When a director makes a cameo in his own movie it can be cool, almost like the Wizard of Oz briefly stepping in front of the curtain to remind us who’s pulling the strings. Alfred Hitchcock was the master of the directorial cameo. But all too often these days directors are biting off more than they can chew and embarrassing themselves.
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7. Kevin Smith
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Kevin Smith is a real salt of the earth kind of guy. He’ll tell it like it is, give it to you straight, and probably make you laugh in the process. But does that mean he should have a speaking part in almost every one of his movies? Probably not. Nor does it mean he should have speaking parts in any other movie. His brief appearance in Live Free or Die Hard was the stupidest, most boring ten minutes in the whole film.
Usually when he’s onscreen Smith plays Silent Bob from the franchise he started with Clerks. And the first time around it was kind of funny: here we have this street urchin hanging out with a borderline retarded drug dealer, and he’s actually very articulate and intelligent. The problem is, the joke doesn’t really work more than once, and by the time we get to Mallrats, Chasing Amy, and Dogma, you’re just wondering: why is that guy still hanging out with Jay?
One way or another, it looks like Smith might be taking a break from acting in his own movies, as evidenced by his absence from Jersey Girl (not that his acting could have made that movie worse than Ben Affleck’s did), and Zack and Miri Make a Porno. Sometimes it’s better not to follow your gut.
6. Woody Allen
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Sure, a lot of people will take issue with this, but the fact of the matter is that ever since Woody Allen stopped starring in his own movies they’ve gotten much, much better. No one’s saying Annie Hall isn’t great, and no one’s claiming he wasn’t hilarious in Manhattan.
But you can’t really argue with the fact that Match Point, Cassandra’s Dream, and Vicky Cristina Barcelona weren’t way better than Anything Else or Hollywood Ending. Woody Allen was Woody Allen’s biggest problem, and as soon as he addressed this problem his films started getting nominated for awards again.
He’s one of the best examples of how a director’s work can improve when he leaves just a little big of his ego at the soundstage door. He’s also one of the best examples of how sick everyone was of paying $10 to hear Woody Allen whine to the camera for two hours.
5. Quentin Tarantino
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After seeing him in Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, it was understandable to think Quentin Tarantino might have some acting talent. Time has shown this is not the case. It’s one thing to see Tarantino in a Tarantino movie, and it’s another to see him in anything else.
At this point, even appearing in his own movies has become more of a tacky distraction than a helpful addition. Tarantino is such a recognizable figure that it’s hard to imagine him as anything other than, well, Tarantino. His cameo in Death Proof was an obnoxious sideshow, and I’m tempted to once again point out that Inglourious Basterds was glorious in part because he wasn’t in it.
Though we may have seen the end of Tarantino appearing in his own movies, we haven’t seen the end of his acting days. He’s set to star in Sukiyaki Western Django. So far it hasn’t made it over to the states. Should we be surprised?
4. Spike Lee
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Other than his role in Do the Right Thing, which was a wild, wacky film to begin with, Spike Lee has never helped a movie by acting in it. For the same reason he’s unpleasant in real life – what with his being an angry, spiteful, little turd of a man – he’s unpleasant in his movies. If we can’t get him to stop making movies altogether, the next best thing would be to get him to stop acting in his own.
Like most directors, he knows the only shot he has at ever appearing on the silver screen is if he casts himself. But with age comes wisdom, and it’s been a good ten years since he last put himself in one of his movies, in 1999’s Summer of Sam. Does this means he’s learned from the error of his ways? Who knows. Never look a gift Spike Lee movie in the mouth.
3. Zach Braff
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Yes, he’s only starred in one movie that he’s directed, but that's because he’s only directed one movie. And I hate to keep coming back to it, but Garden State was as bad as it was largely because Zach Braff cast himself as Andrew Largeman. Which isn’t to say it would have been a masterpiece if he’d sat that one out, but it would have been a lot less painful.
What made Garden State embarrassing to watch for everyone who doesn’t cry into paper cups or act detached when getting hit on by Natalie Portman, is that the part Braff wrote for himself was mind-blowingly self-indulgent. Every hot girl in the movie wants him, every main character in the movie gets a condescending lecture from him, and every major event in the movie elicits a stoicism worthy of Zeno himself.
Here’s hoping we don’t see anymore Braff-directed movies starring Braff for a long, long time. There’s only so much self-aggrandizing one decade can take.
2. Tyler Perry
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I’ll say this much for Tyler Perry: when you go to one of his (horrible) movies, you know exactly what you’re getting. To the extent that a person deserves to get wet if he jumps in a pool, you deserve to leave a theater feeling angry and ripped off if you go to a Tyler Perry Flick.
The genius of Perry is that his movies are built around him: he writes, directs, and stars in all of his movies. It’s impossible to conceive of any of these Madea movies without him, any more than we can imagine Ernest Goes to Camp without Ernest. The difference being, the guy who played Ernest, Jim Varney, was actually a funny, talented guy.
The same cannot be said of Perry. The sooner people stop paying to see his movies the sooner we can repair the wound he’s inflicted on our culture.
1. M. Night Shyamalan
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Where to begin? M. Night Shyamalan has made a career out of taking A-list actors and forcing them to go through the Shyamalamading-dong school of acting. Here are the basic rules:
How do we know that these are M. Night’s acting rules? We know because these are the rules he follows every time he makes an ill-advised cameo in one of his films. Having learned the art of speaking slowly and quietly at length, he dutifully passes down this wisdom to anyone who has the misfortune of being cast in one of his not-scary movies.
M. Night’s cameos are bad for so many reasons, but – aside from the fact that he instructs his actors to mimic his incompetence – perhaps the worst is that his characters never have anything to do with the rest of the movies they appear in. They pop up and disappear, leaving you wondering, What the hell was that all about?
As his films become progressively more unwatchable, no one really cares whether he sees dead people. We just want him to stop filming it. If Stanislavksy were alive today, he’d probably take M. Night aside and say, “Quit while you’re ahead.”