Top 10 John Cusack Movies

Driving through Georgia recently, the movie Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil came to mind. After idly thinking about it for a while, I decided that it was an indicator as to what my next list should cover: my favorite movies featuring John Cusack. Cusack is one of those few actors that will cause me to go see a movie because he is in it. He is also one of the few actors that I have literally grown up with: he was born in 66, so is only 4 years older. The public was introduced to him in 16 Candles and hasn’t forgotten him. To narrow his extensive resume to 10 movies, I eliminated some people would include (1408, Say Anything) because I have not watched them; I also am not including Being John Malkovich because I did not like the movie at all. Even though my mom loved the movie, The Journey of Natty Gan will not be listed either.

So here they are, in release-year order:

The Sure Thing (1985)

This was the first movie having Cusack as a headliner; it was also Rob Reiner’s first major release after This Is Spinal Tap!. A fun movie that had a simple quest with escalating stakes and a likeable cast (look for a full-head-of-hair Anthony Edwards). It was a fun summer flick.

Better Off Dead (1985)

The one movie from the 80’s in Cusack’s list that is as recognizable, if not moreso, as Say Anything. We have all been Lane Meyer, and can feel his pain….

Eight Men Out (1988)

One of the most overlooked movies that Cusack has done. It centers around the Black Sox scandal, with Cusack as “Shoeless” Joe Jackson. If you have not seen this movie, what are you waiting for?

Grosse Pointe Blank (1997)

I may have had to wait 10 years, but it was worth it. Over the past few years, I have myself identifying with his character many times…

Con Air (1997)

John Cusack: Action Star??? Developed for Nick Cage, Cusack’s quiet presence lends a sharp contrast to Michael Bay’s explosions…

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1997)

Yes, it is a long movie, but worth the time. His reactions are dead-on to the craziness surrounding him.  The fact that it was filmed on location in Savannah made it even better.

High Fidelity (2000)

This movie is one of the reasons I thought of doing lists for this site.  Interesting study of relationships against the backdrop of music.  Jack Black “broke out” in this movie, but it also highlights for me the one note of his career…

America’s Sweethearts (2001)

Back-to-back movies with Catherine Zeta-Jones can be interesting.  This vehicle was used to launch Cusack’s run of romantic comedies — this one being the best of the bunch.  The casting of Walken was great, but I loved the idea of Julia Roberts being cast as the “ugly”, insecure sister even more.  Finally, Hank Azaria can do no wrong as a character actor.  Look for Rainn Wilson (Dwight from The Office) as a journalist…

Identity (2003)

Interesting choice for Cusack during what was supposed to be his romantic comedy phase and what more than likely landed him the part in 1408.  Great thriller that definitely was inspired by Hitchcock.  To say any more would ruin the movie, but definitely worth watching…

Runaway Jury (2003)

Decent Grisham thriller-turned-movie.  I loved seeing Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman square off, with John Cusack playing both sides.

Ocean’s 11 (1960)

About 15 years or so ago, I was flipping channels and came across a Sinatra flick on AMC.  It looked fun and it did not disappoint.  I kept catching it halfway through and it took about 7 years before I saw the whole movie.  When I saw Reservoir Dogs, I liked the touch of pulling the end scene of Ocean’s 11 for the opening and closing look.  Then word came out that George Clooney was looking to remake it.  Now I have enjoyed the Clooney version and its sequels, but there is something about the original.

In my review of The Rat Pack, I talked about them filming this in that time frame.  The story is simple and is more of fun ride than a movie.  It has all of the Rat Pack as well as some other great stars.  The twist at the end is one of the best I have seen, particularly in a movie like this.

The DVD has some interesting features, including a segment of the Tonight Show with Sinatra hosting.

My advice:  See what inspired Clooney and his bunch and see what it was like for the Rat Pack…

Heaven Can Wait

So there I was, sitting in a theater in December of 2000 when the previews started.  One for a movie called Down To Earth with Chris Rock started playing.  Within 15 seconds, I went from enjoying a preview to being ticked off.  Down To Earth was a remake of Heaven Can Wait, a Warren Betty movie from the late 70’s that my parents had shown me.  But there are remakes made all of the time, why be upset at this one?  Well, from the previews I could tell it was going to be a horrible remake.  Sure enough, two months later, I was proven right.  The worst part is that they had to credit Beatty as a writer since they had lifted so much from the original movie.

So what is Heaven Can Wait about?

