The Best Movie Ever | Best Kevin Spacey Movies List
Two-time Oscar winner Kevin Spacey has had an unusual career by Hollywood standards. He started out in small, memorable roles in films like Working Girl and Henry & June, only to become a bona fide star in his mid-30s playing powerful businessmen and suave shysters. It seemed like Kevin Spacey was everywhere in the 1990s, and although his leading man status has waned in recent years, his iconic presence still improves every movie he’s in. Even this weekend’s otherwise horrible Horrible Bosses 2.
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But what, dear readers, are The Best Kevin Spacey Movies Ever? That’s what CraveOnline’s film critics – William Bibbiani, Witney Seibold and Brian Formo – are here to find out. We tasked all three of them to pick a single motion picture that best encapsulates the career of Kevin Spacey, and now we’re letting them make their case. Read their picks as the best Kevin Spacey movies and vote for your own personal favorites at the bottom of the page. Then come back next Wednesday for another all-new installment of CraveOnline’s Best Movie Ever.
Best Kevin Spacey Movies List
Witney Seibold’s Pick: Swimming with Sharks (1994)
Kevin Spacey has a gregarious face and fathomless rage. He is funny and cruel. Bubbling under every pleasant smile is a torrent. Almost everything Spacey touches, even if it’s a lighthearted kiddie flick like A Bug’s Life, gains a wrathful edge. This is why he was so effective in the Academy Award-winning American Beauty; his sad sack Lester Burnham gained liberation through wrathful rebellion, and Spacey was able to capture the sadness, the rage, and the joy that came from cutting loose. Jack Vincennes from L.A. Confidential may have been his most laidback role (Jack was more of a glory-seeking egotist than a bully; that was Russell Crowe’s job), but recall that it was Jack who threw the first punch in the “Bloody Christmas” fight.
So if rage is Spacey’s masterful metier, then I can only select 1994’s Swimming with Sharks as his best movie. Swimming with Sharks features, I feel, the performance from which all other Spacey performances stemmed. The monstrous edge on display in all of Spacey’s roles can be seen writ large in Buddy Ackerman, the world’s worst boss. Ackerman throws fits, berates those around him, cusses, makes contradictory demands, exploits the women who wander into his field of vision, and even throws paperweights when he is angry, which is all the time. The poor protagonist of the film (played by an excellent Frank Whaley) is a weak-willed jellyfish who resents that he is becoming harder. Spacey, then, plays the grindstone that we don’t want to sharpen ourselves on. Although the film is billed as a comedy (oh, sir, it is not a comedy), Sharks is a high tragedy about the presence of casual evil in the workplace.
Near the end of the film, Spacey does break down into tears, explaining why he behaves the way he does. For a split second – a very short one – you want to sympathize with this monster. Until he snaps back into berating mode. Here is a man so wicked, you can’t help but admire his power. And maybe, in your darker more ambitious moments, be like him.
William Bibbiani’s Pick: Swimming with Sharks (1994)
Kevin Spacey is the man with confidence. I think that’s what finally made audiences gravitate to the actor in the 1990s. Here was a man who was good-looking but not conventionally handsome, and had a hairline that was the envy of very few, but when he entered a room he was the only person you could possibly look at. He was in control of every situation. In the 1940s and 1950s he could have been the next Humphrey Bogart, but in an era that worshipped youth and abdominal muscles he was an iconoclast. His characters stand out because they seem devoid of doubt, and that forces the rest of us to simply react to his energy.
So the best Kevin Spacey movie ever should, in my estimation, be a film that’s about how people respond to a man like Kevin Spacey. Swimming with Sharks stars Frank Whaley as Guy, the assistant to Spacey’s character, Buddy Ackerman, a Hollywood bigwig who takes credit for his underlings’ work and goes from zero to monster on a packet of Equal. It’s the perfect part for a strong actor like Spacey: he gets to dominate and everyone else has to either submit or react in kind, as Guy eventually does. He kidnaps Buddy, because he’s not Alpha enough to compete on equal terms.
And Kevin Spacey luxuriates in Buddy Ackerman’s shoes, devouring the scenery whole because it’s exactly what the character demands of him. He’s an apex predator in an industry that breeds them well, and exists as a litmus test for audiences. Are you powerful enough to be Buddy? And if not, what’s wrong with you? That’s a challenging concept for a film of any stripe, and George Huang’s still-potent Swimming with Sharks isn’t afraid to be confrontational, brandishing Spacey’s performance as a deadly weapon.
Brian Formo’s Pick: L.A. Confidential (1997)
Kevin Spacey was on a roll in the 1990s. Picture him in short shorts and a sweatband, moving around the three point arc calling for the ball. He was on fire. Glengarry Glen Ross, The Ref, Se7en, The Usual Suspects, Swimming with Sharks, mixed in with smaller character turns opposite bigger actors in A Time to Kill and Outbreak. Spacey won an Supporting Actor Oscar for Suspects, but he still wasn’t a full-fledged star. Which made him perfect for the role of Jack Vincennes in L.A. Confidential: a vice cop who thinks he’s a star in the department because he hangs out on movie sets and gives procedural advice to TV cops.
Spacey is absolutely magnetic as Vincennes. His badge is a rental. He’s an advisor on a “Dragnet”-style TV show. And a photo-op buster of movie stars breaking minor laws for a gossip magazine (delectably called “Hush-Hush”). As Vincennes does less and less detective legwork, the star on his badge might closer resemble the stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Jack Vincennes is the most complete performance we’ve gotten from Spacey — his natural charm, his knowing head tilts; Jack’s like Spacey’s talk show personality except he’ll throw a punch for getting blood on his suit — and his is the character who is most changed by the end. But that’s perhaps because he was the one most innocuously corrupted by the badge in the first place. While others in his department are covering up murders, shooting unarmed men in their underwear and easing the transport of heroin, Vincennes was just blinded by the Hollywood lights. When his side job get a kid’s throat slit in a seedy hotel room, Vincennes loses his legs underneath him. And then he starts being a cop again; doing the legwork. And by the end of Confidential, Spacey has one of the most unexpected, and greatly acted final scenes performed by any kinda-maybe-sorta-movie star.
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