Ranked: Danny Boyle Films
Scene from Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
Danny Boyle is one of the most talented and unique directors to emerge on the filmmaking scene in the last thirty years – and maybe ever. His snappy yet detailed style always brings freshness to his stories, making a lot of his films stand the test of time. With the long-awaited release of the T2: Trainspotting trailer recently, I’ve decided to rank Boyle’s films from worst to best.
Cast: Cameron Diaz, Ewan McGregor, Holly Hunter, Delroy Lindo, Stanley Tucci, Ian Holm
IMDB Plot: Ewan McGregor stars as a cleaning man in L.A. who takes his boss’ daughter hostage after being fired and replaced by a robot. Two “angels” who are in charge of human relationships on earth, offer some unsolicited help to bring this unlikely couple together.
Boyle’s only meh entry among his filmography, A Life Less Ordinary is especially disappointing in knowing that it was released right after Trainspotting (1996). The whole thing strikes a weird and contrived balance from John Hodge’s script, and the chemistry between McGregor and Diaz is barely there. It also wastes a fine supporting cast, though Hunter and Lindo are occasionally amusing as angels. The film is proof that even the greatest directors can produce a misfire from time to time. Grade: C+
Cast: Alex Etel, James Nesbitt, Daisy Donovan
IMDB Plot: Ethics, being human and the soul come to the fore when a 7-year old finds a bag of Pounds just days before the currency is switched to Euros and learns what we are really made of.
Etel’s wonderful performance is the anchor of this solid but occasionally tedious Boyle film. It’s his only film that doesn’t have an R-rating, as it’s more of a family-friendly and candy-colored story — by screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce. In that sense, it may just be the most non-Boyle Boyle film. The movie is visually appealing and warm-hearted, and some rank it among the director’s best work. While I enjoy Millions and it is a good film, for my money Boyle has produced better cinematic explorations. Grade: B
Cast: James McAvoy, Rosario Dawson, Vincent Cassel
IMDB Plot: An art auctioneer who has become mixed up with a group of criminals partners with a hypnotherapist in order to recover a lost painting.
Boyle is a little on cruise control with some of his direction in Trance, yet the film still contains enough of his hyper-kinetic stamps that work. The three central performances are also really strong, especially in the case of Dawson – brilliant and sexy as ever. John Hodge and Joe Ahearne’s twisty and thrilling script has some “huh?” and ludicrous moments, but its focus on greed and hypnotherapy is intriguing. Plus Boyle’s usual cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle presents some gloriously vibrant images here. Grade: B+
Cast: Kerry Fox, Christopher Eccleston, Ewan McGregor
IMDB Plot: Three friends discover their new flatmate dead but loaded with cash.
One of Boyle’s darker and colder movies, Shallow Grave was the director’s feature debut and also an instant hit in Britain – though it didn’t put him on the international map. The movie has a few instances of smart, pitch-black comedic dialogue (courtesy of screenwriter John Hodge) and shows great promise from a young McGregor in terms of things to come in his career. The same goes for Boyle, who presents a sure hand with his direction here despite it being his debut. Grade: B+
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Virginie Ledoyen, Guillaume Canet, Robert Carlyle, Tilda Swinton
IMDB Plot: Twenty-something Richard travels to Thailand and finds himself in possession of a strange map. Rumours state that it leads to a solitary beach paradise, a tropical bliss – excited and intrigued, he sets out to find it.
Boyle’s most underrated film, and overlooked in general, The Beach is a fascinating piece based on Alex Garland’s game-changing novel – and again scripted by John Hodge. Does it become a bit muddled and deviate from the source material in terms of its characters’ sexual escapades? Yes. But The Beach still strikes a certain youthful, adventurous touch and features a complex performance by DiCaprio — and is an early sign of him shedding his pretty boy image for more complicated characters. The soundtrack, cinematography, and Swinton’s delicious performance are also remarkable. I’ve never understood the sting against this film from some people. Grade: B+
Cast: Cillian Murphy, Rose Byrne, Chris Evans, Mark Strong
IMDB Plot: A team of international astronauts are sent on a dangerous mission to reignite the dying Sun with a nuclear fission bomb in 2057.
The central premise of Sunshine is pretty ridiculous. But if you go along with the film, it actually provides some beautiful sci-fi images and exciting thrills. The whole cast is solid and the look is polished as Boyle seems confident in his handling despite it being his first major sci-fi effort. Bonuses: the tense story twist and John Murphy’s rich music score. Grade: B+
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen
IMDB Plot: Steve Jobs takes us behind the scenes of the digital revolution, to paint a portrait of the man at its epicenter. The story unfolds backstage at three iconic product launches, ending in 1998 with the unveiling of the iMac.
The combination of Aaron Sorkin dialogue with Danny Boyle direction in Steve Jobs is electrifying. The film moves at a rapid pace, with the story avoiding typical biopic trappings and instead remaining tight and effective. The choice by Boyle and cinematographer Alwin H. Küchler to shoot the three different eras in the story differently – with 16mm, 35mm, and digital – was a bold and brilliant idea. Boyle also gets a tremendous performance out of Fassbender here, one of the actor’s best. Grade: A-
Cast: James Franco, Amber Tamblyn, Kate Mara
IMDB Plot: An adventurous mountain climber becomes trapped under a boulder while canyoneering alone near Moab, Utah and resorts to desperate measures in order to survive.
Only a director like Boyle could make a story like the one in 127 Hours come to life with such vibrancy. The film mostly takes place in one location with one character, yet Boyle and lead actor Franco keep us hooked in this true-life tale of survival from beginning to end. The colors of the desert locations really pop as well, and kudos to the film for fitting the song “Ca Plane Pour Moi” into a memorable car party sequence. Grade: A-
Cast: Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris, Christopher Eccleston, Brendan Gleeson
IMDB Plot: Four weeks after a mysterious, incurable virus spreads throughout the UK, a handful of survivors try to find sanctuary.
28 Days Later is one of the most unique takes on the zombie sub-genre of horror, from the abandoned locations to the running zombies to the stark digital cinematography applied and more. The film felt like a return to the realism of early zombie pictures, just with more energy juiced in with Boyle’s creative hand. The London walk sequence and Murphy’s performance as Jim are just two of many unforgettable things Boyle’s picture has to offer. Grade: A
Cast: Dev Patel, Freida Pinto, Saurabh Shukla
IMDB Plot: A Mumbai teen reflects on his upbringing in the slums when he is accused of cheating on the Indian Version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?”
Epic and intimate, painful and feel-good, Slumdog Millionaire is a beautiful film from Boyle that manages to do many things at once. The romantic coming-of-age story feels fresh and lively from beginning to end, with Patel keeping the audience engaged at the center with his star-making performance. Only City of God (2002) and this film in the 2000s had an indescribable kind of filmmaking magic in terms of the way they utilized their locations and storytelling methods. Slumdog Millionaire wasn’t the best film of that decade, but it was certainly up there. Grade: A+
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle, Kelly Macdonald
IMDB Plot: Renton, deeply immersed in the Edinburgh drug scene, tries to clean up and get out, despite the allure of the drugs and influence of friends.
Boyle’s seminal film, Trainspotting reinvigorated British cinema in the mid-90s, made Boyle a top director, and launched McGregor and the supporting cast to stardom. And with good reason. From its memorable filmmaking methods and characters to its incredible soundtrack to its depiction of the harsh realities of drug use, the movie shines. Trainspotting both feels in synch with the rest of Boyle’s work but also like a one-of-a-kind triumph. “Choose life.” Grade: A+