Total Recall: Kevin Bacon's Best Movies
We count down the best-reviewed work of the R.I.P.D. star.
Nine times out of 10, scoring a role in a T&A-fueled college sex comedy isn't a terribly auspicious beginning for a young actor, but in Kevin Bacon's case, his appearance as the smug Chip Diller in 1978's Animal House made for a memorable debut -- as well as a hugely successful opportunity for a young actor to cut his cinematic teeth with a cast and crew that included such stellar talents as John Belushi, Donald Sutherland, Harold Ramis, and John Landis. Although it didn't immediately lead to bigger film parts for Bacon, who'd end up in Friday the 13th and daytime serials over the next few years, it marked a solid opening chapter in what would turn into a distinguished career -- and provided plenty of laughs for Roger Ebert, who wrote, "The movie is vulgar, raunchy, ribald, and occasionally scatological. It is also the funniest comedy since Mel Brooks made The Producers."
Ron Howard's best-reviewed film in ages, 2009's Frost/Nixon adapts the Peter Morgan play that dramatized British broadcaster David Frost's (played by Michael Sheen) efforts to secure and sell a series of TV interviews with the politically exiled former president (portrayed by Frank Langella) -- in spite of a series of seemingly insurmountable obstacles, not the least of which were the loud doubts expressed by Nixon's chief of staff Jack Brennan (Bacon). Although plenty of pundits took umbrage at the way Morgan's screenplay took liberties with the actual events that inspired the film, for the vast majority of critics, Frost/Nixon's flaws seemed pretty minor when weighed against the script, direction, editing, completed picture, and Langella's performance -- all of which received Oscar nominations. For the Philadelphia Inquirer's Steven Rea, it all added up to "A must-see for political junkies, history buffs, and folks still fascinated by the paranoia-fueled follies of the twitchy, sweaty, decidedly uncharismatic 37th president."
Before he developed into a full-fledged cult favorite with movies like Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show, Christopher Guest made his directorial debut with The Big Picture, a cameo-laden showbiz satire about a young, talented director (Bacon) who learns the hard way that studio politics often wreak havoc on everything from a film's storyline to a filmmaker's career. Fittingly, Picture saw its own release derailed when the studio president who greenlit it was fired, but even during its limited theatrical run, it found an enthusiastic audience with critics like Chris Hicks of the Deseret News, who wrote, "All in all this is a terrific comedy that punctures Hollywood's pretentiousness but is never mean-spirited about it."
It may seem a little hard to believe in today's superhero-driven cinematic landscape, but once upon a time, major studios actually did release movies that were about nothing more than ordinary people doing relatively ordinary things. Case in point: Diner, the low-key 1982 character study that acted as the first installment of writer/director Barry Levinson's series of Baltimore films. Focused on the lives and loves of a group of friends, the narrative begins in 1959, using a series of vignettes to illustrate the way their relationships change; it's pretty straightforward stuff, but it's expertly grounded by Levinson's marvelous script and sensitive direction, not to mention stellar work from a terrific cast of up-and-comers that included Bacon, Ellen Barkin, Steve Guttenberg, Mickey Rourke, Daniel Stern, Tim Daly, and Paul Reiser. Observed a prescient Janet Maslin for the New York Times, "Movies like Diner -- fresh, well-acted and energetic American movies by new directors with the courage of their convictions -- are an endangered species."
1. Apollo 13
This dramatization of NASA's aborted 1970 lunar mission combined one of star Tom Hanks' biggest personal passions -- space travel -- with Hollywood's favorite thing: a blockbuster prestige picture. With a cast that featured a number of similarly prolific actors (among them Bacon, Ed Harris, Bill Paxton, and Gary Sinise), Apollo 13 probably would have made decent money even if it had played fast and loose with the real-life details of the launch, but director Ron Howard and his crew strove for verisimilitude, going so far as to shoot portions of the film in actual zero gravity. The result was a summertime smash that restored some of space travel's luster for a jaded generation -- and made for an exceedingly good filmgoing experience according to most critics, including Roger Ebert, who called it "a powerful story, one of the year's best films, told with great clarity and remarkable technical detail, and acted without pumped-up histrionics."
In case you were wondering, here are Bacon's top 10 movies according RT users' scores:
1. National Lampoon's Animal House -- 88%
2. X-Men: First Class -- 88%
3. Mystic River -- 86%
4. Frost/Nixon -- 86%
5. A Few Good Men -- 83%
6. Sleepers -- 81%
7. Apollo 13 -- 78%
8. Murder in the First -- 76%
9. Diner -- 75%
10. Footloose -- 73%
Finally, here are the Bacon Brothers (featuring Kevin on vocals and guitar) jamming with Daryl Hall: