Total Recall

Total Recall: James Woods's Best Movies

We count down the best-reviewed work of the Straw Dogs star.

by | September 15, 2011 | Comments

James Woods

Anyone who can claim the titles “ace poker player,” “antiques dealer,” and “MIT dropout” is bound to be a pretty interesting guy — and two-time Academy Awards nominee James Woods is living proof. Over the course of his four decades in showbiz, Woods has cut an intriguingly eclectic path, popping up everywhere from Oliver Stone movies to family flicks (that’s his voice you hear in Stuart Little 2 and Hercules), video games (Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas), and TV (where he’s tormented Family Guy‘s Peter Griffin for years). But he’s never received the Total Recall treatment, and when we saw his name on the cast list for Straw Dogs, we knew we needed to repent. It’s time to Total Recall, James Woods style!


75%

10. Nixon

Woods cashed in his chips with Oliver Stone for a role in Nixon, convincing the director to give him a role he’d originally intended for Ed Harris: H.R. Haldeman, the presidential aide whose ruthless politics helped make him a natural lightning rod — and eventual scapegoat — for the Watergate scandal that ended Nixon’s administration. He ended up becoming part of an impressive ensemble cast that included Joan Allen, J.T. Walsh, Mary Steenburgen, Bob Hoskins, Anthony Hopkins as Nixon, and, yes, Ed Harris (who ultimately played CIA operative E. Howard Hunt) — and although none of those names were enough to attract much of an audience during the movie’s theatrical run, the end result was impressive enough for critics like Entertainment Weekly’s Owen Gleiberman, who wrote that “it’s overwhelming to see the many sides of Richard Nixon brought together with this kind of epic force. More than just biography, Nixon is a dizzying and cathartic spectacle — a free fall through 50 years of American political imagination.”


78%

9. The Virgin Suicides

Movies about suicide are generally a pretty tough sell. To make a movie about the suicides of five teenage girls, you’d have to be nuts — or Sofia Coppola, who made her directorial debut with this adaptation of the Jeffrey Eugenides novel about five girls (Kirsten Dunst, Leslie Hayman, A.J. Cook, Chelse Swain, and Hanna R. Hall) whose relationship with their overprotective parents (James Woods and Kathleen Turner) leads them to make some fairly reckless, and ultimately tragic, decisions. The Virgin Suicides was understandably not a huge hit at the box office, but it proved a critically auspicious debut for Coppola, whose surprisingly assured direction helped inspire Moira MacDonald of the Seattle Times to call it “A disarmingly poetic — and specifically female — vision of adolescence that it belongs in a category of its own.”


75%

8. Eyewitness

Screenwriter Steve Teisch followed up his Academy Award-winning script for 1979’s Breaking Away with Eyewitness, a murder mystery thriller about a janitor (William Hurt) who has a chance to pursue his long-standing crush on a local newswoman (Signourney Weaver) after a successful businessman is murdered in the building where he works. Woods delivered a memorable supporting turn here as Hurt’s best friend, a shifty fellow janitor named Aldo, helping convince the New York Times’ Vincent Canby that “Eyewitness is not terrifically strong on logic. Instead, it runs on the energy generated by its appealingly oddball characters, all beautifully acted by the members of a large cast of mostly New York actors.”


79%

7. Videodrome

When a movie can be justifiably described as one of David Cronenberg’s weirder pictures, you know it’s got to be pretty darn strange — and Videodrome does not disappoint, following the increasingly bizarre adventures of a Toronto cable channel president (Woods) whose exposure to a pirated cable signal leads him into a dark spiral of conspiracies, violence, and unforgettably strange nightmares. In 1983, Videodrome‘s fevered vision of a culture soured by lowest-common-denominator reality television seemed over the top; now, it seems prescient. As Jeremiah Kipp wrote for Flipside Movie Emporium, “Nearly twenty years after Videodrome was shot, it still feels contemporary.”


78%

6. Casino

Get Martin Scorsese together with Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and a script about life in the Mafia, and you know the results are going to be pretty entertaining — and 1995’s Casino, which reunited Woods with his Once Upon a Time in America castmate De Niro, was no exception. Starring De Niro as Ace Rothstein, a sports handicapper who goes to Vegas to head up a (you guessed it) casino for the Mafia, Pesci as the predictably short-tempered Mob enforcer who makes life difficult for Ace, and Woods as the shyster who disrupts his marriage, Casino broke $100 million at the box office, earned Sharon Stone a Best Actress Oscar nomination, and won praise from critics like Variety’s Todd McCarthy, who wrote that “Martin Scorsese’s intimate epic about money, sex and brute force is a grandly conceived study of what happens to goodfellas from the mean streets when they outstrip their wildest dreams and achieve the pinnacle of wealth and power.”

83%

5. Cop

A rare showcase in a résumé full of supporting roles, 1987’s Cop finds Woods playing, well, a cop — albeit one whose unconventional style and general disdain for rules costs him his badge while he’s in the middle of the case of his career. Writer/director James B. Harris, who previously worked with Woods on 1982’s Fast-Walking, adapted the script from James Ellroy’s novel Blood on the Moon — and although the result proved less than arresting for audiences, who mostly ignored Cop while it was in theaters, it impressed critics like Roger Ebert, who wrote simply, “Woods was born to play this role.”


