Tom Waits’ good taste in films is self-evident. On the record, the iconic singer/songwriter is a lover of everything from Federico Fellini to Babe: Pig In The City. Waits has become a cinematic regular, often playing, if not a version of himself, then a kind of sly tribute to his popular songwriting alter ego, mostly due to his unique cultural character.
Tom Waits’ music has always had a cinematic quality to it. Perhaps it’s because the best Waits songs have a film director’s attention to detail. Maybe it’s because Waits is and always has been a natural storyteller.
So, without further ado… Tom Waits, the one, the only, the great Tom Waits, has given us eight of our finest film performances.
1. Rumble Fish (1983)
Director- Francis Ford Coppola
Cornered Rusty James, a juvenile hoodlum living for the moment, is inspired by faded recollections of a history he never knew, while living with the ashen ghost of Motorcycle Boy—his missing brother and a criminal prince in self-exile. Indeed, Rusty James seemed doomed to spend the rest of his life in the shadow of his brother, attempting to carve out an identity amidst savage brawls, weak allegiances, and equally worthless friendships. The renowned prince of the vicious Packers gang then reappears, and Rusty is overjoyed. Rusty’s golden opportunity to prove his worth has finally arrived, and no one can stop him from achieving his fate. However, life is brutal to both saints and sinners.
2. Down By Law (1986)
Director- Jim Jarmusch
Laurette breaks up with her lover, DJ Zack a.k.a. Lee Baby Simms, in Louisiana after an argument. Zack is upset, so he consumes alcohol on the street, and his friend Preston offers him US$ 1,500 to drive him to the other side of town in a Jaguar. However, there is one issue: a man is imprisoned in the car’s trunk. Zack is apprehended and imprisoned in the Orleans Parish Jail. Meanwhile, the pimp Jack is framed by a friend, captured, and imprisoned with Zack. When an Italian named Roberto, a.k.a. Bob, who doesn’t speak much English, joins them in the same cell, the three form an odd bond. Bob suggests a way to get out of jail.
3. Bram Stroker’s Dracula (1992)
Director- Francis Ford Coppola
Vlad III Dracula, the formidable monarch of fifteenth-century Romania, has unjustly tasted the unbearable anguish of personal loss while drunk with victory over the Ottomans’ vast forces. More than four centuries later, in late-nineteenth-century London, a successful real-estate deal combined with fate’s cruel irony brings the Transylvanian Count and nature’s eternal abomination in search of a woman who bears an uncanny resemblance to Dracula’s late wife—the delicately beautiful Mina. With Mina’s young solicitor fiancé, Jonathan Harker, imprisoned in the vampiric aristocrat’s impregnable castle, defenceless victims fall prey to his unquenchable bloodlust, as the undeterred vampire assassin, Professor Abraham Van Helsing, resolves to eliminate Dracula’s reign. Vlad was cursed by love once to roam among the living for the rest of his life.
4. Short Cuts (1993)
Director- Robert Altman
In this film based on Raymond Carver’s stories, a slew of loosely connected characters meet paths. Doreen Piggot (Lily Tomlin), a waitress, inadvertently hits a boy with her automobile. The toddler falls into a coma shortly after walking away. The boy’s granddad (Jack Lemmon) tells his son, Howard (Bruce Davison), about his prior indiscretions while they are both in the hospital. Meanwhile, when the family fails to pick up the boy’s birthday cake, a baker (Lyle Lovett) begins pestering them.
5. Coffee And Cigarettes (2003)
Director- Jim Jarmusch
There are eleven different vignettes to choose from. Celebrities play semi-fictionalized versions of themselves in each film, which takes place in a food service establishment with coffee/tea and cigarettes. Beyond the topic of conversation that brought them together, they frequently discuss coffee and cigarettes, more often than not implying that coffee and cigarettes, and by extension caffeine and nicotine, are unhealthy, especially if they are the only foods consumed at lunch. The Lee family, cousinhood, celebrity worship, the relationship between medical and musical vocations, and Nikola Tesla’s theory that the Earth is an acoustic conductor are all reoccurring themes. In all cases, getting together for coffee/tea and cigarettes serves as a bridge to overcome disagreements and/or makes unpleasant situations less so.
6. Seven Psychopaths (2012)
Director- Martin McDonagh
In this grim comedy by Martin McDonagh, three pals face the wrath of a vicious L.A. criminal who kidnaps his cherished Shih Tzu. Marty, an aspiring screenwriter, has a fantastic script called Seven Psychopaths floating about in his head, but he’s generally too hungover to work on it. Meanwhile, Marty’s best friend Billy has some amazing tale ideas, but he is hesitant to share them without being asked. Billy, a down-on-his-luck actor, pays his rent by collaborating with Hans on a successful dog-napping scheme. Marty begins to fear that all of his ideas have dried up just as he becomes frustrated. However, Billy arrives with a cute Shih Zhu he snatched from a tyrannical mobster, and a frantic trek into the desert finds the ideas flowing like a free bar.
7. The Old Man & the Gun (2018)
Director- David Lowery
Forrest Tucker may not appear to be a lifelong criminal, an experienced escape artist, and a master bank robber. Tucker’s foolproof approach relies on his immaculate sense of clothes, his strong belief in never resorting to violence, being nice, and robbing just enough money, all while wearing a wide smile on his lips. After a successful theft, Forrest meets Jewel, a lady in distress, by happenstance, and the two establish an innocent connection. However, devoted Forrest and his team have already attracted the attention of Detective Hunt, who sets out on a mission to track down and apprehend the robbers.
8. Licorice Pizza (2021)
Director- Paul Thomas Anderson
1973, San Fernando Valley. Alana Kane, a tired 25-year-old photographer’s assistant, is unwillingly persuaded to go out for a drink with bright 15-year-old child actor Gary Valentine, her unexpected admirer, after being taken aback by his reckless confidence and astonishing maturity. The platonic soulmates embark on ambitious business initiatives as one thing leads to another, attempting to find their feet and purpose in a wild world. But, in the midst of life’s ups and downs, will Gary and Alana maintain their friendship?