Ten Great Nicolas Cage Movies
Yes, Nicolas Cage. What a guy! The wild-eyed Oscar-winning thespian is one of the hardest working leading men in Hollywood, starring in four movies due out this year alone. With one of them, Dominic Sena’s Season of the Witch, (out on DVD, Blu-Ray™ and to Download NOW) we thought this would be a perfect time to look back at the career of Nicolas Cage, nee Nicolas Coppola (he’s Francis Ford’s nephew), and single out some of his best – or at least most popular – movies to date. Enjoy!
10. GONE IN 60 SECONDS (dir. Dominic Sena, 2000)
Gone in Sixty Seconds is admittedly a film for 12-year-old boys. Its obsession with cars and a young Angelina Jolie in blonde dreadlocks… And although nothing in Dominic Sena’s colorful remake ever quite matches up to the epic car chase at the end of H.B. Halicki’s original gritty independent car chase thriller, the film does manage to up the ante on the story. Whereas Halicki was content with his heroes stealing 48 cars for no reason other than they simply accepted the job, Sena’s film finds Nicolas Cage stealing 50 cars to settle the debt of his screw-up younger brother, played by Giovanni Ribisi. Add in a colorful carpentry-obsessed villain played by future Dr. Who Christopher Eccleston, and you’ve got a great little flick.
9. NATIONAL TREASURE (dir. Jon Turteltaub, 2004)
One always gets the impression that Nicolas Cage sees himself a little differently than the rest of us do. In National Treasure, Jon Turteltaub’s “American History” version of Indiana Jones. Cage plays Benjamin Franklin Gates (that’s funny), an historian obsessed with a theory that claims that the Founding Fathers, and in particular the Free Masons, hid a massive treasure dating back to the dawn of man and used famous artifacts like The Declaration of Independence as clues. Sean Bean’s obsessed with it two, and he and Cage come to blows when Bean decides to steal the Declaration. In a fit of “Only in a Jerry Bruckheimer Movie” logic, Cage decides the only way to prevent its theft is to steal it himself. Old guardsmen like Jon Voight and Harvey Keitel make the sugar go down smooth, but it’s Cage who carries the film with an only slightly nerdier take on the old Indiana Jones archetype, finally playing the hero he always seemed to be going for.
8. CON AIR (dir. Simon West, 1997)
Not that National Treasure was Nicolas Cage’s first action extravaganza. Or his best. It’s just his best conventional action outing. If we’re being honest, he’s better at freaky weird crap like the blissfully bug nuts Con Air than he is at the Saturday morning matinee fare. Simon West’s first film is a weird mama-jama, in which a remarkably spacious plane is hijacked by its passengers: the most dangerous murderers in America, played by the most dangerous character actors in America. John Malkovich takes center stage, but Steve Buscemi steals the show as a particularly unusual serial killer. Cage is on board too, but he’s a good guy. He only got sent to jail for defending his wife a little too well in a bar fight. But he should have been sent to jail for his feloniousy insane performance. Cage beefs up his body, buffs up his hair and must have popped a lozenge or something because he imbues this otherwise familiar tough guy role with a soft southern drawl that makes already ridiculous lines like, “Put the bunny back in the box,” play like smooth jazz.
7. LORD OF WAR (dir. Andrew Niccol, 2005)
Andrew Niccol is best known for his sci-fi drama Gattaca, but his movie careers stretches beyond those limits into the Oscar-nominated screenplay for The Truman Show and, of course, Lord of War, which he wrote and directed himself. Cage plays Yuri Orlov, and all his life he wanted be a gangster. Oh wait, that’s someone else. No, Yuri just wanted to supply guns to gangsters. And freedom fighters. And fascist dictators. It’s his job, selling guns, and he’s good at it. Cage plays Orlov like an enabling drug dealer, in love with exploiting the system but gradually beginning to look down on his own merchandise. As he’s confronted with what we will politely call “the down side” of selling weapons of more-or-less mass destruction, Cage struggles with his conscience but resists the all-too-Hollywood urge to let it win the war for his soul. The movie hits some familiar territory, mining rags-to-riches stories along with a fair share of mafia tropes, but Cage is particularly good in it.
6. MATCHSTICK MEN (dir. Ridley Scott, 2003)
What is it with con artist movies? It’s easy to blame David Mamet for this kind of thing – and probably a little apt – but they always seem to end with somebody getting conned. I know, that sounds obvious, but that’s the whole point. It’s not a twist anymore. And no offense, it’s not much of a twist in Matchstick Men either, but that’s okay. The machinations are incidental. What matters is Cage’s character: Roy Waller, a career confidence man with crippling obsessive-compulsive disorder. Cage bounces across the movie, keeping his composure only when he’s pretending to be somebody else. It’s only when that ugly balance fails that he seeks professional help for his condition and finally connects with his 14-year-old daughter, played by a vivacious Alison Lohman. Things go bad, but that’s just the plot. What matters is the journey Cage’s character takes from a detached wreck of a human being to a man who cares enough about himself to finally care about others.
