MURRAY MARVEL MARCHING SOCIETY”S MURRAYEST BILL MURRAY PERFORMANCES
A Look at Our Top Ten Murrayest Performances by Actor Bill Murray
By the Members of the Murray Marvel Marching Society
Okay, campers, rise and shine, and don”t forget your booties “cause it”s a top ten kind of day. Unlike with the other actors we”ve toptenned previously (Nic Cage, Val Kilmer, and Jeff Goldblum), Bill Murray isn”t exactly underrated (in any conventional sense). He”s pretty much universally loved by all. Have you ever known anyone who disliked Bill Murray? If you have, sever that relationship immediately. You”re either consorting with an idiot, the devil, or some form of extraterrestrial life. Yeah, anyone who is anti-Murray is pretty much a Nerdluck. (For those who haven”t Space Jammed in a while, the Nerdlucks were the evil alien creatures from Space Jam who were defeated by Michael Jordan, a gaggle of Warner Bros. tunes, and our main man Murray.)
And yet, when you read lists of the best actors of the past thirty years, Bill Murray”s name is rarely listed among them. Why? Because people, for some reason, don”t respect comedic talent like they do dramatic talent (even though it is arguably a much more difficult skill to acquire and hone). And those rare actors who are equally gifted in both comedic and dramatic acting–we count Bill Murray among them–are often relegated to the “clown car,” especially if they had the misfortune of showing off their comedic chops first. The Academy never takes actors like Murray or Jim Carrey all that seriously, which is a big part of why Bill Murray”s brilliant performance as Bob Harris in Lost in Translation didn”t win the Academy award (when it clearly should have), and why other performances of his (think of equally award-worthy turns in Groundhog Day, Rushmore, Ghostbusters, and Broken Flowers, just to name a few) were never even nominated for an Oscar.
We here at the Murray Marvel Marching Society want to salute the work of Bill Murray, both comedic and dramatic (often simultaneously both). Whether as a lead actor (in films as diverse as Stripes, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, and Scrooged), as a supporting actor (in films as diverse as Ed Wood, Caddyshack, and Moonrise Kingdom), or as a small cameo (in films as diverse as Get Smart, Zombieland, and Coffee and Cigarettes), Bill Murray is almost always the best part of any movie he is in.
It is often claimed that Bill Murray gets his cinematic power from being the ultimate hipster, utilizing the tried and true hipster formula of ironic detachment, but this is a gross misreading of Murray”s work, and disappointingly whitewashes his unique talent. If it were true, for one, Murray”s career would have been over before it began. Smug detachment can work here and there, but no one likes being bombarded with apathy all the time. On the contrary, Murray”s characters are layered and multifaceted, and though often that seemingly ironic detachment is an ingredient in their constitution, it by no means defines them wholly. In fact, what often shines through is the pathos built beneath that supposedly hipster sheen. His character Grimm in Quick Change explains when a bank guard asks him, “What the hell kind of clown are you?”: “The crying on the inside kind, I guess.” His characters often seem the “crying on the inside” kind, but we can tell it from the outside, we can sense their interior from the exterior because of Murray”s brilliance as an actor. Though Murray explained to Charlie Rose that he gets hired because he has spent his career trying “to not be sentimental,” a more thorough explanation would be that he gets hired because he can convey sentiment without relying on sentimentality (a quality many actors, including a number often considered amongst the best, are unable to do).
