THE CAGE-AHOLICS ANONYMOUS” CAGIEST NIC CAGE PERFORMANCES
A Look at Our Top Ten Cagiest Performances by Actor Nicolas Cage
By the Members of Cage-aholics Anonymous
Nicolas Cage is an enigma: a bunny outside the box that just can”t quite be put back in, a fucked up Ferrari in the cable-carred streets of San Francisco, a bear-pawed punch to a lady”s face, a shout of “HAGGIS!” in a horrible British accent from a Buckingham Palace banister, a lucky crack pipe to the break of dawn, to the break of daaaawn, babyyy.
Is Nicolas Cage the greatest actor of his generation? Maybe. Is he the worst actor of his generation? It”s possible. Could he simultaneously be both? We here at Cage-aholics Anonymous like to think: Yes, he must be both, or else the world makes no sense and the end of times is already upon us. (Wait…is the end of times already upon us?…is this why Nic Cage will star in this year”s adaptation of the Biblical apocalypse series Left Behind?)
Here at Cage-aholics Anonymous, we are, as our honorary founding member Ethan Hawke admitted, “kind of obsessed with Nicolas Cage.” Another honorary founding member of our club, the late great Roger Ebert, wrote of Cage: “There are often lists of the great living male movie stars: De Niro, Nicholson and Pacino, usually. How often do you see the name of Nicolas Cage? He should always be up there. He”s daring and fearless in his choice of roles, and unafraid to crawl out on a limb, saw it off and remain suspended in air. No one else can project inner trembling so effectively.[...]He always seems so earnest. However improbable his character, he never winks at the audience. He is committed to the character with every atom and plays him as if he were him.”
Ethan Hawke goes even further in his praise than Ebert by claiming: “He”s the only actor since Marlon Brando that”s actually done anything new with the art of acting; he”s successfully taken us away from an obsession with naturalism into a kind of presentation style of acting that I imagine was popular with the old troubadours. If I could erase his bottom half bad movies, and only keep his top half movies, he would blow everyone else out of the water. He”s put a little too much water in his beer, but he is still one of the great actors of our time.”
We couldn”t agree more. The problem is that sometimes telling the water from the beer is more difficult than one might imagine. Nicolas Cage is so often simultaneously good, bad, and ridiculous that all our normal notions of what constitutes quality go out the window, but here at Cage-aholics Anonymous, we”ve decided to try to qualify that unique brand of “Cage quality” and list our TOP TEN Cagiest Nic Cage performances. These are the Cage performances that not only scream “Look at me…I”m a prickly pear!” but also make you wonder “How in the name of Zeus” butthole did he pull that off?”
“The National Treasure franchise presents traditional Cageists with a classic Cagean performance: Cage, the bumbling, more-than-slightly unhinged genius and ultimately unlikely action hero, utilizing his wits and his friends (all of whom possess uniquely necessary skills) in a Just-Crazy-Enough-It-Might-Work scheme to recover an artifact of historical and financial significance while restoring the family name and ridding society of money-hungry international criminals. Twice. Benjamin Gates is Cage at his most comfortable, and the character serves as a sublime example of Cage as Cage himself. There is no great director or particularly noteworthy script to coax out the brilliance kept deep within, yet he exists within a family-friendly action environment in which he is still kept somewhat inside the lines. The Cage of the National Treasure capers keeps his mind just busy enough with riddles and puzzles that he manages not to detonate in full fury, yet lacks the critical directorial guidance that perhaps might have kept him from making a scene: “Popped down to the pub for a pint! Bit of all-right! Going to arrest a man for that? Are you going to detain a blighter for enjoying his whis-KEY? Bangers and mash! Bubbles and squeak! Smoked eel pie! HAGGIS!” As Cage is hauled forcefully from Buckingham Palace, scream-singing “I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts” in a British accent, both his co-stars and the audience silently acknowledge the genius of his actions–safe in the knowledge that Benjamin Gates will not lead them wrong. And he never does.” – Rachael Bacha, Lifetime Cage Enthusiast
9. Ben Sanderson in Mike Figgis” Leaving Las Vegas
“”I understand what you”re saying. I appreciate your concern. It”s not my intention to make you uncomfortable. Please serve me today and I”ll never come in here again. If I do, you can eighty-six me.” This line, delivered through the clenched teeth and delirium tremens-addled warbles of Hollywood screenwriter Ben Sanderson (Cage, in his Oscar-winning turn) as he tries to needle one more sustaining drink from a beleaguered bartender, perfectly captures Cage at his Cagiest. One need only view Mike Figgis” Leaving Las Vegas to see that Cage is truly a force of nature–a performer whose wildly idiosyncratic approach to acting can be harnessed for almost ANYTHING, whether it be in service to absurdist comedy, madcap action, or, in this case, heart-rending pathos. Figgis” film demonstrates that, more so than Cage using his films as a canvas for his talent, a talented director with a good, intriguing concept can actually use a Cage performance to improve their overall film.” – Randall Winston, Lifetime Cage Enthusiast
