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Joseph Gordon-Levitt: His best performances to date

(L to R) JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT and SETH ROGEN star in 50/50.
Simply put, it’s hard to find a more charming up and coming A-lister in Hollywood right now than Joseph Gordon-Levitt. He is one of the industries most uniquely talented actors, with an eye towards filmmaking as well. This week, he goes the raunchy buddy comedy route while mixing in the holiday movie route with The Night Before. Interestingly enough, this also re-teams him with a cast member and a director that led to some of his best work to date (Seth Rogen and Jonathan Levine, respectively. As such, I have a list of his best performances below for you to check out, after a bit on the new flick and what Gordon-Levitt’s career has been like so far…

The Night Before is a comedy centered around three friends (Gordon-Levitt and Rogen, along with Anthony Mackie) who have a Christmas tradition of going out and partying. As age and life interfere, they plan on one last night out this holiday season, and it becomes a memorable one, to put it mildly. A cross between a raunchy comedy and a holiday themed romantic comedy, it’s a weird mix, but it works. Levine directs and co-writes with Evan Goldberg, Kyle Hunter, and Ariel Shaffir. In addition to the main trio of Gordon-Levitt, Mackie, and Rogen, the cast includes Jillian Bell, Lizzy Caplan, Nathan Fielder, James Franco, Ilana Glazer, Mindy Kaling, Michael Shannon (who steals the show), Lorraine Toussaint, and more.

The Walk Joseph Gordon-Levitt

A primer/revisit on the actor now from my piece on him last year: Gordon-Levitt got his start at a young age, first working in television at the tender age of just seven. He’d continue with small parts on the small screen up until he got a few tiny roles in films, including A River Runs Through It. He got his first lead in the remake of Angels in the Outfield, where he was first noticed. If not there, it was when he became a part of the hit TV show 3rd Rock from the Sun. Gordon-Levitt was beginning to make his mark in entertainment, though unlike many child stars, this wasn’t the pinnacle of their careers.

JGL’s screen presence was limited until he won over hearts in 10 Things I Hate About You. He and Heath Ledger made plenty of girls swoon, but critics took note of the talent they had. This film launched many a career, including our subject Gordon-Levitt’s. Plenty of people were excited to see where JGL’s career would go from there, and they weren’t about to be disappointed. He next made an underrated indie called Manic that served as his first pairing with Zooey Deschanel. He worked with Disney after that, voicing the lead in Treasure Planet, then wowed audiences again in Mysterious Skin. He followed that up the next year with another wonderful performance in Brick for Rian Johnson (who’d he’d work with again) and then the under seen crime tale The Lookout. Among his next projects is the underrated Stop-Loss, but at this point, Gordon-Levitt was about to become the star we know him to be now.


It’s impossible to deny how great he is in (500) Days of Summer. I maintain to this day that it was a crime that the flick was snubbed for Oscar love, including for JGL, as well as his co-star Deschanel. Gordon-Levitt got some major awards attention for his work (the first time too) but it didn’t translate into an Academy Award nod. What it did do instead of getting him that nom was make him one of the most sought after young actors in Hollywood. Some very interesting projects were headed his way now…

He chewed the scenery in a great way with Hesher before being a part of Christopher Nolan’s trippy Inception as well as the cancer dramedy 50/50 for Jonathan Levine, which also should have gotten him nominated. Recently he was also quite good in Looper (retiming with Johnson, after also putting forward a quick cameo in The Brothers Bloom for the filmmaker too) as well as Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises and Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, though the Academy didn’t nominated him for any of those performances either. He also made his debut last year behind the camera as the writer/director/star of Don Jon, a tremendously good porn addiction dramedy that was a fringe awards contender. He was both hilarious and profound in his acting, directing, and writing there, so I couldn’t skip over this one. He’ll likely make more Oscar friendly work as a filmmaker in the future, but this flick showed another new side to JGL. Other recent performances have included Sin City: A Dame to Kill For and The Walk, in addition to this week’s release of The Night Before.

Scarlett Johansson and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Jon Don's Addiction

Here now are what I believe to be Gordon-Levitt’s ten best performances so far:

10. Hesher
9. Stop-Loss
8. The Dark Knight Rises
7. The Lookout
6. Looper
5. Mysterious Skin
4. Don Jon
3. (500) Days of Summer
2. Brick
1. 50/50

Honorable Mention: 10 Things I Hate About You, Inception, Lincoln, Manic, and The Walk


Be sure to check out Gordon-Levitt in The Night Before, in theaters everywhere tomorrow!

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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