Feature: The Top 9 Films of Director Danny Boyle

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3. “Trainspotting” (1996)


Before “Slumdog,” this was the picture that Boyle was most renowned for. Critics credited it with revitalizing the British film industry, drawing comparisons to everyone from Scorsese and Tarantino. Is the film as great as everyone claims? You bet your rupees it is. This may still be Boyle’s most effortlessly engaging film of his career, a cinematic shot of adrenaline conveying the ecstasy and anxiety of a drug-fueled existence. It’s over before you know it, and is guaranteed to leave you buzzed for days. Scottish author Irvine Welsh’s immensely popular novel served as the source material for John Hodge’s magnificent script, which follows a ragtag group of Edinburgh heroin addicts in the late 1980s, led by brooding antihero Mark Renton, played by Ewan McGregor in an electrifying star turn. He’s well-matched by a fantastic ensemble that includes the fearsome Robert Carlyle (evoking the short-tempered volatility of Joe Pesci), the terminally befuddled Ewen Bremner, and the beguiling Kelly Macdonald in her film debut. The circular pattern of addiction is mirrored in the film’s plot structure and frenetic pace, as it jumps from one scene to the next, allowing each moment to appear both crucial and trivial. Since the characters are often numb to the realities of their existence, the film refuses to dramatize events in a conventional sense. Boyle finds endlessly inventive ways to allow the audience to share in the characters’ extreme highs and lows. “Trainspotting” bristles with raw sexuality and heightened surrealism, explosive joy and deep sadness. There’s an unforgettable moment when Renton injects himself with a drug that causes him to fall through a coffin-shaped hole in the floor, while Lou Reed croons “Perfect Day.” It’s the perfect visually poetic expression of how choosing a life dependent on drugs is the same thing as choosing death.

2. “127 Hours” (2010)

127 Hours

While “Trainspotting” was about the easy escape of choosing death, Boyle’s latest film is about the challenge of choosing life against unthinkable odds. Never has a film by Boyle been so thoroughly justified in its hope and uplift, since the film is based on an astonishing true story chronicled in Aron Ralston’s memoir, “Between a Rock and a Hard Place.” Ralston was mountain climbing in a Utah canyon when his right forearm became pinned between a boulder and the canyon wall for nearly five days. In the hands of a different director, the film could’ve become either an excruciatingly claustrophobic drama like “Gerry” or an exploitative thriller on the order of “Saw.” Though there have been reports of fainting during “127 Hours,” they are most likely the result of the film’s incredibly visceral camerawork and sound design than any amount of onscreen gore. Reuniting with many of his “Slumdog” collaborators, Boyle has succeeded in making a film that is even more inspiring than his previous effort, and in many ways, more terrifying than “28 Days Later.” As Ralston, James Franco delivers an extraordinary performance that instantly cements his status as one of the best leading men in the business. He exudes Ralston’s ironic wit, which remains alive and well during even the most tortuous moments. There’s a great comic monologue fueled by self-loathing that Ralston delivers to his camcorder (which functions like Wilson in “Cast Away”), where he curses himself for failing to tell anyone where he was going, and for being in too much of a hurry to undergo a decent search for his pocketknife. Screenwriter Simon Beaufoy, as well as cinematographers Anthony Dod Mantle and Enrique Chediak, do a wonderful job of opening up the story without ever allowing the tension to dissipate. Boyle has always directly utilized the camera to literally view the world through the eyes and psyche of his characters, and since this film focuses solely on Ralston, it emerges as Boyle’s most intimate and fully realized character study.

1. “Millions” (2004)


Now that “Slumdog” has endeared the global moviegoing public to Danny Boyle, here’s the film that deserves to be rediscovered. It flew under most moviegoers’ radar back in 2004, and has since then drifted into obscurity. “Millions” is not only the best and most emotionally resonant film of Boyle’s career, but it may also be his most personal, drawing on the filmmaker’s own Catholic upbringing for inspiration. The plot is an ingenious variation on “Shallow Grave,” depicting how children would react when faced with a mysterious suitcase full of cash. Nine-year-old Damian (played beautifully by Alex Etel, bearing a slight resemblance to Jerry Mathers) is a boy with a wild imagination and a passion for legendary saints. When a bag of money literally falls out of the sky, Damian assumes it was sent from God. His brother Anthony (the equally superb Lewis McGibbon) is a natural-born capitalist who uses the money to bribe fellow classmates to become his bodyguards. Damian wants to put the money to a more charitable use, and receives advice from the ghosts of various saints. Their conversations are written with great wit and wisdom by Frank Cottrell Boyce, who later adapted his script into an acclaimed novel of the same name. While so many family films fail in their attempt to capture the wonder of childhood, this one actually succeeds, partly because Boyle refuses to sanitize it for mainstream consumption. He never talks down to young viewers, who are guaranteed to be enchanted by the film’s playful, ominous magic. There’s even a shadowy figure (reminiscent of the “Shallow Grave” crooks) who lurks around the corners of the frame, as if he’s erupting directly from Damian’s fertile dream world. The film’s philanthropic message could’ve easily become heavy-handed, but Boyle delivers it with such unsentimental tenderness and poetry that it’s impossible not to be moved. And when Damian encounters a familiar apparition from his past, late in the film, it’s one of the great tearjerking moments in modern cinema. To Mr. Boyle, I say a heartfelt thank you and “Jai ho.”

HollywoodChicago.com staff writer Matt Fagerholm

Staff Writer

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