Total Recall: Jude Law's Best Movies
We count down the best-reviewed work of the Side Effects star.
Over the course of a career spanning two decades and dozens of movies, Jude Law has become one of the most successful actors of his generation -- in fact, just a few years ago, he made the industry's "top 10 most bankable" list. This weekend, he has the honor of starring in Side Effects, Steven Soderbergh's (alleged) swan song as a director of feature films; to celebrate, we decided to take the opportunity to pay tribute to some of Mr. Law's biggest critical hits. Of course, given his propensity for smaller parts, we had to prune a few entries from the upper reaches of Law's Tomatometer; his roles in films like The Aviator, Hugo, and Lemony Snicket weren't quite substantial enough to make the grade. Still, we think you'll find plenty to love in this week's list. Without further ado... Jude Law's best movies!
If a person wanted to film an Oscar Wilde biopic, they could hardly do better than Richard Ellmann's Pulitzer-winning biography for source material -- and they couldn't ask for a more perfect leading man than Stephen Fry, who uses 1997's Wilde as an acting clinic. In fact, although most critics agreed Brian Gilbert's film was flawed, they were too enthralled by Fry's performance -- in addition to solid supporting turns from Jennifer Ehle, Michael Sheen, and Law (who plays Lord Alfred Douglas, the self-absorbed object of Wilde's ultimately ruinous affections) -- to find much fault with Wilde. In the words of the Sunday Times' Shannon J. Harvey, "There's never been a better story about the misadventures of one of the world's greatest writers. Fry should have been Oscar nominated, and Law is equally electrifying."
It suffered from close proximity to The Matrix -- not to mention an unfortunately spelled title -- but most critics thought David Cronenberg's eXistenZ was one of the more enjoyable, and overlooked, futuristic thrillers of the '90s. This is admittedly a rather short list (Johnny Mnemonic, anyone?), but still -- given Cronenberg's track record, eXistenZ's ignominious commercial fate is a little puzzling. On the other hand, Cronenberg didn't do himself any favors with a storyline about a game developer (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and a low-level employee at her company (Law) on the run from bad guys wielding freaky guns that shoot human teeth. Sound bizarre? It is, and that doesn't even take into account the script's constant shifts between the real world and an increasingly difficult-to-detect virtual reality. Not a film with particularly broad appeal, in other words, but it tickled the neuroreceptors of critics like Jim Ridley of the Nashville Scene, who wrote, "Cronenberg makes leaps of logic, character, and setting so baffling that they don't become clear until the end. Even then, the final outcome is so devious you'll sit poking yourself to make sure you won't disappear with the click of the projector."
As a book, Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain was a bestselling phenomenon, and just the kind of sweeping, romantic period piece that cried out for a film adaptation. That cry was answered with Anthony Minghella's stately take on the tale of a Confederate Civil War soldier (Law) who deserts and slowly wends his way back to his beloved (Nicole Kidman) while dodging Union troops and the southern Home Guard. Released on Christmas Day 2003, the Cold Mountain movie was a $173 million hit, but not without its detractors; Cinema Crazed's Felix Vasquez Jr., for instance, called the Miramax production "So utterly manufactured for Oscar, it was nauseating." Still, most critics were willing to look past the flaws in Minghella's beautifully filmed epic; in the words of Philip Martin of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, "There are intimations of a genuinely moving film; in its best moments, Cold Mountain is a fantasy that -- like the Lord of the Rings movies -- aspires to Shakespearean heights."
One of a mind-boggling six movies Law starred in throughout 2004, Kerry Conran's Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow was sort of a beta Avatar, combining live action and computer-generated effects in new and exciting ways. Adding to the gee-whiz factor was Conran's gleefully retro storyline, which pitted the heroic Sky Captain (Law, natch) against the giant robot army of the nefarious Dr. Totenkopf (Sir Laurence Olivier, in a display of technology both thrilling and sort of creepy) in an alternate version of 1939. Captain mimicked the Golden Age matinee serials so successfully that many modern filmgoers didn't quite know what to make of it, and as a result, it went the fate of Totenkopf's army at the box office -- but it was welcomed with open arms by critics like Ed Park of the Village Voice, who wrote, "His nostalgia enabled by technology, Conran takes the ghosts in his machine seriously, and the results appear at once meltingly lovely and intriguingly inhuman."
A project Stanley Kubrick had been working on since the early 1970s, A.I. was the Hollywood equivalent of vaporware for years; even after Kubrick handed the reins to Steven Spielberg in 1995, the movie remained largely in stasis until Kubrick's unexpected death in 1999. As has been the case with more than one sci-fi epic (see: Avatar), the delay was at least partially fortuitous -- by the time production started in earnest, special effects had evolved to the point where the tale of a robot boy (Haley Joel Osment) on his quest to become real could be believably told. A.I. was criticized for its uneasy blend of darkness and sentimentality, exemplified by Osment's character's friendship with Gigolo Joe, the prostitute robot played by Law. Despite grossing more than $230 million, A.I. was regarded by many as a disappointment -- but most critics saw through the catcalls, including Jimmy O of Film Snobs, who wrote, "A.I. stands as a work that allows us to see ourselves in the things that we have created. For good or for bad, it is an eye opening experience."