So, in honor of his uncanny comedic and dramatic talent, we decided to list for you our top ten Murrayest Bill Murray performances. This was a difficult one, because there are just way too many great performances to choose from, but we did our best to distill the essence of Murray into ten incredible roles. Without further ado, let”s baby step into our number ten Murray performance…
10. Carl Speckler in Harold Ramis” Caddyshack
“Correct me if I’m wrong, Sandy, but if I kill all the golfers, they’re gonna lock me up and throw away the key. What could be better than an early 80s comedy starring Chevy Chase, Rodney Dangerfield, and Bill Murray? An early 80s comedy starring Chevy Chase, Rodney Dangerfield, and a stoned, fisherman’s-hat-clad, side-mouth-talking Bill Murray whose mission is to defeat an onslaught of gopher puppets from taking over a hoity-toity golf club. Widely reputed to be one of the funniest (and best) sports movies of all time, Bill Murray as Carl Spackler in Caddyshack is a shining example of Murray’s perfect comedic brilliance that was originally revealed during his days on Saturday Night Live. Deadpan one-liners and a singular ineptitude make Murray’s Carl Spackler an easy favorite of lovers of bizarre slapstick comedy. While the jokes may be silly and somewhat juvenile, Murray delivers a classic and enduring performance that, just like that cagey gopher, will survive loads of plastic explosives only to emerge victoriously and dance to Kenny Loggins’ “I’m Alright.” Gunga galunga. Gunga gunga gungala.” – Rachael Bacha, Lifetime Murray Enthusiast
9. Don Johnston in Jim Jarmusch”s Broken Flowers
“In Broken Flowers, Bill Murrary portrays Don Johnston, an aging Don Juan. Nearing the end of his run as a great wooer of sorts, self aware enough to know that he is a dying breed, and to understand that he might not have much more time to do something “right” with his philandering lifestyle. He realizes that just maybe he is running out of “charm” as it were. There”s an interesting line from the film that sums up why Murray”s Don Johnston is one of his best performances: “Well, the past is gone, I know that. The future isn”t here yet, whatever it”s going to be. So, all there is, is this. The present. That”s it.” If we look at the timing of this film, it eerily correlates to Mr. Murray”s career as a whole. His past is gone (SNL, Ghostbusters, Stripes, etc.). His future is still quite undetermined, but his present is now. And his present is a revival. Arguably, though this performance is not ranked number one on this list, it is the
performance that solidified the transitional Murray performance into what we know and admire now. Gone are his wacky antics of his past (though there still is an underpinning of said antics). Gone are the initial introductions of his against type performances of Rushmore or Life Aquatic. This is Murray stating that he is everything we”ve been
wanting from him: grey, wrinkled, cynically sincere. This performance is him saying he is not going anywhere, that he has what it takes to portray the missing father figure of a new generation–a generation of aged arrested development–an understated philosophical observation of what it is to be a man in a world that makes no sense to those who watch the world slide by.” – Shea Formaneck, Lifetime Murray Enthusiast
8. Frank Cross in Richard Donner”s Scrooged
“In Richard Donner”s contemporary retelling of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Murray plays the “Scrooge type,” Frank Cross, a young, greedy TV executive who is haunted by three ghosts on the eve of pulling off a high-pressured, live broadcast of…well, a tacky, commercialized retelling Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. I sincerely believe Murray doesn’t get enough credit for this role, maybe because he makes it all look so easy–but this is the kind of role that a lesser actor likely would have allowed to veer into the realm of cartoonish buffoonery. Wonderfully, however, Murray decides to lead with vulnerability, adding those great, intangible, stolen-feeling moments we love Murray for. Cross’ journey blossoms into something that feels full and genuine despite toasters to the head, shotgun blasts, and time-traveling cabs. Scrooged culminates in Cross’ infamous “Christmas Miracle” speech, a moment Murray mostly improvised. If it weren’t for the legs Bill Murray gave Cross throughout the movie as it built up to this scene, the moment would feel lopsided and unearned. Instead, it’s impossible to walk away from the end of Scrooged without thinking, “Hey, if Bill Murray thinks real change in the human heart is possible, it must be!”" – Caitlin Cutt, Lifetime Murray Enthusiast
7. Bunny Breckinridge in Tim Burton”s Ed Wood
“There are people who would interpret Bill Murray’s signature deadpan as a sort of smug detachment, a subtle, protracted howl of sarcasm that allows him to play characters without embracing the vulnerability beneath the skin. I could not disagree more. Murray doesn’t use apathy as a sort of “default setting” in his performances, but ebbs and flows from a base of contemplative desire to bombastic physicality through layering his characters with multitudes. By brilliantly juxtaposing quietude and visceral (not to mention hilarious) outbursts, Murray illustrates for us a poignant take on an individual’s struggle to exist in a loud and discordant modern world. His tact works perfectly in his performance as Bunny Breckinridge in Tim Burton’s resplendent Ed Wood (when Burton was still doing resplendent films). Murray nails the eccentricities of the larger-than-life Breckenridge: a less disciplined actor would go in full-throttle, and leave the character in a deflated puddle of flamboyance. Instead, Murray positions Breckenridge perfectly in every scene he’s in, moving between great, down-played one-liner (His response to if he rejects Satan during a pragmatic baptism: “Sure”) and scene-stealing outbursts (His amazing “Que Cera Cera” musical number, or his plans to get sexual reassignment surgery in Mexico: “Goodbye, penis!”). It”s a beautiful balancing act, and yet, Bill Murray, man of contrasts, has for too long been falsely tried as someone who will never be a “serious actor.” I would respond, paraphrasing the far less layered Sean Penn: I will have you know that Mr. Murray is one of our finest actors.” – Alex Bacha, Lifetime Murray Enthusiast
6. Steve Zissou in Wes Anderson”s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
“One of the greatest things about Murray is his ability to conquer not just humor with aplomb, but also a character’s humanity. One of my favorite examples of this is with his role as the (formerly) renowned oceanographer Steve Zissou in Wes Anderson”s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. Out to avenge the death of his partner and best friend Esteban at the hands of the elusive Jaguar Shark, things quickly get interesting as his illegitimate son appears on the scene
. As Team Zissou’s mission seems to go awry at every turn, we watch at Steve struggles with his various failing (or flailing) relationships. It could be easy to see Steve as an egotistical, mildly alcoholic philanderer–I mean, c’mon, who cheats on Angelica Houston?! But somehow he always manages to have his sweet melancholy overshadow his petulance. (“Don’t be nice to Ali…he’s my nemesis.”) Come what may, we feel for Steve. Of course, there are also moments of sheer and utter absurdity, such as when dressed in a matching blue Speedo and bathrobe, Steve runs about screaming, shooting Phillipino pirates. And these scenes are also obviously BRILLIANT. After all, he is still Bill Murray.” – Ariana Lader, Lifetime Murray Enthusiast
