Spike Jonze is a multi-talented fella who’s directed, acted, produced, and even served as cinematographer. Best known for his innovative music videos, he’s also made three feature films over a 20-year period, with each drawing critical acclaim. He co-owns a skateboard company, and he helped create the MTV prankster series Jackass. Fans of Three Kings may remember Jonze as Private First Class Conrad Vig, a shitheel soldier who wants to be just like Troy Barlow (Mark Wahlberg).
I’ve seen one of the Spike Jonze movies on this list so far, although I’m not opposed to seeing the others at some future date. I have also enjoyed a number of his music videos thanks to a nifty DVD compilation and the miracle of YouTube.
If you’ve yet to discover Spike Jonze, now’s your chance to jump on the bandwagon. And even if you’re familiar with his work, his diverse career almost ensures that you’ve missed something along the way.
Movies Directed by Spike Jonze
As of this writing, these are the three movies directed by Spike Jonze:
Being John Malkovich (1999) – This is the lone Spike Jonze movie that I’ve seen, and it didn’t disappoint. John Cusack plays a frustrated puppeteer who takes a job as a file clerk on the 7 ½ floor of an office building. When he uncovers a hidden portal in the wall, he enters and finds himself in the body of actor John Malkovich (playing himself). Before long, he and a co-worker (Catherine Keener) are selling tickets to those interested in walking a mile in Mr. Malkovich’s shoes, and his wife with transgendered leanings (Cameron Diaz) is using the actor as a vessel to carry on an affair. A bizarre tale of identity and the loss thereof, and I was especially amused by the appearance of Charlie Sheen (playing himself) as the friend who Malkovich turns to when he thinks he’s going crazy.
Adaptation (2002) – I haven’t watched this film yet, but I’ve seen more Nicolas Cage movies than I would care to admit, so I’m certain it will happen. Cage plays dual roles as writer Charlie Kaufman (who actually wrote the screenplay) and twin brother Donald Kaufman (who doesn’t exist in real life), as the former struggles with adapting the novel The Orchid Thief to the screen. Anyone who enjoys quality acting should consider this Oscar-winning film, as it features Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper, Brian Cox, and Maggie Gyllenhaal. On an interesting side note, Donald Kaufman was nominated along with his brother for Best Adapted Screenplay, making him the first fictional person to achieve such an honor.
Where the Wild Things Are (2009) – I loved the Maurice Sendak book as a child, but I’ve yet to see Jonze’s big-screen adaptation. Max Records stars as the kid who runs away to frolic with a group of fantastical beasts, and their voices are supplied by James Gandolfini, Chris Cooper, Forest Whitaker, Catherine O’Hara, Paul Dano, and Lauren Ambrose. If you consider watching this with your kids, just keep in mind that many critics noted the film’s dark nature and mature ideas.
Spike Jonze Music Videos
My friend Cliff once made a Christmas gift of The Work of Director Spike Jonze, a collection of music videos, short films, and documentaries. I’ve gotten a lot of enjoyment out of this present over the years, especially when it comes to the music video section. The following are all included in the collection, or you can be cheap and watch them for free on YouTube:
“Buddy Holly” (1994) – The band Weezer is inserted into footage from Happy Days, where they play a gig at Arnold’s Drive-In and interact with Fonzie and the rest of the gang.
“Feel the Pain” (1994) – J Mascis from Dinosaur Jr. plays a game of golf that stretches across the city.
“Sabotage” (1994) – A black-and-white tribute to cop shows from the 1970s, this video finds the Beastie Boys fighting crooks and enforcing law and order.
“California” (1995) – Throughout this song by Wax, a guy runs down the street on fire in slow motion.
“It’s Oh So Quiet” (1995) – Bjork has always had an oddball look and sound, and this video shot in a tire shop and filled with choreographed dancing only adds to her weirdness.
“Praise You” (1998) – Spike Jonze put on a disguise, gathered together the Torrance Community Dance Group, then delivered on an impromptu performance outside a movie theatre to the strains of Fatboy Slim. The people waiting in line for tickets never knew what hit them.
“Weapon of Choice” (2000) – The most famous video from Jonze, this is another collaboration with Fatboy Slim. Christopher Walken stars as a lonely hotel guest who starts dancing and soon begins to defy gravity. It won six Moonmen at the MTV Music Video Awards, and several polls have listed it as the greatest music video of all time.
If you’d like to view some later examples of Spike Jonze music videos, check out “Get Back,” where Ludacris and his comically oversized limbs throttle a guy in the bathroom; and “Don’t’ Play No Game That I Can’t Win,” in which the Beastie Boys engage in action and intrigue while being portrayed by action figures.
Spike Jonze has a unique vision, and this carries over to both Spike Jonze movies and Spike Jonze music videos. They’re not for everyone, of course, but anyone who’s watched MTV over the last 20 years should be familiar with some of his work (even if they don’t realize it). And thanks to his frequent cinematic collaborations with writer Charlie Kaufman, his motion pictures are intellectual affairs that maintain enough of a comedic edge and starpower to be enjoyed by the masses.