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The 5 best movies of Steve Buscemi
Gotta love the Buscemi
A disclaimer. I'm not a Hollywood kind of person. Blockbusters fail to bust my blocks with a depressing regularity. My preferences lie in the dark humour of modern Spanish cinema, the occasional bleak British social comedy or hipster indie American Sundance fare soundtracked by Portland guitar bands.
If there's an American actor that has inspired any kind of loyalty over the years though, it has to be Hollywood's go-to weasel Steve Buscemi. Buscemi, like any actor with a dose of self-respect, probably thinks he can play the Prince, can do classical tragedy, can swash his buckle in an historic epic. We, the cruel audience, know better. If Buscemi is going to do Shakespeare, let's face it, he's going to be Iago every time.
Respect where it's due. It takes a peculiar kind of talent to be this brilliant at portraying devious losers. More narcissistic actors might have sacked their agent long before the 19th offer to play a sad-sack petty criminal with personal hygiene issues. Buscemi sucked it up, quietly turning himself into one of the most impressive character actors of his generation.
Something funny happened along the way. Buscemi weaselled his way into our hearts, became loveable. These days, his name on a cast list is not quite the guarantee of a brilliant performance as a shifty deviant. Instead he may be the sympathetic victim of society's harshly judgemental orthodoxies. He might be the hero.
Here, in no particular order, are Buscemi's must-sees:
Reservoir Dogs suffered from its adoption by over-analytical fanboys who got off on the (fabulous) music and (juvenile) violence. There's enough action and machismo to sate the most adolescent appetite, but unfortunately this means that many people neglect to notice that this is a writer's film. Quentin Tarantino is in love with the words, with the conversations, the vernacular and the spat-out asides. It's one of the most literary films in popular culture.
The actor who most respects the writing is, of course, Buscemi. His Mr Pink is a brilliantly irredemable fink, possessed of a self-destructive urge to express his repellent personality through a lengthy screed of sanctimonious whining. This is gloriously original characterisation for a villain. Movie baddies are supposed to be cool, psychotic, plain evil. Rarely has a writer had the nerve to make his crook such a snivelling little viper. Yes, the "tipping the waitress" lines are included in that little clip down there.
Trees Lounge is beautiful, an elegy, a lament for wasted youth. It is also excruciatingly and bitterly funny. With Buscemi as the director, you might have excused him giving himself a little romance, a bask in the gentle spotlight. Instead he gave us a mordant portrait of his own lost years. The character of Tommy is a barfly with a limited amount of charm.
The film is essentially an exploration of those limits. It's only about an alcoholic if you subscribe to the American sense of an alcoholic as someone who has an occasional beer in the afternoon. In Europe Tommy would be a loser who liked a drink. It's an inconsequential but unforgettable piece of work that seemed to promise much from Buscemi the director. That was one career avenue that didn't quite lead anywhere. We've seen Lonesome Jim. Let's not talk about that.
He was young once
Ok, so there's only four
Ghost World is a flawed film redeeemed by Buscemi's subtlety. It's hardly surprising that the producers pitched it as an adolescent girl comedy with Scarlett Johansson and Thora Birch as tortured indie-teens. The promotional department somehow failed to be persuaded that it was really all about the creepy and slightly sinister lonely middle-aged guy who collects jazz records. Buscemi's Seymour even utters the line that seems to encapsulate so many Buscemi roles: "I have to admit that things are really starting to look up for me since my life turned to sh*t."
Fargo was that rare entity, a film where Buscemi wasn't the best actor in it. The Coen Brothers assembled a great ensemble cast but William H. Macy edged it. Not that Buscemi wasn't splendid of course, celebrating the type he'd been cast as with malevolent charmlessness as idiot kidnapper Carl. Teamed up with the staring, baleful countenance of Peter Stormare as his brooding accomplice, Buscemi's Carl was a grotesque made three-dimensional by the actor's relentless sneer. Carl leaves the film piece by piece like a hood from a Carl Hiaasen thriller.
I'm letting you take the fifth. I think we are still waiting for the fifth great Steve Buscemi movie. Sure he has made impressive cameos in schlock like Con Air and Armageddon , and he's a regular member of the Coen Brothers repertory, but, unless you can persuade me otherwise, I think that place will remain vacant for a while.
Let's not get into his TV brilliance here. That's another soon-come Hub on this channel (so please maintain your subscriptions).