The Best Movie Ever: Steve Martin
Steve Martin is a comedy titan. He’s been at the center of iconic moments in the history of both television and feature films, written several wonderful books and won an honorary Academy Award for “his extraordinary talents and the unique inspiration he has brought to the art of motion pictures.” Also, plays a mean banjo. (And he’s starring in this weekend’s animated comedy Home.)
But what is The Best Steve Martin Movie Ever? CraveOnline’s critics are going to have a tough time with this one. Although, like most actors, Steve Martin’s appeared in a some stinkers over the years, he’s also starred in (and sometimes written) some of the best comedies of the past four decades. Our Best Movie Ever contributors William Bibbiani, Witney Seibold and Brian Formo couldn’t agree on a single film this week, so take a look at what they picked as Steve Martin’s finest work and scroll down to the bottom of the page to vote on your own favorites!
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Brian Formo’s Pick: Roxanne (1987)
Steve Martin played a number of jerks and doofuses prior to playing an extremely knowledgeable, witty, and kind man who helps get a jerkish doofus woo the girl of his dreams in Roxanne. It’s Martin’s best movie because he has to endear the audience to C.D. Bales—a fire chief in a small northwestern town, who’s been cursed with an abnormally long nose (so long, he needs a straw to drink a glass of wine— so that we become aware that it’s that “curse” that has made Bale so likeable. His lack of confidence in his physical appearance has made C.D. a real stand-up human being—he’s well read, he’s affable, he sticks up for people—and its these virtues that allow Martin to give one of his subtler performances. Yes, he’s still very funny without playing a dimwit. He’s perhaps funnier than ever because Martin makes us care for him, and never laugh at him.
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William Bibbiani’s Pick: My Blue Heaven (1990)
Dear god, how I love Steve Martin. Even a bad Steve Martin movie (see: Sgt. Bilko, The Pink Panther) usually makes me laugh in spite of myself. The comedian has a fantastic on-screen presence, silly yet somehow rooted in smarts. His characters are either aware that they’re being ludicrous or just mannered enough to make it clear that there’s a smart actor behind them, making clever choices about when to be a goofball. Steve Martin has starred in many of my favorite comedies, including Roxanne, Three Amigos, The Jerk and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, but there’s no Steve Martin movie I love more than My Blue Heaven.
It’s not one of Steve Martin’s most talked about films nowadays, but it was a modest hit when it first came out back in 1990. That was the year, funnily enough, that Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas came out. Why does that matter? Because My Blue Heaven is based on the exact same story as Goodfellas, but it picks up where Scorsese’s organized crime saga left off: with a New York goon moving to the suburbs, uniquely ill-equipped to survive in a community where ketchup is considered a perfectly reasonable substitute for marinara sauce. Steve Martin plays Vinnie Antonelli, aka “Todd Wilkinson,” and he starts a crime wave by ripping off bookstores, relabeling supermarket steaks and scamming the town out of charity money.
And despite his despicable schtick, Vinnie is wonderful. He’s impossibly slick but no one seems to care, which just makes him try harder. It’s a great role for Martin, smarter than everyone around him but completely unappreciated, and absolutely out of place despite making the middle-class world his oyster. My Blue Heaven features many of Steve Martin’s funniest quotes (“I am the worst case scenario of Thomas Jefferson’s dream!”), and it’ll have you dancing the meringue for days. It’s the best Steve Martin movie ever. Hands down.
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Witney Seibold’s Pick: L.A. Story (1991)
There are two sides to Steve Martin. On the one hand, there’s the deliberately dippy standup comedian, whose shtick is that of the unfunny comedian who doesn’t know he’s unfunny. When that Steve Martin put on a fake-arrow-through-the-head cranial appliance, he wasn’t going for direct laughs, but subtly parodying the kind of man who would try to use such an appliance to elicit direct laughs. It was from this Steve Martin that we got films like The Jerk, ¡Three Amigos!, and The Pink Panther. On the other hand, there is the soulful, intense, almost melancholy Steve Martin, a lover of theater, of intellect, of Picasso. The kind who comes across as a well-read and knowing gentle professor. This is the Steve Martin who gets involved in The Spanish Prisoner, Grand Canyon, and Shopgirl. He is essentially a man who fully embodies both the sublime and the ridiculous. The mature and the childish.
For his best film, I will choose one that is sort of lost in between. Mick Jackson’s 1991 cult hit L.A. Story is a bizarre fantasy, a childish slapstick farce, and a wholly accurate and strangely touching meditation on the great big weird world that is Los Angeles. Martin plays a weatherman (in a city notorious for having “no weather”) who is charged with explaining Los Angeles to a visiting Brit (Victoria Tennant), showing her that the wealth and narcissism of this ego-driven land is actually just a string of affably absurd foibles. And, through this web of absurdity, there is love and magic lurking. A magical freeway sign communicates to Martin through cryptic, possibly divine, traffic warnings, and he finds that he may be falling in love with Tennant.
It’s rare that you find a farce so touching, and a romance so whimsical. And yet, it succeeds on every level. As an essay about the City of Angels, a treatise to love, and a slapstick wad of silliness. “I was deeply unhappy, but I didn’t know it, because I was so happy all the time.” Its quotations of Shakespeare are pretentious and deep all at once.