The Essentials: The 5 Best Bill Murray Performances

Features
by The Playlist Staff
December 4, 2012 12:03 PM
15 Comments
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This week sees the release of "Hyde Park On Hudson," the biopic of FDR that, despite a prestige-heavy cast and seemingly nakedly chasing the success of "The King's Speech," isn't riding as big a wave as we might've expected after premireing on the fall festival circuit in September. It may yet become a popular hit, but it looks unlikely to fulfill the purpose it was seemingly created for -- to finally win Bill Murray, one of our most beloved actors, an Oscar.

After breaking out on "Saturday Night Live" in the late 1970s, Murray become one of the biggest stars of the '80s and '90s, and in the latter part of his career, found new creative possibilities, thanks to the patronage of indie filmmakers like Wes Anderson, Jim Jarmusch and Sofia Coppola. After working with the latter, he was tipped by many for the Best Actor prize in 2004 for "Lost In Translation," but was beat out by Sean Penn in "Mystic River."

Still, Murray has continued to match to the beat of his own drum. He's famously picky about his projects and hard to contact (he doesn't have an agent, with a legendary 1-800 number said to be the best way to interest him in a project), and yet, he's retained a meticulous and diverse range of roles over the years, rarely, if ever, giving a bad performance. While "Hyde Park On Hudson" is far from his best film, the actor puts in a fine turn, and is set for an exciting 2013, with Roman Coppola's "A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III," Wes Anderson's "The Grand Budapest Hotel" and George Clooney's "The Monuments Men" all lined up. So, to commemorate the release of the actor's latest film, and in the hope of more greatness to come, we've picked out five of our favorite Murray performances from over the years.

"Ghostbusters" (1984)

Many of Murray's early roles have dated somewhat poorly, but "Ghostbusters" still feels as fresh as a daisy. The first stone-cold classic in the Murray oeuvre ("Tootsie" is worth a mention, but is something of a minor part for the actor, at least for this list), and still, 25 years on, it's his biggest hit and the gold-standard of effects-driven comedies. And as much as anything else, this is down to the chemistry between the actors. Murray, Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd had been working together for years by this point, and they feel like the three essential parts in a machine (although having said that, the underwritten, token nature of Ernie Hudson's character is the film's major flaw). Murray is clearly the MVP, effortlessly swinging between bone-dry delivery and flat-out silliness, but when the time comes to step up and face the supernatural baddies, he's believable as an ass-kicker of the deceased. Of course, the question of a second sequel (the less said about "Ghostbusters II" the better, and thankfully Murray himself feels the same) is one that's haunted Murray for most of the last twenty years, and, while we share the actor's feelings about it potentially being a cash-in, we'd be lying if we said we didn't get a little thrill when he strapped on the backpack again in "Zombieland" a few years ago. Sony is finally moving ahead on the project without him, and it's a testament to how great he is in the original that we've really got very little interest in a Murray-free "Ghostbusters."

"Groundhog Day" (1993)

Is it even possible to make a perfect film? Harold Ramis comes very close with "Groundhog Day." Some might argue that it's too sentimental, but the screenplay is impossibly tight, packed with belly laughs, ingenious, profound and like "It's A Wonderful Life," surprisingly dark in places. If somehow you've never seen the movie, it finds Murray playing a bitter weatherman who gets caught in an endless time loop on the titular day, until he figures out what he needs to fix in his life to move on. It's sharp and funny stuff, and while Ramis has never really done anything as good since, he does very strong work here, filling the supporting cast with terrific comic actors from Chris Elliot to Steven Tobolowsky (and even a young, still-terrifying Michael Shannon) and never letting the pace flag. But really, try to imagine this with Steve Martin or Tom Hanks (who were both considered) in the lead. They might have been fine, but it's Murray that makes it soar. The other actors were allegedly ruled out because Ramis considered them "too nice," and one can see why. The movie doesn't work without Murray at his cynical best, but he also manages to sell the character's transformation in a totally believable way. So, while "Groundhog Day" isn't quite perfect, it comes damn near close.
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15 Comments

  • Arika | December 7, 2012 8:23 AMReply

    How about "Where the Buffalo Roam"?! I get that its an odd choice, but a really great performance!

  • Eric | December 5, 2012 1:36 AMReply

    Kingpin over Broken Flowers

  • StephenM | December 4, 2012 7:08 PMReply

    "Anyone who says "Rushmore" is not Wes Anderson's best film bar none should have their head examined"-----I like both The Royal Tenenbaums and Moonrise Kingdom better. Call the examiners, I guess.

  • Fox | December 4, 2012 6:30 PMReply

    Honorable Mention: Bill Murray as Bill Murray in Zombieland

  • caleb | December 4, 2012 5:56 PMReply

    great article. completely completely agree that 'groundhog day' is nearly a perfect film. declaring 'rushmore' the hands-down best wes anderson feature is spot on as well.

  • Sean | December 4, 2012 5:15 PMReply

    I agree with whoever said What About Bob. Such a great comedy.
    Also: middle class Wes Anderson > upper class Wes Anderson

  • bwaters | December 4, 2012 4:15 PMReply

    I genuinely hated Broken Flowers while respecting what it was trying to. It was just unwatchable.
    I'd strike that one and replace it with What About Bob?

  • david | December 4, 2012 4:36 PM

    I love Broken Flowers and found it very watchable.

  • Malcom | December 4, 2012 2:29 PMReply

    I'll say it - Rushmore is not Wes Anderson's absolute best film. It's close, but Tenenbaums is his best. How can I say that? Because we're both stating a preference, not a fact. I was giving this information after I had my head examined.

  • Joe | December 4, 2012 1:42 PMReply

    What??? No Scrooged ?

  • Daniel | December 4, 2012 1:35 PMReply

    Good list.

  • cirkusfolk | December 4, 2012 1:21 PMReply

    You r right in that Rushmore is and always will be Wes Anderson's best film. Murray's too for that matter.

  • serpico | December 4, 2012 12:55 PMReply

    Um, excuse me, why hasn't anyone on indiewire reported the recent news? Apparently Murray signed on to Ghostbusters 3.

  • Dan S | December 4, 2012 2:57 PM

    That news is a hoax.

  • BEF | December 4, 2012 12:49 PMReply

    Runner-ups: his small, yet realized roles in "Ed Wood" and "Wild Things"

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