5. Bob Wiley in Frank Oz”s What About Bob?
“What About Bob? has always struck me as the anti-buddy comedy buddy comedy, a manic inversion of a classic formula wherein Bob Wiley and Leo Marvin”s shifting psychoses stand in for the more traditional personality contrasts and ethnic tensions of the genre. The film exudes irresistible charm, and the writing respects its characters enough that each and every one of them feels completely necessary–there isn”t a throwaway to be found and some of my favorite moments after dozens of viewings involve characters with only a handful of lines. But the whirling dervish heart of What About Bob? begins and ends with Bill Murray”s uproarious (and enormously touching) performance, a comedic tour de force replete with both masterful physical comedy and a surprisingly affecting portrayal of pain. As an actor who, at the time, was known primarily for goofball and charismatic dick roles, What About Bob? hinted at Murray”s tragicomic potential–it is here that we see the first glimmers of Rushmore“s Herman Blume and the agony behind the smile. What I love about this film is that it takes anxiety and panic seriously. As someone who suffers from both, I do not feel pandered to, nor am I made to feel ashamed of my condition. There is a rich vein of empathy throughout, one that feels remarkably large for a madcap comedy. To respect a psychological condition while also making it warmly, funnily human takes subtly, heart, and immense skill. And therein lies the genius of Bill Murray: an actor who, perhaps better than anyone, is able to show the melancholy hiding within laughter, and the absurd humor inherent to tragic existence.” – Dustin Illingworth, Lifetime Murray Enthusiast
4. Bob Harris in Sofia Coppola”s Lost in Translation
“Bill Murray”s performance in Lost in Translation is absolute perfection–and should have earned him a Best Actor Oscar. He portrays Bob Harris, a lonely, exhausted, going-through-the-motions actor who is in Japan to film some whiskey commercials: “For relaxing times, make it Suntory time.” And yet instead of having “relaxing times” in Japan, Harris seems restless, until he strikes up a sweet but never saccharine friendship / unconsummated love affair with another lonely American (played by Scarlett Johansson). I don”t believe Bob Harris could have been played by anyone but Bill Murray: a master at effortlessly instilling a comedic moment with some pathos and lending a dramatic moment a laugh. As film critic Roger Ebert said of Murray”s performance: “Without it, the film could be unwatchable. With it, I can”t take my eyes away.” In fact, director Sofia Coppola claimed that if Murray did not agree to play the part, she wouldn”t have made the film: the character was written for him, and she couldn”t imagine anyone else in the role. Whether he”s visiting the “Johnny Carson of Japan” or sitting alone at the edge of the bed in his hotel room watching himself dubbed in Japanese or thanking a stripper”s crotch as she dances to Peaches” “Fuck the Pain Away,” Bob Harris always feels real. He”s lost, but he knows he”s lost, and once you know you”re lost, in a way you”ve kind of found yourself. That”s what Lost in Translation is about: knowing that everything, not just language, but all of human interaction gets lost in translation. The key is to continue, in spite of this seemingly solipsistic life sentence, to attempt to make connections, because though there”s no such thing as a perfect translation, one can find a close approximation to everything: including happiness.” – Kelsey Malone, Lifetime Murray Enthusiast
3. Herman Blume in Wes Anderson”s Rushmore
“Rushmore is a high-caliber film all around–my personal favorite of Wes Anderson”s robust body of work. It features stellar performances, tremendous writing, and the film represents the “Andersonian” aesthetic perfectly before it took on Tim Burtonesque levels of fantastical production design (not an indictment, just a preference on my part). Jason Schwartzman is perhaps the first actor that comes to mind when one thinks of a Wes Anderson picture; however, I would argue that Anderson”s true muse (at least in this, his second film) is Bill Murray as the ennui-infused wealthy industrialist Herman Blume. Where the genius of Schwartzman”s performance emerges in his precocious ambition and the earnest but pretentious actions he takes as a result, Murray”s performance is rooted in his believable midlife crisis and the absurdity he engages in when his spirit is awakened by the love triangle between Schwartzman”s Max and Olivia Williams” young widow schoolteacher, Mrs. Appleby. As a result, we see a perfect Bill Murray performance emerge. Part of that perfection is manifest in the way Murray sells Blume”s admiration for Max as a kindred spirit–which, in fact, is the exact cause of the comedic war of romantic gamesmanship between Max and Herman. On a more meta-level, Blume”s awakening–and, indeed, the film itself–represented something of a career-renaissance for Murray as a go-to indie film actor from the late 90s on. Despite the later films, that would deservedly win Murray luminous acclaim, Herman Blume is the perhaps the very best, most endearing character of the actor”s “second coming.”" – Randall Winston, Lifetime Murray Enthusiast
