Tuesday, September 21, 2010

10 Greatest Performances by Bill Murray (that isn't Lost in Translation)

In honor of my 7th anniversary of seeing Lost in Translation for the first time and Bill Murray’s 60th birthday. It is time to honor one of the greatest film actors to walk the face of the Earth. From his early days on Saturday Night Live to his most recent cameo appearance in the 2009 zombie comedy Zombieland. Bill Murray has done it all. To celebrate this great moment, it’s time to make a list of the 10 greatest performances by Bill Murray (not counting my personal favorite in Lost in Translation as Bob Harris).

1. Caddyshack

Probably his most iconic comedic performance of his career as the dim-witted groundskeeper Carl Spackler. Speaking in a stupor dialogue while trying to kill a gopher. It’s Murray at his best from the first moment he’s shown cleaning golf balls to the scene where Carl is pretending to play golf when he’s hitting flowers with the golf club for his Cinderella moment. Yet, the best scene of the film is his scene with Chevy Chase where Chase’s Ty Webb character meets up with Carl as Ty is practicing for his upcoming golf match. It’s pretty much an amazing scene where two of the best comedies actors at that time (though they didn’t like each other back then) ad-libbing and showing everyone how it’s done. It’s truly one of the best comedic scenes of all-time.

2. Groundhog Day

If there is one film that would set the stage for Bill Murray’s transition into serious acting (despite an attempt with the 1984 failure The Razor’s Edge), Murray’s performance as egocentric weatherman Phil Connors shows Murray balancing comedy and drama into a charismatic yet heartwarming performance. Murray proves he can play someone who starts off as smarmy and unlikable early in the film. Yet, when Phil is forced to repeat the same day over and over again, he makes changes to do things right. Probably the best scene Murray has in the film is where Phil is at a club playing piano without doing a lot. It’s Murray being cool while trying to win the hearts of everyone to show how much Phil Connors has changed.

3. Ghostbusters

In the role of Dr. Peter Venkman, Murray brings another essential comedic performance as the wise-cracking yet more sociable member of the Ghostbusters team. Murray’s one-liners in its smooth, deadpan delivery are among the highlights of his performance. Even as he gets into the action, fight ghosts including a fat slime ball named Slimer. Yet, Venkman is also a ladies man who definitely has a thing for Sigourney Weaver’s Dana Barrett character, who couldn’t helped but be charmed by Venkman. Probably the best scene Murray has as Venkman is where he talks about what happened to Dana saying she’s not his girlfriend but a client who was interesting and sleeps four feet above her covers. That delivery plus Murray’s laid-back approach is a testament to his comedic genius.

4. Rushmore

If Murray should’ve gotten an Oscar for a performance (other than Lost in Translation in which he should’ve won. Fuck you Sean Penn.), then it would be his first of many collaborations with Wes Anderson for the role of Herman Blume. A millionaire in a loveless marriage with twin brats who treat him terribly. Finding solace in a friendship with a 15-year old student at Rushmore academy and falling for a first-grade teacher. Murray’s performance as Blume is an indication of range as a dramatic actor. Displaying a sense of melancholia without any kind of melodrama. The best scene to exemplify Blume’s sadness is the scene where he jumps into a pool and stays at the bottom while a kid is looking on as he is swimming underwater.

5. Stripes

In another of Murray’s great comedic performances, Murray plays John Winger. A NYC cab driver whose life has fallen apart and in need of direction as he decides to join the army with his friend and roommate Russell, played by Harold Ramis. The film has Winger deal with a hard-assed drill sergeant as well as an eccentric platoon that he’s a part of. Yet, Murray is at his best not when he’s doing his own thing but also helping other actors. Notably the late John Candy where they have a great scene together as Winger coaches Candy’s Ox character to a mud-wrestle against a group of girls. Yet, Murray’s greatest moment is with the rest of the actors playing the platoon where they perform an unconventional drill display where Murray’s cool, silly persona shines.