8. Edward Malus in Neil LaBute”s The Wicker Man
“Caginess is best defined through Nic’s fanatical commitment to a role, through that manic–nouveau shamanic–look in his eyes. And frankly, how better illustrated is his Cagiest Caginess than when he punches a bear in the face? Actually, it’s a woman in a bear suit, but somehow that only makes it better. Neil LaBute’s The Wicker Man is filled with such classic lines as “STEP AWAY FROM THE BIKE,” “HOW’D IT GET BURNED,” and “NOT THE BEES!” If another, less Cagey man were the lead, this absurd and often nonsensical film would have faded into utter obscurity long ago. As it stands, however, The Wicker Man lives on as one of the Cagiest Cage movies to ever Cage its way across the screen.” – Ariana Lader, Lifetime Cage Enthusiast
7. Sailor Ripley in David Lynch”s Wild at Heart
“As much as I hate to admit it, Nicholas Cage would not be at his best in a one-man stage show (though I would pay good money to see him try). Cage requires auteurs like David Lynch (or Werner Herzog) to provide both restraint and embellishment, to create a world in which he can exorcise tempestuous humanity in a symbiotic aesthetic and narrative context without retarding his Cagian essence. Enter Wild at Heart, Lynch’s critic-polarizing, melodramatic valentine to the visceral recklessness of young love. Cage breathes his idiosyncratic madness into Sailor Ripley, who along with other half Lula (Laura Dern), hit the road in hopes of finding a blissful life absent of Lula’s psychopathic mother (Diane Ladd). At his core, David Lynch is a relentless optimist—Sailor and Lula are wild–but also pure–at heart, and the extremities of amoral violence and desperation that populate the film are but Lynch’s machinations to more thoroughly highlight the heroic commitment and deep romance of the lovers’ journey through a world of madness. As an artist, Cage is most alive when he portrays outsiders like Sailor; not just for the chance to be “eccentric,” but to provide a kinetic meditation on being a vessel of misunderstood passion in a society that assertively wants to destroy you. That is Sailor Ripley, and that’s why Cage is so electric in this role. As a viewer, watching Sailor serenade Lula with “Love Me Tender” at the conclusion of the film is one of the most emotionally schizophrenic on-screen moments in Cage’s career, a byzantine cocktail of pathos and madcap buffoonery that no other actor could deliver.” – Alex Bacha, Lifetime Cage Enthusiast
6. Cameron Poe in Simon West”s Con Air
“Like a bee to honey, Nic Cage is a sucker when it comes to implausibly principled action heroes. With the possible exception of Johnny Blaze (aka Ghost Rider), never has a Cage character stuck more stubbornly to his moral compass than Cameron Poe. But it’s not the gritty resolve to abide by the same code of conduct no matter the context–be it Desert Storm, a bar brawl, or a jumbo jet hijacked by serial rapists–that makes Poe so engrossing. For a plot catalyzed by a judge classifying Poe’s body a “deadly weapon,” you”d think the star of Con Air should be Cage’s chiseled physique. But what really shines is the Southern accent he affects to deliver such classic lines as “Put the bunny back in the box.” Like Cage’s performance, the drawl is as thick as the humidity in an Alabama summer.” – Shane Boyle, Lifetime Cage Enthusiast
5. Stanley Goodspeed in Michael Bay”s The Rock
“Nicolas Cage and I share a birthday and one time we were on the same flight to Las Vegas together. And while those are mildly interesting truths, it really doesn”t mean much of anything in terms of his acting, which I”ve always been drawn to. I was maybe 13 when The Rock came out, and probably 14 when I first saw it as a rental from Blockbuster (side note: it also became one of the first Criterion editions I purchased). It was in this midnight VHS viewing that I truly began to understand what it means to be an actor. Nicolas Cage’s performance in what could have easily been a throwaway summer blockbuster, elevated the film to something more–something intangible yet in front of our faces at all times. His take on the hard working, desk jockey turned unstoppable action star is truly something astounding. I have to imagine that any other actor would have played the former more reserved, more as a tape-around-the-glasses poindexter and the latter in a more fish-out-of-water way than Mr. Cage. Instead, he challenged our preconceived notions of a very formulaic blockbuster by playing a badass, bomb defusing, Beatles buying, “Rocket Man” singing, Ferrari fucker-upper. It is this quality of being a near totally unhinged everyman that makes his performance of Stanley Goodspeed in The Rock one of his undeniably Cagiest.” – Shea Formaneck, Lifetime Cage Enthusiast