“Were I to befriend any character in Bill Murray’s four-decade career, the one I’d choose is Ghostbusters’ Dr. Peter Venkman. He may be an over-educated libertarian who despises the EPA, but when push comes to shove, Venkman always puts his buddies before himself, even if it means getting slimed. Harold Ramis and Dan Akroyd, Murray’s close friends and co-stars in the film, originally wrote the role for John Belushi, and Murray only stepped in after Belushi’s untimely death. Nonetheless, Murray’s heavily-improvised performance transformed Venkman into the quintessential Murray character: cocksure and undersexed, deadpan and sarcastic, to the extreme. Murray’s is a highly idiosyncratic style, but in Ghostbusters it blends in fully with the ensemble. One imagines it being Murray as much as Venkman who famously tells Ramis and Akroyd in a climatic scene: “I love this plan! I”m excited to be a part of it!”" - Shane Boyle, Lifetime Murray Enthusiast
1. Phil Connors in Harold Ramis” Groundhog Day
“What would you do if you were stuck in one place, and every day was exactly the same, and nothing that you did mattered? It”s the ultimate existential question, and it forms the core of our top Murray performance, his role as smug weatherman Phil Connors. It”d be so easy to hate Phil Connors though if he was solely filled with the “ironic detachment” people often accuse Murray of; luckily, Murray gives us much more to connect with Phil below that smug surface. He”s lovable, even as an asshole, and grows all the more lovable as he escapes his own asshole-ishness. The film, as everybody knows, follows Connors as he repeats February 2nd over and over and over. The futility of his existence is put on display because every day begins again unchanged at 6am, with an increasingly annoying and saccharine Sonny & Cher tune. Nothing he does matters. And yet, this Kafkaesque premise is not altogether different from all of our situations in life, facing what philosopher Albert Camus in his The Myth of Sisyphus called the absurd: the futility of man”s quest for meaning and clarity in a world with no God, no “capital T” Truth. For all the absurdity and darkness in the set-up though, Ramis still delivers a healthy dose of feel-goodiness. Janet Maslin rightly called the film half Kafka and half Capra. But what”s important is how Ramis and Murray build to this Capraesque Hollywood happy ending. Phil Connors never does an about-face, he slowly builds to a changed, better man. It”s believable. The DJs on the radio that wake Phil Connors every day say something important, “But, you know, there”s another reason why today is especially exciting…the big question on everybody”s lips…do ya think Phil is gonna come out and see his shadow?” They”re talking, of course, about groundhog Punxsutawney Phil, but Phil Connors and his shadow are equally important. What it takes for Phil to finally break the curse of his seemingly infinite loop is to finally try to enjoy life and to help others to enjoy it as well. It takes him no longer being afraid of his shadow. Or, to put it another way, as Ebert wrote, “There is a moment when Phil tells Rita: When you stand in the snow, you look like an angel. The point is not that he has come to love Rita. It is that he has learned to see the angel.” It is finally in overcoming the fear of his shadow, and in seeing the angel, that Connors can be happy. And one must imagine Sisyphus happy. Murray, in this role and countless others, has made many of us Sisyphuses (Sisyphi?) much more happy as we go about our meaningless lives finding our own meaning, overcoming our own shadows, seeing our own angels, seeking our own happiness. One must imagine Sisyphus enjoying Bill Murray movies.” – Tyler Malone, Lifetime Murray Enthusiast
The members of the Murray Marvel Marching Society are a group of film fans who love all that is Bill Murray. The group consists of Tyler Malone, Dustin Illingworth, Alex Bacha, Randall Winston, Shea Formaneck, Ariana Lader, Kelsey Malone, Rachael Bacha, Shane Boyle, Caitlin Cutt, Artie Moreno, Conor Higgins, and Jeff Malone.
Written and Compiled by the Members of the Murray Marvel Marching Society
Photography Courtesy of Colombia Pictures
Design by Mina Darius
Film Still from Groundhog Day, Photography Courtesy of Colombia Pictures