With 'Trance' on the way, ranking Danny Boyle's 10 feature films to date

Posted by · 6:54 pm · April 4th, 2013

It’s been interesting watching British critics dance around Danny Boyle’s “Trance” (which opened in the UK last week, and hits US screens tomorrow), squaring the film’s superficial genre pleasures with the director’s unlikely new status as a national treasure. Boyle has, of course, been regarded with affection for some time now, both at home and abroad, but in the last five years, his career has taken a turn for the prestigious that wasn’t easily seen coming.

First “Slumdog Millionaire,” once on course for straight-to-DVD indignity, ruled the 2008 awards season, earning Boyle an Oscar for Best Director. Then his follow-up, “127 Hours,” also tickled awards voters’ fancy, taking six Oscar nods including Best Picture — an impressive back-to-back feat for a director whose first eight films earned one Oscar nod between them. He moved onto the London stage scene, emerging victorious with an Olivier Award-winning take on “Frankenstein” that was the hottest ticket in town, before taking on a slightly bigger stage: directing the opening ceremony for the 2012 Olympic Games.

It is, of course, the last of these achievements that has earned Boyle the “national treasure” tag in the UK. A proudly eccentric and quintessentially British affair, his whimsically politicized Olympic spectacular left some international viewers scratching their heads, but earned rave reviews even from his routinely self-deprecating compatriots. When he returned to the day job, anything he produced would seem less grandiose by comparison, but erotic heist thriller “Trance” — his tenth feature film in a 20-year career — still catches us off-guard with its forthright genre aspirations.

Suffice to say “Trance” will not be the third consecutive Danny Boyle film to nab a Best Picture nomination, and frankly, that’s a good thing: the last thing we’d want for a stylist as vital and versatile as Boyle is for him to calcify into a maker of prestige product. “Trance,” with its kinky fetishism and loopy mind games, feels like the work of a filmmaker actively resisting deification, and if pretty much everyone agrees that it’s far from his best work, its very slightness offers rewards of its own. “It”s a kick to see Boyle back in lickety-split genre mode,” I wrote in my Time Out London review. “This is the kind of film he might have made in the “90s, only flashing all the technical elan he”s gained since then.”  

Most of all, “Trance” is an elegant reminder that, for all his smarts as a genre craftsman, Boyle is a director who has never made the same film twice: he’s somehow managed to forge a distinctive directorial stamp while bouncing from horror (“28 Days Later…”) to family fable (“Millions”) to urban hyperrealism (“Trainspotting”) to romantic fantasy (“A Life Less Ordinary”) and plenty else besides.

With that in mind, and given that “Trance” brings his feature count to a nice round 10, I thought this would be the right moment to review his diverse filmography to date, with a strictly idiosyncratic ranking from best to worst. You couldn’t exactly call it a Top 10 (no more than you could a Bottom 10), but grouped together, his films make for a fascinating collective, and even I was surprised by some of the preferences I found myself expressing. Let’s just say I don’t think the Academy necessarily recognized his best work — but ain’t that always the case?

So check out my ranking of Boyle’s films in the gallery below, and feel free to rate them as you go along. Then have at it in the comments: what are your favorites (and least favorites)? And how does “Trance” stack up for you?

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