With World War Z hitting the headlines as of late (not least because of controversial book-to-film changes being made to the overall structure), Terrence Malick’s magnificent The Tree of Life providing one of this year’s highlights and Moneyball recently premiering at TIFF, I thought it would be an apt time to highlight the films of acting megastar Brad Pitt.
Pitt has made a lot of films in his 20+ years in the business and I was surprised to actually look back and see that most of them have been at least good and some, I think you’ll agree, have been fantastic. He is a surprisingly consistent actor as far as choice of good films goes.
Below is my ranking of all of the Pitt films I’ve seen (the list will go by the quality of the film not by his performance). I must point out that I haven’t seen absolutely everything the man has done, with the likes of Meet Joe Black, Troy and Legends of the Fall being notable omissions (any others not on the list means I also haven’t seen them). Also, I’ve decided not to include voice works so the likes of Megamind and Sinbad won’t be listed.
Here goes, my ranking of Brad Pitt’s filmography (possible spoilers within):
18. Thelma & Louise (1991, dir. Ridley Scott)
I’m likely to take a lot of heat for ranking this as my least favorite Pitt film but there you go. I didn’t not like it – the performances of Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon are particularly good – but I caught up with it only a few years ago and perhaps it fell victim to hype. Pitt plays a small but crucial role as a cowboy-like robber who sleeps with Davis’ character. This is what got him noticed and was the start of his heart-throb status.
17. Mr. and Mrs. Smith (2005, dir. Doug Liman)
Next we have a film I think gets a lot of unfair criticism and is perhaps overshadowed by the behind the scenes stuff with Pitt and now girlfriend Angelina Jolie. But it’s actually quite a fun flick with plenty of well choreographed action scenes and playful, knowing performances from the two leads. Nothing outstanding but an enjoyable two hours nonetheless.
16. The Mexican (2001, dir. Gore Verbinski)
I didn’t see this one until very recently – despite it sporting a great cast including Julia Roberts, James Gandolfini, J.K. Simmons, Bob Balaban and Gene Hackman – and it’s a very enjoyable crime story/road trip movie with plenty of twists and turns, some terrific performances (Gandolfini, in particular, is fantastic) and a refreshing often wink-wink mentality. This, The Weather Man, Rango and even the arguably superior remake of The Ring proves director Gore Verbinski works best out-with the jumbled Pirates of the Caribbean universe.
15. Ocean’s Thirteen (2007, dir. Steven Soderbergh)
Even though this is easily my least favorite Ocean’s film, I nonetheless enjoy it a lot. It took a step away from the more quirky, experimental nature of Twelve and was a lot closer to the straight up star-studded entertainment Eleven provided. The addition of Al Pacino as the bad guy of the piece was a nice touch and this one has some of the best laughs of the trilogy (Matt Damon with that huge nose, anyone?).
14. Burn After Reading (2008, dir. Ethan Coen & Joel Coen)
This sees Pitt in one of his wackier roles as clueless gym worker Chad Feldheimer in the Coen brothers wonderfully off-beat film about CIA agents, getting rid of evidence and planning for plastic surgery. Some people flat-out dislike the Coen’s sillier style of filmmaking they often slip into, instead prefer their more serious stuff, but I personally love both styles and Burn After Reading gives a lot of actors (Pitt included) the chance to stretch some comedic acting muscles they don’t get to stretch all that often.
13. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008, dir. David Fincher)
Yes it’s sentimental. Yes everything is laid on thickly. And yes, it is a bit reminiscent of Forrest Gump. But David Fincher’s epic film about a man who is born old and grows younger nonetheless really affected me, with the help of astounding special effects, amazing performances (Pitt gives one of his best here, even if he’s acting through CGI for most of it), beautiful music by Alexandre Desplat and gorgeous cinematography by Claudio Miranda. Pitt earned himself an Oscar nomination for his performance, which he very much deserved in my opinion.
12. Ocean’s Twelve (2004, dir. Steven Soderbergh)
Although not my favorite of the trilogy, Steven Soderbergh’s unusual sequel plays around with the celebrity-like feel of the franchise as it puts it stars within a perhaps overly complicated plot involving an outsider thief who challenges them to see who can steal a precious artifact from a museum first. Some people hate the film for “cheating” its audience by throwing in a twist near the end as if it doesn’t matter but that’s part of the main reason I love it so much. It’s almost like a bunch of celebrities on holiday and there just happens to be a plot going on in the background, with the twist of what’s actually been happening the whole time with the artifact being almost like an afterthought. And I love it.
11. Interview With the Vampire (1994, dir. Neil Jordan)
One of Pitt’s earlier roles but one of his most famous, playing Louis de Pointe du Lac who gets turned into a vampire by Tom Cruise’s suave yet deadly Lestat de Lioncourt. This is a gleefully bloody and macabre film played out with that classic device of someone telling a story (Pitt to Christian Slater’s eager reporter). Aside from the two leads one of the joys of the film is a young Kirsten Dunst as the vicious, eternally young Claudia.
10. Babel (2006, dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu)
Made in between Ocean’s Twelve and Mr. and Mrs. Smith, this might be described as Pitt’s anti-celebrity film. Taking one of many places in this multi-language, globe-spanning story of love, loss, suffering and the sometime inability for humans to truly communicate with one another, this is arguably Pitt’s best ever performance. It gives him a chance to show off his acting chops and not just his celebrity persona.
