Total Recall

Total Recall: John Malkovich's Best Movies

We count down the best-reviewed work of the Secretariat star.

by | October 8, 2010 | Comments

John Malkovich

Acting demands intense dedication to craft, hard work, and plenty of luck — but actors like John Malkovich make it look easy: He made his Broadway debut opposite Dustin Hoffman, earned an Oscar nomination for his first major movie role (in 1984’s Places in the Heart), and has remained generally excellent throughout a career that currently includes more than 70 films. He’ll add two more to that tally this month (this week’s Secretariat and next week’s Red), and in honor of all that activity, we decided to dedicate this week’s feature to the ten best-reviewed movies in a filmography stacked with critical winners. It’s time to forget Jonah Hex ever happened — let’s go Total Recall!


10. Shadow of the Vampire

Uniting two of the actors who do “disquieting” better than almost anyone in the business, this fictionalized peek behind the scenes of Nosferatu stars Malkovich as director F.W. Murnau, whose quest for verisimilitude on the set of his vampire movie leads him to make a secret pact with the real deal — Max Schreck (Willem Dafoe), presented here not as a thespian, but a bloodthirsty member of the undead. Passed off by Murnau as a particularly dedicated Method actor, Schreck regales the cast and crew with tales of his centuries as a vampire — and gradually, they come to understand that he isn’t just staying in character. Netting several honors (including a Saturn Award, an Independent Spirit Awards, and an Oscar nomination for Dafoe), Shadow had enough bite for critics like the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Hap Erstein, who called it “An ingenious, diabolical, probably libelous, funhouse of a movie.”


9. Disgrace

Malkovich picked up one of his meatiest roles in this 2008 adaptation of the J.M. Coetzee novel, starring as a South African college professor whose affair with a student costs him his career — and sends him to his daughter’s farm, where post-apartheid racial tensions are simmering beneath the bucolic surface. An award-winner at the Toronto International Film Festival, Disgrace gave Malkovich the chance to take a rather unlikable character on a redemptive storyline arc, and drew appreciative applause from critics like the New York Post’s V.A. Musetto, who admitted, “I cannot tell a lie. I derive great satisfaction watching John Malkovich act.”


8. The Ogre

A masterpiece of creepy, steadily mounting dread, Volker Schlöndorff’s The Ogre stars Malkovich as a mentally disabled Frenchman who is used as a recruiter by the Nazis during their World War II occupation. What’s so creepy about that, you ask? Turns out the Ogre has a unique rapport with kids…and he thinks he’s protecting them…and it’s all just sort of awful, really. As a piece of filmmaking, however, The Ogre was almost universally recognized as excellent, and although it understandably wasn’t a huge box office hit, it earned praise from a number of critics — including Marc Savlov of the Austin Chronicle, who wrote, “Astonishing, disturbing, and altogether an affecting piece of work, The Ogre is Schlondorff — and everyone else involved — working in top form.”


7. The Killing Fields

Part of the banner year that also saw Malkovich earn an Academy Award nomination for Places in the Heart, Roland Joffé’s The Killing Fields relays the heartrending true story of the friendship between three journalists — Cambodian Dith Pran (Haing S. Nor), American Sydney Schanberg (Sam Waterston), and British Jon Swain (Julian Sands) — during the early days of the Khmer Rouge’s rise to power in Cambodia. Malkovich appears here in the supporting role of American photojournalist Al Rockoff, who was part of the unsuccessful effort to get Pran out of Cambodia before the regime change; the real-life Rockoff was publicly unhappy with the way he was portrayed, but he was part of a small minority — The Killing Fields was ultimately nominated for seven Oscars, and it became an instant critical favorite. “It must be nerve-racking for the producers to offer a tale so lacking in standard melodramatic satisfactions,” wrote Time’s Richard Schickel, “But the result is worth it, for this is the clearest film statement yet on how the nature of heroism has changed in this totalitarian century.”


