Box Office: $22.9 Million
Oscar Nominations: Best Director (Spike Jonze), Best Supporting Actress (Catherine Keener), Best Original Screenplay
Oscar Wins: None
Available To Stream: Tubi
Both written by Charlie Kaufman, I enjoy Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind equally. Both are wildly creative with better beginnings than endings and use very good actors in unusual but brilliant ways. They have different directors but the core unhappiness of the characters Kaufman wrote mixed with his disgust with the banalities of life link these two films visually as well as on the page.
Roger Ebert loved this movie and said it was the best of 1999. That's pretty heavy praise considering that was one of the great movie years of the past few decades. While this is a very good movie, I can't go quite as far as Ebert does. After reading Ebert for so long, he really did seem to value creativity above all else. I imagine if you see as many movies as he did, you are just looking and hoping for anything different. Being John Malkovich is certainly different and it's also intelligent and very well done. But the best movie of 1999? It's not even in my top 10 of that year.
Spike Jonze is now 52 years old. Has he had a successful career or is it not prolific enough? He went from being maybe the best music video director ever (Sabotage and Sure Shot by The Beastie Boys, Buddy Holly by Weezer, Elektrobank by The Chemical Brothers) to getting nominated for Best Director for his first movie when we was only 30 years old. Since then, he's directed three feature films (Adaption., Where The Wild Things Are and Her).
In fairness, he's been involved in other projects. He's also directed four documentaries, done some short films and co-created Jackass and has been very involved with them and all of their movies. I just wish we'd get more movies out of him. They are always unique and even if I don't love them (Where The Wild Things Are), I can certainly appreciate them.
This is probably the peak for both John Cusack and Cameron Diaz. Until the wheels came off for Cusack in 2010 and long before he got into a fight with White Sox Dave, he always did a good job his entire career of doing offbeat stuff that could translate to a larger audience. I think that worked best for him in the late 90's when audiences were looking for non-traditional studio fare and embraced movies like Grosse Pointe Blank and High Fidelity. Being John Malkovich was strange, even for Cusack, but he's really good in this. He's playing a selfish asshole but doesn't make the panic move a lot of actors do where they need to be liked. He embraces his characters flaws.
This is the second Diaz movie that has been on this list (the first was Any Given Sunday) and I think it was really wise of her to leverage the success she had with comedies like The Mask, My Best Friends Wedding and There's Something About Mary to working with some great directors like Martin Scorsese, Cameron Crowe, Oliver Stone and Jonze. It was a short-lived era for her though and after Gangs of New York came out in 2002, she went back to doing almost only comedies again. She said she retired from making movies after 2014 but has recently committed to a new project. I think she's really talented and underrated so I am curious about the new movie.
During pre-production, both New Line Cinema founder Bob Shaye and Malkovich himself wondered why this couldn't be called "Being Tom Cruise" so the movie would be a huge hit. But you need someone who is respected but also a little mysterious. It doesn't hurt Malkovich is a great actor and is brilliant in this. He embraces this weird yet mundane version of Malkovitch. While it wasn't the monster hit Being Tom Cruise may have been, it was a modest moneymaker. It was in the Top 10 in four different weeks and made back twice what it cost to make.
This is a movie that's greatest strength isn't the story itself but the details themselves. The puppet stuff. Getting dropped off near the NJ Turnpike. The 7 1/2 floor. It's those elements mixed with a character like Maxine (Catherine Keener) who isn't a particularly kind person yet is very funny and someone you might meet in some office building doing unfulfilling work. Just like with Eternal Sunshine, it's the mesh of the surreal and being very relatable that makes this work so well.