I think Bill Murray is one of the best actors of his generation. He once said it’s much harder to make an audience laugh than to cry. But he’s done both and in excellent fashion. He’s long shown range in acting — whether it’s something dramatic like “Broken Flowers,” or something completely goofy like “What About Bob?,” Murray has a way of engaging an audience like few can. This was a hard list to write because he has so many great movies that aren’t on this list, like “Ghostbusters,” “Get Low” “The Royal Tenenbaums,” “The Fantastic Mr. Fox,” “Rushmore” “Kingpin”
“Scrooged,” and the list goes on. But these are my Top 5 Bill Murray Movies:
5. The Man Who Knew Too Little: This is a movie with a simple concept that is just beautifully played out by Murray. He plays a simple American guy who visits his brother in London. His older brother needs to get him out of the house because he has important company and gets him tickets to “The Theater of Life,” in which the audience member meets the cast on the street and take part in a realistic, life-like play. Only when Murray’s character goes to a designated payphone for his call to start the play, he gets a call from a real life spy. The rest of the movie, he’s acting like a spy, thinking he’s acting, but is actually caught up in real-life espionage. It’s brilliant, and Murray makes me laugh every time in this very underappreciated film in his large body of work.
4. Quick Change: Murray plays a bank robber in this romp of a heist movie. It’s got a lot of action and an actual smart bank robbery story at its core, but it is a brilliant comedy with excellent supporting roles by Gina Davis and Dennis Quaid. This is classic Murray from the early 90s. If you haven’t seen this movie, check it out. It’s one of Murray’s best performances in a very smart, funny movie. Oh, and he directed it, too.
3. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou: This is a visually compelling film by Wes Anderson, a director Murray has collaborated with on “Rushmore,” “The Royal Tenenbaums,” ” The Darjeeling Limited” and “The Fantastic Mr. Fox.” It’s a comedy, for sure, but it’s also a complex father/son story. This is one of those films where you either love it, or you didn’t care for it very much. I think this is one of Anderson’s best films and Murray gave an understated performance in what could have been a campy delivery of a character surrounded by a lot of zany imagery. It was brilliant.
2. Lost in Translation: Murray was fantastic in this Golden Globe-award winning role, for which he won best actor. He was nominated for an Academy Award and didn’t win, but sometimes getting the nomination is enough. Again, this is the kind of range great actors like Robert De Niro — who constantly flops in comedy — don’t possess. This was a simple film, but sometimes the best stories are. Murray was strong as the once-famous actor who goes to Japan to make commercials. He was engaging, funny without trying, and dramatic without effort. This could be his best performance in this group.
1. Groundhog Day: This is a great film that showcases everything Murray does well. He plays a great sarcastic jerk with moments of sincerity, drama, slapstick all wrapped in one of the most brilliant comedic scripts ever written. The Academy almost completely ignores comedy. I’m not saying this should have won best picture, but this is one of those ones that should have at least been nominated for original screenplay. Murray plays a man stuck on the same day — Groundhog Day. He’s a weatherman there on assignment and every morning, over and over again for eternity, lives the same day. He does everything all of us would do, like commit suicide, think you’re a God and go a little mad, and eventually screw around and break the law. But ultimately, he begins to figure out that he needs to change and make himself a better man to get out of his rut. It’s an unforgettable film, and Murray’s best.