The list ranges from obvious (Marshall McLuhan in Annie Hall) to random (this must be the only
best list on which Dumb and Dumber appears, courtesy of Cam Neely) to wrong
(Meryl Streep, yes, but in Stuck on You? No).
While I understand Reel Girl’s “good lighting” theory (a well-done cameo makes everyone look better), I prefer scene-stealers to
film-stealers, special moments of brilliance rather than lone moments of brilliance; even Streep doesn’t make a lame comedy
worth my time. Also, while blink-and-you-miss-it cameos are fun (see Cate Blanchett in Hot Fuzz or
Julie Delpy in But I’m a Cheerleader), they don’t require much, so they’re not included.
My favorite bit parts fall into a few categories, and I’m sticking with the ladies exclusively.
I’m also sticking to film — sifting through all of the Simpsons and Will & Grace
cameos is daunting enough; add The Muppet Show and it’s nigh impossible. Since the following is therefore an unscientific bunch of personal
observations, discuss away!
The Hat-Tip Cameo: Chita Rivera, Chicago
Hollywood producers are far too obsessed
but if they must go there, I appreciate it when they doff their proverbial caps to original stars. Respect wins points every time, and as the creator of Velma Kelly on Broadway,
deserves every ounce of respect she gets and then some. Her cameo as cell block diva Nickie in the 2002 movie adaptation is too brief, but any more
would be unfair to successor Catherine Zeta-Jones — can’t have the new star too far in the shadow of her elder.
The Midas Cameo: Judi Dench, Shakespeare in Love
There are a few actors who turn anything they do, large or small, into gold — Oscar gold in the case of Dench, whose turn as Queen Elizabeth
won her a statue all her own while she shared in the movie’s general critical success. Her presence certainly isn’t necessary, and it does seem a bit
off-balance that such a brief appearance was so rewarded, but she’s perfect enough that complaints are irrelevant.
The Underrated Actor’s Cameo: Toni Collette, The Hours
We all know that sublime talent sometimes goes unrecognized (examples abound),
and I can think of many a cameo appearance that demands an actor’s skills while
she remains hidden beneath “marquee names.” I’m not talking early-career, pip-earning bit parts, but real roles. In
The Hours, Collette is a ’50s housewife who unravels only to
immediately re-ravel after sharing a kiss with her neighbor (Julianne Moore). Nicole Kidman‘s nose gets more attention than
Collette’s performance, the only one in the film to truly reach me. Her loss and reassertion of control is exquisite:
The Insider Cameo: Camille Paglia, The Watermelon Woman
Insider cameos — by non-actors who are somehow related to the film’s topic — are some of the most entertaining; they seem fun for the expert to do, and viewers
feel smart for getting the joke. AfterEllen.com Contributing Writer Shauna Swartz
describes Paglia’s self-parody perfectly in her review of
The Watermelon Woman: “The controversial cultural critic [either] has a healthy sense of humor about herself or she’s so brazen that she was truly just speaking
her mind.” If the latter, her clueless self-absorption is frightening, but frightening can be hilarious, and certainly is here.
The Wanda Sykes Cameo: Wanda Sykes, just about everything
It’s been said before, but can’t be said enough:
Wanda Sykes is beyond funny. Sadly, it’s strictly her comic talents that give her a spot on my list, because her myriad cameos tend to be in films that are otherwise
beyond forgettable (Clerks II, The Nutty Professor II, License to Wed).
Since she only seems to get more wicked, I look forward to her next cameo — and the day when someone writes her a starring role, or at least gives her a TV show again. Please?
The Harry Potter Cameo: Emma Thompson, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
The Harry Potter series has become so rife with brilliant, brief appearances
by British thesps that they get their own category as well, and Thompson is my top pick. Professor Trelawney does get more screen time later, but I vote for her
initial appearance in Prisoner: Thompson’s ability to be so wonderfully absurd behind such a ridiculous pair of glasses clinches it — and makes me giggle every time.
Not that Rita Skeeter’s glasses are much less ridiculous — Miranda Richardson comes in an extremely close second, and the fact is, I had to
leave out many besides Richardson who are likewise worthy, with or without glasses, wands or other trappings: Jean Smart as a dysfunctional but loving mother
in Garden State, Ellen Barkin as a lusty lesbian editor in the otherwise bland Trust the Man, Katherine Hepburn as a superbly
profane old aunt in Love Affair.
The list could go on, and hopefully will — start adding below! I look forward to seeing everyone whom I’ve missed.