Nic Cage is an actor who doesn’t necessarily guarantee the quality of the movie in which he features. He can be a little hit and miss, to put it mildly. He rarely gives the impression that he’s phoning it in, though, and I’m certain that, whatever the role is, he knows exactly what he’s going for (even if sometimes it’s to play Nicolas Cage on screen for two hours…). Whether this works or not is debatable, but when he’s good, he can be very good indeed.
Here are what I consider to be Nic Cage’s top ten roles:
It’s rumoured that when Cage first started doing his best Adam West impression when he donned the suit as Big Daddy, nobody on set quite knew what was going on. He wasn’t directed to do the part that way and there was no mention of a West-esque delivery in the script or Mark Millar’s comic book source.
Vaughn and his team were apparently worried when reviewing the dailies, as they thought they had lost a day of shooting, which, given the fact that the project was self financed, would have proved disastrous. After reviewing the footage a few times, Vaughn got what Cage was going for and liked it.
This is a recent example of why Cage can be so good. It might not be immediately noticeable what he’s heading towards, but you can be assured that he knows, and at times it really can be quite brilliant.
9. Matchstick Men
Ridley Scott’s 2003 film Matchstick Men is, in my opinion, a little underappreciated. It features excellent central performances from Cage and the ever reliable Sam Rockwell and the chemistry between them really drives the film, with Cage playing an experienced conman and Rockwell playing his ambitious protégé.
Cage delivers a solid performance here and portrays the character’s numerous neuroses and conditions with a level of skill and flair that’s evident when he’s on top of his game.
This film was recently the focal point in Carley’s looking back series, which encouraged me to re-watch the film. I remember liking it a lot on first viewing it and watched it a few times shortly after its release, but it sat on my DVD shelf unwatched for a fair few years.
After watching it again, I would say that I feel that it too is s a little underrated. I agree with the assessment that it leaves a nasty taste in the mouth, but in spite of this, it’s a film that I find interesting and I have to say that I really do quite like Cage’s performance in the film.
I feel he puts across the necessary levels of paranoia and confusion required of the role. Sure there are moments where he overacts, but overacting is something that Cage is prone to do, so once that’s accepted, he’s a little more palatable.
This is by no means Cage’s best role, but it certainly matches up against a lot of his output.
7. Bringing Out The Dead
Another film starring Cage where the material is a little on the darker side and again the movie doesn’t really get the appreciation it deserves. This time, we’re talking about Martin Scorsese’s excellent Bringing Out The Dead, released in 1999.
Cage plays paramedic Frank Pierce, who is suffering from severe burnout as a result of his insomnia and is starting to experience hallucinations. The movie follows Pierce over three nights as he’s teamed up with a different partner each night.
Like the previous movie, there are moments where Cage overacts, but for the most part his performance is excellent as he portrays the gradual decline of his character.
6. The Rock
When a former Marine general takes a number of hostages on Alcatraz and threatens to release a number of chemical weapons, a chemical weapons expert (Cage) and an escapee of the island prison (Sean Connery) are called in to assist a team of Navy SEALs to deal with the threat.
On the surface, what is typical action fare is, in fact, a much better film than it gets credit for. The script is incredibly tight and is packed full of great interchanges between the characters and Bay handles the action set pieces with immense skill and, as a result, it’s one of the finest action movies of the 90s.
Cage is a highlight in a great cast that are each perfect fits for the roles in which they have been cast.
5. Con Air
Con Air is another fine example of action cinema and a film that recently topped Mark’s top ten John Cusack movies article.
The film boasts an embarrassment of riches in the cast department and features some interesting performances from its big name stars. Cage is central to all this as the recently paroled Cameron Poe, a former Army ranger who was jailed for manslaughter after he was attacked when returning home from a bar and who killed one of his attackers.
This isn’t the most restrained of performances, but Cage’s protagonist ties the piece together and is central to the plan to stop the hijacking of Con Air.
4. Wild At Heart
David Lynch’s 1990 adaptation of Barry Gifford’s novel is a somewhat divisive movie. On one hand, it won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, but on the other hand, it received largely negative reviews when it was originally released and few would argue that it’s Lynch’s best work, but it does contain a number of themes that you would expect from a Lynch film.
It’s not an easy watch, but it’s a film that I enjoy, though, and part of the reason I enjoy it is down to Nic Cage’s performance as Sailor Ripley.
3. Leaving Las VegasLeaving Las Vegas is the film for which Cage won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of screenwriter Ben Sanderson, whose alcoholism has consumed his life to the point that he has lost his family and his job. He heads to Las Vegas with the view to drink himself to death. When he arrives he forms a friendship of sorts with Sera, played by Elizabeth Shue.
Both Shue and Cage give amazing performances in this emotionally exhausting film. Like other films on this list; it’s not an easy watch, but it’s a film of considerable merit.
Cage gives amazing performances as both Charlie and Donald Kaufman in what, in my opinion, is the best thing that Charlie Kaufman, Spike Jonze and Cage have been involved in.
Cage shows great skill in playing identical twins with very different personalities in Kaufman’s take on Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief.
The performance earned Cage nominations for best actor for the Academy Awards, Golden Globes and BAFTAs , although he would eventually lose out to Adrien Brody, Richard Gere and Daniel Day Lewis, respectively.
1. Raising Arizona
This is the first Coen Brother’s film I remember watching and it was a film that I watched a lot growing up. For me, Cage hasn’t been better than he was here. His performance in Adaptation comes close, but there’s something of his portrayal of well meaning, but idiotic serial criminal, H.I. McDunnough.
There are plenty of laughs throughout the film, but it’s one that’s full of heart as well. Watching H.I. struggle to strike the balance of keeping the love of his life happy, trying and ultimately failing to lead an honest life, raising a family and keeping his old friends happy is great to watch.
Like many of his other roles, it’s a little OTT, but it’s absolutely brilliant.
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