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A Cavalcade of Movie Cameos

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A well-executed movie cameo is a beautiful thing. It jump-starts an ordinary film and propels a good film to greatness. These are some of my favorites.

TOM CRUISE IN “TROPIC THUNDER” (2008)

Cruise is stunning in this cameo – and totally unrecognizable as studio mogul Les Grossman. His end-of-the-movie dance scene? Crazily hypnotic. I’m not kidding.

WILL FERRELL IN “WEDDING CRASHERS” (2005)

There’s a high degree of difficulty to Ferrell’s cameo in “Wedding Crashers.” His character is mentioned several times in larger-than-life terms, and you don’t really expect to see him. When we do see him at the end of the film, Ferrell makes him one notch wilder than anyone else. He’s the right guy for the job.

ALEC BALDWIN IN “GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS” (1992)

So here’s the Cameo King. Baldwin delivers an electrifying motivational speech from Hell in “Glengarry Glen Ross.” It’s the kind of performance that elevates an entire career. It’s also a performance I’ve quoted from for years. Just hope that Mitch & Murray from Downtown never send this guy to your office.

ALFRED HITCHCOCK IN “NORTH BY NORTHWEST” (1959)

As many fans are aware, Hitchcock loved to make a cameo appearance in films he directed. My favorite was in the title sequence of “North by Northwest,” where he is trying to catch a bus. Rather than just being funny or odd, these cameos added a sinister sense that things are not what they seem to be.

DREW BARRYMORE IN “SCREAM” (1996)

Barrymore sets a terrific tone for the movie. She’s having fun with the role AND she’s taking it seriously, by screaming her little heart out.

TIM ROBBINS, BEN STILLER, LUKE WILSON IN “ANCHORMAN” (2004)

I absolutely love this scene. A bunch of TV people from rival San Diego stations go all “Gangs of New York” on Will Ferrell in “Anchorman.” Watch out for Tim Robbins as a hoodlum from PBS.

THE THREE STOOGES IN “IT’S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD” (1963)

This cameo is perfect because it understands you don’t even have to have the Three Stooges say anything. Just give the audience a chance to see them full-on and pause the camera a couple of seconds.

BILL MURRAY IN “ZOMBIELAND” (2009)

Murray is sheer heaven playing himself – playing a zombie. Like all great cameos, it comes straight out of the blue, like finding money in the street. And get this: Bill makes comments on his actual movie career, while playing a version of himself pretending to be a zombie.

GENE HACKMAN IN “YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN” (1974)

With his long gray beard, it’s hard to tell this is Hackman playing a blind man opposite Peter Boyle’s monster. Hackman handles the scene’s simple shtick with superb comic timing.

ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER IN “TERMINATOR: SALVATION” (2009)

Just when you think a “Terminator” movie can’t offer any more surprises, along comes a digital effect that places a young Arnold back into the futuristic saga. Truly amazing.

CLINT EASTWOOD IN “CASPER” (1995)

You mean you didn’t see the 1995 movie version of Casper the Friendly Ghost? Don’t worry – it’ll be on cable several times this month for Halloween. Look for Clint to pop up in a wonderfully silly scene in a mirror.

TOM CRUISE, GWYNETH PALTROW, DANNY DEVITO, JOHN TRAVOLTA IN “AUSTIN POWERS IN GOLDMEMBER” (2002)

Mike Myers cast his movie-within-a-movie brilliantly. It seems as if Cruise, Paltrow & company enjoyed themselves as much as the audience.

RICHARD BURTON IN “WHAT’S NEW PUSSYCAT?” (1965)

Burton’s cameo is so fleeting I couldn’t even find a picture of it. This was a 60s hipster cameo in a hipster movie from a hipster era. Burton is on the screen only a moment, rubbing elbows with pal Peter O’Toole in a strip club. O’Toole yells out, “Say hello to what’s her name!” It’s a reference to Burton’s wife, Elizabeth Taylor.

MIKE TYSON IN “THE HANGOVER” (2009)

Casting Tyson was inspired. I think it works particularly well because Iron Mike isn’t even the second or third strangest twist in the plot. Events are so far out of control that Tyson is able to play it low-key, making it ever so cool.

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN IN “HIGH FIDELITY” (2000)

Springsteen’s appearance here is a classic, fantasy cameo. He shows up to offer John Cusack some soulful, sage advice.

BRUCE WILLIS IN “OCEANS TWELVE” (2004)

Willis has a tricky job to do in this cameo. He’s playing himself, while pretending the movie stars all around him are ordinary crooks. Some viewers found it too forced; I thought it worked.

