Article by Brett S.
British filmmaker Danny Boyle made his debut in 1994 with the dark comedy-thriller Shallow Grave, and since then, he’s made his mark as one of the most interesting directors in the business. Normally choosing to work outside the Hollywood system, his daring persona is reflected through his ability to genre-hop and take great risks as a filmmaker. This uniqueness as well as his signature blend of hyperactive camerawork and a prevailing theme of hope gives him an edge that most filmmakers do not possess. The 2008 surprise hit Slumdog Millionaire won eight Oscars and earned Boyle the coveted ‘Best Achievement in Directing’ trophy. His new film 127 Hours offers no signs of post-Oscar gloating as he continues to push himself and take great risks as a filmmaker, all while sticking true to the things that make his films so unique.
Here’s how I would rank the films of Danny Boyle…
9. A Life Less Ordinary
Boyle’s first move towards the mainstream is probably his biggest misfire. It’s formulaic, but it’s also an uneven mess of a film. Not a complete bust, as it does contain a few laughs and decent moments, but there’s nothing really substantial or interesting enough to justify its making.
8. The Beach (2000)
Another move towards the mainstream, and another misfire. Noticing a trend here? Based on Alex Garland’s novel “The Beach”, this film version just doesn’t translate well. Like “A Life Less Ordinary”, it’s also uneven and messy, though it does contain some interesting ideas regarding human nature. The first half of the film is decent, but it eventually all falls apart. A failed experiment I would say, as it tries to do so much and ultimately loses focus.
7. Shallow Grave (1994)
Boyle’s first film is a darkly humorous crime thriller which establishes his kinetic style as a filmmaker but goes against his eventual trademark themes of humanism. These characters start off as great friends but progressively turn against each other as greed and other personal values take over. Boyle’s use of irony and black comedy give this one an edge, but I’d be willing to bet that the Coens would’ve made this a classic.
6. 127 Hours (2010)
I really had a hard time deciding where I wanted to place this one. Since i’ve only seen it once so far, it’s kind of hard for me to know what kind of lasting effect it will have on me. I wouldn’t be surprised if it were to crack the top five after repeat viewings, though I am concerned about its replay value considering the nature of the film. “127 Hours” totally personifies Danny Boyle as a filmmaker. He continually feels the needs to challenge himself and take on fresh and difficult material, even after being rewarded with Oscar gold. Instead of casting Tom Hanks or Sean Penn in a new social drama, Boyle used his free director’s pass to do a challenging vanity project which would’ve never been greenlit by any studio had he not been the director of “Slumdog Millionaire”.
5. Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
For obvious reasons, I felt obligated to put this one higher on the list. It’s definitely a good film, and it might even be great, but it just isn’t as emotionally affecting for me as I feel it should be. “Slumdog Millionaire” is unique in that it plays out like a rags to riches fairy tale that’s given large doses of harsh realism. It’s kinetic, guerilla-style rendering of the poverty-stricken slums of Mumbai scream authenticity, as does Boyle’s overall representation of an alien culture. The heartwarming and crowd-pleasing finale is justified by having to endure what seems like a lifetime of misery and misfortune. Boyle’s usual themes shine through here as he touches on the endurance of the human spirit and the pursuit of happiness through love as opposed to material wealth. It’s got the ability to universally unspire, but the locale couldn’t be any more fitting for a story such as this. The ending isn’t quite as emotionally satisfying as I wanted it to be, and there are a few moments where things get a little over-manipulated, but these small gripes won’t encourage me to argue when people proclaim this to be the best film of 2008.
4. Millions (2004)
Boyle once again demonstrates his versatility as a director by taking on a family film which hinges on the performance of a child protagonist. While the underrated “Millions” does cater to younger audiences with some cutesy-poo magical stuff, it’s certainly accessible to anyone as its blunt commentary on capitalism is universally relevant. Boyle also adds his usual humanistic touches by celebrating morality and acts of kindness. From my perspective, this one is a more heartwarming crowd-pleaser than Slumdog, and probably Boyle’s most emotionally affecting film to date.
3. Trainspotting (1996)
Boyle’s stylish rendering of scottish heroin subculture makes for one of the most iconic films of the ’90s and a powerful anti-drug use campaign. “Trainspotting” contains a certain authenticity with its raw scottish dialect, unsettling moments and filthy, decaying interiors. It does not shy away fom humor, though most of it is rather dark due to the nature of the film. Its pulsating rhythm is aided by Boyle’s frequent use of techno music, giving the film a hyperactive tempo which totally suits it. “Trainspotting” plays out very much like a psychadelic high in which the user rides out and ultimately realizes its damaging effects. Choose life.
2. Sunshine (2007)
With “Sunshine”, Boyle borrows heavily from Ridley Scott’s “Alien” and Kubrick’s “2001” but ultimately creates a powerful sci-fi experience that is uniquely his own. On the surface, this film is simply about a mission to re-ignite a dying sun, but its rich subtext conjures up plenty of metaphorical thoughts on religion, science, human nature and artificial life. The third act takes a wild turn into supernatural, pseudo-spiritual horror and allows the film to function on a metaphysical level. Elevated by awesome imagery and an intensely powerful finale, “Sunshine” has all the makings of a sci-fi classic.
1. 28 Days Later (2002)
“28 Days Later” totally reinvents and revitalizes the modern-day zombie film. The idea itself is very socially relevant in its illustration of contemporary paranoia surrounding viral pandemics. And while biological outbreaks have been seen before in films, the idea of a pyschological virus that causes living humans to act as fast-moving zombies is a fresh concept that pushes forward the zombie sub-genre.
The film shows us how destructive the virus is to those who become infected, but it also exposes equally destructive human behavior in those not affected. It’s a social allegory that literally depicts humankind destroying itself, while also a cautionary political tale and an exploration of the struggles between humanist and survivalist ideals. And though the film lends itself to dark subject matter and ideas, Boyle doesn’t completely abandon his usual optimistic outlook as there are some touches of hope and beauty to behold.
The film’s first twenty minutes present some of the most powerful, iconic imagery in horror film history as the film’s protagonist wakes from a coma and walks the desolate, lifeless streets of London. There’s an overwhelming sense of isolation, and Boyle’s wonderful choice of music here serves to gradually build the mounting dread and heighten the atmospheric surreality of London’s post-apocalyptic landscape.
The film has a look and feel that is truly one of a kind. Shot in digital, the grainy, handheld look emits a unique aura of cinematic realism. This naturalistic, handheld approach has lended itself to many genre pictures since 2002 and has sparked a new wave of DIY-inspired filmmaking. I would be wrong to say that Danny Boyle had everything to do with this emergence, but he was certainly a part of the equation.
The score/soundtrack is a perfect fit as it lends itself to both beauty and dread. Boyle has a knack for creating memorable moments by infusing both powerful imagery and effectively complementing music, and he’s definitely on top of his game here.
“28 Days Later” transcends the confines of post-apocalyptic horror and works also as a thought-provoking humanist drama. It’s a highly effective piece of cinema and easily one of the most important horror movies of the last decade. In fact, I consider it to be one of the better horror movies of all time, and easily my favorite film from Danny Boyle.
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I’m a college student, aspiring journalist and adamant film buff. My writings on film are simply intended to provide readers a wide context of knowledge and insight.
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