Lists: Top Five Robert Downey, Jr. Movies

**To all who are clicking through from FlixChatter’s Director Meme post: Please see my 15 Directors HERE. And thanks for clicking through!!

I’ve been thinking a fair amount about everyone’s favorite comeback kid, lately. Not that I need a reason (have you seen the guy?) but the sad truth is that I’m starting to be very disappointed in Mr. Downey. I think that he’s currently very focused on making the money, and that’s cool, I guess, but how many action franchises and lame-looking comedies does he need to do before he can get back to what he does best: acting? I’m not saying that his acting in said action franchises (Sherlock Holmes notwithstanding), etc. is not good … just that I want to see him do something interesting, perhaps dramatic, and, well, Oscar-worthy. Even his most recently announced projects (a Wizard of Oz “prequel”, the action-y sounding Yucatan … Gravity might have promise?) are bumming me out.

So, since today is a Friday, my baseball team is not doing so well in the post-season, and the sun has finally decided to return to New England, let’s not dwell on this negativity! No! Let us rather bask in the halcyon days, otherwise known as the movies in which I like RDJ best. This was a hard list to construct, because the man is somewhat prolific, and I feel like I’m skewed toward more recent work. My excuse is that, since he’s made a lot of movies, he’s made a fair amount of dreck, too. I do have a soft spot for some of the 80s/90s rom-com (I like Only You, I’m sorry), but I had to go with things that I think will withstand the test of time, and will remain high spots for an actor who, I am sure, still has an illustrious career ahead of him. Hopefully. Seriously, though, whatever happened to the idea of him doing a Poe biopic? That, I was interested in!

Oh, right, sorry, thinking happy thoughts. In order of release!

Chaplin (1992)

Making a movie about one of cinema’s most beloved figures can’t be easy, and actually playing such an icon has to be damn near impossible, and yet, only in his mid-20s, Downey manages to completely capture Charlie Chaplin, both in his on- and off-screen personae. I watched this after I had seen two or three Chaplin films (thanks, AFI project) and was blown away by how spot-on RDJ’s imitations of iconic scenes were. One can only assume that the two actors share a great deal in terms of their charisma and ability, and it shows through here. The movie is kind of long and maybe a little boring at times, but it is really an amazing piece of work that deserves recognition. Downey was nominated for an Oscar, but lost out (robbed, I tell you) to Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman. I find it truly hard to believe that any performance that year really topped this one. A must-see. Oh, and yes, that is Kevin Kline you see in the trailers, in a cameo as Douglas Fairbanks. Bonus!

Wonder Boys (2000)

Wonder Boys is included in this list because it is an outstanding movie with an outstanding cast (Michael Douglas, Frances McDormand, Toby Maguire, RDJ, and yes, Katie Holmes), and because I am always impressed by Downey’s ability to move easily into the supporting role. Sure, this is sort of in his middle period, but he’s still got leading-man charisma, and he never overshadows in this piece. He’s a secondary character in a series of events centering around Douglas’ writer (RDJ’s his editor), but he still manages to be a fully-developed individual, and yet never over-steps his boundaries. It’s just such a fun movie. You should watch it.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)

Oh man. This. This is RDJ at his best. I grinned just watching the trailer. Fast, funny, clever … seriously, you’ve got to see this movie. I watched this in “preparation” for Iron Man, and even though it’s not really my usual type of thing (pile of bodies, etc.) I totally loved it. And loved it even more when I re-watched it later with my husband. And actually liked it enough to buy it. There are no wrong steps with this movie. The story is great, the actors are great (Val Kilmer is tremendous), and the affectations (snarky, meta voice-over narration, cinematography) designed to add to the noir feel truly do enhance rather than detract from the overall tone of the movie. I can’t recommend this one strongly enough. I might even forgo a “Weekend Viewing” piece and just demand that you all go out immediately and obtain this movie. Get the point?

Iron Man (2008)

Yes, here it is. The movie that launched the comeback. And, in my opinion, the best comic-book movie in recent memory. I, of course, knew very little about Iron Man when all the noise started. But, I knew I would see it. And I knew that I liked RDJ, at least a little. And I totally loved it. What I love most about this movie is that there is acting. I think that Downey does an absolutely amazing job of moving through the different iterations of Tony Stark’s persona, from arrogant, carefree playboy to a man with a conscience. In terms of the overall thing, I actually enjoyed Iron Man 2 more, because the action and the final battle scenes were much better, Jeff Bridges’ awesome villain notwithstanding (oops, spoiler?), but for Robert Downey, Jr.’s performance, this one stands alone.