5. FACE/OFF (dir. John Woo, 1997)
Face/Off, still John Woo’s best American movie, stars the then-killer team of Nicolas Cage and John Travolta. Cage plays Castor Troy, a master criminal who killed John Travolta’s son. After an epic throw down big enough to end any other movie, Travolta learns that Cage has hidden a biological weapon somewhere in Los Angeles, so (naturally) the government takes Cage’s face off and puts it on Travolta’s so he can covertly learn the location from Cage’s brother Pollux (Alessandro Nivola). But then Cage wakes up and puts on Travolta‘s face and… Wow, we never realized how stupid this whole plot line was. Cage and Travolta take the whole affair dead seriously, though, successfully milking their characters’ unique situations for unexpected pathos and clever mimicry, since they’re each playing each other playing themselves. We’re pretty sure that sentence is right. Cage gets the more emotional role here, but then again Travolta is also Cage, seamlessly integrating his co-star’s familiar mannerisms with his own cucumber-cool persona, giving us a double-dose of Cage that just rules.
4. THE ROCK (dir. Michael Bay, 1996)
How’s this for a plot: a group of American soldiers rebel against the system and threaten San Francisco with utter devastation. Here’s the twist: they’ve taken over Alcatraz. Oh wait, here’s the other twist: the only one that can stop them is a nerdy chemical freak. You like that? How about one more: to do so, he’ll have to team up with James Bond. Yes, the only person who can break into Alcatraz is the only man who supposedly escaped… a British spy who had stolen some crazy government secrets, played by Sean ‘Holy Crap It’s Sean Connery’ Connery. Connery represents the old school action hero mystique – charismatic and hardened – while Cage expertly supplies the 90’s-man counterpart: the nerd with the hot girlfriend, who doesn’t act cool but did sleep with the prom queen. Directed by Michael Bay before he got a little trigger happy with the Avid machine, and boasting one of the best car chases ever, The Rock doesn’t get enough credit for being a truly spectacular action experience.
3. LEAVING LAS VEGAS (dir. Mike Figgis, 1995)
Nicolas Cage finally won his Best Actor Oscar for Mike Figgis’s 1995 downer drama Leaving Las Vegas, and with good cause (even if we were rooting for Sean Penn in Dead Man Walking that year). Leaving Las Vegas is a harrowing journey of self-destruction that follows Cage as Ben Sanderson, a failed Hollywood screenwriter who goes to Vegas, baby, Vegas… in order to drink himself to death. Yes, that is the plot. Along the way he indulges in a prostitute played by Adventures in Babysitting‘s Elizabeth Shue, in a role that earned her an Academy Award nomination but surprisingly didn’t lead her to a career renaissance. Cage’s unbridled energy makes a great contrast with his fatalistic intentions, and the bond he crafts with Shue is hopeful but nevertheless incapable of curing his problems. It’s one damned depressing movie, but a damned good one to boot.
2. RAISING ARIZONA (dirs. Joel Coen & Ethan Coen [uncredited], 1987)
In one of Nicolas Cage’s earliest starring roles – and still one of his best (although Peggy Sue Got Married is pretty underrated if you ask us) – The Coifed One starred as H.I. “Hi” McDunnough, an ex-con married to Ed(-wina), a stern police woman played by Holly Hunter. Their Salad Days have ended: Ed can’t have babies. Pushed to the breaking point, they decide to kidnap one of a recently born group of quintuplets, since the other family has more than they can handle. But raising children, particularly the stolen child of Nathan Arizona (Trey Wilson), proves too much for them as old felonious habits die hard, and an otherworldly bounty hunter named Leonard Smalls (Randall ‘Tex’ Cobb) vies to make them die even harder. Cage is at his comedic best in the role: sympathetic but prone to wrongdoing, without ever sacrificing the love his character must feel to go through all this crap for his family.
1. ADAPTATION (dir. Spike Jonze, 2002)
The time has come. It’s finally safe to say that Adaptation is Nicolas Cage’s best movie, and best performance to boot. Well, ‘performances’ actually, since in this adaptation of Susan Orlean’s book The Orchid Thief he plays the movie’s own screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, and Kaufman’s brother Donald, who in real life doesn’t even exist. A brilliant puddle of neuroses on one hand and a confident hack on the other, Cage embodies the unbridled creativity of Kaufman as he writes his own art house movie while at war with a very real side of himself that wants to turn it into Oscar bait. Incredibly, Kaufman lost the Oscar to The Pianist‘s Ronald Harwood, and Cage lost to Adrien Brody, also from The Pianist. But awards don’t matter when adaptations are this good: Cage’s inner struggle affects the very fabric of Adaptation‘s reality, tearing it apart and putting it back together again at one of the best films of the last decade.
What are your favorite Nicolas Cage movies?