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10 Best Kevin Spacey Movies and TV Shows

August 4, 2017
9 min read

There has always been an inherent smugness about Kevin Spacey, something about him that gives off the stench that he might be the smartest guy in the room.

He burrows under the skin of his characters and consistently delivers good, often great performances. Nearly twenty years have passed since American Beauty (1999) the film that won Spacey his second Academy Award, and oddly he has never been nominated again. He first won for The Usual Suspects (1995), Best Supporting Actor and was considered one of the major new talents in film. Fours later American Beauty (1999) exploded out of TIFF and his life forever changed, but after a few film roles, he packed it in to go to England as Artistic Director of the Old Vic Theater, a hugely prestigious position that took him out of Hollywood for a time.

Should he never give another screen performance he would still be among the great actors of his time. Since winning the Oscar he has not been nominated again though he has won and/ or been nominated for Emmys, Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild for his work in television.

He has made the talk show circuit where his gift for impressions has come out (though he has not) and listening to hm you would swear you were hearing the real deal speak. He was called out by James Lipton On the Actors Studio to do a bunch and it was astounding to see. Perfect.

One final note, I did not include his self directed performance as pop star Bobby Darin on my list of his best, regrettably. His singing is impeccable, he truly brings the late star back to us. But he was by the time he made the film too old to play the younger Darin, and might have served his film Stronger casting a younger actor and doing the singing on the track. It is a bold, interesting film, but not once did I buy the relationship between he and Sandra Dee. Who was that older guy seducing the younger babe? With that said, here we list down top 10 Kevin Spacey movies and TV Shows.

10. A Bug’s Life (1998)

Voicing Hopper, the cruel grasshopper who invades the ant colony to take their harvest, Spacey is a fine bad guy. You can feel the smart oozing out of him, but also that deep rooted fear, because he knows his few grasshoppers cannot possibly topple a colony of thousands. And when the petrified ants find that out, his power is broken. Like a terrified child, this bully is reduced to nothing before our eyes in this cautionary film about bullies. One of Pixar’s best films.

9. Play it Forward (2000)

Critics were pretty rough on this sentimental, predictable film about a scarred teacher portrayed by Spacey who finds an exceptional student in his midst. Befriending the boy, he enters into an affair with the young lads mother, and begins to heal himself. Horribly burned, he hides behind his teacher’s desk, not connecting with anyone until this boy enters his life. The child will touch him more than he knows and has a lasting impact when tragedy strikes. Spacey is great in the film but man did Critics beat him up for it.

8. A Time to Kill (1996)

So often Spacey has portrayed an intellectual snob, smug to a fault, used to getting his own way. Here, he is the near demonic District Attorney attacking a black man who killed the two men who brutally raped and beat his daughter. We watch him schmooze the judge, destroy witnesses on the stand, get under the skin of the accused, and drive the defense crazy with his arrogance, confidence and dare I say, sleaze that sits just under the surface. The kind of guy we love to hate. One of the underrated Kevin Spacey movies.

7. The Shipping News (2001)

Though the critical community beat this movie up when it was released, I admired it, very much. Filled remarkable performances, Cate Blanchett will walk in your nightmares after seeing her in this, Spacey stands tall as Quoyle, a suddenly single, socially awkward, father who packs everything he owns and returns to Newfoundland in Canada with his aunt. Coming home to his roots he finds himself caught up in the mysticism of the land, the legends, the spirits that seem all around him. We see him, often a lumbering high pinched voice oaf, evolve, find his self esteem, love and believe he is worthy of love. The director wisely allows the strange though beautifully rugged landscape to be a second character. One of the actors least known, but great performances in a criminally under appreciated film.

6. Casino Jack (2010)

As Jack Abramoff, the wheeling dealing lobbyist in Washington who traded favours like playing cards, Spacey was remarkable. Confident to a fault, in many ways the film was a preview of what was to come with House of Cards. As he cheats, lies, schemes and wreaks havoc in Washington, not realizing his lawyer is slowly selling him out, betraying him to the Feds, this government nightmare has a dream of a pure Kosher restaurant! Deluded? Unbelievably so, but ballsy.

