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The Films Of Bill Murray: A Retrospective

The Playlist By The Playlist | The Playlist July 3, 2010 at 6:14AM

Wes Anderson, Jim Jarmusch, Sofia Coppola, Tim Burton — those are the names that have guided Bill Murray through phase two of the actor's long career and it's often easy to forget that this is guy who shot to fame going full retard in "Caddyshack." Truthfully, Murray's career from day one has been wildly varied as the actor/comedian tends to follow his whims rather than any prevailing Hollywood tides and trends. Following "Ghostbusters" he did a 180 and tried to dive deep into a dramatic role in "The Razor's Edge"; after earning wide acclaim for his turn in "Lost In Translation" he voiced the titular "Garfield"; following "Rushmore" he tried his hand at "Hamlet" and then went the tentpole route with "Charlie's Angels."
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"Rushmore" (1999)
It really must be noted — because perhaps it isn't entirely obvious to some
that there is a distinct before and after period for Murray and his career, and it's obviously delineated by Wes Anderson's "Rushmore." Sure, it marks the beginning of Murray's turn as a dramatic actor which perhaps unleashed the tidal wave of soul and pathos we were heretofore unaware that he possessed, but in rewatching his old films there's a remarkable shift in quality, both in his performances and in the caliber of the films. In writing this feature it became clear to us that while Murray was always a fine comedic actor, he's almost never looked back since his first Anderson collaboration, and it's something for which we're eternally grateful to the filmmaker. Anyone who says "Rushmore" is not Wes Anderson's best film bar none should have their head examined and Murray is instrumental in balancing the melancholy dolor and the bittersweet comedy that makes this film a modern autumnal classic. While always admired, Murray gained new -found thespian respect (plus his first significant award-season plaudits) for his forlorn and humanizing turn as the lonely and self-loathing millionaire Herman Blume who falls into a love triangle with a 15-year-old prep school boy (Jason Schwartzman, in a career-making role). Blume is both shameless and petty, and yet a genuine friend to this ambitious yet always-underachieving teen. They're made for one another and Murray's soulful and hilarious turn as the aging steel magnate evinced a quiet inner ache that's remarkably watchable, and one for the ages. [A+]

"Coffee & Cigarettes" (Segment "Delirium") (2003)
Like all vignette films, Jim Jarmusch's paean to java, smoke and conversation is uneven (shot over a decade stealing time with actors whenever he could, the film naturally vacillates in quality), but no scene (or odd collaboration) is more inspired than the genius and hilarious summit of Bill Murray and members of the Wu-Tang Clan. Murray plays a hyper version of himself, hiding out in a Queens coffee shop disguised as a waiter trying to escape life and addicted to reckless amounts of caffeine and tobacco. Wu members the RZA and the GZA try to convince Murray to meditate and keep it healthy and assuage his smokers cough, but word is born, it's to no avail. While not a perfect film by any means, the "Delirium" short sequence might be one of the best scenes captured on celluloid during the aughts. [A]

"Ed Wood" (1994)
We dearly hope that, one day, the pod person that at some point in the recent past kidnapped and replaced Tim Burton finds a copy of this film, and is moved to release his captive. Arguably the most grounded, and certainly the most mature and dramatic film of Burton's career, it's also one of his very best, following the titular director, regularly named as the worst in Hollywood history, and his friendship with fading, morphine-addicted horror icon Bela Lugosi (an Oscar-winning turn by Martin Landau). In a top-notch supporting cast
— which includes that rare thing: a tolerable Sarah Jessica Parker performance Murray stands out as openly gay actor Bunny Breckinridge, who played the villainous "The Ruler" in Wood's magnum opus "Plan 9 From Outer Space." In a then-rare supporting role, and one substantially different from most of his roles up to that point, Murray still gets the lion's share of the laughs, but brings a weight and sadness to his role as well. The actor had a few barren years ahead of him, with the likes of "Larger Than Life" and "The Man Who Knew Too Little," but it was this role that, in many ways, paved the way for his work with the likes of Sofia Coppola, Jim Jarmusch and Wes Anderson. [A]

"Caddyshack" (1980)
For those who grew up with it
the generation for whom Bill Murray was a late night comedy god, who were handed it as an early R-rated VHS by older siblings, who quote it at the slightest provocation "Caddyshack" is an untouchable comedy classic. For the rest of us, it's a badly-dated washout. Following the "Animal House" template pretty closely, and marking the directorial debut of Harold Ramis, it concerns a young caddy (Michael O'Keefe, who'd just picked up an Oscar nomination for "The Great Santini") at a golf course, who gets drawn into a bet between the snobbish owners and a crass millionaire (Rodney Dangerfield), while the eccentric groundskeeper (Murray), tries to hunt down a malevolent gopher. Of course, this recap assumes that at any point you're less than bored with the plot, or most of the characters. O'Keefe is a fine actor in one of the blandest leading roles in a comedy ever written, while Dangerfield is eminently punch-able. The gags are mostly anaemic, expected to get laughs for shock value, and without a cast as all-round likable as that of "Animal House," it can't help but feel like a weaker cousin of that film. It's only redeemed by Murray (and to a lesser extent, Chevy Chase), who, in very little screen time, manages to create an indelible character, and gets probably 90% of the laughs. But in the age of YouTube, is there really any reason to watch the whole movie? [C+]

This article is related to: Bill Murray, Retrospective, Features, Feature


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