The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced yesterday that James Earl Jones will receive an honorary Oscar this year. For many tinseltown pundits, an honorary Oscar is the equivalent of an over-the-pants-hand-job — a mere token gesture — for decades of hard work. While we suppose the honorary Oscar is nothing to sneeze at, shouldn't he, as Peter O'Toole quipped about his own Honorary, “still win the bugger outright?”
We hope so. At least now Mr. Jones is one award shy of the much-coveted EGOT…let's just get him a Grammy and call it a day…jeeze…even Al Gore has a Grammy now.
While Mr. Jones' stellar reputation as a booming baritone is certainly deserved: he's done some spine-crumbling voiceovers with Darth Vader and The Lion King's Mustafa, his voice is even engrained in the brains of CNN addicts (“This is CNN”), east-coasters from all those collect calls they used to make back in the stone ages (“Welcome to Bell Atlantic.”) and he's narrated more documentaries than Sam Waterston. But…he's also kicked some ass in front of the camera, too.
Grammy or no, in honor of his recent honorary honor, here are five of JEJ's badass onscreen roles:
A black man becomes the US President!? WTF!? That's crazy talk. This wasn't Jones' first foray into high fantasy/sci fi and it wouldn't be his last. Forget being elected outright — apparently, in the '70s, it would have taken an epic accident for a black man to become president. Jones nails the role of a Senate Pro Tem who gets thrust into the dizzying world of racial politics and presidential succession. Jones, er Dilman 2012!
4. Cry, the Beloved Country (1995), Rev. Stephen Kumalo
Ok, so the movie's soundtrack is almost too Enya-heavy to be associated with anything “badass” “fierce” or “hard-core”…but Jones does play a black preacher in apartheid South Africa. Jones' character's steadfast fierceness in the face of all that social and political ugliness surely cancels out any and all Enya-ness.
3. Dr. Strangelove (1964), Lt. Lothar Zogg
So, it's really Jones' first onscreen role and his character has few lines, spending only a fraction of the movie onscreen, he does pilot a B-52 on its way to nuke the Russkies and thus destroy the entire planet. That's pretty goddamn badass. One of his only lines? “Hey, where'd Major Kong go?” Well, we all know where Major Kong went, right? He also deserves some awesome points for having a supervillain's name.
2. The Great White Hope (1970), Jack Jefferson
This is the one that almost nabbed him a real Oscar statue, and deservedly so. Reprising his Tony-winning role for the screen, Jones' portrayal of not-Jack Johnson gives Vader a run for his money as the baddest, blackest man in the galaxy. “Hey, look, man, I ain't fighting for no race, I ain't redeeming nobody. My mama told me Mr. Lincoln done that. Ain't that why you shot him?” the boxer snaps at a reporter.
1. Conan the Barbarian (1982), Thulsa Doom
There are few things as hard-core as a sword-wielding religious cult leader who can also turn into a snake. Not only does Jones' orgy-crazed cultist dine on human flesh and slaughter entire tribes of people in furry underwear, he does it with the dulcet dialogue that might make you actually follow him. Plus, look at that killer haircut…
While it's not onscreen and its all voice-over, one of the internet's's cleverest clever asses, Steven Frailey, pulled-out an awesome tribute to Jones a few years ago called the Vader Sessions. Its re-dubs some choice Star Wars scenes with even more choice JEJ lines from the past. Here's a shortened version:
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