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5. The Usual Suspects (1995)

The Usual Suspects

Portraying Verbal Kint, a seemingly pathetic petty criminal being interrogated by a detective, we will learn over the course of the film, he is actually the fearsome prince of darkness Keyser Soze. We encounter Verbal through the course of the film, a cripple but brilliant thief who is brought into a group of criminal misfits by Keyser Soze. As he is interrogated by the police he spins a tale based on what he sees in the room, names, etc. But when released he begins his awkward shuffling walk as Verbal, only to have it corrected into a confident strong stride, and his eyes are ice cold. Verbal is Keyser Soze. Spacey won an Oscar for this.

4. LA Confidential (1997)

LAConfidental_Bulova1

Think Dean Martin because that is what Spacey was thinking when he portrayed the part. Smooth, sublimely confident, yet filled with self loathing his Frank Vincennes is a masterful creation, a detective who stepped off the path to take bribes and attempt to create his own legend. When an innocent young man he busted in a set up arrest is murdered while being used as bait, something in Frank break, and disgusted with himself he digs deeper into a case, working with an ambitious and over achiever. In a shocking and stunning moment, (spoiler) Frank is shot dead by his boss in his kitchen, but not before uttering a name that will bring the Chief down. Watch the smile that crosses Spacey’s face as the life slips out of him but he manages to say, “Rollo Tomasi”. Haunting.

3. American Beauty

American Beauty

As Lester, the put upon, insignificant husband, ignored father, executive deemed useless, Spacey won the Academy Award for Best Actor. His existence can best be described as sort of living hell, until he encounters his daughters new friend, a chatty, sex kitten portrayed by Mena Savari. From that point on Lester is obsessed, saying whatever is on his mind, whipping himself into shape, he blackmails his boss, and makes clear to his wife he is done being bullied by her. More than anything he wants a sexual encounter with the muchnyounger girl, believing it will make him feel like a man again. This new found freedom leads him to make enemies, to bring dangerous people to the wrong conclusions about him, his Marine neighbor for one. It is a profoundly fine piece of acting both comedic and dramatic, ultimately tragic.

2. Seven (1995)

Seven Kevin Spacey

From the moment he walks into police headquarters covered in blood and screams “Detective!!!!” he has us in his grip. Head shaven, eyes looking through you, not at you he is John Doe, the lethal, brilliant beyond words serial killer the police have been chasing. His murders explore the seven deadly sins, and the patience with which each is created and executed is staggering, giving some idea of this man’s madness. He cajoles, pushes, insults, goads the two detectives, eventually getting them to drive him into the desert, where a Fed Ex truck will deliver his last victim, sealing his fate. There is something genuinely terrifying in this performance. Consider the patience of the killer, the dark strength to inject a man with drugs each day for how long? It is not that he kills that is frightening, but how, the methodical manner he takes a life. Unbilled in the film, he would win the Oscar for The Usual Suspects (1995) but deserved it for this one.

1. House of Cards (2012-2017)

In this super Netflix series, Spacey is brilliant as a Congressman Frank Underwood, who cheats and lies his way into the Vice Presidency and then the Oval Office itself, sworn in as President of the United States. Frank Underwood is a crook, willing to do anything to gain power which is all he cares about. From the first moment we see him he is scheming and enraged that he has been passed over as Secretary of State by the incoming President. He puts into motion long range plans, and we watch, fascinated as they unfold. He sets up people for a hard fall, routinely ruins careers, and he commits murder, more than once to save himself. His relationship with his frosty and equally ambitious wife is fascinating to watch evolve, and we wonder how they will use each other next. The series is uncompromising, blistering and powerful as we see inside the halls of power. Spacey has never been as good as he is here, allowing a lot of himself to creep into the character, his asides to the audience, breaking down that wall are filled with acidic viciousness, telling us his next action. A modern day Richard III.

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