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Charting The McConaissance: The 10 Best Performances of Matthew McConaughey

30 March 2014 | Features, Film Lists | by Matthew Wright

GTY_matthew_mcconaughey

As this is written Matthew McConaughey is perhaps the most marketable male actor around. To say he has had a renaissance or McConaissance is already a dated claim. So what this list aims to do is give you a broad picture of the different types of performances the actor has given across his career and the best of them.

This inevitably leaves off some top films from the list, but the extent to which this happens only goes to show the surprising range that McConaughey has displayed over the last 20 odd years. What also becomes apparent is the consistency that McConaughey’s personality lends to his entire back catalogue. There is a rhythm he brings to his performances that, when you watch his films consecutively, is suddenly so obvious.

So please recline, kick back, and enjoy the appropriate assonance of the McConaissance.

 

10. Dazed and Confused (1991)

dazed-and-confused

A man that is vital, at least to the beginning of this trajectory, is the second most important Texan to the McConaissance, Richard Linklater. Matt and Ricky, as they refer to each other, have endless nice things to say about one another and the benefit their friendship has reaped artistically for the pair of them.

Certainly a stand out as one of McConaughey’s funniest characters, Dazed and Confused’s Wooderson was the start of a 3 film working relationship, and a twenty-year friendship. Adding to the idea that the actor’s career is a has a consistent beat to it in some way, is the evidence to be found in Matt’s reminiscing on meeting Linklater for the first time in the audition room of and on the set of Dazed. He recalls the metronomic way in which he would rehearse, “verbal Ping-Pong”, “just bop, bop, bop, bop, idea, idea, idea, idea.”

The part displays an understanding of where the line between creepy and cheekily charming is, and of the ways in which accent and tone of voice can be used to comic effect. The already nostalgia laden film also marks the genesis of the drawling “Alright, alright, alright…” we have come to know and love.

 

9. The Newton Boys (1998)

The Newton Boys

In Linklater we find someone whose best work is vastly unseen compared to the likes of his biggest successes like School of Rock (2003). The Newton Boys gives us the first of two McConaughey featured true story interpretations to be directed by Linklater.

Here we are told the story of a bank-robbing band of brothers, all Newtons, and their hardy escapades. Whilst the film gained only mixed reviews (61% on Rotten Tomatoes to give you an idea) one can see that the artistic sensibilities and work ethics of Ricky and Matt mesh nicely. Both have a knack for writing and interpreting the slower rhythms of the Texan and general stoner intonations.

But with Linklater always comes a philosophical edge to the tone that makes you feel a little bit clever whilst still watching a funny and engaging film. Ethan Hawke best demonstrates this in this film as well as in his work on Tape (2001) and the Before Trilogy (1995-2013) where Hawke is arguably at his best. Indeed McConaughey excels in the lead role in this film, giving us a glimpse of his action capabilities, and his ability to deal with more serious ideas.

Most importantly we see his ability to lead a strong ensemble cast, where Hawke’s character is the most attention grabbing on paper. But the intensity with which McConaughey plays his part, juxtaposed with his flick-of-a-switch charm, keep him at the forefront of the movie. His most entertaining scenes in the film can be compared to Martin Sheen’s in Badlands (1973), where he gleefully discusses his crimes with the detective that has detained him. There is that same mutual respect which we feel like we can share in as an audience.

 

8. How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (2003)

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This may seem a slightly strange choice, but as mentioned this film is retrospectively, and upon a recent re-watch, a valid stepping-stone in McConaughey’s career. One could even go as far as to say that it contains some genuine moments of emotion and some proper laughs. At a push one may even say that parts of the film are rather self-aware and knowing. Yet sadly these are the least engaging parts.

The films premise revolves around a journalistic feature written by Kate Hudon’s character, on how to lose a guy in ten days. What this piece essentially consists of is a chronicle of Andie Anderson acting out the most annoying female-based romantic comedy tropes, much to the grief of McConaughey’s Benjamin Barry. Now perhaps interpreting this as self-aware is hopeful, but if we give them the benefit of that doubt there is still the problem that Kate Hudson is at her best when the charade is at its lowest ebb.

