This weekend sees the release of Danny Boyle’s T2: Trainspotting where we return back to Scotland to find out what the characters have been up to since the original came out twenty years ago. So in preparation for the film coming out, I decided to burn through Boyle’s feature films and have ranked them from least liked to favourite.
11. Trance (2013)
After his duties for Artistic Director for the London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony were finished, Danny Boyle wasted no time in making another feature length film with an impressive cast that includes James McAvoy, Vincent Cassel and Rosario Dawson. The film has us following McAvoy’s character Simon, an art auctioneer, becomes mixed up with a gang and a hypnotherapist in order to retrieve a lost painting. I enjoyed the films visual style, with some lovely cinematography from Anthony Dod Mantle on show, but the films overall story just didn’t really work for me. The first half of the film had me intrigued but the latter half didn’t hold my interest due to the twists and turns it takes ended up being more predictable the more the film went on and I couldn’t invest into any of the characters. The performances though from the three leads I can’t fault as McAvoy, Cassel and Dawson provided solid work.
10. The Beach (2000)
After directing A Life Less Ordinary, up next for Danny Boyle was directing Alex Garland’s novel The Beach for the big screen. The film has us follow a young American travelling around Bangkok, Thailand who is alluded to a mythical island that fills the definition of paradise – white beaches, walled in by cliffs and untouched by the tourist industry. Joining him on the adventure is a French couple, with him having an a particular fixation on the girl Françoise, they arrive on the island to find it inhabited by a group of backpackers who live self-sufficiently through everyday tasks such as gardening and fishing, led by a woman named Sal. The most striking thing about The Beach is the cinematography work from Darius Khondji, especially with some strikingly beautiful shots using the locations of Ko Phi Phi Leh and Phuket in Thailand. The story has interesting elements of people looking for serenity and isolation from the outside world and what they would do in order to keep it that way. While Boyle takes certain chances with the story, it overall didn’t work for me, particularly in the second half of the film after a promising start. DiCaprio was fine as the lead, though I detested the character, while Swinton and Carlyle were the highlights in terms of performances.
09. A Life Less Ordinary (1997)
After Shallow Grave and Trainspotting, Danny Boyle stepped into this American-British black comedy collaborating once again with screenwriter John Hodge and producer Andrew Macdonald. To make matters worse for him, his girlfriend dumps him and he is evicted from his apartment. Seeing no other alternative, Robert storms in to his boss’s office and takes drastic measures into his own hands to get his job back…which leads to him taking his boss’s daughter Celine hostage. Meanwhile, two angels are assigned with the task of making sure that Robert and Celine fall and stay in love otherwise they’ll remain on Earth forever. The premise is ambitious/bonkers as it tries to craft in the angels angle and Heaven is looking to have people commit to love completely, the film is pulp and though it doesn’t work every time, the cast give solid performances.
08. Millions (2004)
Danny Boyle this time takes his hand at tackling a family film in the vein of Frank Cottrell Boyce’s Millions, which can arguably be seen by some as a Christmas film (because we need plenty more of them to fill that particular genre) that has some amount of imagination as we primarily follow a family who are dealing with the loss of a loved one and a big bag of a distraction falls into their hands….with a lot of money in it. The film is filled with imagination, with Alex Etel carrying a certain innocence and charm to his performance as Damian and under Boyle’s guidance, the film works best as his kind-hearted nature pushes him to do the right thing, while also getting him into bigger trouble than he could have imagined. Though I liked the film it falls apart for me in the final act and just misses that extra something to make it a really good film.
07. 127 Hours (2010)
Following up from his award winning film Slumdog Millionaire, Boyle made another Best Picture nominee film with 127 Hours. Based on a true story, we follow mountain climber Aron Ralston hiking at Utah’s Canyonlands National Park where he manages to slip, fall and gets his arm trapped by a fallen boulder in the canyon. Boyle manages to make a riveting feature about this true story, with James Franco giving one of his best performances as Aron Ralston which is essentially a one man show as he makes video diaries to keep his morale/sanity in check whilst he hacks away at the boulder until he makes the necessary choice to survive which is tough to watch, even on repeat viewings.
06. Sunshine (2007)
Danny Boyle and Alex Garland team up once more, this time tackling the sci-fi genre that once the project was finished, Boyle vowed to never do another sci-fi film again. Does that mean that Sunshine is bad? Absolutely not! Visually this may be Danny Boyle’s most striking film yet, balancing the cinematography within the set designs inside the spaceship Icarus II, to the cinematography of the visuals such as the scale/design of the spaceship and the Sun itself. The performances from the cast, particularly Cillian Murphy and Chris Evans, are subtlety great while John Murphy’s score is brilliantly composed. It’s a very good film that unfortunately couldn’t be great due to creative decisions in the films final act that fell flat in my view.
