Total Recall: Joseph Gordon-Levitt's Best Movies
We count down the best-reviewed work of the 50/50 star.
At the ripe old age of 30, Joseph Gordon-Levitt is already a grizzled Hollywood veteran, having made his film debut nearly 20 years ago in the slobbery family comedy Beethoven. And he's a busy guy, too -- when 50/50 debuts this weekend, it'll mark his ninth trip to theaters in the last two years, with a whopping four more films on tap for 2012. Clearly, the time has come for us to take a look at the critical highlights from Mr. Gordon-Levitt's growing filmography, and you know what that means: It's time for Total Recall!
How far has Joseph Gordon-Levitt come since he found fame as a fresh-faced youth in Third Rock from the Sun? Far enough that in 2011, he was the bearded, chain-smoking lead in Hesher, Spencer Susser's pitch-black drama about a shiftless lout who develops an unlikely friendship, sort of, with a lonely suburban teen (Devin Brochu) who's trying to cope with the death of his mother and the torments of a school bully (Brendan Hill). Far from the sort of uplifting, My Bodyguard-type fare that audiences may have expected, Hesher didn't make much of an impression at the box office -- but its resolute refusal to veer into Hollywood feel-good territory impressed critics like NPR's Bob Mondello, who wrote, "Susser doesn't try to make Hesher anything other than a sociopath -- a walking, profanity-spewing id -- and to his credit, neither does Gordon-Levitt."
With an assist from William Shakespeare, and a pair of breakout performances from Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles, Gil Junger's 10 Things I Hate About You put a glossy late 1990s spin on The Taming of the Shrew by switching the location to a modern high school, where the Stratford sisters (Stiles and Larisa Oleynik) are the unwitting pawns in a prom date plot set in motion by a lovestruck young knucklehead (Gordon-Levitt) and his scheming classmate (Andrew Keegan). It's pretty fluffy stuff, and as broad as a barn door, but its snappy pace and charming cast left some critics feeling charitable -- Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times called it "as satirical as it is romantic" and "one teen film that is wise enough to span generations in its appeal."
8. Stop Loss
American audiences are well aware of the fact that their soldiers often have a hard time adjusting to life on the home front after war -- and they're not shy about avoiding movies that tell those soldiers' stories. Kimberly Peirce's Stop-Loss was no exception during its theatrical run, falling victim to the same commercial indifference that felled Rendition, Body of Lies, Green Zone, and others -- in spite of a hot young cast that included Channing Tatum, Abbie Cornish, Ryan Phillippe, and Gordon-Levitt. It was the audience's loss as far as the New Yorker's David Denby was concerned; he called Stop-Loss "forceful, effective, and alive, with the raw, mixed-up emotions produced by an endless war -- a time when the patriotism of military families is in danger of being exploited beyond endurance."
Before they played lovebirds in (500) Days of Summer, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel co-starred in an altogether different sort of film: Manic, a grim drama about emotionally damaged teens and the psych ward doctor (Don Cheadle) who tries to shepherd them back to health. While certainly not without its problems -- Peter Keough of the Boston Phoenix dismissed it as "earnest" and "tastefully exploitative," and a number of critics disliked its handheld cinematography -- Manic's solid cast helped elevate it above many of the "kids in an institution" clichés. "Gordon-Levitt explodes any expectations about him," applauded Jeffrey Westhoff of the Northwest Herald. "The rage he projects is so real it becomes its own character."
Gordon-Levitt made his animated debut as the star of this big-budget Disney extravaganza, which shot Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island into space and took an eclectic voice cast along for the ride, including Martin Short, Emma Thompson, David Hyde Pierce, and Laurie Metcalfe. The idea of intergalactic pirates plundering animated booty added an interesting twist to the well-worn tale, but with a budget of $140 million, Treasure Planet had its work cut out at the box office, and its $109 million worldwide gross was ultimately regarded as something of a disappointment -- particularly in the US, where it failed to make even half that much. Still, it proved an enjoyable spectacle for critics like Terry Lawson of the Detroit Free Press, who wrote, "retaining the swashbuckling spirit of Stevenson's novel but adding megabytes of computer-age cool, Treasure Planet is the one holiday thrill ride the whole family can enjoy."