Today, Sept 21, is the day we celebrate Bill Murray’s birthday. Murray has entertained the public for several decades, starring in comedy classics and fan favorites alike. To get in the festive spirit, we’ve assembled some of Murray’s best moments from an illustrious career of one of the greatest comedy minds of our time.
Kingpin – Big Ernie McCracken
If you are looking for raw Bill Murray comedy, look no further than his performance as Big Ernie McCracken in Kingpin. The 1996 Farrelly Brothers film showcases Murray as the top bowler on the PBA Tour. His flamboyant and flashy antics exemplify the character of “Big Ern.” McCracken and Roy Munson (Woody Harrelson) were bowlers coming up on the tour when a decision McCracken made cost Munson his hand. McCracken rose to fame and fortune while Munson’s life crashed and burned.
As the film escalates, Munson makes his return as a coach for Amish student Ishmael Boorg (Randy Quaid). They make it all the way to the Vegas finals and the $1 million winner-take-all tournament. Unfortunately, Ishmael breaks his hand and can’t compete. Munson, now sporting a plastic hand, takes his spot. The finals come down to McCracken and Munson in a revenge match for the lost hand. Murray is at his best as he distracts, belittles, and attempts to win at all costs.
Kingpin is a must-see considering Murray’s screen stealing work. [Ryan Aday]
Groundhog Day – Phil Connors
Groundhog Day is possibly my favourite Bill Murray film. With Phil Connors (Murray) stuck reliving the same day again and again, Murray is given the opportunity to show his broader range as an actor.
Connors begins Groundhog Day as a cynical and contemptuous man who insults and offends the people around him. During his repeated loops through Feb 2, he spends his time hardcore drinking, reckless driving, and having flings with various different people. When he realises he won’t escape this hell on repeat, he becomes depressed kills himself, yet even that won’t end this neverending day. It’s only after his suicide-spree that Connors slowly tries helping others, and he is finally able to move on. Throughout every aspect of his character’s progression, Murray plays his part to perfection. [Graham Host]
Scrooged – Frank Cross
On the occasion of Bill Murray’s birthday, I would like to make a toast:
“To the great Frank Cross.”
Bill Murray’s role in Scrooged is that of a hate-filled, yuppie Ebenezer Scrooge-type who drinks vodka and Tab and hates Christmas. This is one of my all-time favorite films, front to back and I watch it every year around the holidays. Frank Cross is a mean-spirited, cut-throat jerk and I think he is absolutely one of Murray’s best performances on screen.
Scrooged is filled with a cast of fantastic character actors and was directed by one of the all-time great filmmakers, Richard Donner. The plot is heavily rooted in the aggressive and edgy cable television age of the early ’80s, but despite being dated by reflecting on that era, the film still holds up. This is a Bill Murray movie worth celebrating all year long. [Andrew Hawkins]
Lost in Translation – Bob Harris
In Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation, Bill Murray plays Bob Harris, a surly, jaded shell of his former self. He’s a fictional analog for the dozens of Western stars who were invited to Japan to sell products in zany or otherwise over-the-top television commercials. During his sojourn in a glitzy Tokyo hotel, he befriends Charlotte, played by Scarlett Johansson. They cavort with Tokyo locals, sing karaoke, and develop an endearing cross-generational friendship. Murray crafted in Bob Harris, a believable portrait of a man in an existential crisis.
More interesting is what Murray’s portrayal of Bob Harris says about Murray himself. The character is at the nadir of his once-successful career and is looking for ways to reinvent or better understand himself. Simple conversations, like the phone call with his wife where he talks about wanting to eat healthier Japanese food instead of pasta, betray his anxieties about growing older and staring down irrelevancy.
Murray was at a crossroads himself during this film, moving away from the wacky comedy of films like Caddyshack and Stripes that were the hallmarks of his earlier career and into doing work with auteurs like Wes Anderson on films like Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums. Sure there’s plenty of comedy in those roles, as there is in Lost in Translation, but it’s a melancholy humor.
While he missed out on an Oscar nod for this excellent role, he did nab the Golden Globe for Best Actor. “There’s so many people trying to take credit for this,” he glibly intoned as he accepted the award, “I wouldn’t know where to begin.” [Robert Mitchell]