Total Recall: Ewan McGregor's Best Movies
We count down the best-reviewed work of the Jack the Giant Slayer star.
Set out to make a movie about one of the more horrific tragedies in recent memory, and you've got your work cut out for you -- like any good dramatist, you have to make real-life events cinema-worthy without dishonoring the people who actually experienced them, but with the added pressure of large-scale death and destruction hanging over your film. By most accounts, Juan Antonio Bayona's The Impossible did a noble enough job of representing the Indian Ocean tsunami that wreaked havoc on Boxing Day of 2004, and while some critics resented the way it focused on one white family of tourists (led by McGregor and Naomi Watts) at the expense of the people who actually lived in the region, and others dismissed the whole thing as manipulative Oscar bait, most writers found it (ahem) impossible not to be moved. Calling it "An intense and compelling family melodrama," Salon's Andrew O'Hehir argued that it "sets a new standard for disaster cinema."
For awhile in the 1990s, it seemed like you couldn't go a week without running into another indie period film at your local arthouse theater; fortunately, quite a few of them were better than average, with Douglas McGrath's frothy Jane Austen adaptation Emma one of the more breezily enjoyable of an often dour-faced bunch. Starring Gwyneth Paltrow as the titular would-be matchmaker and McGregor as one of her suitors, it extended Miramax's winning streak with a healthy $22 million gross, an Academy Award for Best Original Score, and a slew of positive reviews from critics like Peter Keough of the Boston Phoenix, who wrote, "Emma proves that cinema is up to the greatest that literature has to offer."
The Ghost Writer was director/co-writer Roman Polanski's first full-length release since 2005's Oliver Twist, and the time off apparently did him some good: This small-scale political thriller, adapted from Robert Harris' novel, used a solid veteran cast to tell the story of a ghostwriter (McGregor) who finds himself drawn into trouble when he takes a job helping a British prime minister (Pierce Brosnan) finish his memoirs -- and unwittingly turns up clues to a crime that could threaten his own life. "The swirl of visual poetry, political intrigue and personal zeal that Polanski creates gets under your skin and brings an icy hand up your back," marveled Tom Long of the Detroit News. "This is moviemaking."
Family dramedies are a dime a dozen, but there's only one Beginners: Mike Mills' tender, sweet look at the sometimes hilarious, often moving ways in which a widower's (Christopher Plummer) decision to come out of the closet affects his relationship with his son (McGregor) -- as well as his son's pursuit of love in his own life. "Plummer gives a textured portrayal as Hal," admitted Stella Papamichael for Radio Times, "but it's the character of Oliver, sensitively played by McGregor, that rings truest, even when he takes advice from a subtitled dog."
Before he was one of Hollywood's hottest and most eclectic leading men, Ewan McGregor was just another young actor climbing into a toilet. Thankfully, all that toilet-climbing was for a good cause: Trainspotting, Danny Boyle's brilliantly stylish adaptation of the Irvine Welsh novel about a group of heroin addicts struggling to get by in 1980s Scotland. Despite the dark subject matter, the movie managed quite a few moments of marvelously dark humor, and although it wasn't one of the bigger box office draws of the year, it quickly went on to acquire a cult following. The critics were always on board, however; screenwriter John Hodge was nominated for an Academy Award, and the film earned raves from scribes like Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times, who wrote, "Exuberant and pitiless, profane yet eloquent, flush with the ability to create laughter out of unspeakable situations, Trainspotting is a drop-dead look at a dead-end lifestyle that has all the strength of its considerable contradictions."
In case you were wondering, here are McGregor's top 10 movies according RT users' scores:
1. Trainspotting -- 92%
2. Moulin Rouge! -- 88%
3. Big Fish -- 86%
4. Black Hawk Down -- 85%
5. The Impossible -- 85%
6. Shallow Grave -- 81%
7. Velvet Goldmine -- 78%
8. Beginners -- 77%
9. The Pillow Book -- 77%
10. Emma -- 73%
Finally, here's the trailer for 1997's I Love You, I Love You Not, one of Law's first features: