He’s won an Oscar, he’s been nominated for multiple Razzies. He’s a bankable movie movie star, he’s cult icon. He’s the man of 1000 hairstyles, each more absurd than the last. He’s Nicolas Cage and there is only one. Love or loath the actor (and there’s a strong case to be made for each argument), there’s no denying that he’s always at least interesting. We’re talking about a man who had a $2 million dollar Superman comic stolen and was once accosted in his home by a naked man with a fudgesicle and neither story seemed particularly surprising when it broke. Nic Cage is one of Hollywood’s greatest eccentrics in a town know for having more than a few. Over the next 11 weeks the TIFF Bell Lightbox will be honoring the master of overacting with the career retrospective Bangkok Dangerous: The Cinema Of Nicolas Cage. Every Saturday night you’ll be treated to another highlight and hairdo from Cage’s illustrious career ranging from camp to legitimate classics and oh are there such sights to be seen.
Nicolas Coppola began his career with bit parts in his uncle’s 80s output like Rumble Fish and Peggy Sue Got Married, but eventually took a stage name to avoid familial connections. Like virtually every young actor in the 80s, he starred in a high school rom-com. His assignment in the cornball genre was Valley Girl (screening January 28th at 10pm), a film that, particularly in hindsight, is a campy delight. These days, Cage can chew enough scenery at will to turn a bland role into a hilarious lunatic, but was a little more controlled back then. He developed a reputation as a nutso character actor before audiences got used to his schtick. He managed to find a few movies suited to his magically misplaced intensity like the Coen Brothers’ live-action cartoon Raising Arizona (still his best movie in a conventional sense, screening February 25th at 10pm), David Lynch’s perverted fairytale Wild At Heart (February 11, 10pm), and the so insane you have to see-it-to-believe it Vampire’s Kiss (April 7, 10pm, the only movie in the line up in which he eats a live cockroach).
People who followed Cage’s development from the beginning knew the man was a titanic force of overacting at the time, but he plunked together enough prestigious projects amongst the silly movies that he also had some serious critical appreciation brewing. That peaked with an Oscar win in 1995 for Leaving Las Vegas. Now, when any actor picks up that trophy, they briefly become in control of their own destiny in La-La Land. While most mortals would try to turn that opportunity into a string of prestigious roles, little Nicky went another route. Unlike the rest of the world, Cage saw himself as an action star and within two years unleashed The Rock (February 4, 10pm), Con Air (February 18, 10pm), and Face/Off (March 3, 10pm) onto the world. They were all monster hits and suddenly Cage was a superstar. While all three of those movies were pretty damn great, Con Air holds special distinction. That tale of a renegade plane full of prisoners is one of the funniest movies of the 90s. Every scene is either deliberately or indeliberately hilarious. With Cage hysterically miscast as a spurned former army officer with fists classified as lethal weapons, long stringy locks of hair that defied the realities of a receding hairline, and a smooth Southern drawl, it kicked the camp phase of his career into high gear.
Yep, two years after Oscar glory, Cage was playing such absurd roles with a ludicrous level of commitment that brought him into William Shatner territory. It was never 100% clear if he was doing it on purpose, but given how hysterical he could be in flicks like Brian DePalma’s Snake Eyes (March 17, 10pm the only film that allows Cage to overact for thirteen unbroken minutes in a luscious tracking shot) it didn’t matter. As one of the biggest movie stars on the planet, Cage had the right to go insane and thankfully did it onscreen as well as off. He managed to take his screaming shenanigans to new heights in The Wicker Man (March 10, 10pm), a film that bombed theatrically, but soon became a viral video phenomenon with all it’s bee-stinging, lady-punching glory and of course, that goddamn honey.
Critical opinion seemed to wane on Cage during this period, but he popped up with a few surprises. First there was the Spike Jonze/Charlie Kaufman oddity Adaptation (March 24, 10pm) in which he gave an excellent performance as the neurotic/wild man Kaufman twins (perhaps because he finally got to co-star with his favorite actor). Then came his amazing collaboration with Werner Herzog on the bizarro sequel/remake Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call: New Orleans (March 31, 10pm). Cage’s performance as an out-of-control cop for Herzog took his manic insanity to heights I doubt even he dreamed possible. The dark comedy was so hilarious that it seemed to suggest Cage was in on the joke and deliberately stepped over-the-line in some of his most reviled works. Granted, some of the unfortunate flicks that followed may have put that theory into question, but the Nicolas Cage crap-shoot is part of the fun of following his career. Every time you buy a ticket to ride Cage train, you have an equal shot of seeing the best or worst movie of the year (okay, maybe not equal, but he does make some gems).
The question that has filled many a geeky message board remains, is Nicolas Cage a good actor or a bad actor? I can’t pretend to know the answer, but I would respond with a resounding, “who cares?” This is a man who has provided us with some of the best and worst performances of the last thirty years. Every time he swaggers onto a screen a little tired and a little wired, you can guarantee to be entertained. Frankly, what more could you want from a movie star? Cage may run the gamut from gold to shit in a single scene at times, but he could never be accused of being boring. With Toronto’s million dollar movie Mecca offering hours of Cagey goodness over the couple months, it’s a good time to be a cinephile with a sweet tooth for trash and the perfect way to kill time before the next Nic Cage epic is released on the usual three-month cycle.
Bangkok Dangerous: The Cinema of Nicolas Cage kicks off January 28 at 10:00 PM with Valley Girl.
Related video: Nicolas Cage Losing His Shit