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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Five Best: John Cusack

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="157" caption="Actor John Cusack courtesy of"][/caption]

With the release of his comedy Hot Tub Time Machine today on DVD, let's take a look back at the career of John Cusack and his five best films, listed in chronological order.

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="269" caption="John Cusack in "Say Anything..." courtesy of"][/caption]

Say Anything...(1989)

In the movie that put him on the map, Cusack plays young Lloyd Dobler, an independent, lovestruck kick boxer who doesn't seem to have any hopes or dreams, except to be with Diane Court, played by Ione Skye. Court is an upper-class, intelligent girl with an overprotective father (John Mahoney). Though everyone remembers Cusack's over-the-top display of love by standing in the driveway in the rain, holding up a boom box playing Peter Gabriel, it's less over-dramatic than you may think. Lloyd may not be a career minded individual, but he may have his priorities more in the right place than most of the other people in Diane's life.

Cameron Crowe's first directorial and writing effort is the best portrayal of young, confused love since The Graduate. Crowe's touching love story is a quintessential 80's film and still stands the test of time.

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="273" caption="Colm Meany and John Cusack in "Con Air" courtesy of"][/caption]

Con Air (1997)

In one of the few straight action films I can say I love, Cusack plays U.S. Marshall Vince Larkin who is trying to bring down (safely) a plane full of convicted criminals. It's a ridiculous premise and it plays out in such a crazy manner that it's tough not to love it. With an all-star cast including Nicholas Cage, John Malkovich, Steve Buscemi, Ving Rhames, and Dave Chappelle, Con Air is a unbelievably entertaining romp through a mess of a situation. It's absurd, kind of stupid, and very, very enthralling.

Set aside Cage's awful southern accent and the countless overdone performances and Con Air has to be one of the most exciting movies of the 90's from a purely visual standpoint. It's quotable, funny, action-packed, and it's just stilted enough to not take itself too seriously.

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="277" caption="John Cusack in "The Thin Red Line" courtesy of"][/caption]

The Thin Red Line (1998)

Terrence Malick makes beautiful films, but none may be grittier than this one. In a war epic that we sometimes forget was even made (it was up against Saving Private Ryan in the Best Picture race - neither won), we sometimes forget Cusack was even in the film. The Thin Red Line is, for the most part, driven by the performance of Sean Penn; when you look at the cast list, it's astonishing how many A list (or at least close to A list) stars are in this moving adaptation of James Jones' 1962 autobiographical novel. On the list is Cusack, Penn, George Clooney, Jim Caviezel, Adrien Brody, Nick Nolte, Woody Harrelson, John C. Reiley, John Travolta, Thomas Jane, Jared Leto, and so on.

With as many top level actors as it has in its cast, the film is still at its heart, a Malick perfection piece. A stunning look at the first U.S. offensive in World War II, Malick's direction gives it a dark, brooding feel like many other expansive works in his repertoire. I'll argue until I die that it should have won Best Picture of the five chosen - edging out Ryan and certainly better than Shakespeare in Love, the eventual winner.

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="279" caption="John Cusack in "Being John Malkovich" courtesy of"][/caption]

Being John Malkovich (1999)

A mind-blowing experience from start to finish, Spike Jonze's Being John Malkovich must be seen to be believed. Cusack plays Craig, a puppeteer who discovers, in his office in Manhattan, a portal that takes you into the mind of actor John Malkovich for fifteen minutes, then spits you out on the New Jersey turnpike. As he and his co-worker Maxine (Catherine Keener) attempt to exploit this discovery, they end up creating a much more complicated world that either had imagined. The film, written by Charlie Kaufman, is one of the most inventive and confusing ones of the past twenty years.  But, it's also one of the most interesting.

Cusack plays Craig with a twisted enthusiasm that is both off-kilter and completely unsettling. As good as everything in the movie appears, Cusack makes it all happen - he drives the film, even if it is straight into Malkovich's head.

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="281" caption="John Cusack in "High Fidelity" courtesy of"][/caption]

High Fidelity (2000)

In a coming of age story more dedicated to a love of music than anything else, Cusack plays Rob, a thirty-something record store proprietor  trying to figure out his life through past relationships and music. Cusack plays Rob with an understated dignity and fear - he doesn't want to grow up, but who does? Growing up means having tastes change and taking responsibility, including with relationships.

Before Jack Black became a one-note wonder, he inhabited this film as Barry, one of the "Musical moron twins." At a time when Black was "refreshing" and not grating and tiresome, he gave us some good screen time in Stephen Frears' poetic tribute to the music scene. Based on a Nick Hornby book (which always tend to be about middle aged men growing up, in one way or another), Frears and Cusack create a very entertaining and touching trip through the music of a man's life.

Cusack  embodies the "every man" quality in his films, whether he is falling in love or saving the world.

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