subject: Jim Carrey
overview: Most people don't know this, but Jim Carrey started acting in the early 1980s. Of course, like everyone else I didn't notice him until 1994's Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, in which he mugged his way through an entire movie while sometimes talking through his butt (it remained a signature image for years, even though he pretty much retired it with that film, by the way). Everyone was talking about Ace Ventura that year. My family finally got around to watching it, and it became another of our obsessions (we tended to obsess over movies), and for some reason, like Star Trek, I took the obsession deeper than the rest of my siblings. I made a commitment.
Of course, Carrey helped everyone else become pretty obsessed with him that year, also having massive success with The Mask and Dumb and Dumber, which amounted to such an odd confluence of events, given as I said that he'd been making movies for years and never come close to popularity before. Famously, he got into the funny business because his parents were poor and he'd come up with routines to try and make them smile. This led him to Hollywood and early efforts like 1981's Rubberface (rereleased like it was a big deal after he finally broke out) and the short-lived TV series The Duck Factory. Once Bitten was probably his first major movie, while Peggy Sue Got Married and Earth Girls Are Easy were equally unlikely attempts to associate him with romantic material. Carrey was a regular on In Living Color (he was the white guy), which probably gave him greater exposure than everything he'd done in his first decade of acting combined.
He began to stretch himself earlier than most people would retroactively suspect, appearing in the final Dirty Harry movie, 1988's The Dead Pool (and thus the origin of a Clint Eastwood impression he'd bring to Bruce Almighty years later), and a dramatic TV movie called Doing Time on Maple Drive, which I would actually watch in a science class (it's about addiction and general family depression).
Another mark of distinction in my family's experience with Carrey was the semester my brother spent watching Liar Liar over and over again (yes, obsessively). Liar Liar is the movie Carrey did so everyone would forget about The Cable Guy, his first early relative flop since the Ace Ventura breakthrough.
Still, it was me who took on the reins of Jim Carrey fandom. He was basically responsible for making me a semi-regular patron of movie theaters, starting with 1995's Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls. If he starred in it, I needed to see it, and he's someone who still has a hard time disappointing me. I even enjoyed his Capra flick The Majestic, which was the first time a dramatic effort failed to impress critics. Of course, everyone loved The Truman Show, because The Truman Show is easy to love, and it's not only one of Carrey's best, but one of the best movies ever, period. Man on the Moon, the last great bit of Andy Kaufman sleight-of-hand, is one of Carrey's most inspired moments. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is another not-just-great-Jim-Carrey-film.
Right around the time he reached a decade from the start of his popular career, Carrey found himself easy to be taken for granted again, and yet he's been rolling right along, just as interested as ever in finding the offbeat slice of humanity in every role Hollywood has to offer him. He's a true original.
Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994) Ridiculously quotable (and the reason anyone will remember Dan Marino decades from now) and an instant classic character, this movie also has Courtney Cox's last notable appearance before Friends.
The Mask (1994) For some reason, one of the first movies to employ CGI on a more regular basis used it to enhance Carrey's comic performance, as if he needed the help. But it's oversized fun and introduces Cameron Diaz. What more do you need to know?
Batman Forever (1995) It might be argued that it was Joel Schumacher who ruined this era of Batman flicks, but Jim Carrey, who turned the entire third movie into another personal spotlight. How could the Dark Knight possibly hope to keep up with him?
The Cable Guy (1996) Much better than its reputation suggests.
Liar Liar (1997) The first movie where it's obvious everyone knows just how huge a star Carrey really is. Also fun to see Maura Tierney and Cary Elwes in supporting roles, and please stick around for the credits, because the outtakes are as hilarious as the movie.
The Truman Show (1998) For years my absolute favorite movie, and has remaining in contention ever since. Practically perfect in every way.
Man on the Moon (1999) In case there was any doubt that Truman Show was a fluke, Carrey does this as a follow-up. He's the only actor who could possibly have done Andy Kaufman justice.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000) A huge hit at the time, although you'd never guess it now, probably because people finally realized that it was a little odd that it wasn't Seuss who left the lasting impression, but Jim Carrey. So pretty much Batman Forever all over again.
The Majestic (2001) Funny fact: Laurie Holden, who's currently starring in The Walking Dead, is Carrey's love interest in this (I'd previously enjoyed her in the short-lived Magnificent Seven TV series). I actually unabashedly love this one, just as memorable as any Frank Darabont movie, and still a darkhorse contender for Carrey's best.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) Then again, so is this one. This is how you keep your rabid fans, folks.
Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004) Carrey steals this the same way he stole Batman Forever and How the Grinch Stole Christmas. If it's a franchise, he will be bigger than the franchise. So, look out Kick Ass 2.
Fun with Dick and Jane (2005) Possibly his last great outright comedy, a recession movie well before the recession actually hit.
Yes Man (2008) A classic Jim Carrey comedy, which is something he does every now and then. This one co-stars Zooey Deschanel!
I Love You Phillip Morris (2009) Blending drama and comedy in another movie that defies expectations.
A Christmas Carol (2009) The most unlikely Scrooge ever does it animated.