05. Steve Jobs (2015)
Danny Boyle moves into the biopic genre and makes a compelling film focusing on the life of Steve Jobs during three important product launches that changed the outcome of his life – the Apple Macintosh, the NeXT Computer and the iMac. What may have been distracting initially, Michael Fassbender gives a great performance in the lead as Steve Jobs. Sure it will be argued that Fassbender doesn’t have similarities to the look of Steve Jobs, but he emerges himself into the role and commits completely and regardless of who was initial set to play the lead, I can’t picture any of them being as compelling as Fassbender was. The supporting performances from Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen and Jeff Daniels are solid throughout. While his screenplay has its moments, Aaron Sorkin’s material fizzled out for me in the final act, which is a shame as the film opens so strong.
04. Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
At the time of award season in 2009, Slumdog Millionaire was the little film that could, capturing the hearts of the film viewing audience as well as the academy, hence the high number of awards it won that year and upon reflection, it still earned them awards in particular. The direction and script is only as good as its cast and there’s real finds in Slumdog Millionaire, especially with the younger versions of Jamal, Salim and Latika in particular doing terrific in their roles considering they never acted before. There’s a certain charm and innocence to them so when they react to certain things on screen (should be noted, the film is pretty brutal in some parts and doesn’t shy away from it…you don’t see much but the intention is enough to make you squirm) it all feels natural, so when they’re afraid, you feel afraid for them. Dev Patel (only with Skins to his credit before this) is great as the adult Jamal, bringing a certain amount of confidence to the role with an edge of fear but that becomes clear as we realise that he’s doing everything he can to connect with Latika once again, played by the beautiful Freida Pinto. The adult Salim played by Madhur Mittal does a great job also, but doesn’t get as much screen time in the final act, yet has the most depth to the character of Salim after the number of years have past between their characters.
03. Shallow Grave (1994)
The one where it all began with Danny Boyle’s directorial debut Shallow Grave. The premise is simple – Three roommates are currently seeking a new flatmate and when they finally chose one, one night he’s mysteriously dead in his room where they find a large suitcase filled with money. When the three agree to keep the money for themselves, it sets in motion a chain of events that spiral down a dark path for all of them. With the film mainly set within the flat itself, the small scale of it makes it all the more engaging as we get to know the characters and how this one night changes them. The one that has the most developed arc is Christopher Eccelston’s David, he’s the most shy and reserved one of the group and when he’s drawn the short straw in getting rid of the body it makes him become more paranoid and unhinged about the money, so much so that he removes himself from his flatmates and resides in the attic, where he drills holes to spy on their every movement. Eccelston is terrific as David and while McGregor is very good as Alex and Kerry Fox is alright as Juliet, this is Eccelston’s film to me in terms of performances. As directorial debuts go this is one of the strongest, as Boyle’s directing of particular shots in the film are really well done, such as the use of lighting during the wideshot of the group disposing of the body, to the close shots of David peeking through the holes to spy on his roommates.
02. 28 Days Later… (2002)
Before Olympic sprinting zombies became the thing to do within that genre the one film that gets unfairly placed into that zombie category is the one that started that trend 28 Days Later, a bleak, helpless take on an epidemic apocalypse that causes humans to ‘rage’ out and spread the virus due to contact with saliva and blood from the infected, focusing primarily on the study of human nature when the world falls apart. Given the feel of it being a documentary, Danny Boyle plays the horror down to a minimum to allow the characters to develop and have us care about them so when the infected horde comes at a rapid pace during sticky situations the suspense is cranked up and have us feel for the characters and Boyle works well with the material from writer Alex Garland who provides genuine and human conversational dialogue between these characters. The lead performances are great from Cillain Murphy as Jim, Naomie Harris as Selena and great supporting performances from Brendan Gleeson, Megan Burns and Christopher Eccleston.
01. Trainspotting (1996)
The film comes off as an honest portrayal of the ins and outs of drug addiction, making it appear beautifully shot when injecting heorin and contrasting scenes of the consequences being as ugly as it is mesmerising to watch and eventually gives hope and the option of choice for the films protagonist. Danny Boyle does a terrific job with directing this film, my favourite of his personally, balancing the straight forward scenes with some very stylised ones (Rent Boy’s cold turkey state in his bedroom with a baby crawling on the roof as one such specific sequence) to the utterly shocking (dead baby scene) and focusing on characters that are relatable in more ways than one, making it comical while serious at the same time. Ewan McGregor gives a terrific performance as Mark ‘Rent Boy’ Renton of a man we hope fines some silver lining at the end of the tunnel, while Robert Carlyle adds menace anytime as he appears onscreen as the rather short tempered Begbie. The upcoming sequel has a lot of pressure on it to be just as good, if not better, than the original.
So what is your favourite Danny Boyle film? Leave a comment and let me know.