He can make a poor film worth watching. He elevates the good to the great. He is, of course, John Cusack, the man whose appearance in a movie means that, if nothing else, you’re guaranteed at least one strong performance.
We love John Cusack here at Den Of Geek and to celebrate the man’s work, we’ve picked ten of our favourite Cusack movies…
10. Pushing Tin
Poorly received upon its release, Pushing Tin is a more interesting film than it was initially felt to be. It gets better the more times you see it and that comes principally down to the strong set of performances from Billy Bob Thornton, Cate Blanchett and, of course, Cusack.
This is all about the interplay between air traffic controllers Falzone and Bell, of course, and with both trying to out-cool and outdo each other, the flat, deadpan performances are perfectly in tune with the manner and feel of the film.
It’s an underappreciated movie and an underappreciated performance.
9. IdentityIdentity is not a great film. In fairness, any film starring a post-millennium Ray Liotta is going to be a struggle and this film’s rather confused murder plot suffers halfway through and never really recovers.
This makes Cusack’s turn in the movie all the more impressive and proves once more that, no matter what film you put him in, no matter what role you give him, Cusack will deliver the goods.
And he does that here, lending Ed more pathos and character than he truly deserves in this run-of-the-mill flick.
8. The Thin Red Line
An ensemble cast for an ensemble film, Cusack plays his part as Captain John Gaff, a seen-too-much, thoughtful soldier trying to do his best in appalling circumstances. In truth, though, the true stars of Terrence Malick’s meditation on war and loss are the cinematography and the wonderful turn from Jim Caviezel, something he has failed to live up to ever since.
Released in the same year, Saving Private Ryan gets all the plaudits and the attention but The Thin Red Line is an outstanding movie and deserves at least as much praise as Spielberg’s work.
7. The Sure Thing
What a concept: crossing the length of the country in order to get your end away. That idea’s been done to death nowadays, with the American Pie gang taking the lead. Back in 1985, though, it was The Sure Thing that was bringing broad comedy to the big screen and it was John Cusack who was playing against type in many ways as John ‘Gib’ Gibson.
Naturally, Gib ends up bonding with road trip partner Alison and his ‘sure thing’ becomes less important as he realises there’s more to life than bikini babes.
The Sure Thing is a film of its time and couldn’t be made now without it descending into a silly, laddish effort. By complete contrast, this is actually a very sweet little film.
6. Being John Malkovich
A lovely little film, this. When commercial and music video director Spike Jonze announced he was to make a feature film, the world knew it would get a creative and intelligent piece of work. What it didn’t know was that it would be such alarmingly good fun along the way.
Being John Malkovich is a curious movie that takes us inside actor John Malkovich’s head and it’s he himself who steals the movie with a virtuoso performance that strips himself bear for all to see. It’s one of the finest and funniest performances I’ve seen on film in the last decade or so and if you haven’t seen it yet, I urge you to correct that now.
By comparison, Cusack plays it relatively straight as downtrodden puppeteer Craig Schwartz, but it’s the utter desperation in his performance that stands out most of all, portraying a vulnerability that he’d never truly shown before.
5. The Grifters
How cool is John Cusack? One watch of The Grifters and you have your answer: über cool.
Playing small-time conman Roy Dillon with all the self-assuredness we’ve come to expect from Cusack now, The Grifters represents a career high that has left many to question why he failed to really capitalise on the film’s success over the course of his career.
The film is a classic, that’s obvious. What is also worth mentioning, though, is just how comfortable Cusack is throughout the film, once again, playing the leading man with an almost lackadaisical self-assurance that has since become the hallmark of his.
You know what you’re getting with him and The Grifters marked the moment when he cemented his place among Hollywood’s finest.
4. Grosse Pointe Blank
Cusack and Ackroyd in the same film. Two deadpan comedic performers going toe to toe with each other is an enticing prospect and it’s one that pays off to maximum effect. The interplay between the two is the real draw in this witty tale of assassins and school reunions that takes high concept to great heights. They’re not on screen together too much, but no matter. Each gets their own moments to shine and with a plot to die for, Grosse Pointe Blank was a deserving hit upon its release, particularly given this was a, at times, particularly black comedy.
Other highlights of the film include Joan Cusack’s turn as Marcella and a decent outing for Minnie Driver. Who’d have thought it?
3. Say Anything
Cameron Crowe films have a tendency to divide audiences. Some find their mawkish sentimentality too much to bear. Others suck it up and go along for the ride.
Of all Crowe flicks, this is the one that almost everyone can agree on as being a superb piece of work. Perhaps most famous for that iconic ghetto blaster moment, the film is pure Cusack.
As was pointed out by Carley in our look back at the film, no one does sweet and funny in equal measure quite like him and many would argue that he has never bettered his performance here. It’s certainly a powerful performance that lifts the film above the average and, while the film does stick in the throat in places, I can begrudge it that. This is Cameron Crowe, after all.
2. High Fidelity
My personal favourite Cusack film, it’s only beaten to the number one spot by virtue of Con Air‘s big screen sensibilities. Of the two, you can’t deny that Con Air is the film you’d happily watch any day of the week, while you need to be in the right mood for High Fidelity. That’s partly down to Jack Black’s ever-so-slightly annoying performance and partly because of the lowbrow nature of the film itself. It’s a slow burner, but it really soars once it finds its feet.
Cusack is quite superb here, playing Rob Gordon with all the slacker charm you’d expect from an indie movie god.
Cusack was born to play this role and he takes on the leading man responsibilities with gusto. Funny when asked to be and always making Gordon a character you really empathise with, no matter how much of a total shit he’s being, Cusack’s turn is what has me returning to the film time and time again.
1. Con Air
Undoubtedly one of the finest action movies ever made, Con Air is the very definition of a guilty pleasure. Fantastical action sequences, silly lines – never will the words bunny and box be used to the same effect – and a bunch of camp, over-the-top performances that hark back to the action flicks of the 80s, the film is a tour-de-force of style over substance.
And then there’s Cusack’s turn as US Marshall Vince Larkin. This came at something of a purple patch for Cusack’s Hollywood star, coming as it did a year after the sleeper hit Grosse Pointe Blank and he is on unbeatable form here.
The calm, sensible everyman viewers can sympathise with while Nic Cage is swaying his hair and flexing his muscles, he’s a necessary foil for all the ridiculousness on screen.
Great film, great Cusack.
Hot Tub Time Machine arrives in the UK on 7th May.