Sunday, November 1, 2009

Bill Murray – Movies Spotlight – November 2009

Bill Murray, 62, is known for his wacky humor, dry wit, and deadpan delivery – and as one of the comic geniuses to emerge out of the early days of SNL. He continues to be not only one of the funniest but also one of the best actors working today. This month he is featured in the supporting voice role of Badger in the upcoming new film from Wes Anderson, Fantastic Mr. Fox.

Early Career:

Bill Murray got his start on SNL in 1977 as one of the troupe’s stars. In 1979, he made the jump to his feature lead debut in Meatballs and quickly parlayed that into breakthrough supporting roles in Caddyshack and Tootsie, both of which are generally considered to be movie stealing outings by Murray.

In Caddyshack, Murray’s antics are pitted against many of the top comedians of the late 70s and early 80s including Rodney Dangerfield and Chevy Chase, and yet it was Murray that made the biggest impression and garnered adoring fans. It is also with Caddyshack that Murray first worked with future multi-collaborator Harold Ramis, who was directing.

Tootsie was nominated for multiple Oscars in 1983, though Murray’s supporting role was not recognized with a nomination, but in retrospect, his performance is considered the highlight of the film.

Collaborations with Ivan Reitman:

However, it was Murray’s collaborations with Ivan Reitman that made him a star. First, getting his feature break in Reitman’s Meatballs, and then in Stripes. It was the director and actor’s third film together that propelled Murray to international fame – Ghostbusters. Reteaming with SNL buddy Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, Ghostbusters perfectly brought together comedy, special effects and adventure the make it one of the biggest blockbusters of the 80s, spawning the next collaborations between Reitman and Murray, Ghostbusters II and the upcoming Ghostbusters III (assuming it ever actually happens).

Personal Projects:

With the success of Stripes, Tootsie and Caddyshack, Murray had his choice of any project. It was in his best interest to continue make bigger releases like Ghostbusters. So he made a few forgettable comedies like Scrooged and Ghostbusters II, and took a supporting role in Little Shop of Horrors to round out the 80s.

However, he then turned his attention to a more personal project in The Razor’s Edge, a film that he got Columbia Pictures to finance for doing Ghostbusters, an idea he got from Aykroyd, not being able to find a studio to make the film. Here, Murray took a role to grow as an actor, which features his unique quirkiness but also the film has a lot of sadness to it. The film is about a man who serves as a stretcher-barrier during WWI. He is not quite able to recover from the tragedies that he experiences in the war, and so upon his return stateside, he is unable to be with the women he loves and moves to France. The film deals with his journey to find enlightenment and love. The film was not well received at the time, as most people wanted Murray to be funny as opposed to a serious actor, but the film is quite good and deserves another look.

Murray next tried his hand at directing, as he (actor/producer) and Howard Franklin (writer) could not agree on a new director with Jonathan Demme dropping out, with Quick Change, a bank heist comedy co-starring Randy Quaid and Geena Davis; this would be the only time that Murray would be in the director’s chair, again the film was not well received.

1990s, Some Good, Most bad:

The early to mid-90s saw Murray make a hit, and couple cult favorites, and a few not so good movies. 

Murray decided to collaborate again with Harold Ramis, a partnership that had blossomed both critical and commercial successes for the pair. Groundhog Day is the highlight of this part of Murray’s career. It perfectly mixes his brand of comedy with philosophical questions about humanity. However, Murray and Ramis often argued about the tone of the film (Murray wanted it to be more philosophical, while Ramis wanted it to be a comedy) and they had a falling out and have yet to work together again.

Murray then took supporting parts in Tim Burton's Ed Wood and The Farrelly Brothers' Kingpin, in both of which he delivers scene-stealing performances. The rest of this time was spent toiling around in subpar films, highlighted by the absurd Wild Things and the awful Larger Than Life.

Rebirth, Collaborations with Wes Anderson and Jim Jarmusch/Lost in Translation:

Starting in 1998 with Rushmore, Murray reinvented himself as hip once again, whether it was by his project choices, or the new directors that he started working with, he became popular again for a new generation (and a new audience). He transformed himself as the go-to comedian for the independent scene.

Wes Anderson, coming off the indie success of Bottle Rocket, cast Murray as the co-lead in his film Rushmore, which sees Murray battle Jason Schwartzman for the affections of a school teacher. Murray’s performance is wonderful, mixing dry humor, sadness, and hope. There is a sense that their budding friendship saves each of the characters’ lives.

Anderson would continue to work with Murray in some capacity on all his future projects, seeing Murray in supporting roles in The Royale Tenenbaums and upcoming Fantastic Mr. Fox, a cameo in The Darjeeling Limited, and starring in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, another film in which Murray is able to show his great capacity for emotion with almost effortless style, blending dryness and sadness. Murray also kills in a supporting role in Anderson’s latest film Moonrise Kingdom.

