Ranking the films of Cameron Crowe


I’m a big fan of positivity, especially when it comes to the film industry, since it seems to be at a premium most of the time. Two weeks ago, filmmaker Cameron Crowe’s latest movie Aloha opened to rather poor reviews, some of which began to look back and degrade his canon on the whole. In an attempt to keep it positive, I wanted to look back on Crowe’s filmography and rank his work to date, especially since I’m one of the few who feel that he’s basically never had a true “bad” movie. Some of his films are better than the others, of course, but they all have value…

Here’s my ranking of the films from writer/director Cameron Crowe:

1. Almost Famous – Crowe’s masterpiece and one of the best films of the last 25 years (along with one of my five favorites of all time), this is basically a perfect piece of cinema. A passion project based on Crowe’s childhood, it’s just brilliant on every single level. Multiple scenes are forever engrained in my mind, and I know I’m not alone. As a bonus, this is one of the few films that only gets better when you see more of it, as the three hour “Untitled” extended edition proves.

2. Jerry Maguire – One of the more quotable movies ever, this is Crowe at his most crowd pleasing. Armed with Tom Cruise in perhaps his peak form, at least charisma wise, it’s impossible not to fall in love with this romantic dramedy. By the time you hear “You had me at hello”, the film already has you. It’s probably the outing of Crowe’s that I’ve revisited most, due to just how pleasing it is, on pretty much all levels.

3. Say Anything – A very good film on its own, it’s made even better by the now iconic scene of John Cusack holding a boombox over his head, to the tune of Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes”. Crowe was making his directorial debut here, after making a name for himself by writing the book and screenplay adaptation for Fast Times at Ridgemont High, so he was a work in progress. Still, this is an incredibly accomplished debut, full of hints that he was going to one day become the best in the business.

4. Elizabethtown – Here’s one that I love way more than almost anyone else. I have a soft spot in my heart for what was considered Crowe’s first big misfire. It’s messy, for sure, and probably could have been cast better, but the vibe is so pure, while the music is among his best. Crowe soundtracks are often great, but this one is truly special. Two amazing sequences that are up there with anything he’s written (an all night phone call and a road trip) elevate this one to top five status for me.

5. Vanilla Sky – The least identifiable movie in Crowe’s filmography in terms of what he’s known for, this is a strange psychological thriller that stands as his only remake to date. Cruise gets to reunite with Crowe and turn in one of his most underrated performances, getting challenged by the filmmaker the whole way. The ending is pretty out there and it may not be quite as good as the Spanish language original, but it’s still very good.

6. We Bought a Zoo – Another that I like more than most, this is definitely “lesser Crowe”, but he nails the ending here in such a perfect way that he again elevates the entire production. Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson, and company serve to make this more of a family film for Crowe than usual, but with an undercurrent of sadness that actually felt pretty brave for an otherwise mostly frothy endeavor.

7. Singles – The only Crowe film I probably like less than most, this grunge filled look at dating in the Pacific Northwest is definitely strong flick, but it never quite moved me as much as his others. The cast is strong and Crowe caught the cultural zeitgeist/music of the moment in a great way, so there’s nothing wrong with this one at all. It just happens to be the one of his upper echelon that I like instead of outright love.

8. The Union – One of Crowe’s two music documentaries, this one looks at Elton John and is probably meant mostly for fans of the musician. I like John just fine, but this sort of a doc didn’t feel like the best use of Crowe. He does a good job, that small issue of mine notwithstanding. It’s a minor outing in his oeuvre, though one that doesn’t deserve to be ignored.

9. Pearl Jam Twenty – Crowe’s other doc (a musical one, of course) takes a look at Pearl Jam, and might be the other outing of the filmmaker’s that I’m less wild about than the majority of my colleagues. There’s nothing wrong with this one at all, but Pearl Jam doesn’t thrill me, so that lessened my interest. I’d revisit it one day, but I’m in no hurry to do so.

10. Aloha – The impetus for this list…is this undoubtedly Crowe’s weakest outing? Yes. Is it certainly flawed? Sure. Is it still of cinematic value? Of course. There’s a solid soundtrack and a charming cast, so I can’t help but wonder if it would have gotten a pass from a filmmaker slightly less high up. That remains to be seen, but this one could definitely get a slight re-evaluation in the years to come…

"We Bought a Zoo" New York City Premiere - Arrivals

Be sure to watch your Crowe film this week!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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