best film:  For a short window of time – from 1995 to 1999 –  Kevin Spacey was as good as it gets. That run starts with both Se7en and The Usual Suspects in 1995. This means that in one single year, Kevin Spacey brought both John Doe and Verbal Kint to life. L.A. Confidential, a towering crime saga – followed just a few years later, and then Spacey’s run ended in 1999 with Sam Mendes’ impressive debut, American Beauty. It is Fincher’s film that is the best. The entire film is leading up to Spacey as John Doe – and then John Doe appears – the results do not disappoint.


Roger Ebert changed his grade from a 3.5 to a 4 stars over the years and it is in his collection “great movies”. Ebert calls Se7en “one of the darkest and most merciless films ever made in the Hollywood mainstream”. He also says, on Kevin Spacey, and he is spot on – “The film essentially depends on him, and would go astray if the actor faltered. He doesn’t.” A character built up and talked about the entire movie must live up to the hype as Ebert says and Spacey kills it here. Other examples of this clearly working are Apocalypse Now with Marlon Brando as Colonel Walter E. Kurtz and The Third Man with Orson Welles as Harry Lime.  Spacey’s chilling performance would be termed revelatory – if The Usual Suspects had not just hit theaters about a month before in 1995. Joe Doe should be right next to Hannibal Lector in cinema history.


best performance: There are as many as three (3) correct answers here and this is category is more closely contested than the category above where Fincher’s film wins out. Se7en needs a big performance for that John Doe role and Spacey is absolutely up to the challenge. In both The Usual Suspects and American Beauty – Spacey is asked to take his characters through quite a radical change (or at least fake it in The Usual Suspects) – going from an everyman who is supposed to be sort of common and overlooked (and underestimated). He is the storyteller in both films (both Oscar wins for Spacey). In The Usual Suspects, Spacey’s Verbal Kint pervades both aspects of the film – the forward moving narrative in the flashbacks, and the question-and-answer scenes with Chazz Palminteri. This may help break the three-way tie here.


“The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist” is just one of the lines Christopher McQuarrie’s screenplay gives to Spacey as Verbal Kint.


stylistic innovations/traits:   Kevin Spacey has ten (10) films in the archives – doing most of his damage while he was in his forties during the 1990s.  Spacey’s fourth (4th) best performance is really the only one that is not debatable – it is his work as Jack Vincennes in L.A. Confidential and he is stellar here. Those top tier three (3) performances are definitely his best three (3) performances and they are largely interchangeable, and that fifth (5th) spot below could substituted with Spacey’s work in Margin Call (2011). Spacey’s peak is tough to top. Take a quick look at Spacey’s contemporary Daniel Day-Lewis (DDL is just two years older). Before and after 1995 and 1999 there is no contest – Day-Lewis has had the far better career. But if you were to carve out a few years in the middle, right in their prime, Spacey has The Usual Suspects, Se7en, A Time to Kill, L.A. Confidential, Hurlyburly, and American Beauty. In that same stretch, DDL has The Crucible and The Boxer as far as the archives go. It is just so fascinating on how some actors get hot like that for a few years. Spacey could be both a commanding screen presence – and an actor with some versality. Another fun exercise is to picture Spacey in each of the roles in Glengarry Glen Ross. Now, that film, specifically because of David Mamet’s writing, is very actor friendly in general. But still, Spacey would have prospered in any of the roles. He could pull of the cool ease of Al Pacino’s Ricky Roma – the desperation of Jack Lemmon’s (Kevin Spacey’s acting hero) Shelley Levene. There is little doubt that Spacey could have come in and been brilliant for that big Blake monologue from Alec Baldwin.


Spacey as Jack Vincennes in L.A. Confidential. This is a film with enough room for standout performances from not only Spacey, but Russell Crowe as Bud White, Guy Pearce as Ed Exley, and Kim Basinger as Lynn Bracken


directors worked with: Mike Nichols (1), David Fincher (1), Sam Mendes (1), Edgar Wright (1)


top five performances:

  1. The Usual Suspects
  2. Se7en
  3. American Beauty
  4. L.A. Confidential
  5. Glengarry Glen Ross


archiveable films

1988- Working Girl
1992- Glengarry Glen Ross
1995- Se7en
1995- The Usual Suspects
1996- A Time to Kill
1997- L.A. Confidential
1998- Hurly Burly
1999- American Beauty
2011- Margin Call
2017- Baby Driver