Top Ten


A Look at Our Top Ten Buscemiest Performances by Actor STEVE BUSCEMI

By the Members of the  Buscemi Brotherhood

Winter 2014-2015

One of the most ubiquitous character actors of the 1990s and 2000s, Steve Buscemi, I think it”s fair to say, was born with the looks of a registered sex offender. His is a face only a mother could love–and one only R. Crumb could draw. The actor legitimately looks like a sketch in one of that cartoonist”s notebooks: awkward, creepy, unusual, but with a radiating soul. It”s almost too good of casting that Terry Zwigoff had him play Seymour in Ghost World because the character, who doesn”t appear in the graphic novel on which the film is based, was, in certain respects, a caricature of R. Crumb (a friend of Zwigoff”s and the subject of his acclaimed documentary Crumb). In that role, as in so many others, Buscemi mesmerizes us with those haunting eyes peering out of that skeletal skull from beneath the drooping eyelids. He draws us in immediately. He imbues his lonely losers, grotesque creeps, and menacing villains with an idiosyncratic sense of humanity that both enhances their inherent outsiderness and creates some esprit de corps with the audience.

Yes, whether he”s an escaped mass murderer singing “He”s Got the Whole World in His Hands” with a little girl in a drained and dilapidated swimming pool in the over-the-top action spectacle Con Air or an out-of-his-element naive bowling buddy mixing up Vladimir Ilyich Lenin with John Lennon in the Chandleresque stoner-comedy The Big Lebowski, whether he”s a corrupt Atlantic City politician giving a speech on the eve of Prohibition in the premiere television period piece Boardwalk Empire or a poet from a strange spectre of a town rocking in his rocking chair in the bewitching Burton fantasy Big Fish, whether he”s a waiter dressed as Buddy Holly in the Tarantino crime classic Pulp Fiction or an oil driller in space (with space dementia!) in the Bay blockbuster Armageddon, whether he”s an inept crook who meets the wrong end of a woodchipper in the Coens” crime-comedy-of-errors Fargo or a brother having a breakdown at a wedding in the 80s-throwback romantic comedy The Wedding Singer, Buscemi always gives us an in to his outcasts. He makes them believable, makes them human, makes them lovable (even when they”re bad, bad men).

We at The Buscemi Brotherhood, in celebration of the ultimate creepy-looking character actor and the best part (by a mile) of every Adam Sandler movie, offer up our top ten Buscemiest Steve Buscemi performances. You may not agree with all of our picks, but as the actor himself said as Mr. Pink in Reservoir Dogs: “Fuck sides man, what we need here is a little solidarity!” Enjoy…

10. Mink in the Coen Brothers” Miller”s Crossing

“In the Coen brothers’ miraculous noir Miller’s Crossing, Steve Buscemi is on-screen for roughly one minute: he briefly meets Tom Regan to chew the fat at Leo’s speakeasy (“What’s the rumpus?”); we hear his voice pleading over a phone line; and we see his black-faced corpse in the woods. But in those sixty seconds he builds Mink Larouie into a character of depth and contour–a small-time schemer with big-time ambition, a fast-talking rat who uses his homosexuality to secure power and position in a morally dead world. In many ways, he also establishes himself as the narrative antipode to Tom Regan and Eddie Dane, tough, smart, silent men who know their business. Mink, Bernie, Frankie and Tic-Tac are clowns and fools struggling in a world they can barely affect and hardly understand. In lieu of considered action and personal agency, Mink uses words, sex, and style to stay afloat. His brief encounter with Tom literally speaks volumes about their differing positions and tactics: Tom, ever laconic, keeps his steel-trap mind quiet behind cold eyes; Mink talks a blue streak, revealing far too much with tics and tells. Buscemi’s masterful cigarette drags, his jittery and disingenuous enthusiasm, his over-the-shoulder looks and wheedling voice, all establish a lasting impression of a desperate and flailing Mink, a character who realizes too late that it isn’t style or sex or ethics that will keep you alive in Miller’s Crossing–it’s silence and smarts.” – Dustin Illingworth, Lifetime Buscemi Enthusiast

9. Norther Winslow in Tim Burton”s Big Fish

“In Big Fish, Steve Buscemi plays Norther Winslow–local poet turned Wall Street mogul. While this role is not a large one, it is pivotal to both the film, and a nice example of one of Buscemi”s better portrayals. When this film was released in 2003, Buscemi was more known for his quirky tough guys characters than anything else. However, in Big Fish he takes a turn as the quirky nice guy. When we first meet Winslow he is a barefooted, meek, backwoods “poet laureate.”  In this he represents the main character”s (Ewan Macgregor) past and potential future.  Winslow is the big fish in a small pond metaphor incarnate. He is not by any means a good poet, but in the small idyllic town, he is treated as god”s gift. Winslow represents the creative struggle as well, as that small town”s storyteller of sorts, we come to understand the fear that many creative”s deal with on a day to day basis. The fact that he has been working on one mediocre poem for 12 years is presented as a funny throwaway, but I assure you, in Winslow”s eyes it is a serious as a heart attack. Acting as co-catalysts, it is not until Macgregor”s character refuses this big fish situation that Buscemi”s character realizes that his fear is unfounded and worth overcoming to see the world. In a way, what makes this short (in total Buscemi is on screen for maybe 12 minutes) portrayal, so Buscemi-esque is that he plays a similar role that he always does–a meek and quirky guy–except this time we are left feeling that if Buscemi”s character can accomplish a life worth living, then maybe we all can.” – Shea Formaneck, Lifetime Buscemi Enthusiast

8. Tommy Basilio in Steve Buscemi”s Trees Lounge

“Buscemi wrote, directed, and starred in Tree”s Lounge, and the film delivers on every level. Tommy Basilio (played by Buscemi) is “lost,” but not without community. He has friends, family, even a surrogate family at Tree”s, his local bar. Tommy”s charming, darkly funny, and smart. He also happens to be a career alcoholic. The beautiful thing about Tree”s Lounge is how it refuses to hyperbolize. Tommy is not romanticized, nor is he melodramatically portrayed. He”s a likable “fucked-up” drunk, not so different from the guys on stools in dark bars not two blocks, right now, from my apartment, or the countless men and women in shithole bars all over Queens, New York, where the film takes place (mostly), and where I grew up. I knew Tommy, too many versions. For a few years, there, I was Tommy. And lots of us have been, at some point. For me, the film feels “real,” everyday, like home. And yet when Uncle Al (played by Seymour Cassel) has a heart attack and dies at the wheel of the neighborhood ice cream truck, and a small boy with a dollar in his hand has to dart out of the truck”s way, and that truck flattens the boy”s big wheel trike, and the truck barrels on across a suburban lawn, crashing into a car, I am amazed: Buscemi has made powerfully affecting art out of found stuff from my small corner of the world. Tree”s Lounge made me think maybe one day I could do the same.” – Scott Cheshire, Lifetime Buscemi Enthusiast

7. Garland Greene aka The Marietta Mangler in Simon West”s Con Air

“Despite the inclusion of several well-spoken inmates who earned juris doctorates and penned highly-regarded books while incarcerated, Con Air is not a movie you should think about all that much. But after Steve Buscemi’s Garland “The Marietta Mangler” Greene boards the plane (roughly an hour into the film and with credentials that make “the Manson family look like the Partridge family”) it’s impossible not to ask questions. Buscemi plays Greene with an eerie calm. The other convicts, including the clinically insane ringleader, Cyrus “The Virus” Grissom, gawk at him with a mixture of awe and trepidation. Amid the other testosterone-fueled lunatics, Garland clearly stands out. He’s scrawny, passive, thoughtful, even lovable at times. He waxes poetic on potential reasons for another convict’s murderous rage, opines on the semantics of insanity, and sits tranquilly in his seat as machine-gun fire whizzes by his head. Perhaps Garland reached nirvana when he mutilated over 30 innocent people and drove through three states wearing the head of one of his victims as a hat. If that’s the case, he’s enviable to some degree, but that doesn’t absolve him of his crimes. So when he walks off the plane and into an empty swimming pool where a young girl hosts a tea party, in a scene reminiscent of Boris Karloff’s stumbling upon a young girl picking flowers in Frankenstein, it’s difficult not to fear for her life. She accepts him though without a hint of prejudice. Concerned for Garland’s well-being, she says, “You look sick.” He informs her that he is. “Do you take medicine?” the little girl asks. He replies, “There is no medicine for what I have.” Then they sing in unison, of all songs, “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands,” that old American spiritual. What. The. Fuck. Has Garland found his version of a higher power in the little girl? Is he reformed? Or is he going to turn her skin into a fashion statement? It’s an odd little diversion in which Buscemi plays up the menace with not much more than a bulgy-eyed, snaggletoothed stare—one of his greatest assets. Those unique and expressive facial features allow him to suggest in his characters pretty much anything he wants. Innocence in The Big Lebowski, desperation in Fargo, and blissful lunacy in Con Air. But why does Garland, the most dangerous of the bunch, survive in the end? Why is he shooting craps in a Las Vegas casino? Why is he so lucky? What did that tea party do to him? How could any righteous God stand for this!? The extraterrestrials who show up in Woody Allen’s Stardust Memories probably have the only possible answer: “These are the wrong questions.”” – Matthew Cabe, Lifetime Buscemi Enthusiast

6. Tony Blundetto in David Chase”s The Sopranos

“Steve Buscemi’s gilded gangster/powerbroker, Nucky Thompson, on HBO’s now departed Boardwalk Empire, has gotten more attention these days, but I find his first foray into the HBO fictional criminal underworld as Tony Blundetto, Tony Soprano’s sprung jail-bird cousin, in some ways a more interesting and subtle performance. Scrawny, bug-eyed and lacking the imposing gait essential to be a convincing Mafioso, Tony Blundetto differs from many of The Sopranos gallery of gangsters in that he’s not an outright sociopath or flashy wiseguy. Intelligent (an IQ of 158 according to the nuns that educated him) and self-aware Tony B. is sincere in his attempts to stay on the straight and narrow. But he is also deeply wounded and bitter after serving seventeen years in prison over a botched truck hijacking and the temptations and easy money of the criminal lifestyle prove overwhelming. Tony B.’s sudden reappearance at the start of the show’s fifth season is Kafkaesque as it envelopes Tony Soprano with an oppressive feeling of anxiety and guilt on account of a shameful secret pertaining to Tony B.’s arrest. But guilt is only part of this equation. Part of the reason this storyline works so well and is fascinating to watch is because Buscemi is great at tapping into resentment: Italian-American style. I have written before how The Sopranos skillfully captured the dynamics of the Italian-American family and Tony B. is no exception. There is a quiet and almost menacing air to Tony B.’s resentment and he uses it to manipulate his cousin into favoring him. Buscemi plays off James Gandolfini’s swagger and charisma expertly and you really come to feel the tension that fills the love-hate relationship that exists between both of their characters. Whereas Gandolfini gave Tony Soprano a tragic grandeur in spite of the life he has chosen, Buscemi gave Tony B. wasted potential in his attempts to leave the criminal life behind which only makes his ending sadder. Whether he is skulking in the background during family events, making passive aggressive jokes at the expense of Tony Soprano or impulsively committing acts of random violence, Tony B. reveals himself to be Tony Soprano’s doppelganger; the pathetic, thin shadow behind Tony Soprano’s hulking presence. Eventually, Tony B.”s antics prove too much and Tony Soprano is forced to put him down for the sake of the family (the criminal one.) Although there is an immense sadness in this task, there is also great relief after Soprano pulls the trigger as the blood debt between both men is finally paid in full. Family has its limitations.” – Anthony Volpe, Lifetime Buscemi Enthusiast

5. Seymour in Terry Zwigoff”s Ghost World

“The inimitable Steve Buscemi. Few Indie-Hollywood crossover actors have accomplished such legitimacy and ostensible respectability in mainstream projects while maintaining a sort of elusive authenticity. If this sounds like a purposely cryptic thing to say about Hollywood’s favorite ghoulish gangster clown, it is simply because the genius of Steve Buscemi is most palpable when he’s unpredictable. Under the cover of his perpetually outdated flop-top and world-gone-mad pallor, you’re never quite sure if the legendary character actor is the disgruntled office worker you always want to stay on the right side of or the only decent human to converse with at an insufferable Brooklyn loft party. This ambiguity hits a fever pitch in Terry Zwigoff’s Ghost World, where Buscemi plays beautiful loser Seymour, a pathetic but lovable loner ethereally trapped in the painful coming of age strains of the film”s two misunderstood teenage protagonists. In classic exasperated fashion, Buscemi wears Seymour like a wrinkled suit made of exceptional fabric. Seymour tries to keep his terse feelings to himself–and rants like a curmudgeon when he has something to say–but his vulnerability howls in every scene. On an awkward date with a woman he met through a want ad, record collector and audiophile Seymour watches her jump up and dance to an insipid dude bro masquerading as a blues artist, and leaves the bar disappointed, refusing to compromise his character for a temporary moment of un-loneliness. It’s a moment that channels both Seymour and Buscemi, where one gets the feeling that–in an alternate universe with different values and sympathies–both would be adequately appreciated and understood.” – Alex Bacha, Lifetime Buscemi Enthusiast

