' Cinema Romantico: The 25 Best Michael Shannon Films of the 21st Century So Far

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The 25 Best Michael Shannon Films of the 21st Century So Far

Last week, as you may know, Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott, esteemed film critics at The New York Times, published a list provocatively titled The 25 Best Films of the 21st Century So Far. It, as such lists will, sparked other critics to construct their 25 Best Films of the 21st Century So Far, and then other critics to construct their 25 Best Films of the 21st Century So Far, on until forever. And whereas lists like this should be good conversation starters or nice additions to an ongoing cultural discussion, mostly they are just triggers for outrage, which is a real shame, because, as Richard Brody, highbrow New Yorker critic who has thankfully never not owned his love of lists, notes in the introduction to his 25 Best Films of the 21st Century So Far list: "one reads different critics for different perspectives and different tastes."

Exactly. And you don't come to Cinema Romantico in the wake of The 25 Best Films of the 21st Century So Far lists to get our 25 Best Films of the 21st Century So Far list. That's not how we roll. So here's this list, assembled in absolutely no particular order whatsoever, instead.

The 25 Best Michael Shannon Films of the 21st Century So Far


Shotgun Stories. If Shannon has perfected the Dimensional Hothead then this might be the first performance where he nailed it, portraying a short-tempered southern man who wants to overcome Who He Is but will never cow Where He Comes From.

Premium Rush. If you are playing the stock villain in a bike messenger thriller you'd be forgiven for simply showing up and collecting your paycheck as you go through the motions. But Shannon, bless his heart, not only plays something, a weasel convinced the whole stinking world is out to get him, he wraps that something up with all kinds of comically terrifying emoting. This performance is proof positive that, if born in a different era, he would have been perhaps the greatest silent film villain of all time.

Nocturnal Animals. There is a moment where Shannon, his character's health revealed to be much less than tip-top and unable to stomach food because of it, is told to eat something. The way in which Shannon vehemently shovels a forkful of food into his mouth says more about the burden of enduring pain than any twelve hundred disease of the week movies combined.

Midnight Special. The Kid With Special Powers is the point here, which Shannon plays straight to, playing down because every move he makes is all about the kid.

Elvis & Nixon. His Elvis is majestic, by which I mean it is not majestic at all, a purposeful Vegas impersonation of Elvis at a time in Elvis's life when Elvis had, more or less, become an impersonation of himself.

They Came Together. I hated this movie. I mean, I really hated it. But when Michael Shannon came tearing in bearing his classic Shannon rage face for his, like, six second cameo, man, that was still the best.


Frank & Lola. I watched this on my laptop while my girlfriend was watching something else on TV, marking us as a truly modern American couple, and when I burst out laughing she turned to me and asked "What's so funny?" I replied, "Michael Shannon was just staring at this guy."

The Runaways. It's sorta like Paul Giamatti's Eugene Landy melded with R. Lee Ermey's Gunnery Sergeant Hartman if he was in a futuristic 80s rock opera.

Return. As the spouse of a soldier returned from Iraq, Shannon emits an aloofness hinting at his character's secret, but he also knows this is Linda Cardellini's movie through and through and simultaneously, quietly cedes the stage.

The Missing Person. One of the best comic bits that isn't really a comic bit at all of this century is Michael Shannon as an exhausted, irritated private detective trying to buy a cellphone that "takes pictures" while the cellphone store guy keeps trying to upsell him. My girlfriend knows this scene all too well even though she hasn't seen it because I quote it all the time in my terrible Michael Shannon impression. "I just [beat] want a phone [beat] that takes [beat] pictures."

Complete Unknown. For whatever issues this movie might have had, I still kind of loved it, and I loved Shannon in it, the way he burned not so much with anger at the betrayal of Rachel Weisz's character as envy for what she has gone and done.


Take Shelter. It's absurd to call any one Shannon performance the "best" since nearly every performance he gives is, in its own way, stone cold solid, but no Shannon performance, we can be sure, is better than "Take Shelter", where he's playing a father and a husband with something like a cosmic itch he can't scratch, loving yet terrified that his love alone won't be enough. I always think of Shannon in terms of the moment in this movie when he is standing beneath a lightning strewn sky that may or may not be real and rhetorically asks "Is anyone seeing this?" I feel like that so often when I'm watching Shannon. I want to turn to strangers in the theater and ask, bewildered, "Is anyone seeing this?"

