time I do a Steve Martin list, it may well be that All Of Me doesn’t top the chart. But right now, it’s the Martin film that I keep wanting to sit back and enjoy the most. So right here, right now, it’s
A quick hat tip to The Prince Of Egypt, an ambitious and interesting animated movie that we will get round to talking about on the site soon.
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