Tropic Thunder (2008)

The “two” in the one-two punch of Robert Downey, Jr.’s 2008, the year that saw his triumphant return to stardom, Tropic Thunder is definitely not my type of movie. I don’t much care for Ben Stiller, and I really don’t like Jack Black, but I couldn’t resist what looked like a really fabulous RDJ performance. And he didn’t disappoint. Admittedly (when not “in character”) channeling more than a little bit of another favorite actor (listen closely to that Aussie accent!), Downey once again shows us that he can turn in a multi-layered performance, regardless of what’s going on around him. The movie was enjoyable as well, particularly for someone who watches a fair amount of movies and has a pretty good idea of the way Hollywood works. Good satire. Excellent performance by RDJ. And I have to admit the movie was pretty darn funny. Even Tom Cruise!

Honorable mentions:
Because you know I can never just pick five of something, a few more that almost made the cut: Less than Zero (stupendous acting, plus James Spader being a really hot jerk), Soapdish (more hilarious “biz” satire, with a truly all-star cast),and Zodiac (looong, but again showcasing RDJ’s supporting actor prowess) are all totally worth checking out if you are in need of more of a Robert Downey, Jr. fix. Hey, I totally understand. It’s hard to get enough!


10 responses to “Lists: Top Five Robert Downey, Jr. Movies

  1. Whenever I read your post I always go, why am I even blogging??? Your writing is just so witty and effortless!

    I love how you frame this post by saying you’re a bit disappointed with him. Kinda how I felt about Butler when I made his Top 5 movie list, but y’know what, I think of all people RDJ gets a pass for making a few crappola. I haven’t seen Chaplin, but I agree with the rest of your choices. I’d probably include Less Than Zero though it’s a bit depressing, but his performance was so heartbreaking! Tropic Thunder wasn’t my cup of tea either, but I saw it just for him… and that was totally worth it.

  2. Aw, thanks! I’m having fun writing … it comes sort of naturally, maybe because I read a ton, but it’s good to actually work at it and tweak things. So I’m glad you enjoy it, as long as you keep posting too! You’re my inspiration, after all. 🙂

    Less than Zero was maybe the movie that I waffled about the most, because his performance is really incredible. Ultimately I decided that, taken as a whole, the movie is only so-so, and that because in Chaplin he was playing a real person (and a well-known one) it was more impressive. Definitely NOT taking anything away from LTZ, though, because I was seriously amazed.

    Only You is pretty mediocre as rom-coms go, but I just loved his character. He was SO SO sweet, and while he was being somewhat dishonest, it was so heartfelt and not malicious at all that he just completely charmed me. Plus yeah, love Marisa Tomei

  3. Hey Sam, I just tagged you for a meme:

    Looking forward to seeing your list!

  4. I really need to see Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Wonder Boys, they look great.

  5. you should check out Downey Jr. in 1993’s Hearts And Souls.
    I’ve always found it to be a very underrated comedy/drama about
    this guy and his “imaginary” friends.

    Downey also has a handful of physical bits in it that are
    pretty good–and he gets to impersonate all 4 of his co-stars
    including Charles Grodin, Alfie Woodard, Kyra Sedgewick, and
    Tom Sizemore (back before he was a name)as all 4 of them
    take turns inhabiting his body. Its a pretty good performance
    in a rather forgotten film. (and yes it falls right into
    the catagory of forgoten 90’s crapola–but i’ve always liked it and definitely stand by it if you’re going to talk about top
    5 Downey performances–i mean you can talk about iron man and
    tropic thunder all you want–but havn’t they both been discusses to death at this point???)

  6. I’m such a latecomer to the Church of Downey. I’ve got a lot of catching up to do.

  7. You know, RDJ was one of my favorite parts of Tropic Thunder, if not my favorite. Stiller honestly brought the movie down quite a bit for me (unsurprisingly). But I will never forget the revelation of “OH MY GOD, THAT’S TOM CRUISE!” that came for me at the end.

    At any rate, got a few to add to the Netflix queue from this post! 🙂

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