(Note: I’m not entirely sure what technically constitutes a cameo, but I’ve always felt that Quentin Tarantino delivered genuine supporting performances in Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. So there’s that.)
Spike Lee is no stranger to acting in his films. He’s taken on larger roles in earlier films like School Daze, Do the Right Thing and Malcolm X, while limiting his appearances to cameo roles in his later work. And while I love his Crooklyn crackhead, his Clockers boozehound and his Summer of Sam reporter, there is a certain charm to watching him reprise is role as Mookie in Red Hook Summer. Sure, I wish Lee would’ve given himself more to do in the film, but it’s a fun gag all the same.
9. Steven Soderbergh – Full Frontal (2002)
Soderbergh really wanted a famous film director to play the director of the movie within the movie (within the movie) in Full Frontal. His first choice didn’t pan out, so he was forced to cast himself. He wasn’t happy with the decision, which is why he put a giant black box over his own face. Really, is there another filmmaker alive so willing to deny credit?
8. David Lynch – Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992)
I’m not entirely sure what the hell is going on during the first few scenes of Fire Walk With Me. Chris Isaak arrests passengers of a school bus, Isaak and Kiefer Sutherland receive clues from an odd-looking dancer in red, David Bowie shows up, a small person dances in the background, and David Lynch is screaming orders the entire time. It’s… perfect.
7. Francis Ford Coppola – Apocalypse Now (1979)
Francis Ford Coppola playing a demanding filmmaker, barking orders at soldiers as they run by. That’s art imitating life, clear as it has ever been.
6. Oliver Stone – Nixon (1995)
A trader in Wall Street, film professor in The Doors, sports announcer in Any Given Sunday – all brief and convincing cameos from Oliver Stone. But my favorite Stone cameo is a bit of a cheat. During the epilogue of Nixon, we see documentary footage of all the living Presidents attending a dedication for Richard Nixon. Throughout the scene, Stone narrates the footage with complete neutrality. There’s nothing in his voice – both in tone or dialogue – that suggests a personal political stance. He’s relaying the facts with the upmost bipartisanship. Which is certainly a rarity for Oliver Stone.
5. Richard Linklater – Slacker (1991)
One of my favorite segments in Slacker is the first one, in which Richard Linklater sits in the back of a cab, verbally contemplating the possibilities of multiple existences. Or something. I’d be lying if I said I fully understood everything Linklater’s character was talking about here. In fact, I’m not sure he does either. Which sets a proper tone for everything that follows.
4. David Cronenberg – The Fly (1986)
Why does it feel so appropriate that David Cronenberg plays a gynecologist that delivers a giant maggot from Genna Davis’ womb? I’m not too sure, but boy does it ever.
3. Martin Scorsese – Taxi Driver (1976)
When I think of Martin Scorsese, plenty of things come to mind, none of which is a menacing figure. That’s what makes his role in Taxi Driver so powerful. Shielded by a thick beard and a dark suit, Scorsese plays a disgruntled husband to haunting perfection. He’s so on edge, making it impossible to predict what he’s going to do next.
2. Roman Polanski – Chinatown (1974)
“You’re a very nosy fella, kitty cat, huh? You know what happens to nosy fellas? Huh? No. Wanna guess? No. Okay.”
1. Alfred Hitchcock – in everything
Nothing pleases a cinephile’s heart quite like a well-timed Hitchcock cameo. There he is in a newspaper ad in Lifeboat, drinking champagne in Notorious, walking in silhouette in I Confess, missing a bus in North by Northwest, walking his dogs in The Birds, and on and on.
If forced to choose, I suppose my favorite is Cary Grant sitting on a bus and looking over to reveal a straight faced Hitchcock in To Catch a Thief. It’s so silly and fitting.
A Few More I Love
Mel Brooks – Blazing Saddles
Wes Craven – Scream
Jean-Luc Godard – Breathless
John Huston – The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
Todd Phillips – Old School
Michael Powell – Peeping Tom
Sam Raimi – Evil Dead 2
Harold Ramis – Groundhog Day