Total Recall: Steve Buscemi's Best Movies
We count down the best-reviewed work of the Incredible Burt Wonderstone star.
He hasn't always played the nicest characters, but both onscreen and off, Steve Buscemi has always come across as a pretty interesting person -- a gifted thespian, talented director, and former firefighter who helped clear rubble from the World Trade Center after 9/11, he's one ubiquitous character actor whose Hollywood success doesn't seem to have turned him into anything other than a regular guy from Brooklyn. Of course, in this weekend's The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, he's anything but regular... which is why we decided we couldn't miss the opportunity to dedicate a list to some of Buscemi's best-reviewed roles. It's time for Total Recall!
Allegedly inspired by writer/director Tom DiCillo's less-than-wonderful experiences on the set of the early Brad Pitt picture Johnny Suede, 1995's Living in Oblivion starred Buscemi as a put-upon director whose struggles with his emotionally distraught crew (including Dermot Mulroney as the director of photography) and exasperating cast (including Catherine Keener as his difficult leading lady and James LeGros as the buffoonish, possibly Pitt-derived leading man) make it difficult for him -- and the audience -- to keep track of what's illusory and what's real. "So you wanna make a movie?" asked the Washington Post's Hal Hinson. "Well, first, you should see Living in Oblivion, Tom DiCillo's savagely funny satire of the world of independent filmmaking."
Buscemi picked up his first Independent Spirit Award nomination for his supporting work in this Jim Jarmusch anthology film consisting of three loosely connected stories -- one of which found Buscemi sharing screen time with Joe Strummer, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, and the decade's most in-depth discussion of Lost in Space not involving Matt LeBlanc. "The three-part structure of Mystery Train is still a bit shambling and slight," admitted Entertainment Weekly's Chris Nashawaty, "but there's an undeniable air of deadpan cool that permeates the film and gives it a haunting sense of place."
One on a growing list of 21st century films about American war that American audiences have largely ignored, 2009's The Messenger takes the mounting costs of our conflicts and gives them unforgettably human faces -- including Will Montgomery and Tony Stone (played by Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson, who received a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination) as soldiers tasked with delivering casualty notifications to survivors, and Steve Buscemi as a father whose awful grief helps lend the film its gut-punching power before giving it an unexpected twist. "This is a wholly different look at the fallout of the Iraq War and its effect on soldiers and civilians," offered USA Today's Claudia Puig. "It is also a gentle portrait of grief, friendship and solace."
7. Barton Fink
Generally speaking, we tend to avoid including cameos and smallish roles in these lists, but those rules are bent when it comes to actors like Buscemi, who can steal an entire movie with little more than a few moments on the screen. One of his more memorable minor parts: Chet the bellhop in Barton Fink, a barely-seen character whose friendliness to Fink (John Turturro) adds a bit of light to an oft-gloomy Coen brothers picture that uses the uneasy partnership between art and commerce as a backdrop for a surreal drama about sex, lies, and a shotgun-toting John Goodman. Calling the end result "Gnomic, claustrophobic, hallucinatory, just plain weird," Time's Richard Schickel lauded it as "the kind of movie critics can soak up thousands of words analyzing and cinephiles can soak up at least three espressos arguing their way through."
The gangster drama whose stubborn script eventually prompted the desperate break that birthed Barton Fink, Miller's Crossing blended well-worn genre formula with the Coen brothers' signature style -- and gave Steve Buscemi an early break with the brief but pivotal role of Mink Larouie, a bookie whose illicit affairs draw him into a gang war that proves deadly (giving the Coens the first of many opportunities to cause Buscemi's on-screen death). "While Miller's Crossing is not as messy or inspired as Martin Scorsese's GoodFellas, or as richly suggestive as The Godfather, it accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do," mused John Hartl for Film.com.