Neal Damiano takes a look at the best Nicolas Cage films including Figgis’ Leaving Las Vegas, the Coen’s Raising Arizona & Scorsese’s Bringing Out The Dead…
10. It Could Happen To You (Bergman, 1994)
Based on a true story, Nic Cage stars as a New York City cop who doesn’t have the money to leave desperate and luckless waitress Bridget Fonda a tip. He comes up with a zany idea, to share a lottery ticket with her. The unbelievable happens – the ticket is a winner for a multi-million jackpot. Cage makes good on his promise, even when he has to face his selfish wife played by Rosie Perez. It is a funny little romantic comedy, Cage and Fonda’s chemistry is pretty funny to watch unfold. I’m not big on romance films but this one keeps you entertained all the way.
9. The Weather Man (Verbinski, 2005)
Nicholas Cage stars as popular Chicago TV weatherman David Spritz who has a shot at stardom when “Hello America,” a national morning show calls him for an audition. At the top of the world professionally, David is approaching disaster in his personal life as fast as the weather changes. His painful divorce, his dad’s illness, and trouble with his kids have David dancing on the knife’s edge between stability and insanity. Trying to gain control of his life, David soon realizes that life is very much like the weather, completely unpredictable. Cage usually plays frantic characters that are really dark and in trouble, what makes The Weather Man so entertaining is that he plays it with a comical approach.
8. Face/Off (Woo, 1997)
Face/Off is one of the greatest action films made in the last fifteen years and one of the best Nicolas Cage films. A nonstop action-adventure film that allows Cage and Travolta to be completely off the wall with each other. The plot is quite silly and kind of not believable, however it’s so entertaining because of Cage and Travolta’s unfiltered antics.
7. Matchstick Men (Scott, 2003)
I absolutely love films about confidence men and Matchstick Men delivers 100 percent. With the risk of being typecast Cage delivers all the quirks and ticks times two. He plays an obsessive compulsive, chain smoking neurotic con artist named Roy. Pulling off petty heists and schemes to survive he is in a world of chaos. But nothing could compare to the news of finding out he has a 14-year-old daughter, he’s now responsible for. But the beauty of Matchstick Men is that after awhile you forget it’s a gimmicky con movie and care only about the growing relationship between Roy and his daughter. Cage plays the balance of trying to be a good father and continuing the life he only knows so well you forget he is sort of a bad guy.
6. Raising Arizona (Coen/Coen, 1987)
The Coen Brothers deliver yet another eccentric and entertaining film. Nic Cage plays HI McDonnough, a petty thief, who tries to go legit after he marries prison officer Edwina (Holly Hunter) and they move to a trailer in Arizona. Edwina is unable to have children and they can’t adopt because of HI’s criminal past. They desperately want to start a family. Upon reading a furniture entrepreneur recently had quintuplets, Cage comes up with a dimwitted plan to kidnap one of the babies for themselves. Raising Arizona is filled with some really memorable and outrageous scenes and plenty of quirky characters including an insane bounty hunter played by Randall Tex Cobb. Cage is so engaging in this one he makes you hate him then love him by the end of the film.
5. Leaving Las Vegas (Figgis, 1995)
This was particularly a hard one to watch, Cage usually plays off-centered characters but in someway they still love life. In Leaving Las Vegas he plays a man that has completely given up on life, abandoning his work and family he sets out on a morbid journey to drink himself to death in Las Vegas. Cage’s performance here is quite phenomenal because he makes it believable. His character does not see any light at the end of the tunnel and he takes you on the ride with him to the bitter end. His only solace is a chance meeting with a hooker played by Elizabeth Shue, who falls in love with him because she understands and accepts who he is and he in returns accepts her for who she is. She adds a love for life attitude, despite her circumstances that he does not possess. I feel this particular movie really showcased Nicolas Cage’s acting ability.
4. 8MM (Schumacher, 1999)
A disturbing thriller starring Nic Cage as a surveillance expert hired by a well to do widow to find out who killed her daughter. The murder was recorded on 8mm film and Cage’s character has to enter the morbidly seedy and dangerous underworld of Los Angeles pornography. He befriends a porn shop clerk played by Joaquin Phoenix, who helps him with the case. This is one of my favorite films with Nicolas Cage because I feel he really has to stretch his acting to get into the character. It is a method role I think Cage pulled off well, exposing himself to some very dark things that occur in a very sick subculture. The acting is exceptional and the cinematography is wickedly entertaining.
3. Red Rock West (Dahl, 1993)
In the fashion of Blood Simple, Red Rock West is a less known film with Nic Cage and its unfortunate because it is such a good crime noir. He stars as a down and out Texan, who drives to Wyoming in search of work. He stops at a bar, where he’s mistaken for a hit man and accepts an offer from the bar owner’s manipulative wife (Lara Flynn Boyle) to kill her husband. When the real killer shows up (Dennis Hopper) it sparks off a dangerous cat and mouse game. Red Rock West is filled with double crosses and Cage really shines here, the ending is quite unpredictable.
2. Bringing Out The Dead (Scorsese, 1999)
One of my favorite Martin Scorsese films, it is a non-stop thrill ride through the streets of New York City. I believe this picks up where Taxi Driver left off. Nic Cage plays an EMT stricken with guilt and insomnia, he becomes obsessed with the death of a man he is unable to save and becomes romantically involved with the man’s daughter played by Patricia Arquette. What I particularly loved about Bringing Out The Dead is Cage’s frantic demeanor it’s so over the top, you can’t help but watch. I feel no other actor could have pulled off this performance better than Nicolas Cage. It is such an engaging story and the cinematography is so surreal and intense becoming almost a dreamlike state that makes you wonder if it is really happening or just all in his head.
1. Valley Girl (Coolidge, 1983)
Written and directed by Martha Coolidge, Valley Girl is a modern day Romeo and Juliet. It’s one of my favorite Nicolas Cage films and happens to be Nic Cage’s first major role. Cage stars as Randy, a punk rocker from West Hollywood, who falls head over heels for a Southern California valley girl named Julie (Deborah Foreman). What I loved about Valley Girl so much, the film never gets old for me. I can watch it over and over again and that mainly has to do with Nicolas Cage’s character. I really related to Randy and that has to do with Cage’s acting, it is so convincing here. This is another film I feel showed his acting ability. The movie showcases the trends and music of the early eighties without being cliche. Martha Coolidge really hit the pulse of what was going on at the time with culture and music. Yes, somewhat of a sappy romance story but so entertaining and his charisma just radiates on screen throughout the whole film. A truly believable performance considering Cage was only 19 years old and it was his first lead role. I watched a documentary on Valley Girl and interestingly enough, in an interview he says it’s one of his favorite roles to date. On a side note – it happens to be one of Quentin Tarantino’s favorite films!