86%

4. The Onion Field

After spending the better part of a decade toiling in bit parts in films and TV movies, Woods scored his breakout role in Harold Becker’s The Onion Field. A dramatization of the Joseph Wambaugh novel inspired by the real-life case of two homicidal maniacs who dragged a pair of cops into a field to kill them, it was probably too profoundly disquieting to attract major mainstream success — but Woods’ performance as the charming psychopath Greg Powell earned him a Golden Globe nomination, and Variety concurred, writing that “James Woods as the near-psychotic Powell is chillingly effective, creating a flakiness in the character that exudes the danger of a live wire near a puddle.”


87%

3. Once Upon a Time in America

With an original cut weighing in at nearly four hours, Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America is a true epic — and if Leone had been able to convince his producers, it would have been split into two three-hour films. But unlike a lot of sprawling dramas, America justifies its extended running time; Leone, working from Harry Grey’s novel The Hoods, had a lot of story to tell — and with Woods helping anchor a large cast that also included Robert De Niro, Tuesday Weld, and Elizabeth McGovern, he had the actors to tell it. Studio interference resulted in a bowdlerized American cut that reportedly infuriated Leone, but the end result still haunted critics like Dave Kehr of the Chicago Reader, who was moved to write, “Every gesture is immediate, and every gesture seems eternal.”


89%

2. Salvador

Woods received the first of his two Academy Award nominations for his work in Oliver Stone’s Salvador, a 1986 war drama about a rather unlikable American journalist who’s burned so many bridges that his only professional recourse is to head to El Salvador with his unemployed DJ buddy (Jim Belushi) to try and find stories in what they initially regard as a relatively inconsequential war. Like a lot of films that try and shine a light on war while shots are still being fired, Salvador bombed at the box office — but it found an appreciative audience with writers like Rob Gonsalves of eFilmCritic, who called it “One of Oliver Stone’s best films, and absolutely James Woods’ best performance.”


95%

1. True Believer

Loosely inspired by a case from the fascinating files of real-life attorney Tony Serra, 1989’s True Believer gave Woods a chance to go toe-to-toe with rising star Robert Downey, Jr. in a courtroom thriller about a pair of lawyers who uncover a deep, dark conspiracy behind the imprisonment of a young Korean (Yuji Okumoto) accused of a gang-related murder. The role of bruised idealist Eddie Dodd called for a magnetic, finely layered performance — and Woods responded, according to Time’s Richard Schickel, who wrote that “Woods’ angry energy is clarifying as well as terrifying, and when he unleashes it (usually without warning), the effect is to focus our attention where it belongs, not on a suspense story but on the mysteries of human behavior.”


In case you were wondering, here are Woods’s top 10 movies according RT users’ scores:

1. Once Upon a Time in America — 92%

2. Casino — 91%

3. John Q — 83%

4. Salvador — 83%

5. The Virgin Suicides — 80%

6. Videodrome — 79%

7. Contact — 74%

8. Nixon — 72%

9. Any Given Sunday — 70%

10. Diggstown — 70%


Take a look through Woods’s complete filmography, as well as the rest of our Total Recall archives. And don’t forget to check out the reviews for Straw Dogs.

 

