Nicolas Cage is no mere actor -- he is a transcendental film force. He's fully capable of delivering a subtle, deep reading of a character, but he is at his best -- at his most Cage -- when he is truly cutting loose, chewing scenery and taking no prisoners. His "serious" acting chops earned him a shelf full of awards, including an Oscar for Leaving Las Vegas, but what has earned him a rabid cult following is his sheer, manic onscreen insanity. With The Church of Coen presents: Raising Arizona at Syntax Physic Opera on Sunday, February 8, Denver Cage fans will get a chance to see where it all began, and that offers us an opportunity to reflect on the films that built the legend of Cage. These aren't his best films, mind you -- these are the films in which his unique genius and singular acting style (self-described as "nouveau shamanic") are on bold display, shouting to the world, "I am CAGE, hear me roar."
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It can be argued that there is no more important film thanRaising Arizona
, for it introduced the world at large to not one, but two of the greatest forces in contemporary cinema. Yes, both the Coens and Cage had made other films before it, but to this day the Coens' debutBlood Simple
is criminally overlooked. As for Cage, he was certainly solid in his handful of films predatingRaising Arizona
, but this was the first time he delivered such a memorable, fully invested character as H.I. McDunnough. In scene after scene, the Cage delivers, selling out 100 percent and delivering on the role in a way few actors can. It wouldn't be the same movie without him, and that's about as high praise as any actor can ever expect.4) Vampire's Kiss
Here we see the first inklings of the true insanity of the full-blown Cage experience, in the role of a literary agent named Peter Loew who's bitten by what he believes is a vampire, precipitating a descent into madness. Or maybe vampirism. Who can say? Affecting a ridiculous accent and throwing himself, sometimes literally, into every scene, Cage has never been more ludicrous -- or more awesome -- than he was in this film. Only he could deliver lines like, "Well, I did murder someone last night. I turn into a vampire. It's a long story" with complete conviction. And talk about doing whatever it takes to deliver! He even ate a live cockroach to bring this completely insane film to life. That's dedication.3) Wild at Heart
David Lynch'sWild at Heart
is one of a handful of films that find Cage delivering a performance that is justifiably "good acting" but simultaneously truly Cageian. Mashing up Elvis Presley,The Wizard of Oz
and typical Lynchian weirdness, the film is a perfect setting for Cage to deliver a signature performance and, boy, does he ever. From the opening scene where he beats a man to death with his bare hands to the closing scene that sees him running pell-mell over the roofs of cars in a traffic jam, this is a film that conflates Cage and Lynch in such a magical way that, in retrospect, the weirdest thing is that they never made another film together.2) Face/Off
Nicolas Cage. John Travolta. John Woo. With those pieces, it could have been just another generic Hollywood action blockbuster, but instead Cage turned up the insanity to eleven and delivered a serious slice of WTF that resonates to this day. How often do you get two of the biggest stars in the world (at the time), hamming it up and delivering broad, comedic takes on each other's persona in the middle of a smash-em-up action-movie premise? Not too damn often -- and let's go out on a limb here and admit that it could really only happen if one of them was Cage. Hell, the only way it could be more Cage is if he'd played both roles, which would have been even sweeter, and was kind of alluded to inAdaptation
, another all-world Cageian performance.1) The Wicker Man
There is no movie that shows the soul-rending madness at the heart of Cage than the bizarre remake ofThe Wicker Man
. Whether he's dressing up in a bear costume to punch a woman out, having his face assaulted by bees or demanding to know how it got burned, this movie is wall-to-wall Cage. It's a bad movie, of that there's no doubt, but the sheer magnetic power of the Cage makes it irresistible. If you can take your eyes off him in this film, for even a second, there is something horribly wrong with your soul, because theWicker Man
Cage is truly as close to the face of god as most of us can ever hope to approach.
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