6. Being John Malkovich

You know you’ve arrived when a screenwriter dedicates an entire movie to the idea that there’s a magical portal into your brain — and although John Malkovich initially resisted starring in Being John Malkovich, director Spike Jonze eventually changed his mind; the rest, as they say, is history. One of the most marvelously weird successes in modern American film, Malkovich follows the adventures of a miserable puppeteer (John Cusack) who stumbles across a temporary gateway into — you guessed it — John Malkovich. And that’s where things start to get really strange, culminating in a series of diagram-worthy romantic entanglements, some memorable Jonze visuals, and a wonderful Charlie Kaufman script. Destined for the commercial fringes, Malkovich was one of the year’s best-reviewed films, enjoying widespread raves from critics like Lou Lumenick of the New York Post, who declared, “Being John Malkovich, which contains not a frame of extraneous footage, is more than a must-see movie: It’s a must-see-more-than-once event.”


5. Dangerous Liaisons

Director Stephen Frears made his grand Hollywood entrance with this adaptation of the Christopher Hampton play Les liaisons dangereuses (and the 18th-century novel it was based on), gussying up a star-studded American cast in corsets and powdered wigs, then setting them loose to do horrid things to one another. Here, Malkovich is at his most impeccably loathsome as the womanizing Valmont, who joins forces with the scheming Marquise de Merteuil (Glenn Close) to defile her cousin’s daughter (played by Uma Thurman). Liaisons is a tragedy, so you know it’ll all end in a mess of death and confusion — but getting there is a delicious good time involving oodles of etiquette, Michelle Pfeiffer at her most luminous, and a side helping of Keanu. A triple Oscar winner, Dangerous Liaisons blended starchy pre-Victorian propriety with good old-fashioned gettin’ down — a mixture that is, in the words of the Washington Post’s Hal Hinson, “Tantalizingly wicked — watching it makes the color rise to your cheeks.”


4. In the Line of Fire

John Malkovich is a fine actor with plenty of awards and a wide variety of roles to his credit, but he’s arguably at his best when playing villains who make your skin crawl — and he used that skill to suitably chilling effect in Wolfgang Petersen’s 1993 hit In the Line of Fire, a thriller pitting Malkovich’s would-be presidential assassin against an aging Secret Service agent (Clint Eastwood) who let down his guard on the day President Kennedy was killed. Audiences made Fire a $176 million smash, and Malkovich received another Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his work as the psychotic Mitch Leary — as well as heaps of praise from critics like ReelViews’ James Berardinelli, who proclaimed, “Hands down, Malkovich’s assassin is the best thing about this solid thriller — a villain that rivals Hannibal Lecter for intelligence and cold, calculated viciousness.”


3. Of Mice and Men

Director (and producer, and co-star) Gary Sinise had some big shoes to fill when he decided to adapt John Steinbeck’s classic Of Mice and Men for the screen — not only is the book beloved, but it had already been turned into a critically lauded film in 1939. Not to mention that the book’s storyline, about a pair of Depression-era farm workers, didn’t have much surface relevance to 1990s filmgoers. But even if most of us haven’t hopped a boxcar or carried a bindle, everyone can relate to Of Mice and Men‘s timeless themes of friendship and hope in the face of despair — and critics certainly responded to Sinise’s brilliantly made adaptation, including Roger Ebert, who wrote, “I would not have thought I could believe the line about the rabbits one more time, but this movie made me do it, as Lennie asks about the farm they’ll own one day, and George says, yes, it will be just as they’ve imagined it.”


2. I’m Going Home

One of Malkovich’s more quietly acclaimed films, 2001’s I’m Going Home is a French-Portuguese production about an actor named Gilbert Valance (Michael Piccoli) whose life is turned upside down after his wife, daughter, and son-in-law are killed in a car accident. Struggling to stay emotionally afloat, Gilbert puts his career on hiatus and devotes himself to caring for his grandson — until he’s lured into an adaptation of Ulysses by an American director (Malkovich). Though it received only a limited release in the States, I’m Going Home screened in competition at Cannes, and plenty of critics were moved by its quiet grace — including the Chicago Reader’s Jonathan Rosenbaum, who called it “The kind of quiet masterpiece that fully registers only after you’ve seen it.”