Tag Cloud

Christmas Mindy Kaling TCA 2017 crime drama MGM child's play Superheroes Family Mary Poppins Returns Logo cancelled TV series travel Television Critics Association ViacomCBS summer TV 45 RT History boxoffice saw USA Tumblr documentary zero dark thirty Nominations spain Kids & Family mission: impossible OWN BBC One Sony live event NBC Amazon Prime summer TV preview concert Teen Sundance TV movies Oscars CW Seed Indigenous 007 Tokyo Olympics 93rd Oscars political drama halloween Summer Hollywood Foreign Press Association binge leaderboard MCU Starz legend name the review Apple TV Plus Black Mirror Chilling Adventures of Sabrina First Reviews Sony Pictures Set visit Mudbound TV One miniseries 2015 TCA Awards Crackle Disney Plus Star Trek Holiday italian indie Television Academy SXSW documentaries football Best Director robots HFPA interviews Spike obi wan book adaptation blockbuster emmy awards Quiz biography Wes Anderson Spring TV Captain marvel Fall TV Image Comics Hallmark Christmas movies Focus Features A&E RT21 Pacific Islander Marvel high school Creative Arts Emmys french DC Comics Lifetime Christmas movies Awards historical drama television parents Universal canceled TV shows game show Infographic FXX IFC new york 2020 24 frames 2018 DirecTV chucky mockumentary based on movie Comics on TV reviews ID USA Network all-time Endgame HBO Go hollywood American Society of Cinematographers slashers Avengers godzilla VH1 transformers marvel comics Emmys Schedule cooking Syfy Mystery Ghostbusters stoner Classic Film El Rey remakes cartoon news richard e. Grant Hallmark renewed TV shows NBA Exclusive Video Travel Channel Trophy Talk ABC Family GIFs TruTV The Walking Dead comics Countdown ABC Tomatazos DGA GLAAD Oscar video Pop TV trophy Marvel Television debate video on demand Comic Book king arthur spanish hispanic Paramount Pictures Elton John spy thriller dexter pirates of the caribbean broadcast Dark Horse Comics cancelled TCA Winter 2020 hidden camera Fox Searchlight romantic comedy APB Disney green book crime thriller ratings screenings jamie lee curtis 20th Century Fox 2019 Spectrum Originals BBC America movies Walt Disney Pictures war 90s Brie Larson comiccon japan finale halloween tv cars San Diego Comic-Con Cannes Stephen King Fantasy dogs Trivia cops cults Women's History Month LGBT heist movie classics 79th Golden Globes Awards best live action women IFC Films scene in color Arrowverse Anna Paquin comedies movie nfl olympics Drama Pirates book Food Network Masterpiece streamig TIFF medical drama social media new zealand foreign Apple TV+ slasher marvel cinematic universe Nat Geo japanese Disney streaming service Video Games crime GoT harry potter space toy story Bravo Awards Tour Amazon Prime Video Fargo Geeked Week Vudu YouTube Red Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Superheroe National Geographic mcc Ellie Kemper rt archives monster movies golden globes dreamworks 72 Emmy Awards Heroines Photos BBC festivals sequels series criterion Esquire ghosts Tags: Comedy superhero 71st Emmy Awards Crunchyroll rom-coms independent adventure dark franchise Pet Sematary 21st Century Fox SundanceTV basketball facebook batman Podcast animated Box Office Calendar suspense new star wars movies Cartoon Network elevated horror a nightmare on elm street strong female leads films rotten CBS All Access blockbusters Toys Alien CBS kaiju Watching Series gangster Lionsgate Black History Month scorecard werewolf Thanksgiving Discovery Channel WGN Film Festival international Neflix TBS Chernobyl Turner Classic Movies sports Best Actor diversity 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards feel good Paramount cancelled TV shows CNN Writers Guild of America PlayStation kong comic Mary poppins south america Hear Us Out Funimation Interview 2021 spinoff laika BAFTA Amazon Studios scary prank venice talk show Pop disaster MTV Sci-Fi theme song ESPN Valentine's Day worst movies supernatural TCM Disney Channel boxing cats teaser biopic Ovation summer preview LGBTQ Martial Arts TCA fast and furious ABC Signature streaming obituary Epix joker toronto The CW The Purge nature Universal Pictures jurassic park TNT Pride Month President telelvision 94th Oscars action-comedy Comic-Con@Home 2021 reboot spider-man The Academy rt labs Paramount Plus Apple science fiction blaxploitation Certified Fresh genre spanish language Marathons TV Land Paramount Network hist Reality adaptation Winter TV universal monsters worst asian-american Binge Guide Acorn TV award winner comic book movie aliens Native Rock AMC Disney+ Disney Plus vs. sopranos The Arrangement crossover vampires streaming movies docudrama Western posters 1990s serial killer canceled Comedy quibi FX Instagram Live TLC SXSW 2022 Song of Ice and Fire james bond Adult Swim free movies Winners technology Reality Competition dceu Polls and Games sequel Netflix Christmas movies aapi twilight Netflix Shondaland BET Awards natural history WarnerMedia Rocketman History cinemax scene in color film series die hard Hulu FOX thriller Musicals NYCC FX on Hulu breaking bad The Witch witnail politics YouTube Premium black comedy DC Universe Best Picture christmas movies deadpool Comedy Central indiana jones anime DC streaming service Grammys Academy Awards trailers superman singing competition screen actors guild zombie Britbox versus archives hispanic heritage month VICE Lucasfilm spider-verse PaleyFest zombies Nickelodeon Rom-Com Shudder Turner royal family Broadway australia fresh art house revenge Columbia Pictures Tubi E! Horror Prime Video mutant latino what to watch X-Men popular Emmy Nominations critic resources directors Lifetime Best Actress dramedy HBO Max stand-up comedy dragons Rocky tv talk know your critic casting game of thrones YA BET 2017 psycho sitcom Action cancelled television OneApp Trailer Star Wars Celebration golden globe awards A24 Sundance Now TV satire Mary Tyler Moore psychological thriller stop motion Country Star Wars ITV Showtime Pixar MSNBC Red Carpet SDCC New York Comic Con rotten movies we love Year in Review Legendary true crime rt labs critics edition wonder woman Opinion YouTube target black critics Character Guide Amazon young adult Sneak Peek 99% Best and Worst docuseries period drama nbcuniversal discovery Musical comic books children's TV E3 4/20 AMC Plus Warner Bros. Super Bowl adenture HBO Premiere Dates romance doctor who kids Election king kong 2016 justice league Baby Yoda comic book movies Sundance TV unscripted Peacock Marvel Studios See It Skip It Tarantino Music Film Fox News Biopics TV renewals South by Southwest Film Festival Cosplay First Look dc target scene in color IMDb TV Holidays scary movies Animation scene in color series The Walt Disney Company police drama 73rd Emmy Awards sag awards anthology CMT PBS mob lord of the rings razzies VOD composers Freeform Extras festival