With Jim Jarmusch, Murray delves deeper into the indie scene starring first in a film involving a series of conversations in cafes, Coffee and Cigarettes, and then in Broken Flowers, about a man in search of his son, who is in turn looking for him. Murray is also featured in a supporting role in Jarmusch’s latest, The Limits of Control.

Sticking with the indie scene, Murray also made Tim Robbins's fantastic ensemble musical about the turmoil of the 1930s New York, Cradle Will Rock, playing an aging relic (aka a vaudevillian ventriloquist). He then took a chance in a supporting role in Ethan Hawke's reimaging of Hamlet, following it with Andy Garcia's passion project about Havana The Lost City.

In Sofia Coppola's wonderful Lost in Translation, a role that would earn him his first and only Oscar nomination (which he sadly did not win), Murray is brilliant, turning in possibly the best work of his career.

With the critical success of Rushmore and Lost in Translation, along with his masterfully perfect performances in each, Murray has reestablished himself as not only a top comedian, but more importantly as a top actor. However, a purely independent career does not pay the bills (at least not the bills of a movie star), nor does it get an actor the exposure to a broad audience.

Other Films:

So, Murray also took many Hollywood roles during his time reimagining himself. Most supporting parts, Murray notably co-starred in Charlie’s Angels, Osmosis Jones and the lead voice role in the two Garfield films.

Lately, Murray has taken roles in Gil Kenan's follow-up to Monster House, the underrated City of Ember, the indie crime drama Get Low, and he plays FDR in Hyde Park on Hudson.


For those who remember Space Jam from the 90s, know that Murray can be excellent in cameo appearances, and that still continues today. Murray has featured in a few films through memorable cameos in recent years. Some of which work, his cameo in The Darjeeling Limited as a man trying to catch his train at the beginning of the film is likely the best opening to a Wes Anderson film to date. Some of which do not, his cameo in Get Smart, like the movie, is not very good or funny. And some of which steal the movie, his cameo in Zombieland is the highlight of the film as he reenacts a scene from Ghostbusters and pretends to be a zombie.

Future Projects:

Upcoming, Murray is set to feature in both George Clooney’s new film The Monuments Men and Wes Anderson’s seventh feature The Grand Budapest Hotel – both due in late 2013

The Monuments Men is about a crew of art historians who set out on a mission to rescue and recover renowned works of art stolen by the Nazis, before Hitler destroys them. In addition to Clooney and Murray, the film also features Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Hugh Bonneville, Jean Dujardin, and John Goodman.

As impressive as the cast Clooney has assembled is, Anderson has him beat with The Grand Budapest Hotel. It stars (in addition to Murray) Ralph Fiennes, Saoirse Ronan, Jude Law, Adrien Brody, Edward Norton, Owen Wilson, Tilda Swinton, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Jason Schwartzman, Harvey Keitel, F. Murray Abraham, and Mathieu Amalric. The film takes place is the 1930s and 1960s and is about Mr. Gustave, the hotel’s concierge, as he deals with the guests while trying to train his protégé.

Career Highlights:

1)      SNL (1977-1980) – main cast member (DVD, Streaming)
2)      Meatballs (1979) – lead (Blu-ray, Streaming, Trailer)
3)      Caddyshack (1980) – supporting (Blu-ray, Streaming, Trailer)
4)      Stripes (1981) – lead (Blu-ray, Streaming, Trailer)
5)      Tootsie (1982) – supporting (DVD, Streaming, Trailer)
6)      Ghostbusters (1984)* – lead (Blu-ray, Streaming, Trailer)
7)      The Razor’s Edge (1984) – writer, lead (DVD, Trailer)
8)      Little Shop of Horrors (1986) – supporting (Blu-ray, Streaming, Trailer)
9)      Groundhog Day (1993)* – lead (Blu-ray, Streaming, Trailer)
10)   Ed Wood (1994) – supporting (Blu-ray, Streaming, Trailer)
11)   Kingpin (1996) – supporting (DVD, Trailer)
12)   Rushmore (1998)* – lead (Blu-ray, Trailer)
13)   Cradle Will Rock (1999) – supporting (DVD, Trailer)
14)   The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) – supporting (Blu-ray, Streaming, Trailer)
15)   Lost in Translation (2003)* – lead (Blu-ray, Streaming, Trailer)
16)   The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)* – lead (DVD, Streaming, Trailer)
17)   Broken Flowers (2005) – lead (DVD, Streaming, Trailer)
18)   The Darjeeling Limited (2007) – cameo (Blu-ray, Streaming, Trailer)
19)   Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) – supporting (Blu-ray, Streaming, Trailer)
20)   Moonrise Kingdom (2012) – supporting (Blu-ray, Streaming, Trailer)
*Editor’s picks

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