The Reel Dad’s seven favorite Billy Crystal movies
For years, he was “Mister Movies.” In the late 1980s and 1990s - as Billy Crystal rode a crest of success on the big screen - he also led the celebration each year as the host of the Academy Awards. From 1990, he captured the magic of the movies over eight Oscars, always stopping the show with his musical rendition of the Best Picture contenders.
During the same years, he was a box office sensation, capitalizing on his engaging personality as well as a strong ability to reach beyond a character’s surface. Here are my seven favorite Billy Crystal characters from the movies. Watching him soar in “Standing Up, Falling Down” makes me want to experience all of them again.
Larry in “Throw Momma from the Train” (1987)
As an author suffering writer’s block, Crystal perfectly captures all the anxiety that anyone dependent on words can experience. The actor walks that fine line between comedy and tragedy as he engages in behavior that many could find unacceptable. But Crystal always manages to convince us that, despite what he may do, he’s still a good guy.
Harry in “When Harry Met Sally” (1989)
As a man who resists the urge to fall in love with his best friend, Crystal delivers one of the most precise performances seen in romantic comedy. With the nuance of a dramatic actor, he connects the various time periods in the story to create one of the most enduring examples of this genre. And he makes us believe, for this moment, that he can do just about anything on screen.
Mitch in “City Slickers” (1991)
As an advertising executive experiencing all the joys of a mid-life crisis, Crystal conveys the aspirations of a generation while exploring undiscovered regions of the land and himself. Beautifully partnered with Jack Palance - who won an Oscar as a cowboy named Curly - Crystal makes us all want to take off on that path to discover the “one thing” we may be missing.
Buddy in “Mister Saturday Night” (1992)
As a comic trying to keep a career fresh, Crystal creates a multi-layered portrayal that, at the time, didn’t connect with movie audiences. Perhaps he tried too hard to show the actor he can be; perhaps this story of failure and attempted redemption was considered too heavy for an actor most appealing for making people smile. Still, it’s an interesting performance to appreciate.
Mickey in “Forget Paris” (1995)
As a referee for the NBA - an unlikely role, perhaps, for Crystal to create - the actor brings his familiar sense of hesitation to a romantic comedy that features Debra Winger at her most engaging, too. Together, the two find just the right way to make a far-fetched story of undiscovered feelings and confusing identities come together in a cohesive way.
Jack in “Father’s Day” (1997)
As a self-confident attorney with an edge, Crystal should have hit box office gold playing opposite Robin Williams in a comedy filled with possibilities. Both actors are in fine form as opposites who each learn they may have fathered the same young man. Crystal’s brittle interpretation is just right for an arrogant man avoiding sentiment. But the movie flopped.
Dr. Sobel in “Analyze This” (1999)
As a psychiatrist who accidentally gets involved with the underworld, Crystal makes the most of his ability to communicate panic on screen. As his patient, Robert DeNiro, tries to explore his own anxieties, Crystal walks that fine line between revealing too much about a character while sustaining enough mystery to keep us watching.
How lucky we are to, again, get the chance to savor a Billy Crystal film on screen. What a career he has. Thanks, Billy, for the new movie and all the old ones.