Total Recall: Willem Dafoe's Best Movies
We count down the best-reviewed work of the John Carter star.
He was considered for the role of the Joker in Tim Burton's Batman, but Dafoe didn't get to play a supervillain until he won the part of Norman Osborn, a.k.a. the Green Goblin, in Spider-Man. It was worth the wait: Even though he spent much of the film acting behind a cumbersome 580-piece suit, Dafoe effortlessly oozed menace as Osborn as well as the Goblin, lending the film a suitably heavy antagonist and helping raise the dramatic stakes for a movie that ended up taking FX-fueled superhero drama to the next level. It was, as Michael Dequina argued for Film Threat, "Just about the truest and most satisfying screen adaptation most anyone could have ever hoped for."
A pained elegy for the survivors of the drug culture of the 1980s -- albeit one told with writer/director Paul Schrader's customary emotional distance -- Light Sleeper sent Dafoe prowling through the New York City nightscape as John LeTour, a courier for an upscale dealer (Susan Sarandon) whose plans to leave the business, coupled with what he views as the growing bleakness of his clients' lives, leave him searching for a way out. Dark and deliberate, the film alienated impatient viewers -- as well as critics who felt Schrader was tilling old creative ground -- but for most, it represented a high point for the filmmaker as well as his stars. Argued Roger Ebert, "In film after film, for year after year, Paul Schrader has been telling this story in one way or another, but never with more humanity than this time."
After making a name for himself with The French Connection and The Exorcist, director William Friedkin suffered through some uneven outings in the late 1970s and early 1980s, enduring mixed reviews and lackluster box office for films like Cruising and Deal of the Century before rebounding with To Live and Die in L.A.. Cool and atmospheric, Die starred Dafoe as a ruthless counterfeiter being pursued by a pair of unscrupulous cops (William Petersen and John Pankow); while it wasn't a smash hit, it easily earned back its $6 million budget, along with raves from critics like Wesley Morris of the San Francisco Examiner, who wrote, "The only problem is that Friedkin would never get any better than this."
These days, it's a rare animated film that doesn't boast a star-studded cast, but most of them don't attract the sort of award-hoarding talent that Wes Anderson lined up for Fantastic Mr. Fox, his stop-motion adaptation of the Roald Dahl book about a rascally fox (George Clooney) whose devotion to his wife (Streep) is tested by his need to have the last laugh against a trio of bloodthirsty farmers. Rounded out by an eclectic list of co-stars that included Dafoe, Bill Murray, and Owen Wilson, Fox thrilled critics like Elizabeth Weitzman of the New York Daily News, who called it "A visual treasure that successfully blends deadpan quirkiness with a wry realism rarely seen in any film, let alone one for children."
1. Finding Nemo
Before he worked for him in John Carter, Dafoe teamed up with director Andrew Stanton for Finding Nemo, Pixar's 2003 hit about a neurotic clownfish (Albert Brooks) and his panicked efforts to find his son, who has been tossed into a dentist's office fish tank with a motley school of aquatic creatures -- including Dafoe's character, a grizzled aquarium vet named Gill who helps Nemo bust out of the joint. Though it was strictly a voice acting gig, it gave Dafoe a rare opportunity to play a hero -- and it ended up becoming one of the year's biggest critical and commercial successes. Calling it a "seamless blending of technical brilliance and storytelling verve," Entertainment Weekly's Lisa Schwarzbaum wrote, "the Pixar team has made something as marvelously soulful and innately, fluidly American as jazz."
In case you were wondering, here are Dafoe's top 10 movies according RT users' scores:
1. The Boondock Saints -- 93%
2. Platoon -- 91%
3. Mississippi Burning -- 87%
4. American Psycho -- 83%
5. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou -- 82%
6. The Last Temptation of Christ -- 82%
7. Inside Man -- 81%
8. The English Patient -- 81%
9. Finding Nemo -- 80%
10. Fantastic Mr. Fox -- 80%
Finally, here's Dafoe on a trip to Maine with John Lurie in Fishing With John: