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Being John Malkovich

Spike Jonze

Spike Jonze’s directorial debut Being John Malkovich burst into cinemas in 1999 and was promptly heralded a modern classic, earning rave reviews across the board. Funny, downright bizarre and a masterclass in quirk, it earned Oscar nominations for its script (by Charlie Kaufman), and directing as well as a Best Supporting Actress nomination for the brilliant Catherine Keener.

John Cusack plays Craig Schwartz, a scruffy, sad-sack puppeteer who takes a job on the 7th-and-a-half floor of a Manhattan Office at the encouragement of his wife Lotte (Cameron Diaz, playing against type as a dowdy, homely veterinarian). Here, he finds himself tempted by two new thrillingly dangerous forces that will have a major impact on his life. Firstly; mysteriously alluring co-worker Maxine (Keener) and secondly, hidden away behind a filing cabinet, a literal portal into the head of actor John Malkovich. Malkovich plays a version of himself here, in a gloriously silly and self-deprecating performance that gives the film some of its biggest laughs.

While watching the hilarious mundanity of John Malkovich having conversations about bathmats, it’s interesting to consider whether this film from a pre-internet, pre-Instagram age has as much, if not more, to say about the cult of celebrity now as it did 20 years ago. And while Kaufman’s script is suitably bonkers, Jonze brings years’ worth of visual panache and creativity honed directing iconic music videos for the likes of the Beastie Boys and Sonic Youth to his debut, infusing the film with an energy and style all of its own.