As Mr Ben points out in the film it is frustrating and confusing that there is this cool, sexy girl somewhere in there, but it is so distorted for a lot of the film that we forget that us Almost Famous fans really like Kate Hudson. That said what we get in this film is McConaughey at the top of his work in the Romantic Comedy genre. That pulsing rhythm is still there, the drawling accent, and most prominently here, the swagger and charm the actor puts to more academy friendly uses, subsequently.

So for those who like a Rom Com, at least once in a while, this is worth a repeat viewing. Without looking at the very strong supporting cast, Matthew gives us enough laughs on his own to make it worth another watch. Also the shirt comes off within five minutes, and one can’t help but at least chuckle at the contrast we now know exists.

 

7. Bernie (2011)

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What follows in this list essentially represents the steep upward curve that is the McConaissance. Bernie represents his reunion with Richard Linklater after 13 years. A number (unlucky for some) of years peppered with frankly not so good Romantic Comedies. But there was always hope, and this slightly under the radar film is notable for a few reasons.

The true story, again Texas set, follows Bernie, a general do-gooder around town, mortician, musical aficionado, pilot, and a friend to all. This applied especially to the older folk, namely one Marjory Nugent, whose “relationship” with Bernie comprises the main part of the film. Jack Black shines in the lead role, pulling of the various dichotomies of the character, between camp-ness and virility, good and evil (maybe a bit much), and most importantly between loyalty and rage.

As we are now often manipulated to do in popular culture, we as an audience absolutely side with Bernie despite the boiling and turning point of the film. It is at this stage that Matthew comes into the story as Bernie’s nemesis. This is again a bit of an exaggeration, and Danny Buck would probably claim that he is merely a man who respects and loves the law. This much is certainly true and McConaughey breathes new life into an already vibrant film. Linklater again uses the actor’s comic abilities wonderfully and does it in a way that doesn’t take Jack Black out of our considerations. In fact it manages to make both sides of the argument weigh up nicely, and create an exceptionally well-balanced telling of a true story as a result.

 

6. Killer Joe (2011)

Joe Cooper in Killer Joe

Killer Joe was probably when people started to take notice of our man Matt properly. Just from the trailer you could see that this was a dark, edgy film, the likes of which we rarely see and certainly hadn’t seen from this guy. Some men who are more closely associated with these types of things are Tracy Letts and William Friedkin. Writer, Letts was behind the likes of recently acclaimed August: Osage County (2013) and Friedkin having directed The Exorcist (1973) amongst other greats.

It’s always a big boost to one’s confidence in an actor a when they prove the ability to handle such material, and Killer Joe certainly provides some talking points. McConaughey stars as the eponymous killer, something of an urban legend, within the setting of film. Trouble starts when Chris (Emile Hirsch) is struggling to pay back a sizeable debt for the rendering of Killer Joe’s services upon his own dear mum. Things descend into slightly uncomfortable taboo when Joe decides that Chris’s sister Dottie works rather nicely as collateral. It has to be said that without both McCon and Juno Temple, who plays Dottie, being as good as they are the film it would have been at times unwatchable.

But both hold it together admirably and neither those in Dallas Buyers Club nor True Detective would have seemed possible without the performance Matt gives in this film. Similarly, Temple has proven both before and after this film her abilities to play older than herself, as well as some sexually very complex and overt characters, in the likes of Dirty Girl (2010), and Lovelace (2013). Also nice to see Emile Hirsch who is not as prolific as the potential he himself has shown in Lords of Dogtown (2005) and Into the Wild (2007) would make us hope.

Killer Joe is a reprehensible man, but as the best actors are required to do on a regular basis, Matthew gives us something to relate to in him. He is a man of honour if not morality. In a film filled with ethically dubious characters, the leather glove-clad Joe comes out of the chaos with his hands the cleanest.

 

 

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  • SoiledDoughnut

    I’m a little disappointed there’s no Tropic Thunder on this list. Other than that it’s a great list.

  • Kriss_Kringle

    What about Frailty,Reign of fire and We are Marshall? I highly doubt that his role in How to lose a guy in 10 days is better than any of the three I just mentioned.