October 21, 2005

Top Five Film Cameos

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Ah yes, the movie cameo. Never has a cinematic device existed that was so unstudied. What is it about a notable person self-parodying himself that pleases us so much? Well placed in a movie, a good cameo can end up being one of the film’s greatest moments. However, if overloaded, it can often hurt the film that it was meant to help (anybody remember Mark Hamil making a complete fool of himself in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back?) While the cameo can be effectively used in a drama (just check out Martin Scorsece’s homicidal backseat confession in Taxi Driver) they often are the most effective in comedies. Here’s my rundown of the five best:

5. Alfred Hitchcock in … Nearly Every Film He Made
This master director may have single-handedly made cameos popular. Looking for the master of suspense in his movies is part of a Hitchcock ritual. Sometimes he just walks by the camera like in Psycho and Vertigo. At other times look for more comical appearances as he misses the bus in North by Northwest or sits uncomfortable close to Cary Grant in To Catch a Thief. He even manages to appear, in his own special way, in Lifeboat, which, as the title suggests, occurs completely on a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean. You’ll have to find that one yourself.

4. Lance Armstrong, Chuck Norris and David Hasselhoff in Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (2004)
Most films can only balance one cameo, but Dodgeball managed to juggle three perfect appearances, all for hilarious results. From Lance Armstrong (“You know, once I was thinking of quitting when I was diagnosed with brain, lung and testicular cancer all at the same time – So what are you dying of that’s keeping you from the finals?”) to Chuck Norris, who merely has to give us a thumbs up to get us rolling over with laughter, this movie has it all. However, in my book nothing beats David Hassellhoff berating a bunch of Germans: “You are all swine! You have brought shame to your houses! Losers!” Perfect.

3. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in Airplane! (1980)
Nothing is funnier than watching Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, playing a co-pilot, squirm in his seat as some annoying kid keeps on nagging him about his true identity. The scene is pushed even more into the absurd when Kareem has to deal with neurotic pilot Peter Graves asking “You ever seen a grown man naked?” Still the brilliance is how this cameo not only parodies Abdul-Jabbar, but the always present pro-athlete in corny 1970s disaster films. Of course nothing is funnier than when he finally caves and schools the brat: “LISTEN KID. I’ve been hearing that crap ever since I was at UCLA.”

2. Marshall McLuhan in Annie Hall (1977)
Okay, we’ve all been there. You’re waiting in line somewhere, whether it’s for lunch at a dining hall or movie tickets and you find yourself behind “that guy” talking obnoxiously loud and making some unnecessary hand gestures, all in an effort to impress his date. Waiting in line for the movies, Woody Allen in Annie Hall can’t take it anymore when some tool is trying to impress his date by telling her about the arguments of communications theorist Marshall McLuhan. When Allen intervenes to tell the jackass he’s completely wrong, he turns and starts telling us how he’s a professor and knows everything when, what do you know, McLuhan himself comes out of nowhere to tell him, “You know nothing of my work!” leaving the dingbat dumbstruck and us grinning in our seats.

1. Bob Barker in Happy Gilmore (1996)
“I don’t want a PIECE of you, I want the whole THING!” To this day, I almost wet my pants laughing, when I watch the kind man who gives out free stuff from plinko and advises my grandparents to spay and neuter their pets, beating the snot out of Adam Sandler. When the bastion of happy-go-lucky daytime entertainment went all out on that golf course, Barker made the best self-parody in movie history. This scene actually goes down in history as the first winner of MTV Movie Award for Best Fight. Also, Bob apparently does have a competitive side; it is reported that he only agreed to appear in the film if he was assured that he would win the confrontation.

Archived article by Mark Rice
Film Editor