Warren Beatty plays a football player for the LA Rams (before they moved to St. Louis) who seems to have it all.  He is involved in an accident, and an overanxious angel pulls him out too soon.  With his original body cremated, a new one must be found.  Beatty inhabits the body of a wealthy industrialist, survives some murder attempts and falls in love.

The supporting casting is great:  Buck Henry as the angel, Charles Grodin (back when he actually acted) as the assistant, Jack Warden as his best friend.  A simple movie that hits all of the beats.

The DVD only had a trailer as extras, which is disappointing given the stars involved.

My advice:  pop this one in for a decent date movie…

Big Trouble in Little China

Some movies seem destined for cult classic status: Rocky Horror Picture Show, Hudson Hawk.  Sometimes it is not instantaneous.  When Raiders of the Lost Ark hit the screens in 81 and followed it up with the Temple of Doom, every studio wanted to launch their own version of that type of movie.  John Carpenter had some success with Escape From New York and Starman.  Kurt Russell was a known quantity and had broken free of the Disney-squeaky-clean image with his star role in Escape From New York.

In 1986, the two teamed up again to do an action/adventure movie set in Chinatown.  The movie was done on a budget of $25 million dollars, but only ended up making $11 million at the box office.  However, cable and video helped many turn it into a cult classic.  I was part of the $11 million taken in, and I remember enjoying it a lot.  Of course it didn’t hurt that Kim Catrall was in it, after her popular roles in Police Academy and Mannequin.  My fondest memory of the movie stems from an all-nighter I pulled prepping for a final in college.  I was studying Statistics, when it came on at 2 AM on TBS.  That helped keep me awake for those extra few hours before the final, that I did pass.

The story is simple:  Russell plays a truck driver caught in the middle of ancient Chinese battles by his best friend.  Throw in a little kidnapping and sorcery and we have a poor man’s Indiana Jones, except the lead is dumber.  The story is straight-forward and predictable, but is a fun roller-coaster ride.  One of my biggest beefs is the location of the final battle: it looks like a converted part of a mall resembling a bad Jaycee’s Haunted House; that and the poor job done by the makeup artist that made it obvious that Kurt Russell had eye makeup on the whole time.

The DVD had the following extras:

  • 5.1 DTS and Dolby sound
  • Commentary by John Carpenter and Kurt Russell
  • Deleted Scenes — not that great
  • Featurette — funniest thing is when Kurt Russell referred to the price of a movie ticket: $5
  • Interview with the effects artist
  • Music Video — John Carpenter’s band did the title song
  • Trailers

My advice:  Well you just listen to the ol’ Pork Chop Express — on a dark and stormy night, pop this DVD in for some fun and action…

Radioland Murders

Despite the fact that he wrote the story that has been the standard for Science Fiction movies for over 30 years, George Lucas has always been criticized for his inability to write good dialogue.  Additionally, it seems that ventures not involving Star Wars or Indiana Jones end up being utter failures (i.e. Howard the Duck).  In `994, Lucas took another chance on a non-SW/IJ story, Radioland Murders.

When it came out in the theaters, it did not last long enough for me to see it.  Critics hated it and audiences didn’t get it.  As with Howard the Duck, everyone blamed Lucas, despite the fact that 4 people wrote the screenplay and someone else directed it.  I finally got to see it on video when it came out and was pleasantly surprised.  What I saw reminded me a lot of the movies my parents had made me watch growing up: predictable, simple story with madcap wackiness.

One of the first thing you notice in watching the movie is the amount of talent that signed up to participate, with stars ranging from George Burns to Ned Beatty.  Each actor is used to their strengths and there is not a weak one in the bunch.  Probably the one thing that helped the most in turning audiences off was casting a cable TV star as the lead: Brian Benben.  Benben was just coming off of a successful run in one HBO’s first original series, Dream On.  Mary Stuart Masterson was great as the fast-talking romantic interest.  The entire cast reflects a chemistry not often captured on film and it is a shame that many people missed this.

The story revolves around the first night of national broadcast for a fourth radio network.  As the broadcast begins, there are issues with unfinished scripts, Benben’s relationship with Masterson, and sponsors wanting out.  As the night progresses, the stakes are raised for the radio network that could be with a murder happening every so often.  What follows is orchestrated madness that is entertaining, but hectic.

Unfortunately, since the movie bombed, the DVD got the worst possible treatment: no surround sound, no extras; just the ability to jump to certain scenes.

My advice: this is a great date movie or Saturday afternoon veg movie.  While it is not a perfect movie, you will be missing a movie severely underrated.