SEAN CONNERY IN “ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES” (1991)

Some cameos, like this one, are intended to add a bit of pedigree to a movie. Connery rides in as King Richard to Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood here. The chemistry between them isn’t great (unlike “The Untouchables”), but I’m always happy to see Connery. He’s movie royalty.

BILLY CRYSTAL AND CAROL KANE IN “THE PRINCESS BRIDE” (1987)

My favorite cameo ever. Crystal and Kane played an old wizard and his wife, bickering their way into film greatness in “The Princess Bride.” They are hilarious. Puts me in the mood for a mutton, lettuce and tomato sandwich – with the mutton nice and lean.

So many cameos, so little time. Please tell me your own favorites!

Guys Who Didn’t Get the Girl

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Here’s a tip of the cap to some memorable dudes in movie history who DIDN’T get the girl. Even when they’re bland or banal, they serve a necessary purpose. Without them, where would we get our plot twists and dramatic tension?

OWEN WILSON IN “MEET THE PARENTS”

Threw you a curve there, didn’t I? Wilson usually gets the girl in his films, but I thought he was equally effective in “Meet the Parents,” where he lost out to Ben Stiller. Wilson played it without diminishing his personal charm, which was the key.

RALPH BELLAMY IN “HIS GIRL FRIDAY”

Here’s one from a classic comedy. Bellamy is the earnest, gullible guy set to marry newshound Rosalind Russell. There’s just one problem, and his name is Cary Grant. No contest, obviously, but Bellamy’s timing and manner are a funny contrast to the rest of the fast-talking characters.

BILL PULLMAN IN “SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE”

Pullman’s performance is a smart updating of the Ralph Bellamy model. He’s still earnest and mild mannered, but he maintains a sense of awareness and personal dignity. The allergies were a nice touch.

HUGH GRANT IN “BRIDGET JONES’S DIARY”

Grant seemed to revel in this part, playing the selfish jerk who ends up competing with Colin Firth for Renee Zellweger’s attention. He was great at it, frankly. He had many of the best lines in the movie.

JIMMY STEWART IN “THE PHILADELPHIA STORY”

Truly, one of the very best examples of the guy who didn’t get the girl. In “The Philadelphia Story,” Stewart and Katharine Hepburn are totally incompatible (he’s a working class reporter and she’s a wealthy society woman), yet they get some of the coziest, wittiest, most flirtatious scenes you’ll find in any movie. If it weren’t for Cary Grant (him again!), the result might have been different.

ERIQ LA SALLE IN “COMING TO AMERICA”

What’s great about La Salle in “Coming to America” is that he offered himself up for scorn in every way, from his hairstyle to his arrogance to his poor treatment of Shari Headley. He made Eddie Murphy look gooooood.

TIM ROBBINS IN “HIGH FIDELITY”

Similarly, Tim Robbins is a real pantload in “High Fidelity.” So self-righteous. So condescending. The world, as presented in this movie, cannot be operating correctly as long as John Cusack is losing out to this doofus. Nicely done, Mr. Robbins.

JOHN WAYNE IN “THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE”

It’s not a misprint. John Wayne actually comes in second in “Liberty Valance” – to Jimmy Stewart, no less. The lovely Vera Miles has a choice between a rugged individualist (Wayne) and an idealist with a social conscience (Stewart). Something really interesting here is that director John Ford allows for the notion that Vera might have made the wrong choice.

GREG KINNEAR IN “YOU’VE GOT MAIL”

Excellent work by Kinnear, playing a slightly pompous columnist who ultimately can’t compete against Tom Hanks in the Meg Ryan Sweep-Her-Off-Her-Feet-Stakes. I think Kinnear’s intelligence and humor are better suited to roles like this than when he plays the leading man.

WENDELL COREY IN “HOLIDAY AFFAIR”

This isn’t a well-known movie, but I wanted to include it because Corey is a very specific type of “guy who didn’t get the girl.” He has the thankless job of being the character the leading lady has to settle for until she meets … Robert Mitchum. Corey has no shot here. The audience knows it; even he knows it. But he gamely soldiers on until a few minutes before the closing credits.

PATRICK WILSON IN “THE SWITCH”

Wilson gives his character some interesting twists in “The Switch.” He’s honorable, vulnerable and loyal, which is just the type of guy Jennifer Aniston is looking for. At the same time, he’s an emotional basket case. Jason Bateman does him a huge favor by stepping in and taking charge of the situation.

HUMPHREY BOGART IN “CASABLANCA”

There’s only one way to close-out  this List. Bogart’s Rick is a one-of-a-kind, iconic character. He’s full of pain, anger and stoicism. He actually chooses not to get the girl, Ingrid Bergman, out of a sense of nobility. And that choice gives us one of the best movie endings ever.

So who are YOUR favorites?