Bug. Delusional and unhinged yet so righteously true to what might not be true that he just sort of swoops up and then carries along Ashley Judd's character in his wake, and, in turn, Shannon & Judd themselves become accomplices in pushing past The Great Barrier.

Mud. He's barely in this modernish Mark Twain adventure but makes his couple scenes as a single father count, playing totally erratic yet still, somehow, in the moment of truth, emotionally present for his son.

The Iceman. People are always seeing a movie they didn't like and saying something to the effect of "I just didn't care about the main character." In "The Iceman", as a vicious, vicious hitman, Michael Shannon, understand, does not care that you don't care about his character.

8 Mile. Playing Kim Basinger's abusive boyfriend, there's a lot of cliché inherent in his rage though he transcends it by communicating in the spaces in-between how if you just poked your thumb into his heaving chest, he would probably just topple over.

Freeheld. Shannon is sort of giving the Denzel Washington performance in a much, much worse "Philadelphia", though that's also selling him short because he's doing his own thing, allowing resentment and surprise not to erupt but just sort of burble and then evaporate in the name of of tolerance.

Revolutionary Road. Michael Shannon can see through your shit. That's what nearly every interview with Shannon reveals. And that's what made him so perfect to play John Givings, who's there specifically to see through April and Frank Wheeler's shit and call them on it. And, as everyone knows, when Michael Shannon calls you on your shit, the trumpets sound and the walls collapse.

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead. The thing Michael Shannon does when he says "'Sorry' ain't gonna pay the bills, Chico" is, on certain days, the funniest thing in the history of the world.


Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. If takes someone special to look at turned-up-to-eleven Crazy Eyes Nic Cage with calm suspicion and not get blown off the screen. Shannon does it.

World Trade Center. It takes a certain kind of commited zeal to play a real life guy - Dave Karnes - who just kind of felt himself spiritually summoned to Ground Zero and went with the flow. Shannon has that zeal, not playing it outwardly with great elan but inwardly, like it's something he cannot explain, doesn't particularly care to but must abide by nevertheless.

99 Homes. If Charles Darwin had vaped and been around during the 2008 Financial Crisis.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. We are only including this one, which I have not seen, because Shannon said he fell asleep while trying to watch it which is just so righteous.

Cecil B. Demented. As one part of a pack of movie anarchists, or thereabouts, this early career role has always made me ponder an alternate reality where Shannon took fewer and less bigger roles and remained more underground, like a more intense Michael J. Pollard.

Pearl Harbor. So here's a story and I swear it's true. When I saw this movie in the theater way back when, I came out of it, dazed and depressed, remembering only two things. I remembered Alec Baldwin saying "Leave your goddam hula shirts at home." And I remembered this guy, this guy I didn't know, this guy at the Pearl Harbor air force base who, when Josh Hartnett walks up and asks "Y'all pilots?" said "We're working on it. It's a lot of switches and stuff." Except he didn't, like, completely say it; he kind of, like, mumbled it, but mumbled it in this way that was sort of subtly calling Hartnett's character on his uppity shit although I don't think Hartnett's character (or Hartnett himself) even realized that's what was happening. God, did those mumbled lines resonate. A few years later I realized that Michael Shannon was the guy who mumbled.

3 comments:

mercatiwriter@aol.com said...

Michael Shannon has that ability to totally become someone else -- he was so good and so unrecognizable in Boardwalk.

Alex Withrow said...

Gold. I love Shotgun Stories and Shannon's work in it. Wish more people talked about that film. Your Frank & Lola inclusion was priceless, literally laughed out loud. Have you seen My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done? Shannon + Herzog + Lynch. It's a dream.

Nick Prigge said...

No! I haven't seen that one! One of the best parts of this exercise was it reminded me of the Shannon films I still need to see. I need to watch that one soon...