Hollywood Odds: Matthew McConaughey: His best performances so far

86th Annual Academy Awards - Press Room
We’re now deep into the McConaissance folks. Yes, in the last few years, we’ve seen Matthew McConaughey really make the leap to the next stage of his career, shaking up the industry in the process. With this week marking the release of his new film The Sea of Trees, I wanted to take a look at his best work to date. Even before I started tackling heavier fare, he was someone I enjoyed, but that’s only grown these days. Whether in supporting or lead roles, he’s a unique and talented actor with a lot to offer. The years to come will be very exciting, both for us and for him…

The Sea of Trees is a drama about a pair of suicidal men looking for a way out of a forest in Japan. One is Arthur Brennan (McConaughey), the protagonist, while the other is Takumi Nakamura (Ken Watanabe). Arthur has gone into this particular forest in order to die, but begins to rethink things after meeting Takumi. Gus Van Sant directs from a script by Chris Sparling, while other cast members include Katie Aselton and Naomi Watts. Review haven’t been good, with the reception last year at the Cannes Film Festival particularly scathing, but McConaughey did escape much of the bad buzz, so fans of his can rejoice there.

Here’s a bit from when I put a spotlight on McConaughey in a previous article:

“McConaughey got his start by stealing his scenes in Dazed and Confused. In fact, that first theatrical role gave him some instantly quotable dialogue and really established him as an interesting new actor on the scene. His next group of roles, which included Angels in the Outfield, Boys on the Side, Lone Star, Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation, and A Time to Kill didn’t particularly capitalize on that introduction, but then came a supporting role in Contact which showed the first hint of the true dramatic chops that he’s displayed recently.

He’s followed that path from time to short time with work in films such as Amistad, Frailty, and U-571, but it was the lighter fare that really made him an A-lister. Frothy romantic comedies like Failure to Launch, Fool’s Gold, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, and The Wedding Planner. There was also slick Hollywood productions like Sahara and Two for the Money as well, but there was a sense that the man could be doing better work than he was. Personally, I always enjoyed his work, but I agreed with the sentiment that he got by to some degree on charisma and wasn’t being challenged by his art.

McConaughey hasn’t just cashed paychecks until recently, of course. There was a fun little role in Tropic Thunder and a committed performance in We Are Marshall, plus his solid work in The Paperboy, but it was when he impressed folks with The Lincoln Lawyer that the next stage of his career begun. Yes, that was when the McConnaissance truly began. Between better roles (as you’ll see below) and a newfound hands on approach to the craft, a movie star was about to become an actor’s actor.

The last few years have seen him really change things up, diving into roles you never would have expected from McConaughey. There was Bernie, Killer Joe, Magic Mike, Mud, and The Wolf of Wall Street, with of course Dallas Buyers Club representing the pinnacle of critical acclaim. Not only did he start winning precursor awards for the first time in his career, he received his first Academy Award nomination, a Best Actor citation. What’s more, he wound up winning the Oscar too. The McConnaissance had basically reached critical mass, no pun intended. Since then, he delivered a top notch performance in Interstellar. I’ve written a fair bit about this one already, but I have to reiterate how great McConaughey is in the movie. He’s as heroic as any character he’s played to date, but he’s also playing perhaps his most loving and smartest character as well.

Overall, McConaughey is a singular talent who’s refocused himself and seen nothing but good things come his way. He’s got some interesting roles ahead of him in the near future, including another shot at awards with the drama The Sea of Trees next year. He’s one of the industry’s biggest A-listers, and yet he’s only becoming a bigger and bigger deal as the years progress. I can’t wait to see where his career goes next, as the acting world is now his oyster…”

Here now is what I feel are McConaughey’s ten best performances to date:

10. We Are Marshall
9. Frailty
8. Bernie
7. Dazed and Confused
6. Mud
5. Killer Joe
4. Dallas Buyers Club
3. Interstellar
2. Magic Mike
1. The Wolf of Wall Street

Honorable Mention: Contact, Tropic Thunder, and U-571

Be sure to check out McConaughey in The Sea of Trees, out in limited release this weekend!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He also contributes to several other film-related websites.

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