4. Charlie Kaufman & Donald Kaufman in Spike Jonze”s Adaptation.
“What”s Cagier than Cage? Why, more Cage of course. In the spiraling meta-narrative of Spike Jonze”s Adaptation, Cage plays two brothers–the bitter, crumbling, brilliant Charlie Kaufman, and the sweet, earnest, slightly thick-headed Donald Kaufman. The fact that they both feel like warm, living characters is only part of Cage”s genius; for me, Cage centers the film, giving a real human heart to a story that could have become a cold exercise in metaphysical and creative gamesmanship. Instead, we have the wondrous final product, where a rich and complex script meets the wizardry of Cage at the height of his considerable powers.” – Dustin Illingworth, Lifetime Cage Enthusiast
3. H.I. McDunnough in the Coen Brothers” Raising Arizona
“Nic Cage as H.I. McDonnough in the Coen Brothers” Raising Arizona says, “There”s what”s right and there”s what”s right and never the twain shall meet.” Except, in this performance, Nicolas Cage is the meeting of twain rights. His performance in this film–as a two-bit trailer trash criminal who, with the help of his infertile policewoman wife and some equally offbeat friends, kidnaps a child from a wealthy family to raise as his own–is the perfect mix of the two Cages: the crazy Cage on the one hand and the controlled Cage on the other. Even when you find yourself laughing and shaking your head at the utter stupidity of every bad decision H.I. makes, you see that you”re rooting for someone that wants the best for his “family.” The Coen Brothers” philosophical trailer park romantic could have only been brought to life by the masterful and maniacal Nicolas Cage.” – Artie Moreno, Lifetime Cage Enthusiast
2. Castor Troy & Sean Archer in John Woo”s Face/Off
“John Woo”s Face/Off is an operatic fantasia that leaves you Woo-zy from its onslaught of explosions, doves taking flight, fingers running gently over faces, and absurd lines delivered in increasingly more absurd ways by both John Travolta and Nicolas Cage. (Nicolas Cage is, of course, the only actor who could out-absurd Travolta in an absurdist face off.) The movie–whose plot involves FBI agent Sean Archer switching faces with terrorist Castor Troy–has so many amazing Cage scenes that stick with you that even 17 years later my friends and I can still quote and reenact many of them verbatim. And we do. The prison fight with Cage”s maniacal cry-laugh-yell “I”m Castor Troy, wooohoooo!” is perhaps our favorite, but only one of the many scenes in this movie that epitomize the pinnacle of Cagedom. If this movie doesn”t make you love him as an actor, then I really don”t know what would. From the moment Cage”s Castor Troy enters the screen in a priest”s outfit, dancing and singing to “Hallelujah,” and then grabbing a young choirgirl”s butt, you know you”re going to see Cage at his nouveau shamanic best. Is there any more mad, more absurd, or more inspired Cage performance than this?” - Kelsey Malone, Lifetime Cage Enthusiast
1. Terence McDonagh in Werner Herzog”s Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans
“It”s possible that Nic Cage is an absolute genius–he certainly has moments of genius–but I think the evidence points to a more likely possibility: that Nic Cage is the ultimate idiot savant. So often when he has no great director to rein him in and put his nouveau shamanic method and schizophrenic absurdist sensibility to good use, he can”t help but hurl himself over the edge of a cliff and plummet to his peril. But sometimes (often when he has a true auteur at the helm), like a naive child with seemingly no inkling of what he”s just done, Cage somehow manages to float in mid-air after running off that cliff, a live-action Wile E. Coyote. These Cagiest of Cage performances often mix the good, the bad, and the ridiculous into something sublime that transcends all categories of so-called “quality” acting, creating a beautifully manic melange of humor and pathos, sincerity and irony, reality and surreality, gravitas and buffoonery, sanity and madness, character and caricature. The example par excellence of this is in Werner Herzog”s Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, where he plays Terence McDonaugh, the titular “bad lieutenant” whose port of call is post-Katrina New Orleans. Herzog doesn”t just throw caution to the wind as he lets Cage as maniac McDonaugh run wild through the Big Easy, he launches caution out of this atmosphere. And yet, even as he lets Cage off the leash, you always get the sense that the director is overseeing every minute detail, pushing the actor to hit all his marks, to go exactly where he wants him to go, reining him in when he goes too far and pushing him further whenever he feels the film can take it. This is one of the best director-actor team-ups in the history of cinema because Herzog and Cage both have an innate interest in pure chaos, in wild abandon, and when it works, oh how it works. It”s in this movie and the few others like it where Cage is able to use all his quirks, all his tics, all his idiosyncrasies, all his gifts, and–paraphrasing the words of his character McDonaugh–sprout antlers like a gazelle or elk and score a touchdown. I imagine that if fish do indeed have dreams–as is speculated upon in this film–they might just be fantasizing while they swim in circles about one of the greatest things in life: Cage performances of this calibre.” – Tyler Malone, Lifetime Cage Enthusiast
Nicolas Cage is an Academy Award winning actor.
The members of Cage-aholics Anonymous are ironically not so anonymous. They are Nicolas Cage fans Tyler Malone, Dustin Illingworth, Alex Bacha, Randall Winston, Shea Formaneck, Ariana Lader, Kelsey Malone, Artie Moreno, Rachael Bacha, and Shane Boyle..
Written and Compiled by the Members of Cage-aholics Anonymous
Design by Francesca Rimi
Stock Image with Various Cage Faces Photoshopped on It, Design by Francesca Rimi