Nicolas Cage Drew On Every Past Performance For The Unbearable Weight Of Massive Talent

Of the many Oscar snubs in 2022, few were more surprising that Nicolas Cage missing out on a Best Actor nod for "Pig." The drama about a hotshot chef turned solitary truffle hunter searching for his kidnapped pig was one of the best-reviewed movies of 2021, with /Film's Chris Evangelista calling it "beautiful" and "extraordinary" in his glowing writeup. It also has Cage giving one of his finest and most subdued performances in a film to date.

Perhaps Cage being snubbed for "Pig" was the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' way of punishing him for all those direct-to-video, low-budget genre movies he made from 2014 to 2019. Their ranks include "Pay the Ghost," "The Humanity Bureau," and "A Score to Settle," among other films you've likely never heard of, much less seen. It's no mystery as to why the Oscar-winner made those movies, either. Tales of Cage's debts are a saga unto themselves, with purchases that include multiple castles, a dinosaur skull, and the resources to undertake a hunt for the Holy Grail.

Far from denying these stories, Cage has embraced his extravagant spending as part of his larger-than-life artistic persona. He's also been open about his reasons for taking on so many straight-to-video projects, citing his need to ward off the IRS while at the same time keep his mother from being committed to a mental institution. In an interview with the New York Times, Cage argued that even in the worst of cases, these low-budget films gave him a chance to continue refining his craft.

'I kept practicing and honing'

In his new film, "The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent," Cage plays a fictional version of himself who gets caught up in a wild escapade involving a wealthy super-fan (Pedro Pascal) and the CIA. While promoting the meta-action-comedy, Cage has been keen to set the record straight regarding his direct-to-video era. The actor has insisted he never phoned his performance in on any of these projects, no matter how schlocky the final product. He once again reiterated this claim while speaking to the New York Times:

"I want to go on record with something. Whatever this perception or aura that the internet or certain critical bodies in the media may have taken, there is an actual fact, in my opinion: Whatever I had to do to get out of debt, I did it with the same level of commitment I always had."

Despite the sheer number of movies he worked on from 2014 to 2019, Cage has insisted that he was always thoughtful about the films he chose to work on, selecting only those he felt he could engage with creatively. In fact, as he sees it, his output during these years are the only reason he was able to play "himself" in "Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent":

"I stand by the work, and if in this movie there were sendups of it, like, 'What happened to you?' the fact is that I was able to play 'Nick Cage' the way I did because I never stopped working. I kept practicing and honing. I feel closer to my muse and my instrument now than I ever have."

Cage never 'went' anywhere

I can't speak to the quality of films like "Pay the Ghost" and "The Humanity Bureau," dear readers, having not seen them. I can, however, say Cage has never given less than 100 percent in any movie I've watched. "Trapped in Paradise," "The Family Man," "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" — there are so many films Cage has elevated with his acting. That's to say nothing of his work on bonafide classics or even gonzo, go-for-broke pictures like "The Wicker Man" and "Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance."

More than that, Cage was always on my radar in the 2010s, be it for his under-appreciated work in the 2014 drama "Joe" or his reunion with "Spirit of Vengeance" co-director Brian Taylor on the 2018 horror-comedy "Mom and Dad." His recent voice acting shouldn't be overlooked either, least of all his role as Superman in "Teen Titans GO! To the Movies" (a film that nods to his own near-brush with playing the Man of Steel in live-action) or his channeling of Humphrey Bogart as Spider-Man Noir in "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse." Indeed, these particular animated movies marked the start of the Cage-aissance as much as his oft-cited comeback vehicle, "Mandy."

The very idea of a Cage "comeback" suggests he went somewhere in the first place. It's an idea a growing number of film journalists have rejected (myself included) and is even the subject of a running gag in "The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent." Every time someone in the movie tells Cage he's "back," he quickly replies, "Not that I went anywhere." Can't argue with him there.

"The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent" is now playing in theaters.