Unlike every other website in America, we’re not going to bore you with Pop Culture brackets to decide some question without an answer. How sophomoric! No, here at P.C.H.A., we use the best tools that modern metrics can offer… fantasy drafts.
As we proved with our SNL draft, this process puts to rest even the toughest macro debate. Now we see if it can even work on the micro level.
Over the past 30 years, Bill Murray has put together one of the best ouevres of any comic actor ever. But what are his best offerings? In this fantasy draft, we will try to compile the best six movie Bill Murray Film Festival, taking into account both quality and the range of his career.
Since you had him on your SNL team (sigh), you’re on the board, Dilemma.
The first choice in this draft is an honor, and it’s not a decision to be taken lightly.
So…of course…I select Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties.
Actually, I’ll take Groundhog Day, Murray’s finest comedy and the best showcase for his talent and personality. Groundhog Day should have been a trifle — a high-concept, sitcom-style piece of hackery that should have been drowning in unearned sentiment and cheap laffs. But a great script and Murray’s acerbic, grumbly style combined to forge a masterpiece that’s no less beloved 20 years later than when it was released.
And that’s in spite of Andie MacDowell.
David Simon Cowell
Much like with Eddie Murphy and the SNL draft, we have no disagreement here. Groundhog Day, in addition to being an awesome movie, is the best encapsulation of what’s good about Murray… a tone of the whimsical and philosophical that makes him unique.
But, while I would have done the same, it gives me a chance to hamstring you a bit. As any fantasy player knows, scarcity is valuable, and while Murray has had a late career resurgence that certainly should make any other comedian in his age bracket jealous (I’m looking at you, Steve Martin), it’s really based on two remarkable films.
Rushmore is a no-brainer number two pick for me. As a sketch of a dissolute man who finds himself trapped by “success”, it’s perfect for Murray’s ability to make depression entertaining without cheapening it. It’s my favorite performance in a Wes Anderson film, which is saying something.
While I could see other arguments, I’m going with his other late career classic, Lost In Translation. One could argue that Murray is just playing himself, but I think he pulls off something impressive. The movie is predicated on believing that a 53-year-old married movie star could get 19-year-old Scarlett Johannson (whose performance forms the Holy Triumvurate Of Girls Nerdish Suburban Guys Who Like Books And Music Want To Be With, along with Kate Hudson in Almost Famous and Winona Ryder in Reality Bites) to fall for him, not by using his star power, but by being charming and human and funny and vulnerable in just the right measure so that you actually buy that it’s a legitimate relationship.
Not many actors could have pulled it off while remaining likable and not completely creeping everybody out. Murray did this, and left you with the feeling that their non-consummated romance was not only intense but beneficial to young Scarlett.
I don’t remotely consider Johannson in Lost in Translation in Ryder/Hudson territory as far iconic, crush-worthy performances. Lost in Translation’s a great film (and I would have picked both that and Rushmore if I had your picks in the draft), but Johannson is a cipher in it. And Ryder’s career-defining film is Heathers, not the vapid Reality Bites.
Since you’ve cornered the market on Murray’s best late-period dramatic roles, I have no choice but to try to put the squeeze on you in the early-mid career comedy part of his genre.
With my second pick, I’m taking Quick Change. It’s Murray’s most underrated film, and my second-favorite of his comedies after Groundhog Day (I don’t really include Rushmore in that category.) And, as a bonus, Murray served as co-director. The film’s conceit is well-worn territory (a heist goes smoothly, the getaway turns into a disaster). But, as with Groundhog Day, it’s the writing, performances and execution that elevate Quick Change rather than it’s big idea. It features one of Murray’s best-ever performances in another role seemingly custom-built for him.
I’ll take Stripes, my favorite early-period Murray film. Caddyshack gets more attention, but I think that’s Murray’s most overrated movie (and his part in it could charitably described as “irritating.”). Stripes falls into the same “dumb comedy” genre as Caddyshack, but it’s actually funny. Very funny. It manages to distill a lot of what makes the comedies from 1978-1982 (Blues Brothers, Animal House, Airplane) so nostalgic and comforting for those of us from a certain demographic, but eschews much of what makes those very same comedies tough to actually sit through three decades on.
Quick Change is a Tim Tebow-like high grab. I agree that it wasn’t terrible, but I certainly wouldn’t put it anywhere near the Top Four.
I would have taken Stripes, the best of his early career broad comedies, but am thrilled that your inexplicable love for Quick Change has allowed me to land two solid laughers. First, I’m going with Ghostbusters. It may be a cliche, it may have come with a ton of hype, but I think it delivers the goods. The cast, especially Murray, all bring top-notch performances, there are solid laughs, there’s an adorable green slimer… it’s pretty much as good as big-budget, blockbuster comedy gets. I agree that everything that came after… the sequel, the animated series, etc. was an abomination, but you can’t hold that against the original.
