5. Big Fish (2003)
The pairing of Tim Burton and Ewan McGregor results in a larger than life fantasy that is, at its core, a father-son relationship story. Based on the novel by Daniel Wallace, it takes the format of a dying man telling the stories of his young adulthood to his son, who disbelieves it all.
Although the film was originally set to the directed by Steven Spielberg, it’s hard to imagine it done by anyone other than Burton. The tales are completely unrealistic but entertaining. They include witches, giants, and other creatures not found in the natural world. Although the film received the most nominations at the 61st Golden Globe Awards, it won zero.
McGregor plays the young Edward Bloom in these wild stories being told by a dying Albert Finney. He is believable as a young southern gentleman that makes everyone meet and fall in love with him. As always, he escapes into the character, making you forget he is acting at all.
4. Moulin Rouge! (2001)
People tend to have huge reactions to this film. It is polarizing in that you either love or hate it. Musicals often find this to be true. It’s extremely over-the-top, but then so is the idea of love through our protagonist’s eyes.
Baz Luhrmann accurately portrays the cartoonish and idealistic view of love as though scene through our narrator’s eyes. The ending of the film is stated directly at the beginning (“The woman I love is dead.”) so there is no suspense as to how the love story will end; that’s not the point of the film. The journey from first meeting to death of the person you love is the point of the film.
The result is what people often criticize romantic comedies and romance dramas to be; it’s predictable. Those critics seem to overlook the fact that it’s not what happens but how it happens. That is the joy of this film. Not to mention it includes great music including the likes of Nirvana, Madonna, David Bowie, Queen and The Police.
Christian (portrayed by McGregor) is a hopeless romantic searching for love. He finds it in a courtesan, “Satine,” at the Moulin Rouge. She embodies his Bohemian search for truth, beauty and love. They fall in love during the creation of a show that Christian is employed to write and Satine will star. The events that unfold, of course, cause complications and eventually end in death for Satine.
It is a Shakespearean structure told through pop songs and vividly colored imagery. McGregor’s character goes from light to dark through the events of this film.
His performance of a man so deeply optimistic toward love, who then becomes deeply cynical at the very notion is stunning. His singing is pretty amazing as well. If you have not seen the film and are skeptical of whether you will be able to enjoy it due to the musical aspect of it, google the “Elephant Love Medley” and see if it’s something you can handle. If that is okay with you, you’ll survive. Even if it’s not, take a risk. You will not be sorry.
3. Beginners (2010)
This 2010 film is deeply personal for writer/director Mike Mills. It is based on the real circumstances leading up to and those directly after his father’s death. When his father comes out five years before his own death, he essentially “starts over” with his romantic life in the gay community. The new honesty brings the father and son at the center of this story much closer to one another and ignites events that would never have happened had this revelation not occurred.
McGregor portrays the son of this man (played by Christopher Plummer), who is inspired by his father’s actions to be more bold in his own romantic life. His subtle performance of a man crushed by the dying and death of his father, while still maintaining a successful romance in the “honeymoon phase” was sadly overlooked by the major awards of the year. However the film and Christopher Plummer received major nominations, as well as the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor (Plummer).
2. Shallow Grave (1994)
This lesser-known (at least in America) of the McGregor/Boyle team-up films is definitely not any less brilliant. It is a dark comedy that centers on three roommates who take in a fourth. When the new roommate dies and leaves behind a large amount of cash, the remaining roommates decide to dispose of the body and keep the cash.
Complications arise, both within the roommates’ internal relationships, as well as with the outside world and the money. The film is written by John Hodge, who also wrote the other two McGregor/Boyle films (Trainspotting and A Life Less Ordinary). It is a team of creative artists that will prove successful with each of those films.
McGregor portrays Alex Law, a journalist who is one of the original roommates. While all the roommates seem a little psychotic, McGregor’s performance is, once again, the most subtle and believable among the cast. In the beginning, Alex seems the most “together” about the idea of murder, but as the plot unfolds, we see he is in fact the weakest and most scared of the bunch.
While David, the roommate tasked with dismembering the body, has an external and obvious descent into insanity, Alex frantically tries to keep the group together and to keep the plot from unraveling for all involved. McGregor never lets that idea go in his performance. There is always a hint of his rage ready to boil over at any given moment.
1. Trainspotting (1996)
There’s not much more that can be said about Trainspotting that hasn’t been heard before. It has the largest cult following (except for the Star Wars series) of any of McGregor’s films. There have been arguments that it glorifies drug use (which can certainly be negated if one is to sit through the infamous toilet diving scene), and there have been arguments that it exaggerates the horrors of addiction.
Whatever opinion you hold of the film, odds are if you were between the ages of 14 and 35 in 1996, you saw this movie. You may have even nicknamed your friends “Spud” or “Sick Boy” and had posters on your wall. Maybe you still do! Regardless of the cult status, it is a technically great film. It may be hard to watch at time, but it is worth the cringes.
In this film, McGregor portrays Mark Renton, the narrator of the film. Renton goes through attempts to overcome the addiction, as well as relapse back into addiction through the film. As always, McGregor wanted to do as much research on the role as possible. He went to heroin recovery meetings, learned how to cook up heroin with a spoon and even considered injecting heroin himself but decided against it.
The film shows the horrors of addiction and the difficulties of escaping it. The graphic hallucinations Renton experiences are still referenced frequently in popular culture and among those of us who saw the film as impressionable teens and twenty-somethings. Love it or hate it; it makes an impression.
Author Bio: Stephanie Dykes is a tech slave by day and raging film enthusiast by night.. She has a BA in English from the University of Florida and lives as an aspiring playwright in Chicago, Illinois. Feel free to chat with her via twitter @bubblegumsocks, although she just started actually using it.