With his Peter Lorre eyes, sharp and biting voice, and "everyman" appearance, Steve Buscemi is nobody's idea of a leading man -- except maybe Martin Scorsese (but more on that in a minute). But if you've been a movie fan for the past 20-some years, you've no doubt taken notice of Mr. Buscemi by now. Creepy enough to play a weirdo, intense enough to play a psycho, sensitive enough to play a loser, and (once in a while) powerful enough to pretty much own a film without breaking a sweat, Steve Buscemi has gradually become one of those character players that everyone knows and loves ... even if they can't always place his name.
Inspired by the stellar HBO series 'Boardwalk Empire,' in which Buscemi plays the lead role flawlessly, here's a catalog of Mr. Buscemi's finest and most memorable roles. As always, please feel free to share your own picks in the comments section below. And keep up the great work, Steve. It's actors like you who make movie-watching so much fun.
(Warning: Some of the clips below have entirely adult language. Profanity, even.)
'Miller's Crossing' (1990) -- He has a small but very influential role as a duplicitous crook known as Mink. His character is actually discussed more often than he appears, but Buscemi manages to grab a few choice scenes for himself.
'Reservoir Dogs' (1992) -- The actor's gift for playing "sleazy" is highlighted once again, and one can sense that (first-time) director Quentin Tarantino was grateful, relieved, and excited to get an old-school noir-flavored actor like Buscemi to spit his dialogue out. Mr. Pink's opening rant about why he doesn't tip waitresses, his consistently edgy presence throughout, and his unhappiness at being called Mr. Pink -- one could say that Buscemi would have stolen the whole film if it didn't also contain scene-stealing performances from the likes to Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, and Harvey Keitel.
'Living in Oblivion' (1995) -- Not one of Steve's best-known films, but here he plays an indie film director who simply cannot catch a break. Bonus: the film is really damn good.
'Fargo' (1996) -- It says a lot about Mr. Buscemi that filmmakers like Tarantino and the Coen brothers keep coming back to the guy -- even when those filmmakers can have pretty much any actor they want. Here, in one of Buscemi's best-known roles, the actor plays an amazingly chatty and casually scummy criminal who ends up on the wrong end of some farming equipment. It's the character's demise that we remember, but without Buscemi's work early in the film, his final scene wouldn't have left half the impact.
'Trees Lounge' (1996) -- Buscemi's directorial debut is a quiet but engaging piece about a corner bar and the aimless denizens within. Definitely worth checking out if you're a fan. (Buscemi's other directorial efforts include 'Animal Factory' (2000), 'Lonesome Jim' (2005), and 'Interview' (2007) -- which makes him officially 4-for-4 in my book. All good films.)
'Con Air' (1997) -- Say what you like about the film (I think it's a big ball of loony fun), but Buscemi's dark joke of a peripheral character is certainly one memorable component. The mindless action flick already had a rather eclectic ensemble, so Steve exists as little more than the cherry on top. A weird, twisted cherry.
'The Big Lebowski' (1998) -- Leave it to the Coen brothers to give the actor yet another strangely memorable -- yet entirely different -- character to play here. As the good-natured but annoying chatterbox Donny, Buscemi gets some of the film's most memorable bits of banter ... and when Donny leaves the film, the film feels it.
'Armageddon' (1998) -- As the comic relief in Michael Bay's bombastic disaster flick, Buscemi gets some of the flick's lamest lines (especially in Act III), but he also brings a welcome sense of weirdness and wit to a powerfully testosterone-intensive action movie.
'Ghost World' (2001) -- If all you know of Steve Buscemi is loquacious losers and crooked criminals, check out his superlative work in this flick. Again, if necessary.
'Monsters Inc.' (2001) -- Of course he plays the villain in a Pixar flick, but to nobody's surprise, he inhabits the monstrous Randall Boggs with a good deal of style, energy, and age-appropriate malice.
'Boardwalk Empire' (2010) -- It takes not only the influence of a man like Martin Scorsese to posit Steve Buscemi as the leading man for an epic, big budget, period piece ensemble drama gangster story -- it also takes the stones of an HBO to go for it. And while producer / episode one director Martin Scorsese gets much of the applause, it's actually series creator Terence Winter we should be thanking. Already approved for a second season, Boardwalk Empire is as good as "television programming" gets, and Steve Buscemi couldn't be more perfect as the central crook.
(Personal note: my mother has had a massive crush on Buscemi since right around 'Con Air.' Seriously, she calls me on the phone when she sees him on HBO.)