4. Enoch “Nucky” Thompson in Terence Winter”s Boardwalk Empire

“What is that old maxim…”Beware the man who is slow to anger?” Steve Buscemi”s portrayal of Enoch “Nucky” Thompson, a charismatic yet chillingly venal New Jersey politician on HBO”s recently ended Prohibition-era drama Boardwalk Empire alters that saying a bit:  “Beware the actor who is slow to television…” Okay, that is a horrible alteration, but what I”m trying to convey is the terrible sense of shock and awe that results from reversed expectations. Much like the skin-crawling surprise of witnessing seemingly meek people exploding from repressed fury, Buscemi”s characterization stands as a pitch-perfect example of sympathetic villainy. Here is an actor who has built a sterling career as one of the strongest, most neurotic and distinctive character actors in recent memory. In comparison to most of Buscemi”s previous body of work, Nucky Thompson is apoplectic reaction to those all of indignations suffered by those past characters, doled out over five intense seasons. Every small suggestion or hint of sinister intent present in Buscemi”s filmography was distilled into the machinations and intrigues of Thompson as he fought to maintain his reign over 1920s and 30s Atlantic City, a corrupt king in a court of liars, traitors and killers. The few “good” people in Thompson”s circle of influence are engulfed by the utter force of his personality…and his ambition. I remember sitting down to the first Martin Scorcese-directed episode of Boardwalk Empire, intrigued by the premise and historical setting. After Thompson”s early confrontation with his protégé Jimmy (Michael Pitt)–in which he growls “I can have you killed”–I realized that I was in for a very different journey with Buscemi. Only later would I realize that I was completely unprepared for the extremes of emotion–revulsion, hilarity, and entrancement–that would wash over me.” – Randall Winston, Lifetime Buscemi Enthusiast

3. Theodore Donald “Donny” Kerabatsos in the Coen Brothers” The Big Lebowski

I am the Walrus? I am the Walrus? I am the Walrus. Donny might not be the leading man in The Big Lebowski, but then again, Steve Buscemi isn’t always known for being a leading man. He”s been a character actor for much of his career, and many of his best performances come in these small roles with big impact. In his iconic role as Donny Kerabatsos, Buscemi brings such sweetness and naivite to the film; almost like a small child, wandering into a film with no frame of reference. As John Goodman”s character Walter Sobchak says in the film, “Donny, you”re out of your element!” And he is both out of his element (a naive child) and also a crucial element (the heart of the film). See that’s the thing about Buscemi: like Donny, you couldn’t imagine The Big Lebowski without him! I mean, what would this classic comedy be without someone for Walter to scream at?! I can honestly say the movie found significant less appeal when we had to say, “Goodbye, sweet prince,” but Donny lives on! The King of Cult Classics–and finally leading man–continues to steal the screen with his shocking hilarity and emotive googly-eyes.” – Ariana Lader, Lifetime Buscemi Enthusiast

