On one hand, he's an Oscar-winning powerhouse, capable of moving audiences to tears and laughter. His work in films like 'Leaving Las Vegas,' 'Raising Arizona' and the upcoming 'Joe' showcase an actor in total control of his craft, a talented comedian and dramatist with an eye for real humanity.
And then there's the other side of Cage. The lunatic. The internet meme. The craziest actor of all time. The guy who never says no to any role he's offered. This half of Cage is so dominant that it's sometimes hard to forget that he can play traditional roles with the best of them.
With 'Joe' about to hit theaters, audiences will soon get a reminder of just how good Cage can be. But let's celebrate his long-awaited return to excellence by combing through his filmography and picking the moments that best define his special brand of craziness. Anyone can be good, but only Nicolas Cage can be Nicolas Cage.
"Lowrider, Donny."'Gone in 60 Seconds'
'Gone in 60 Seconds' is a fairly straightforward crime action movie; a glossy, dumb studio product that delivers the bare minimum number of thrills and laughs. But since it stars Nicolas Cage, it gets a handful of truly odd moments. The best of them comes before Cage and his team of car thieves embark on their biggest mission yet. With everyone assembled, he demands for "Lowrider" to be played and everyone stands there in silence as Cage has a borderline religious reaction to the music. Words really cannot describe his final gesture, but we think it's Cage officially getting filled with the criminal version of the Holy Spirit.
The truly ludicrous plot of 'Face/Off' sees John Travolta's federal agent literally swapping faces with Nicolas Cage's psychotic criminal, which means that Cage spends the bulk of the film playing a po-faced hero representing all that is right and good. However, he does get to spend the first act portraying the unhinged Castor Troy and the results are just so wonderfully Cage-y. Take the opening scene of the film, where he disguises himself as a priest, gropes a choir girl and screams "Hallelujah!" while, uh, orgasming. Or something. In true Cage fashion, it's really, really hard to explain.
"Haggis!"'National Treasure: Book of Secrets'
The 'National Treasure' films generally feature Nicolas Cage at his most restrained (and boring), but the second film in the franchise offers one scene of true wacko goodness. When asked to create a distraction at Buckingham Palace, Cage's straight-laced treasure hunter fakes a drunken dispute, draws the attention of the authorities and starts screaming as many English cliches as he can in a cop's face, culminating in a particularly memorable shout of "Haggis!" The best part of it all is his phony British accent, which is (intentionally?) bad enough to put a serious kink in US/UK diplomatic relations.
"Have You Ever Been Dragged to the Sidewalk and Beaten Until You PISSED BLOOD?!"'Matchstick Men'
Nicolas Cage imbues his normal characters with strange tics and habits, so when given the chance to actually play a guy with obsessive compulsive disorder he takes things to the limit of what's acceptable in any kind of performance. 'Matchstick Men' features one of the great Cage freak-outs, a sequence of screaming and gnashing of teeth that has to be seen to be believed. Many actors may have tried to bring some level of reality to an OCD-afflicted man desperately trying to cut in line at a pharmacy, but Cage is a whirling dervish of fantastic overacting, shouting inane threats at other customers and twitching so hard that his hairpiece threatens to fly from his head.
"Mom Called It Psychologically Taut."'Adaptation.'
In many ways, Nicolas Cage's performance in 'Adaptation.' is one of his most subtle and layered. He refuses to reach into his old bag of tricks and brings real life to his achingly sad screenwriter character. But he also plays said screenwriter's hack brother, which means that this is a movie where Cage stars alongside himself, with the two of them having extended conversations. Take the scene below, where one Cage pitches a truly horrendous screenplay to the other. It's two completely different Cages, one sad and subtle, one goofy and over-the-top, and they're in the same scene having a conversation. 'Adaptation.' is an incredible movie for a number of reasons, but one of it's biggest joys is how it lets "good" Cage bounce off hammy Cage.
"Put the Bunny Back in the Box."'Con Air'
On paper, Nicolas Cage's character in 'Con Air' is one of his most straightforward. However, in true Cage fashion, he takes that paper and covers it with crayon scribbles until the lunacy factor has been properly calibrated to his exact specifications. As the lone innocent man on a hijacked prisoner transport plane, Cage gives his straight-arrow hero a hilariously deadpan southern drawl and an awful mullet, making every interaction an opportunity for comedy gold. The highlight comes when Cage finds a bad guy riffling through a care package he put together for his daughter and, well, let's just say that Cage doesn't like it when people touch his daughter's stuffed rabbit. Everyone, even Cage, plays the scene completely straight, which actually manages to up the craziness by at least 150%.
"The F**king Hangers!"'Deadfall'
The only reason Nicolas Cage made 'Deadfall' was because it was directed by his brother Christopher Coppola and man, oh man, are we glad he saw that family obligation through! This is an awful, cheap, no-good movie, quite possibly the worst in Cage's entire filmography, but his performance is one for the ages. With seemingly no one around to tell him "no" or to tone it down, Cage goes so big that he becomes literally incomprehensible, babbling about clothes hangers trying to kill him and snorting cocaine until every word in his mouth becomes the vocal equivalent of baby food. You should never, ever, watch 'Deadfall,' but you should definitely watch the Cage highlights on YouTube.
"Oh No! Not the Bees!"'The Wicker Man'
Even people who haven't seen the ill-fated remake of 'The Wicker Man' can quote its infamous conclusion, where Nicolas Cage finds himself murdered by an all-female cult by having bees poured on his face until he dies. It's a scene of truly astonishing and delicious badness, but it's only one of the film's many great Cage moments. How could anyone ever forget the scene where he goes undercover in a bear suit or uses his martial arts skills to kick a woman into a bookshelf? 'The Wicker Man' is chock-full of glorious Cage weirdness ... and yet the bees just have to take it. Only an actor as insane and inventive as Cage could make something so bizarre and anticlimactic so memorable.
"His Soul is Still Dancing."'Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans'
Whoever initially bankrolled 'Bat Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans' probably thought they were going to get a pretty standard crime thriller, but director Werner Herzog and Nicolas Cage had other plans. The eccentric filmmaker and his even more eccentric leading man bring out each other's worst habits, leading to a movie that feels like it was put together by aliens with no understanding of the human race or how movies are supposed to work.
As he is wont to do when do one gives him any guidance, Cage defaults to giving a 110% crazy-pants performance, scowling and shouting and giggling like only he can do. But when you combine a totally unhinged Cage with a director as odd as Herzog, the results are transcendent. Take the scene below, where Cage and his friends gun down their rivals, but the "soul" of one of the dead men won't stop breakdancing. It would be a crazy scene with any other actor, but it feels genetically engineered to accommodate Cage's special brand of nuttiness. If there is a God, Herzog and Cage will collaborate again.
Every Scene in 'Vampire's Kiss''Vampire's Kiss'
If anyone ever questioned Nicolas Cage's place as the craziest actor working today, Exhibit A in the defense would be 'Vampire's Kiss,' a film so insane that it's impossible to select a single moment to represent it. Cage plays a hotshot executive who believes he's been transformed into a vampire, has a mental breakdown and proceeds to overact all over New York City. Cage eats a live cockroach. Cage wears plastic fangs and tries to dance sexy on a dance floor. Cage admonishes his shrink for not have psychic powers. Cage literally runs down the street screaming that he's a vampire. And he does it all with an upper-crust accent that simply defies explanation. Yes, 'Vampire's Kiss' is the Cage-iest Nicolas Cage movie of all time and required watching for fans of performances so bad that they loop around and become good.