John Cusack: Top Five / Bottom Five

There's a little quiet indie movie being released this week called 2012. If you haven't heard of it, check your local arty theater for more details. At the center of this low-budget affair is an actor I'm quite fond of. You know how we do here. It's time to evaluate and lay judgment.

I'm not entirely sure how to create this list. John Cusack is too likable to me. He's made some very bad movies very watchable, which throws my whole game off. If he's in a movie, there's a good chance I will want to see it. Maybe he and his sister Joan were saints in another life. Maybe they've developed so much good karma I can't help but be smitten. Whatever it is, I had a tough time creating a list of best and worst for the actor. In the end I decided to make a list of his best movies that captured what I like about the actor most. As for the worst ... it was made with a solemn heart. Without further adieu...

The Good

High Fidelity

Sometimes you just feel a movie is made with you in mind. Andre, the movie says, here ... this is for you, buddy. More than most actors, John Cusack has made a lot of movies like that in his career. This adaptation of Nick Hornby's novel hits home hardest, however. Director Stephen Frears had worked with Cusack before, in the The Grifters, a much better movie than some of the others on this list. Of the two collaborations, however, this is easily my favorite.

Grosse Pointe Blank

Remember that bad Mark Wahlberg movie, The Big Hit? This is the anti-that. Cusack helped pen this bright and bloody comedy cult classic. Sprinkled with that quintessential quirky humor we've come to associate with Cusack, this is one sharp flick. His character lives anything but a mundane life (he is a hitman, after all) but he's still become bored by it. He picks off his victims via a sniper rifle with the same level of sad boredom a teen flicks away a tiny piece of crumpled loose-leaf paper off his desk; just waiting for the school bell to sound so he can get away from it all. While his classmates have become real estate gurus, doctors and lawyers, he's been busy assassinating the presidents of third world countries. It gets tiring.

Cusack is more confused by the "normal" lifestyles his old high school friends than he is critical. He doesn't feel superior to any of them and that's what makes this terrific comedy work so well. They went one way. He went another. What if he hadn't?

Better Off Dead

Few movies define an actor so perfectly to an audience and even fewer are as ahead of its time as this 1985 jet-black and very surreal comedy. Still, I can't imagine the outrage a movie like this would garner today. Just last week The Office was in trouble for a suicide joke made by a character, a character who the show goes to great lengths to prove is an idiot. This is a comedy that constantly plays suicide for laughs. And you know what? It's great. It's incredibly quotable. And it's funny. Eat it.

Say Anything

If you're Cameron Crowe and you're behind the camera for the first time you have to be pretty happy you've got a guy like John Cusack as your wingman. Famous for the scene where Cusack holds a boombox (and Peter Gabriel) over his head, Say Anything is so much more than your average romantic comedy (it borders on romantic drama, actually). Crowe digs deeper here than you would expect and Cusack ... well, if Better Off Dead started our crush with the actor, Say Anything only endeared him to us more by successfully combining his comedic chops with a deeper dramatic performance.

Being John Malkovich

Being John Malkovich

I had a very hard time selecting this final slot because there were a number of films I wanted to include. Being John Malkovich is a great film that deserves to be on a number of top lists, but I choose it here because this is Cusack at his most unlikable. His character deserves everything he has coming to him. Stripped away from his charming, voluble manner, Cusack is no less quirky (this is Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman territory, after all) but you still can't completely despise him.

The Bad

Con Air

The more time has separated me from this overly bombastic Bruckheimer concoction, the more my lip starts to snarl.

City Hall

This isn't really a bad movie per se, but it's a terribly disappointing one. This movie was delayed and delayed and delayed. The trailer hooked me (complete with that great traileriffic Hoffa score by David Newman) by showcasing another virtuoso speech by Al Pacino. If you watch that original trailer, it's filled with scenes reshot or otherwise cut completely, more so than your average trailer -- which would be fine if it wasn't all so painfully mediocre. Everyone deserved better, especially us.

The Cradle Will Rock

This is on here for the same reason City Hall is on this list: it's a failure. Writer-director Tim Robbins had a great story and an outstanding cast put together, but it just never jelled. In fact, it's pretty dull. Cusack doesn't have a very big part in this one but everyone goes down with this ship.

Fat Man and Little Boy

Another disappointing coulda-been-a-contender entry on Cusack's resume. Cusack had a lot of would-be career-making movies that just didn't pan out. Maybe he just isn't meant for big giant success. Maybe if 2012 takes his career to new heights what makes him special will self-destruct the way it kind of did with Nicholas Cage. And then years later every once in a while we will see our old guy we knew and loved. And then he will make Ghost Rider. I'm suddenly nervous...

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

The letdowns keep on a'coming. John Berendt's beautifully written book about a murder trial that rocks the colorful corners of Savannah, Georgia, was one big fat bore on the big screen. The cast seemed right. You had a more-than-capable director behind the lens. It was just so flat, and that stinks because it's as vibrant a book as you'll ever read. You would think Berendt's bizarro Savannah would be a perfect match for Cusack's eccentric touch. But it was not to be.

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