6. Broken Flowers

In Jim Jarmusch’s story of an aging Don Juan going across the country to find the mother of his supposed long-lost son. Murray’s Don Johnston is definitely one of Murray’s best dramatic performances. Filled with melancholia and a sense of wonderment, it has Murray playing a man who has been with a lot of women while pondering about having a son. The best scene of that film is at the end where Don hanging out with kids at a tea party where it shows this simple interaction with a kid as it’s one of the films light-hearted moments for a film where it’s mostly restrained and not having much plot.

7. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

While it’s the weakest of Murray’s collaboration with Wes Anderson, Murray does give one of his greatest roles as Steve Zissou. Playing an oceanographer whose career is going down the dumps and everything in his life is falling apart. It also has Murray displaying a great sense of humor and combining it with drama. Armed with an amazing ensemble cast that includes Owen Wilson, Cate Blanchett, Anjelica Huston, Jeff Goldblum, Michael Gambon, and a scene-stealing Willem Dafoe. Murray brings live to Steve Zissou where he goes out and kills some pirates, steal a rival’s equipment, find some sea creatures, and hunt down the Jaguar shark who killed his friend. The best scene of that film is where Zissou encounters the Jaguar shark and is overcome with emotion over its beauty.

8. Ed Wood

Though it’s a small supporting role as the openly-gay Bunny Breckinridge about the story of Edward D. Wood, Jr. Murray’s performance in its restrained yet charming role as a man who wants to become a woman is truly one of his finest. Whether its trying to find transvestites, wanting to become a woman, or playing the Ruler in Plan 9 from Outer Space. Murray stands out among his ensembles while not trying outdo anyone. The scene where Bunny is about to be baptized, so that Ed could get funding for Plan 9, when a priest asks Bunny if he rejects Satan and all of his evils. Bunny’s response is “sure” goes to show what Murray could do with just a simple word with the right timing could provide a lot of laughs.

9. Wild Things

Another small but memorable supporting role as the sleazy lawyer Kenneth Bowden, Murray truly steals the film from basically everyone despite not being in it very much. Displaying a neck brace and being unorthodox as the lawyer, Murray definitely proves that he can be cool where everyone else is over-the-top and acting all trashy. Yet, among the entire cast of characters, he’s the one character that plays it straight without being too dark. His best moment is at the end when he appears with a briefcase as he has the last word of the film. Though it’s a flawed film, Murray makes the most of it by just being cool.

10. What About Bob?

Another of his finest comedic performances as Bob Wiley, Murray goes for it all as multi-phobic psychiatrist patient who decides to drop-in to visit his shrink who is on vacation. While credit should go to Richard Dreyfuss as the foil, it’s Murray’s sense of child-like innocence and being so loveable that really makes the film a joy to watch. Even as he interacts with Dreyfuss’ family and doing all of the things to annoy him. Probably the best scene that Murray is where Dreyfuss’ Dr. Leo Marvin character ties him up for some death therapy leaving Bob all alone where he has an epiphany about his problems and declares himself free.

Honorable Mentions:

Among the slew of amazing performances that Murray has over the years. There’s so many to mention whether its cameos or just big parts. Other noteworthy comedic performances that show Murray at his best are Ernie McCracken in Kingpin, Frank Cross in Scrooged, and as Wallace Ritchie in the flawed but funny The Man Who Knew Too Little show Murray being an entertainer. Cameos from films like Little Shop of Horrors, Space Jam, and Zombieland show that even the smallest of cameos can show that Murray is willing to bring his A game.

Murray the supporting actor is also fun to watch from his small role as Jeff Slater in Tootsie is a standout along with his performance as Raleigh St. Clair in Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums can show what he can do as an actor in an ensemble. Another noteworthy supporting role that has him in an animated film but standing out big time is in Wes Anderson’s adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox as the Badger. His great moment is where he and George Clooney’s Mr. Fox are arguing and get into a growling match.

There’s a lot that can be said about Bill Murray and why he brings joy to people whether he’s doing comedy or drama. Yet, of all the people who came out of Saturday Night Live. He’s the greatest performer from that show and there will be no one as cool or as funny as he was in the show’s history. Even in film, he has amassed a slew of memorable characters. So in celebration of his 60th birthday. It’s best if we leave it to Bill for the parting words…

Related Reviews: The Royal Tenenbaums - Lost in Translation - LIT 5th Anniversary Essay - The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

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