Caddyshack is tempting, but as iconic as Murray’s role is, he’s in it for no more than 15 minutes… Meatballs is OK in an I-want-to-sit-on-the-couch-and-it’s-the-best-thing-on-cable kind of way. It’s a bit hampered by being in a genre film, but his funniest starring role left on the board is Scrooged. His smarminess is perfect as a network head, and it’s actually funny/rewatchable, which is quite the feat for a Christmas film (the last five minutes are cringeworthy, but again, it’s a fucking Christmas movie). It’s the only one I happily watch every year, and the biggest reason is Murray’s revenge on all the Hollywood-types that he undoubtedly loathes. Plus, it has Bobcat Goldthwait’s best performance, and it’ll go high in the Karen Allen fantasy draft we’re undoubtedly headed toward in a year or two.
With these two, I feel like I have the movie star comedy roles well covered.
Bah, I was hoping you’d let Scrooged slide so I could grab it with my next picks. A risk that didn’t pay off, it seems.
Instead, I’ll take Kingpin. Murray has a supporting role, but what a supporting role it is. It’s from the very brief period where the Farrelly Brothers were actually funny (1996-1998), which lasted all of two films. As Ernie McCracken, Murray is his usual irascible self, but this time playing the part of antagonist — and it works perfectly. More than anyone else, he’s responsible for the creative success of Kingpin.
With my penultimate pick, I’ll take The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou to fulfill my Wes Anderson quotient. I thought long and hard about Royal Tenenbaums, which is obviously a better movie, but Murray just doesn’t have a big enough role in Tenenbaums to justify its selection. Zissou gets a bad rap, and while it’s not in the same league as Anderson’s best movies, it’s a great showcase for Murray, and allows to show off both the comedic and dramatic talents that have made his late-career revival so satisfying. Plus: that awesome hat.
You forgot the cardinal rule of fantasy drafts… it’s not just how good you think a player is, it’s how highly you think the rest of room rates him. And however much you love Quick Change, the odds I agree were pretty low.
For my next two picks, I want to take movies that showcase Murray’s character acting chops, so Kingpin hurts. He kills it, plus it’s a substantial role. The problem with some of the other great supporting turns (Ed Wood, Cradle Will Rock, Little Shop Of Horrors, Tootsie) is that he doesn’t have a big enough part in the film.
So, I’m going to go with my choices for the two most underrated Murray flicks, both of which showcase his chops doing characters, and which will also give people coming to my Murray festival the chance to discover something new… first, Where The Buffalo Roam. Buffalo is a flawed film, but entertaining enough, and Murray kills it as Hunter Thompson… I would argue his take far surpasses Johnny Depp’s.
Mad Dog and Glory is legitimately good and underrated, with Murray playing a gangster who pays off a debt of honor to cop Robert DeNiro with hot, young Uma Thurman. Along with Kingpin, it’s one of the only instances of him playing the bad guy, and his sociopath is a successful stretch.
I had mistakenly assumed you thought of highly of Quick Change as I did. I didn’t realize Peru has made you dumber. My bad.
(Personal attacks! This draft’s getting heated!)
My choice for Mr. Irrelevant of Bill Murray films comes down to filling out the late-career dramatic portion of my film festival with Broken Flowers, piling on to the early comedy portion with Meatballs, or going with a straight-up Hollywood comedy and What About Bob?
Broken Flowers ultimately leaves me flat as a poor man’s Lost in Translation and a mid-level Jarmusch film, while What About Bob? has far too much Dreyfuss for my liking. So I’m going with Meatballs, a movie I loved as a kid and can still watch today. Bill Murray as a charismatic, slacker camp counselor? Sold.
The Dilemma’s Bill Murray Film Festival
(in chronological order)
The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou
David Simon Cowell’s Bill Murray Film Festival
(in chronological order)
Where The Buffalo Roam
Mad Dog and Glory
Lost In Tranlsation
I don’t have anything since 2004, but there’s not a lot to choose from other than Broken Flowers, some voice work in Fantastic Mr. Fox, and an inspired but too-brief cameo in Zombieland. I’m very heavy on comedies from 1979-1996, which is a broad enough range that I’m happy with it. Viewers will get a touch of darkness with Zissou (and Quick Change, to some extent), but mostly they’ll be there to laugh.
I’d say that mine is a better representation of Bill Murray if a film student who never heard of him wanted to be educated, but yours is much more fun. It’s safe to say that I have a more serious festival than you do… Rushmore, Translation and Mad Dog are all dark comedies at best. But, I kind of went that direction on purpose with my first two picks, so am fine with it. Ghostbusters and Scrooged are his best star turn offerings. Buffalo is my only early-period, mad-cap entry… I’m legitimately torn as the whether I did the right thing in choosing it over Caddyshack or Meatballs… in hindsight, I think it’s a classic case of overthinking it, and I should have gone with Caddyshack. Damn it.