2. Mr. Pink in Quentin Tarantino”s Reservoir Dogs

“Maybe it”s because I”m a white woman in my thirties, but I am constantly subjected to conversations that revolve around the idea of being “self-aware.” This is not to say that I”m not interested in finding out what the best version of myself is. I too want things like serenity! But I think these conversations typically neglect to take one big possibility into account: What if you”re really good at bad things? What if, after some serious transcendental meditation at a spa, you realize you”re built to be a high-class hooker? What if “your bliss” is free money? What then? Some people have come to this realization. Sure, some people “end up” in crime, but people “end up” in real-estate too. That”s just the truth. Reservoir Dogs is our trip through the looking glass. Suddenly we are in a place where success doesn”t look like an Etsy shop, a novel loosely based on your own life, or a desk in a corner office (to be fair, everyone in this movie is wearing a suits and tie). Steve Buscemi, playing Mr. Pink, drives us into this inverted worldview himself, with his can”t-be-over-stated “tipping” speech. Right away, we”re all stuck holding the moral bag. We are forced to admit that there really is a difference between doing what”s socially acceptable and being fair…to yourself. Now, it”s pretty obvious that this roll set the tone for Buscemi”s career. There are facets of Mr. Pink in most of his great performances. But I think Mr. Pink has the biggest set of balls. He”s not a character without scruples, and we all learn that pretty quickly. Mr. Pink”s willingness to validate our dirty desire to keep that extra few bucks of our own hard-earned money is a shamefully cathartic experience for the viewer. Yet, in a world where people sing into severed ears, his willingness to go on with the job, despite getting the title “Mr. Pink,” makes it clear that he”s not petty. He”s there to work, and work, no matter what, has rules. It”s no surprise that he”s the first person to call out the fact that there”s been a setup. Though he is a very well-written character, I think that the emotional complexity that exists in Mr. Pink is because of Buscemi. No, we don”t “love to hate Mr. Pink.” This isn”t Hannibal here. But that”s the kind of performance it could have been. I think it”s better to say that we don”t like the part inside ourselves that is jealous of Mr. Pink. Mr. Pink has a code, and Buscemi taps into the confidence and momentum that this level of self-awareness imbues. It”s attractive. I want that. You want that. You want to be around that. This oomph leaves us genuinely appriciative, considering all the mayhem, deception, gore, and double-crossing going on in Reservoir Dogs. Is Mr. Pink right about the world? Should you tip your waitress? Put your fellow man first, or go it alone? I don”t know, but I for one don”t want to work in an office. That”s something Mr. Pink and I have in common.” - Caitlin Cutt, Lifetime Buscemi Enthusiast

1. Carl Showalter in the Coen Brothers” Fargo

“There”s no denying that Steve Buscemi is “funny lookin”–as multiple characters say of him in Fargo. He”s our generation”s Peter Lorre, a murine man with craggy cliffs for teeth, a sickly and sallow face, and bugged-out eyes that always seem to have a glint of crazy in them, but also a hint of something else, something that makes him undeniably likeable, even when he”s playing disturbing psychopaths, career criminals, off-kilter creeps, and odd outsiders (which is pretty much his entire filmography). Buscemi has said, “I was not a really tough guy in high school, but I end up playing all of these psychopaths and criminals. I don”t really care who they are, as long as they are complicated and going through something that I can understand and put across.” In other words, he”s fine playing these wretches and pariahs, so long as he can suffuse them with a bit of humanity, a bit of texture, a bit of idiosyncrasy. Carl Showalter is quintessential Buscemi in that way. He”s certainly a bad guy–a kidnapper and a murderer–and there”s not much that happens in Fargo plot-wise that would lead you to empathizing with him. Yet, along the way, we, for some reason or other, manage to care about him. There”s just something about Carl that grows on us. As with a lot of Buscemi”s characters, Showalter is “a geyser of conversation,” so much that he can”t even allow silence, and instead combats the quiet of a multi-hour roadtrip by repeating the words “total silence” numerous times. He”s an angry, anxiety-ridden, sweaty criminal, inept as a crook and a mess as a man. You can”t put your finger on why you feel a tinge of sadness when he meets his fate with a woodchipper, but you do. As Scott Weinberg wrote, “It”s the character”s demise that we remember, but without Buscemi”s work early in the film, his final scene wouldn”t have left half the impact.” The red splotch of snow and protruding leg wouldn”t mean anything to us, but they do! And that”s what Buscemi is masterful at, making you feel something for characters that you have no reason to feel for. Roger Ebert once claimed that “the movies are like a machine that generates empathy. It lets you understand a little bit more about different hopes, aspirations, dreams, and fears. It helps us to identify with the people who are sharing this journey with us.” Steve Buscemi is one of the best actors working today because the characters he takes on are rarely easy ones to generate empathy for, but Buscemi never fails to do so. So we love sharing our journey with his clan of character outcasts because they”re fun and funny, sad and sympathetic (even when they have no right to be any of the above).” - Tyler Malone, Lifetime Buscemi Enthusiast

The members of the Buscemi Brotherhood are a group of film fans who love all that is Steve Buscemi. The group consists of Tyler Malone, Scott Cheshire, Dustin Illingworth, Anthony Volpe, Alex Bacha, Shea Formaneck, Kelsey Malone, Caitlin Cutt, Artie Moreno, Randall Winston, Ariana Lader, Taylor Zahn, Matthew Cabe, Ben Steinberg, Jeff Malone, and Liz Malone.


Steve Buscemi on IMDb

Written and Compiled by the Members of The Buscemi Brotherhood

Photography Courtesy of Gramercy Pictures

Design by Francesca Rimi


Film Still from Fargo, Photography Courtesy of Gramercy Pictures

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