Mention Groundhog Day and anyone who loves movies will think of Bill Murray endlessly waking up to an alarm clock radio singing “I Got You Babe” rather than a reluctant rodent worrying about his shadow. As a TV news weatherman caught in an existential loop in the 1993 comedy, Groundhog Day, Murray left an indelible mark on the American imagination. His performance even changed the meaning of the term. In addition to being an event on February 2, Groundhog Day now means an unwanted situation that keeps repeating itself. The film’s concept has now been repeated in a variety of ways, including a 2004 Italian film, Stork Day, and a British musical (moving to Broadway this Spring). So this Groundhog Day, we celebrate Bill Murray, who became a comic treasure after getting his first laugh on Saturday Night Live.
Here are five remarkable Focus Features films he’s made––enough movies to wake up for an entire working week with the same face, different film. Our only fear is that if that Prognosticator of Prognosticators, Punxsutawney Phil, gains access to Murray’s films, he may never go outside to glimpse his shadow again.
Lost in Translation | For Exciting Times, Make it Bill Murray Time
When writer/director Sofia Coppola penned Lost in Translation, her sophomore feature about two Americans who find each other at the Park Hyatt Tokyo Hotel, she had only person in mind for the male lead––Bill Murray. “When I was writing it, I was picturing him and he really inspired it,” Coppola told The Daily Beast. “I wasn’t going to make the movie without him.”
In her film, Bob Harris is an older American actor who agrees to come to Tokyo to shoot a whiskey commercial after being offered an astronomical amount of money. There, he meets Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson), a young newlywed who has tagged along with her husband, a professional photographer on assignment.
In his review, “Bill at His Best,” Los Angeles Times’ Kenneth Turan places Murray’s performance in the pantheon of great comic turns. “Like Buster Keaton, his deadpan predecessor, Murray has a face that's tragically sad in repose, and the heroic way he copes with civilization's discontents makes you both laugh and shake your head in rueful empathy.” From sitting soulfully alone in his Tokyo hotel room to posing, James Bond-style, for Suntory whiskey, Murray makes every moment of screen time unforgettable. Come awards season, he won a Golden Globe and was nominated for an Academy Award for his masterful performance.
Watch Lost Translation on iTunes
“That balance of mischief and melancholy––that’s Bill Murray.”
Broken Flowers | A Deadpan Movie that Quivers with Feeling
In his 2005 Broken Flowers, Jim Jarmusch found the perfect actor to express his deadpan cinematic style. Here Murray is cast as Don Johnston, an over-the-hill Don Juan in search of a lost love. After getting an anonymous letter letting him know that he is the father of an unknown 19-year-old son, Murray takes a road trip to find the mystery child’s mother. In visiting four of his old flames––Sharon Stone, Frances Conroy, Tilda Swinton, and Jessica Lange––Murray maps out a portrait of his life, as well as gains a vision of the future he might have had.
Jarmusch, who’d witnessed Murray’s amazing talent when he cast him in his 2002 Coffee and Cigarettes, knew what the actor could do. “I wanted to create a character where he wasn’t reliant on things we expect or know or appreciate from Bill Murray––his ability to make things hilarious,” Jarmusch tells Cinema.com. “I wanted that other side; he’s always had that balance of mischief and melancholy––that’s Bill Murray. It’s that very rare thing he has.”
For Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers, the film’s “mix of humor and heartbreak brings out the best in Murray.” And Murray’s stony-faced comedy aligns with Jarmusch’s minimalist style so as to amplify and animate both their talents, creating, as Slate’s David Edelstein calls it, “a deadpan movie that quivers with feeling.”
Watch Broken Flowers on iTunes.
The Limits of Control | A mystery with Bill Murray at its center
Bill Murray teamed back up with Jim Jarmusch for his 2009 international thriller, The Limits of Control, an offbeat adventure about a hit man called the Lone Man (Isaach De Bankole). Here, Murray is part of remarkable ensemble that includes Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, and Gael Garcia Bernal, all pieces of a complex puzzle of espionage and intrigue that may––or may not––have an answer.
Describing the film’s aesthetic to Britain’s The Telegraph, Jarmusch explains, “I like to make action movies, just without any action.” In the film, the Lone Man hunts down clues against the sun-drenched Spanish landscape, until he finally meets up with Bill Murray, an ominous figure that is, as The Village Voice points out, “identified as “The American" and channeling Donald Rumsfeld.”
In the end, solving the mystery proves less essential than enjoying the search. “Visually mesmerizing, sonically splendid, The Limits of Control is as much about an artist and his muses as it is about the crime story that oh-so-meticulously unfolds,” explains The Denver Post’s Lisa Kennedy.
Watch The Limits of Control on iTunes.
“He's the one that I'm most likely to describe as a genius.”
Moonrise Kingdom | An Enchanted Relationship
In Wes Anderson’s magical Moonrise Kingdom, Bill Murray plays the befuddled Mr. Bishop. His and Mrs. Bishop’s lives (Frances McDormand) are turned upside down where their daughter, Suzy (Kara Hayward), runs off with the orphaned boy, Sam (Jared Gilman), to find to a better life on the other side of the island. Murray joins an extraordinary cast, including McDormand, Bruce Willis, Tilda Swinton, and Edward Norton, who serve as the adults in this childhood romance.
Murray was one of Anderson’s first choices in assembling his dream team. After having worked with him in nearly all his films, Anderson tells The Telegraph, “He's the one that I'm most likely to describe as a genius.” But even more they have similar creative instincts. “Murray is always right for a role in an Anderson film,” suggested Roger Ebert. “And I wonder if it's because they share a bemused sadness.”
Indeed Murray not only acts in the film but steps up to be its spokesman in a special Focus Features behind-the-scenes video. Anderson admits to Vanity Fair that he casts Murray partially out of selfish reasons: “For me, getting to work with him all of these years, what could be better than that?”
Watch Moonrise Kingdom on iTunes.
Bill Murray Makes History
In Roger Michell’s 2012 Hyde Park On Hudson, Bill Murray plays President Franklin Delano Roosevelt during a special weekend in 1939. King George VI (Samuel West) and Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Colman) visit Hyde Park, NY, Roosevelt’s country retreat, to forge a new alliance on the eve of World War II. During the weekend, Roosevelt juggles the royals, his complex marriage to Eleanor (Olivia Williams), and a burgeoning relationship with a local confidant, Daisy (Laura Linney).
It was not an obvious choice to cast a man known for comedy to play the man who changed the course of modern history. Colman, who remembers “acting with Bill Murray [as] a dream come true,” was quick to notice the similarities between the two leaders: “People adored FDR’s wit, kindness, and generosity, and that seemed to fit rather nicely with Bill.”
Many critics also saw the resemblance between the two men. Calling Hyde Park on Hudson “funny, believable, historic and hugely entertaining,” The Observer’s Rex Reed notes how perfectly Murray “channels the enormous humanity and popularity of the only U.S. president to be elected three times in a row with quotable one-liners and enchanting grace.”
Watch Hyde Park on Hudson on iTunes.