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Nicolas Cage at his finest

A still from Leaving Las Vegas, the 1995

A still from Leaving Las Vegas, the 1995 film starring Nicolas Cage. Photo Credit: Leaving Las Vegas

He's been the subject of several memes and viral videos and an extended "Saturday Night Live" parody. These days, he's better known for gleefully over-acting and scraping the bottom of the B-movie barrel than his Oscar win for "Leaving Las Vegas."'

Sean Penn once derided him as a "performer" rather than "an actor."

But Nicolas Cage is a legitimately great talent, not just an object of pop-cultural fascination or a vessel for action movie schlock. For proof of Cage's enduring appeal, check out his starring role in "Joe," a new film from David Gordon Green hitting theaters Friday. It's his best work in years.

These are some past performances that also showcase this one-of-a-kind talent at his best:

H.I. McDunnough, "Raising Arizona" (1987)

Cage is such a perfect actor for the Coen Brothers that it's surprising this off-kilter black comedy about a couple kidnapping a wealthy baby remains their only collaboration.

Peter Loew, "Vampire's Kiss" (1989)

Yeah, yeah, this is over-the-top Cage at his most over-the-top, but it's also a sterling example of cinematic performance art, in which the star transforms a mundane modern-day neo-vampire flick into the stuff of jaw-dropping, hilarious legend.

Ben Sanderson, "Leaving Las Vegas" (1995)

The actor deservedly won an Oscar for his brilliant work at the heart of Mike Figgis' bleak film about a man drinking himself to death in Las Vegas. It's a performance rife with incalculable pain and despair.

Charlie Kaufman/Donald Kaufman, "Adaptation" (2002)

Cage plays the screenwriter's alter ego (and his "twin") in this self-reflexive film from Charlie Kaufman and Spike Jonze, earning an Oscar nomination for embodying the character's complex neuroses.

David Spritz, "The Weather Man" (2005)

The actor has always had a knack for dark comedy and he masters the put-upon, regular-guy weather man suffering personal crises on multiple fronts in this Gore Verbinski film.

Terence McDonagh, "Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans" (2009)

Werner Herzog, a masterful portrayer of madness, is another ideal Cage collaborator. The duo finally worked together on this re-imagining of the 1992 film "Bad Lieutenant" and the result is an oddball effort that gets the essence of the hothouse Louisiana setting.

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