Nicolas Cage Names His Favorite Performances, Bashes Modern Film Criticism

Nicolas Cage in The Runner


I’ve made my affections for Nicolas Cage no secret on this site. It’s a love ironic and not. I truly believe the actor can command a strong performance when given a chance, even today despite the rantings of those who believe otherwise — I’ll point to Joe and the first Kick-Ass to back my case. Even when he’s bad, though, his odd fixture usually remains alluring. The mannerisms, delivery and personality traits he gives to his characters are entirely his own, and only occasionally does that not work in his favor with regards to entertainment, like in last week’s The Runner.

His most insane performances, from The Wicker Man to Vampire’s Kiss, are not always celebrated but they’re sure-as-hell remembered, and that’s the case for the actor as well. Talking to Time about his filmography while promoting his aforementioned new political drama, the kookier and/or more emotionally demanding roles are the ones he considers his pride-and-joy. Specifically, he points towards Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, Leaving Las Vegas, Face/Off and the previously mentioned Vampire’s Kiss as his personal favorites.

His reasoning for each? It goes as follows:

I thought that Werner [Herzog] and I got up to something special in Bad Lieutenant. Certainly Mike Figgis and I found something pretty emotionally naked in Leaving Las Vegas. I was very happy with Vampire’s Kiss, which in my opinion was almost like an independent laboratory to start realizing some of my more expressionistic dreams with film performance. Then using what I had learned in Vampire’s Kiss and putting it into a very big action movie in the form of Face/Off with John Woo. If you look at those two movies back to back, you can see where I stole from my performance in Vampire’s Kiss.

Considering Figgis’ movie got the man an Oscar, it’s certainly not surprising to hear him champion the film and his work inside it. Bad Lieutenant has some of his most unhinged moments as a professional actor, and considering the final product actually turned out good opposed to, say, Deadfall, there’s some logic to be gleamed from there too. Face/Off is one of the actor’s most radically unfazed offerings, and its over-the-top style fits the tone of his performance (even if it’s not really all that great of a movie). Vampire’s Kiss, though, is the surprising one, at least for me.

I can see his performance in the dark comedy propelling into the work we know full well from the actor, but the confused tone and unevenness of his acting there would make you think he’d be more embarrassed than proud of what he created. What do I know, though? This is Cage we’re talking about here, and truth be told I’ve never seen Vampire’s Kiss in its entirety. I’m planning to prepare myself accordingly when I do decide to finally watch it one of these days — especially if it’s among the man’s favorite cinematic blessings.

Speaking of critical analysis of Cage’s work, the 51-year-old actor also has some choice words for the state of professional film criticism, and his points are something the two of us can agree upon.

I think that there was a period in film commentary where it was like the gold standard — I would cite someone like Pauline Kael or Roger Ebert or Paul Schrader — where they were really determining based on the work itself, the film itself, the performance itself. And now, with the advent of this kind of TMZ culture, it sadly seems to have infiltrated the vanguard of film commentary. I see these reviews sometimes where I think, well, you have a right to say whatever you want about my work, and I will listen whether it’s good or bad and see if there’s something that I might work with, but personal issues don’t have a place in film commentary.

He leads this commentary awkwardly into talking about the plight of his character in his latest role, but the man’s got a movie to sell. Though it’s highly possible he put Schrader in the mix solely for having worked with him on last year’s Dying of the Light, he gives some thoughtful comments to consider. It’s becoming harder to separate the art from the artist these days thanks to new media and, though I never truly consider Cage’s real-life antics when I watch his movies, I like to think his larger-than-life persona actually adds to the extremity of his work. Maybe that’s just me, though.

It’s been a little while since Cage really blew me away, but when he’s great I think he can be exceptionally so. Adaptation is, in no small part, one of my all-time favorites because of the emotionally nakedness Cage is referring to, and it’s nice to see he’s at least a little self-aware of himself and his impact. Granted, I don’t think this always comes to play when he shows up on the set of some of his films, like Outcast for instance, but I never feel as though he’s just slumming it. The man respects his craft and, while it doesn’t always respect him and audience members often follow suit in not celebrating his commitments, he’s one hell of a dedicated performer. Be it Vampire’s Kiss, Con Air or otherwise.


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