Tuesday Thursday Top Ten
With Ewan McGregor back in theaters with Beginners and with it being Moulin Rouge! week and all, how about a list of our top Ewan performances?
I have only the dimmest recollection of A Life Less Ordinary and I just didn't want to include that awful Star Wars prequel trilogy on principle (though Ewan survived it better than most of the actors) and it's possible I forgot something else... but here we go.
10 "Jerome" in THE PILLOW BOOK (1996)
I love Ewan's ballsy (ahem) taste in material... at least at that point in his career. His screen persona often reads sweet but he's quite a wild child in terms of the cinema.
09 "The Ghost" in THE GHOST WRITER (2010)
A tricky cipher part -- who is he really? we can't know -- that he pulled off well. It helps that the movie is so damn good: top ten list!
08 "Joe Taylor" in YOUNG ADAM (2003)
Arriving so quickly on Moulin Rouge!'s warm heels this one was a shocker. Ewan re-embraced the amoral danger of his star-making roles in the 90s, absent the devilishly winking charisma that made his previous unsavories so palatable. Bonus points for sexing up Tilda Swinton and and expressing his love of condiments. We generally drown our burgers in them, but he prefers them on live flesh.
07 "Alex Law" in SHALLOW GRAVE (1994)
I haven't seen Danny Boyle's feature debut since the 90s but it was one sick and slick calling card with a very young long haired Ewan acing his soulless roommate act.
06 "Catcher Block" in DOWN WITH LOVE (2003)
He probably owed this flirty cocky shot at romantic comedy headlining via Moulin Rouge! but who is better suited to it. Plus, he looked so good in his suits. This is a movie I keep meaning to rewatch.
05 "Curt Wild" in VELVET GOLDMINE (1998)
We mentioned 'wild child' earlier. None of his roles embrace that concept quite as obviously. Ewan, who doesn't leash himself when acting (to our eternal gratitude), played the hell out of this unpredictable glitter-spraying, pants-dropping, drug-taking, boy-kissing, fucked-up rock star morphing from glam rock abandon to... sedated "Curt" Cobain?
04 "Phillip Morris" in I LOVE YOU PHILLIP MORRIS (2010)
That twinkly-eyed sweetness was used to great fey affect in this uneven but funny romantic comedy about a gay romance that bloomed in prison and couldn't quite break wiggle out from behind those bars. Have any of you seen this yet? So many actors biff it when they play up "gayness" but Ewan, always so at ease on camera and free of judgements toward his characters (think about it) came across so naturally. Few actors are as good at playing romance onscreen, he nearly always makes a solid case for why the other actor/actress is gaga for him.
03 "Oliver" in BEGINNERS (2011)
A great part of the success of this whimsical melancholy exploration of a dying gay father (Christopher Plummer) and his lonely straight son (McGregor), is how sympathetically Ewan embodies the role and how much chemistry he always has with co-stars. Loneliness can be a huge self-sabotaging drag in real life -- often turning people off when the sufferer needs to connect -- but in the movies it tends to evoke empathy in audiences. You watch and you wait and you desperately want Oliver to find love and happiness and to smile broadly and often... partially because he's Ewan McGregor. Stop hiding that famous grin!
02 "Rent-boy" in TRAINSPOTTING (1996)
A performance worth diving into a toilet bowl to experience.
"Choose Life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television to watch Ewan McGregor movies on!' (This film should have netted him his first Oscar nomination with ease. Alas... he's still waiting.)
1 "Christian" in MOULIN ROUGE! (2001)
When The Film Experience did a "Favorite Actors of the Aughts" in 2005, Ewan McGregor landed in the top 5 (yes, I hope to republish that later this year -- donate -- to look at the entire decade rather than just its first half) and here's what I had to say, paraphrased for this new context.
Ewan makes me feel. He makes me smile. Some actors we relate to as identity surrogates. We want to be them or see the story through their eyes. In the case of McGregor I find I'm always the other characters; I'm always with him. The apotheosis is the "Elephant Love Medley" scene. Like Nicole Kidman's 'Satine' I usually start out trying to resist Ewan McGregor (my critical/cynical self usually in control). As he keeps battering away at my defenses with his unique spark, humor, and openheartedness (both as character and actor), I start to cave. I resist, I complain, I explain all the reasons why not. But before long I am totally his.
It still applies. Come what may...