1. Places in the Heart

Malkovich earned a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his work in this 1984 drama, which tells the story of a widowed woman (Sally Field) who struggles to keep her Texas farm afloat during the Great Depression. The kind of film whose plot doesn’t seem to cover a lot of ground, but which deals with some unmistakeably weighty themes (in this case racism, adultery, and family commitment), Places in the Heart wasn’t necessarily one of the most exciting pictures of the year, but it was an Academy favorite — Field’s Best Actress win prompted her oft-lampooned “you like me” speech — and a source of admiration for critics like Vincent Canby of the New York Times, who wrote, “Out of the memories of his boyhood in Waxahachie, Tex., during the Great Depression, and within the unlikely tradition of the old-fashioned ‘mortgage’ melodrama, Robert Benton has made one of the best films in years about growing up American.”

In case you were wondering, here are Malkovich’s top 10 movies according RT users’ scores:

1. The Killing Fields — 89%

2. Empire of the Sun — 88%

3. Rounders — 86%

4. Being John Malkovich — 85%

5. Changeling — 84%

6. Dangerous Liaisons — 84%

7. Places in the Heart — 80%

8. The Sheltering Sky — 79%

9. The Ogre — 79%

10. Con Air — 77%

Take a look through Malkovich’s complete filmography, as well as the rest of our Total Recall archives. And don’t forget to check out the reviews for Secretariat.

Finally, here’s Malkovich — typecast as a deity — in a Nespresso commercial co-starring some random schlub:

