Academy Award-winning director Danny Boyle releases his biopic of Apple magnate Steve Jobs this week, and with it comes a considerable amount awards buzz. With the combined talent on screen and off, will this be another Slumdog Millionaire triumph for Boyle or will it just miss out a la The Social Network? Only the Academy knows. But in tribute to the Brit director’s new release we look back at the work that has proven Boyle to be one of the most interesting and varied directors working.
Shallow Grave (1994)
A brilliant debut film that centers around three people, a corpse and a briefcase of money, Shallow Grave gave us Boyle’s cinematic style in full force straight from the off, and his taste for a good soundtrack.
Ewan McGregor, Kerry Fox and Christopher Eccleston star as the housemates who find that their new lodger is dead and has left behind a big stash of cash. Eccleston is the true standout, showcasing a superb taste for menace, while Fox and McGregor play their roles well. Ken Stott appears as a prying detective and small roles from Gary Lewis and Peter Mullan are great. But, Boyle’s style and his ability to mount tension is truly the unique selling point of this winning first feature.
Based on the hard-hitting but brilliant novel by Irvine Welsh, Boyle madly directs this punk tale of drug abusers, boozers and degenerates in Scotland.
Repeat collaborator Ewan McGregor stars as Renton, a heroin user out to make a somewhat better life for himself but who runs afoul of Robert Carlisle’s psychotic Begbie. Johnny Lee Miller, Ewen Bremmer, Kevin McKidd, and Kelly MacDonald all star alongside them in brilliant roles. People rarely, if ever, forget the Perfect Day sequence, the defecation joke, and the nightmarish baby scenes which transcend the tale of junkies doing absolutely stupid things. And the sight of McGregor climbing into the world’s filthiest toilet to retrieve his “gear”.
A Life Less Ordinary (1997)
A fairly slight film from Boyle, A Life Less Ordinary once again sees him team up with McGregor for this strange black comedy fantasy. John Hodge writes again, having found success with Irvine Welsh’s novel, but the whole idea of this film is a little strange. It’s not quite Wings of Desire and it’s not quite City of Angels, but there are moments of joy, mostly from Delroy Lindo and Holly Hunter as the angels tasked with trying to make sure humans find love.
Cameron Diaz is alright, if not entirely exciting in her role, and while the soundtrack is of course wonderful, the whole film is slight and not particularly memorable.
The Beach (2000)
Based on the novel by Alex Garland (more of whom later) and drawing on inspirations like Heart of Darkness, this story of a idyllic beach community that somehow dissolves into a nightmarish prison is the stuff of strange not-quite horror-thrillers, made all the more exciting by John Hodge’s script and the smart direction of Boyle.
Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Richard, an American student who goes backpacking, along the way he meets the crazy Daffy, played brilliantly by Robert Carlyle, and soon meets Sal, the leader of the Beach, played by the terrifying Tilda Swinton. It marks a strange attempt at a mainstream film for Boyle, one that doesn’t entirely make for a natural addition to his catalogue, but there are some brilliant moments.
28 Days Later… (2002)
After the adaptation of his book, Garland writes this wonderfully scary dystopian horror film about a virus that breaks out and, twenty-eight days on, has left England in ruins. Cillian Murphy is Jim, a bike messenger that wakes from a coma to find himself alone. A scary prospect in itself. Soon, Jim finds he isn’t. And things get even worse. Naomie Harris, Brendan Gleeson and Christopher Eccleston all star alongside him in a film clearly marked by the specter of George A. Romero’s zombie films.
Of course, one of the great thrills is the brilliant theme tune by John Murphy and the fact that Boyle shoots the film like CCTV footage. It’s a washed-out, grim, and thrilling ride with some moments of black comedy. One of the best horror films of the past twenty years, and hopefully there will be a third part.
A downshift for Boyle in the form of this Christmas set family drama about two boys that find a million pounds in the count down to a fictional Euro changeover. The film is slight but marvelous with James Nesbitt and Alun Armstrong being particularly good.
Millions also offers a great insight into the whimsy that Boyle has, the fun, not seen before or again until his incredible opening ceremony for the Olympic Games. While many have forgotten it, it deserves to go on to be considered one of his better works, and a truly lovely festive treat.
Garland. Murphy. Boyle. Back together again; this time for the science fiction horror thriller that throws together the ideas of works like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Solaris and even Dark Star, in a film that sees a crew of the ship Icarus II as they try to deliver a nuclear payload to reignite the sun and save the world from freezing to death.
Murphy is wonderful, his dark, frantic eyes doing most of the work, while Chris Evans is good fun, and Rose Byrne is wonderful. But the dark horse of the film is the late arrival of Mark Strong as the enigmatic Pinbacker at which the film descends into madness.
A flop at the box office, Sunshine may well be Boyle’s finest work.
Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
Wrongly called the feelgood film of the decade, Slumdog Millionaire is actually a fairly unflinching drama film with an uplifting ending. The always likeable Dev Patel, and the radiant Freida Pinto star in this rags-to-riches tale that won Boyle the statue for Best Director.
While it may have seemed a little bit strange for Boyle to make such a adored mainstream work, this is the film that seems to have set the pattern for his later career.
127 Hours (2010)
The incredible true story of Aron Rolston, a man who had the impossible choice between starvation or ripping off his own arm. We know the outcome of the story, not least because Rolston himself was doing hard rotation when the film came out to promote it. James Franco is an inspired choice in the lead role, selling the character’s queasy charm and growing desperation, and Boyle keeps the tension going as we head closer towards the final hour.
Boyle’s choice to take us out of the hole and into flights of fantasy might be a little strange, and it’s true that the chance to see the actual videos that Rolston made himself would have made the film all the more trying, but 127 Hours is still worth every second.
This heist thriller marks a return to the more unpredictable end of Boyle’s oeuvre.
James McAvoy is great as the amnesiac auctioneer, calling to mind a young Ewan McGregor, while Vincent Cassel and the always wonderful Rosario Dawson make the screen come alive as his captor and his shrink. There’s swearing, there’s nudity, and there are mind-boggling ideas. And art. Boyle re-teams with John Hodge, in doing so, creates a film that is an international as it is British, and one that makes the multi-layered dreamscapes of Inception seems straightforward indeed.
Steve Jobs (2015)
Steve Jobs is a strange figure in popular folk lore, a man of incredible vision and questionable fashion sense, but if anyone could bring to life the true story of Apple’s mad creator it would be Boyle. Michael Fassbender stars, along with Kate Winslet and Seth Rogen; hopefully doing a better job that Ashton Kutcher’s hagiographic earlier attempt. Of course the awards are already being spoken about in the most hushed of tones, but, even from the trailers, it’s not hard to see why.