This award has typically walked a fine line between what you’d traditionally think of as a cameo (celebrity walks on, does something weird, then leaves), and what is closer to being strong performances that happen to be in very small roles like Viola Davis’ role in Doubt for example. This year I’ve leaned almost entirely on real bona fide cameos of the first variety, in part because there have been a ton of them. This category has been so jam-packed with possibilities that I’ve had to make some heartbreaking cuts (sorry Franco Nero and Stan Lee).
- Johnny Depp and Peter DeLuise – 21 Jump Street: The short-lived late-80s TV series “21 Jump Street” is mostly known today as the series that introduced America to a young actor named Johnny Depp, who would go on to be a major star. People wondered if Depp would make an appearance in this big screen take on the show and not only did he show up but he also brought along his co-star Peter DeLuise and managed to hide in plain sight during key scenes of the film.
- William Shimell – Amour: I love this cameo because only people who know their foreign cinema (or their opera) are going to view it as a cameo appearance at all. William Shimell is an Opera singer whose only other film credit is in Abbas Kiarostami’s Certified Copy. Given that Kiarostami is one of only a few directors that I suspect Michael Haneke is likely to keep up with, I’m sure that this isn’t lost on him. If nothing else it amuses me that Shimell has become the go-to guy when you need to cast a British intellectual in a French-language film.
- Cillian Murphy- The Dark Knight Rises: Nolan’s recent string of Batman films have gotten bigger and bigger, but Nolan never forgot where the series started and so he’s added an interesting throughline to the series in the form of reoccurring appearances by Cillian Murphy, the Scarecrow from Batman Begins. His appearance in The Dark Knight was kind of throwaway but Nolan totally makes up for it here by making the character the acting judge in Bane’s kangaroo courts which sentence people in the Gotham resistance to “death by exile.” The sight of the guy wearing a wig in a makeshift courtroom is macabre genius.
- Jason Schwartzman – Moonrise Kingdom: Wes Anderson is one of those filmmakers who has a sort of repertory cast that frequently appears in his films, and one of the actors who’s been with him almost since the beginning is Jason Schwartzman whom the young “lovers” meet at the Khaki-scout jamboree and acts as a sort of Friar Laurence to them and presides over a sort of unofficial marriage ceremony for them. Schwartzman comes into the movie at just the point in the film where we could use a familiar face and he also doesn’t overstay his welcome.
- Michael Pitt and Michael Stuhlbarg – Seven Psychopaths: The opening scene of Seven Psychopaths brilliantly pull off the “introduce recognizable actors and then kill them” trick by having Michael Pitt and Michael Stuhlbarg playing gangsters straight out of a 90’s Tarentino ripoff babbling amongst themselves about mundane things only to be shot in their heads by a masked figure which approaches them from behind. What makes the cameo work is that these guys are famous enough to be believable as supporting characters throughout the film, but just unknown enough that you aren’t wondering the whole time why they weren’t in the film’s advertising.