MaryAnn Johanson July 29, 2009
He’s portrayed such diverse characters as madman Lex Luthor (in Superman Returns) and real-life crooner Bobby Darin (in Beyond the Sea). He’s given us the iconic midlife meltdown of Lester Burnham (in American Beauty) and the insectoid insanity of villain Hopper (in A Bug’s Life). Now he’s the voice of the Hal-esque supercomputer Gerty in Moon, and the pot-smoking Hollywood head doctor in Shrink. If there’s any kind of character Kevin Spacey can’t play, we haven’t seen it yet … though some of the eccentrics and cranks he has played, we could have done without.
Kevin Spacey: Top Five
The Usual Suspects: Spacey’s Verbal Kint is a legendary character, an instant classic when the actor created him and even more worthy of the designation now. We often say that one actor carries a movie, but Spacey redefines that here in such a way that few performances before or since come close to matching.
L.A. Confidential: Spacey’s 1950s cop gone Hollywood — and more than a little corrupt — is a mesmerizing portrait of just how enticing sleaze and fraud and vice can be.
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: He’s killed a man, but was it murder? In one of the rare instances of a movie that’s better than the book, it’s Spacey’s killer who spins the almost otherworldly tapestry upon which this deliciously oddball mystery plays out.
Wise Guy: In eight episodes of this late-80s crime drama, Spacey is Mel Profitt, a super-rich lunatic (anticipating Lex Luthor) — here, everything that will be so powerful about Spacey on the big screen is concentrated and compelling here.
The Negotiator: There’s a bit toward the end of this otherwise unmemorable crime flick in which Spacey’s hostage negotiator makes you rethink everything you’ve seen up to that point, creating a thrilling moment of movie magic.
Kevin Spacey: Bottom Five
The Life of David Gale: You know all the quirks and talents that made Spacey so riveting in all those movies above? He misuses them here to trick us into caring about someone we otherwise wouldn’t, and we’re angry at ourselves for caring about him in the end.
The Shipping News: Spacey furrows his brow a lot when he isn’t making confused-hurt puppy-dog eyes at everyone. It’s really hard to feel any sympathy for him when you mostly just want to smack him.
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K-pax: Is Spacey an alien? Or is he just crazy? (The perpetual unshaven-ness might be a hint.) And from whom did he take hamming-it-up lessons to prepare for this role?
Pay It Forward: The unforgivably manipulative tearjerker sentimentality completely obliterates any value in Spacey’s fine performance here. But you won’t need hankies — you’ll need stuff to throw at the screen.
21: Spacey slaps a slick sheen across this preposterous tale of college kids on the take in Vegas, counting cards and raking in the dough. And I don’t mean that in a good way.
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