9. True Romance (1993, dir. Tony Scott)
If this list were going by performance then True Romance probably wouldn’t be this high but since it’s by film preference I had to put Tony Scott’s best film (fact) in the top 10. Pitt has a small but very funny role as a stoner who ultimately points a group of bad guys to the location which would end up hosting the grand bullet-filled showdown of the film. The script was written by Quentin Tarantino, who would (coincidentally or not) cast Pitt in a film many years later, a film which appears higher up on this very list…
8. Ocean’s Eleven (2001, dir. Steven Soderbergh)
I’ve already talked about the second and third installment’s in this franchise but for me the first one is still my favorite. A wonderful cast – alongside Pitt there’s George Clooney, Matt Damon, Andy Garcia, Elliott Gould, Casey Affleck, Scott Caan and the late Bernie Mac, to name but some – clearly having a lot of fun with this complex yet still perfectly understandable casino robbery plot. A movie I go back to time and time again, this is one remake which is superior to the original – how many times can you really say that?
7. The Tree of Life (2011, dir. Terrence Malick)
The most recent entry on the list, Terrence Malick’s masterpiece – which partly focuses on a Texan family in the 1950s and partly on the creation of the universe and the meaning of life – sees Pitt give easily one of his best performances as a controlling father and his relationship with his sons. Probably the only film of 2011 so far which I can say had a genuinely profound effect on me.
6. Twelve Monkeys (1995, dir. Terry Gilliam)
Another one of Pitt’s smaller roles but as a mental patient-turned-public nuisance (to put it mildly) who has big plans and doesn’t like anyone sitting in his favorite chair, this is Pitt at his wildest, most off-beat level. He has worked with some great directors in his career and Terry Gilliam – a unique filmmaker if ever there was one – is certainly no exception.
5. Snatch (2000, dir. Guy Ritchie)
This is another one I might get some heat for, not necessarily for loving the film but for having it so high up on this list. But in spite of his over-the-top style I absolutely adore Guy Ritchie’s crime caper about a diamond and the diverse array of characters (from London and beyond) who are dying to get their hands on it. Pitt plays Irish bare-knuckle boxing champion Mickey O’Neill, who every other character consistently underestimates. Interestingly Pitt was first up for the role Jason Statham plays but when he couldn’t perfect the cockney accent he told Ritchie he could do an Irish one and he landed the role of Mickey instead. I’m certainly glad it turned out that way.
4. Inglourious Basterds (2009, dir. Quentin Tarantino)
16 years after he was lying on a couch stoned out of his mind in the Tarantino-scripted True Romance, Pitt was cast in his unique World War II film, a remake/new version (whatever you wanna’ call it) of a fairly obscure ’70s Italian film (only Tarantino….). Pitt leads the titular Basterds as they kill as many Nazis as possible before stumbling into a golden opportunity to kill Hitler while he’s at a film premiere in France. The film gives Pitt a chance to ham it up with his perfectly groomed mustache, over-the-top tough demeanor and ridiculously thick Southern accent. Pitt unlike he’s ever been.
3. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007, dir. Andrew Dominik)
This is just about my favorite movie of the last decade. Everything from the cinematography by the legendary Roger Deakins and the astounding score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis (who previously collaborated on The Proposition and would go on to score The Road together) to the magnificent performances (from Pitt, Casey Affleck, Sam Rockwell, Garret Dillahunt and Paul Schneider) and the overall intoxicating tone and atmosphere. In spite of its fairly hefty 150 minute runtime I have rewatched the film at least a dozen times (and counting!). Pitt plays the titular Jesse James and was the perfect casting for the role considering the real life man is general thought of as the first of what we now know as a celebrity. Even if co-star Casey Affleck gives the better performance in my opinion, Pitt still shines.
2. Se7en (1995, dir. David Fincher)
There have been many films since which have tried to replicate what David Fincher did with his milestone serial killer film but I can’t think of any who have matched it on tone, atmosphere, depth and sheer creepiness. The latter is partly down to the gruesome murders inspired by the Seven Deadly Sins we see the aftermaths of throughout the film but it’s mostly down to the fact that we never actually see the killer until right near the end. It could be anybody, any John Doe out there walking the street (get it?), and all Pitt’s Detective Mills and Morgan Freeman’s Detective Lieutenant Somerset can do is wait for the next murder to happen. And it still has one of the most shocking, haunting endings I’ve ever seen.
1. Fight Club (1998, dir. David Fincher)
I apologize if this comes off as the easy choice for number one but after much deliberation I couldn’t not put David Fincher’s magnificent Fight Club at the top of the list. Not just for Pitt’s most iconic role to date but for it’s witty script (filled with a-thousand-and-one quotable lines), sleek yet almost grotesque visuals, cool-as-hell vibe and its exploration of manhood, brotherhood and anarchy within a modern society where possessions seem more important than anything else (to name but a few themes). The twist towards the end isn’t exactly original but it’s done in such an off-kilter, unique way that it doesn’t bother me that it’s been done before. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve watched this.
Now that you’ve seen mine feel free to jump in with your list of Brad Pitt films. Any of his not listed above you’d recommend?