Tag Cloud

YouTube Red Film marvel comics football video on demand DC streaming service golden globe awards TCA 2017 Calendar boxoffice concert nbcuniversal Superheroes VICE 90s all-time boxing vampires series The Purge comedies American Society of Cinematographers laika ID El Rey 73rd Emmy Awards superhero breaking bad trailers romantic comedy book adaptation romance LGBTQ women Tumblr Neflix political drama streamig comic book movie TV renewals HBO Max Nat Geo Cartoon Network dogs godzilla summer TV target scene in color Western Film Festival BET Awards ghosts witnail Creative Arts Emmys Focus Features NBC ViacomCBS live action Warner Bros. Pop Opinion Disney Song of Ice and Fire AMC Plus revenge dexter GLAAD Peacock Captain marvel TV Land TCA suspense medical drama crime History adventure SundanceTV Britbox Indigenous historical drama 72 Emmy Awards YouTube Premium festival 24 frames IFC Mystery Character Guide crime drama Brie Larson Family Superheroe Hollywood Foreign Press Association Universal Pictures OneApp DC Comics slashers Comedy police drama Tomatazos E3 screenings Countdown french deadpool Sony Pictures Black Mirror Prime Video cops GIFs NBA crime thriller technology adenture Ellie Kemper Quiz Certified Fresh Cosplay Summer leaderboard Anna Paquin Dark Horse Comics Kids & Family award winner Apple TV+ robots 1990s vs. documentaries First Reviews Mary poppins FX Mudbound biography Image Comics Amazon Studios TNT indiana jones spy thriller spider-man Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt RT History wonder woman ABC Family Biopics Epix blaxploitation universal monsters Best and Worst Sony live event sports USA Network BBC toy story Rock legend anime popular BBC America anthology stop motion new star wars movies italian Toys 007 scorecard young adult festivals The Walking Dead posters TLC 2019 Adult Swim asian-american Elton John YA MTV Amazon travel high school heist movie CBS All Access Fargo 21st Century Fox based on movie Rocketman die hard genre satire Animation finale crossover E! CW Seed unscripted hist serial killer blockbusters cancelled TV series prank book science fiction psychological thriller Native Marvel Television screen actors guild versus Pirates BET richard e. Grant TV movies sequel Marathons Set visit Red Carpet Spike archives foreign batman hispanic heritage month MCU Geeked Week FXX singing competition reviews Rom-Com discovery Fox News hispanic movie razzies A&E Showtime Photos The CW Heroines sopranos olympics Comics on TV Schedule First Look 4/20 renewed TV shows true crime disaster scary movies Chernobyl new york japan blockbuster tv talk Musicals cancelled TV shows new zealand 2018 Action toronto james bond 2016 Oscar AMC Turner 71st Emmy Awards marvel cinematic universe A24 royal family saw Legendary Lifetime comic book movies WGN venice Star Trek critics Fox Searchlight IFC Films Best Picture directors Music San Diego Comic-Con biopic dragons Classic Film cancelled Reality Instagram Live comics stoner 2020 cartoon criterion cooking Apple TV Plus USA Crunchyroll elevated horror LGBT Netflix Christmas movies Christmas Emmys kaiju Walt Disney Pictures Box Office best a nightmare on elm street Pop TV name the review television feel good 20th Century Fox miniseries APB dreamworks Tokyo Olympics HFPA Freeform Chilling Adventures of Sabrina HBO christmas movies VOD streaming movies talk show mission: impossible nfl spider-verse Shudder movies X-Men strong female leads ABC Comic-Con@Home 2021 ABC Signature rt labs critics edition MSNBC parents cats game show cinemax mockumentary target documentary Disney streaming service critic resources aapi mutant reboot Lifetime Christmas movies Avengers Tarantino Hallmark Christmas movies Disney Plus CNN Sundance TV Best Actor superman japanese Spectrum Originals halloween gangster Crackle Sci-Fi Martial Arts Turner Classic Movies Alien The Walt Disney Company Syfy game of thrones The Arrangement Exclusive Video IMDb TV South by Southwest Film Festival Lionsgate Pacific Islander Travel Channel Star Wars Celebration Tubi Acorn TV Tags: Comedy 2017 Best Actress SXSW 2022 mob Paramount Network space President Musical Marvel Studios know your critic justice league ITV Oscars New York Comic Con Shondaland fresh jamie lee curtis TV One SXSW Paramount Pictures dc zombies Polls and Games Star Wars The Academy Esquire Starz Arrowverse sequels Pixar 2021 Nominations Horror composers National Geographic 94th Oscars king kong quibi Bravo Stephen King Television Critics Association stand-up comedy Lucasfilm Sundance Now cars binge Video Games Country twilight Sundance Ghostbusters DC Universe Writers Guild of America Watching Series slasher Masterpiece Academy Awards Infographic rt archives See It Skip It Super Bowl franchise Universal Drama Trailer Thanksgiving Food Network art house theme song TruTV summer preview fast and furious HBO Go FOX remakes spanish docudrama sitcom Baby Yoda RT21 emmy awards cancelled television rotten movies we love spain Pride Month Holidays Endgame Emmy Nominations broadcast Amazon Prime pirates of the caribbean Amazon Prime Video Wes Anderson Apple zombie aliens politics indie animated Marvel films Trophy Talk classics black comedy scary Hallmark Winners dramedy hollywood latino Grammys Awards Tour rt labs thriller Trivia Fall TV Mary Tyler Moore interviews GoT BBC One sag awards Disney Channel social media psycho DirecTV rom-coms 93rd Oscars worst basketball dceu what to watch south america 2015 The Witch Discovery Channel docuseries nature mcc canceled Netflix MGM TCM zero dark thirty golden globes news Black History Month PBS Hulu Awards teaser PlayStation comic telelvision TIFF Binge Guide Year in Review australia joker scene in color film series Best Director doctor who obi wan Extras obituary Mindy Kaling lord of the rings Disney+ Disney Plus green book Comic Book transformers monster movies child's play jurassic park diversity YouTube TCA Winter 2020 king arthur SDCC Paramount Plus harry potter Mary Poppins Returns international FX on Hulu kong OWN debate Valentine's Day scene in color series Election DGA period drama Columbia Pictures NYCC CMT hidden camera BAFTA action-comedy casting 45 war Fantasy canceled TV shows dark Podcast comiccon 79th Golden Globes Awards Holiday Paramount facebook cults TV Teen Funimation Comedy Central summer TV preview rotten ESPN ratings Pet Sematary Nickelodeon Broadway Spring TV Sneak Peek streaming natural history Reality Competition 99% CBS TBS chucky Logo worst movies free movies PaleyFest children's TV spanish language comic books Premiere Dates Hear Us Out Television Academy Rocky Cannes 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards trophy TCA Awards WarnerMedia Interview VH1 Winter TV supernatural Women's History Month black Ovation halloween tv scene in color kids werewolf spinoff independent video Vudu adaptation