05. Steve Zissou
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)
Zissou is an out-and-out bastard in a way that Murray often dances around, but rarely commits to with this level of unabashed nastiness. A deadbeat father trapped in a state of arrested development, Zissou lives by a code of his own invention, which mostly seems to involve day drinking and the abdication of any real responsibilities. Just don’t attempt to hijack the man’s ship or screw with his cash flow; it doesn’t end well. And yet, by film’s end, you can’t help but feel for the man.
Choice Quote: “Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go on an overnight drunk, and in 10 days I’m going to set out to find the shark that ate my friend and destroy it. Anyone who wants to tag along is more than welcome.”
04. Herman Blume
Murray’s Herman Blume is a reserved role when compared to performances from his past, but the rare moments of outbursts make the character pop. Running up and swatting away a basketball en route to the bucket and attacking his kids in his car are perfect bits of comedy. However, in the quiet moments of Wes Anderson’s Rushmore, Murray shows us a side of him that hadn’t been seen since his vanity project, The Razor’s Edge. His subtle reaction upon discovering who Max’s father really is and his confession of “She’s my Rushmore, Max,” were indicators of the direction Murray’s career would take next.
Choice Quote: “But here’s my advice to the rest of you: Take dead aim on the rich boys. Get them in the crosshairs and take them down. Just remember, they can buy anything, but they can’t buy backbone. Don’t let them forget it. Thank you.”
03. Peter Venkman
Could you imagine if John Belushi lived to be Peter Venkman as originally envisioned? Of course not. Bill Murray is Peter Venkman, the casual, smart-assed, capable of rising-to-the-occasion de facto leader of the Ghostbusters. He’s an anti-hero for the ages, with a proton pack on his back and silly, cutting remark always up his sleeve. The guy gets slimed by a freaky green creature and then casually creates a catchphrase out of the experience. That’s not just Murray ad-libbing; that’s the oddball essence of the Venkman character right there. Murray was a perfectly cast figurehead for Ivan Reitman’s cross genre blockbuster comedy, and he made Venkman the coolest scientist/academic/laser janitor of all time.
Choice Quote: “For whatever reasons, Ray, call it … fate, call it luck, call it karma, I believe everything happens for a reason. I believe that we were destined to get thrown outta this dump.”
02. Phil Connors
Groundhog Day (1993)
Groundhog Day is the best of both Murrays. As Phil Connors, a selfish weather reporter stuck in perpetual Podunk-dom and forced to relive the February holiday over and over again, Murray has nothing but time to be bad before he evolves into a better person. It’s silly, sweet, even a little profound, and it’s Murray’s most complete comical work yet. What starts out as an unhinged performance eventually turns melancholic as the actor crawls out of his snarky outer shell to deliver a nuanced variety of moods, all of which make Harold Ramis’ existential comedy the special and inclusive human experience that it is.
Choice Quote: “This is pitiful. A thousand people freezing their butts off waiting to worship a rat. What a hype. Groundhog Day used to mean something in this town. They used to pull the hog out, and they used to eat it. You’re hypocrites, all of you!”
01. Bob Harris
Lost in Translation (2003)
Happiness is a moment, not a lifestyle. You don’t get married to be happy forever, and you’re not happy forever because you’re married. That sobering knowledge suffocates Murray’s Bob Harris throughout Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation. As he shuffles aimlessly and disconnected through Tokyo’s frenetic life, Murray’s weathered apprehension and anchored silences embody the existential dilemma rearing its ugly head, even after he meets Scarlett Johannson’s amiable and youthful Charlotte.
“Let’s never come here again because it would never be as much fun,” she urges, summarizing not only their chance encounter, but that brief and rare respite from reality that inspires a smile. Murray eventually does, but it’s a restrained appreciation, which in turn feels so palpable and so real. Needless to say, this isn’t just top-notch Murray, it’s unprecedented Murray, a subtle, natural performance that proves why less is often so much more. We’re still shaking our heads at the Academy.
Choice Quote: “More than this…”