5. The Two Faces of January (2014)
One of the most criminally overlooked films of last year, The Two Faces of January created substantially intricate characters, stunning Mediterranean imagery, and a plot which is able to hold the audience until the credits roll. Here, Isaac is able to demonstrate his seductive side, while also crafting a persona that is deceptively vulnerable.
The character, Rydal Keener, has a mysterious charm as he is never overly direct with the audience about where his interest lies. Isaac’s commitment and magnetism take the focus off of recognizable names such as Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst.
Memorable Quote: “You should have killed me when you had the chance.”
4. Balibo (2009)
Even less people saw this film than know about the 1975 tragedy on which it is based, but luckily the right people did. After his performance in Balibo, filmmakers started taking a serious look at Oscar Isaac’s ability as powerful acting force. Isaac is able to hold his own in a dramatic role, offering a wonderful blend of emotion clarity and stoic stability.
This little Australian gem got lost in a whirlwind of Hollywood vehicles which were released around the same time, but it is a worthwhile use of ninety minutes, allowing Isaac to shine as a future Nobel Prize recipient and President of East Timor.
Memorable Quote: “These things you are writing now, the work you do, is bullshit.”
3. A Most Violent Year (2014)
In a film riddled with moral confusion, Oscar Isaac is able to create a character who is both alarmingly menacing and deeply vulnerable. With this performance, Isaac seemed to be channeling the sentimentality and conflicted nature of Al Pacino in The Godfather:
Part II. Isaac doesn’t yell or display much overt physical rage, but he is able to use subtle movements and tone of voice to build an ominous presence. This performance was criminally overlooked during award season, but as a result of it Isaac was able secure his demand among the film community.
Memorable Quote: “When it feels scary to jump, that is exactly when you jump, otherwise you end up staying in the same place your whole life, and that I can’t do.”
2. Ex Machina (2015)
This was not only a huge visual breakthrough for film, it displayed Isaac’s range as an actor. To call this character a villain seems to somehow cheapen the complexity he brought to the role. Isaac displayed the character’s tragic flaw (chiefly, arrogance) in a way that made the audience form an empathetic bond with him.
While he has ultimately doomed himself from the beginning, it is easy to understand why he chose to follow that path. This role garnished Isaac’s résumé nicely and built up excitement for his participation in future big budget science fiction ventures (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, X-Men: Apocalypse).
Memorable Quote: “One day the AIs are going to look back on us the same way we look at fossil skeletons on the plains of Africa. An upright ape living in dust with crude language and tools, all set for extinction.”
1. Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
The Coen brothers have developed a reputation for showcasing the talents of lesser known performers by giving them a national stage on which to display their artistic ability. This movie is no exception. Inside Llewyn Davis was the role that cemented Isaac as a lead actor.
Isaac created a complex and believable character, one who is both sardonic and misanthropic. After this performance, it became clear that his name would start to appear on movie posters. It also showed us that he’s not a terrible singer. Could this be a sign of more musical opportunities in the future?
Memorable Quote: “If it was never new, and it never gets old, then it’s a folk song.”
Author Bio: Brian Thompson currently resides in Chicago, where you can find him watching a matinee at Music Box or enjoying a book in the park. He also enjoys talking about movies on his blog: https://southernfilmcritic.wordpress.com/.