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The Essentials: The 5 Best Ewan McGregor Performances

by Oliver Lyttelton
June 2, 2011 6:42 AM
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"Down With Love" (2003)
McGregor's never quite been praised for his comic chops, but he's got them in spades (every performance on this list shares a certain wit to them that few actors would have brought), and they received their best showcase in Peyton Reed's terminally underrated 2003 romantic comedy "Down With Love." A souffle-light tribute to the Doris Day/Rock Hudson comedies of the 50s and 60s, McGregor plays the excellently-named Catcher Block, a womanizing journalist who attempts to seduce writer Barbara Novak, a writer whose new book has caused a feminist storm in 1960s New York. Reed, who followed it up with the disappointing "The Break Up" and "Yes Man," nails the style, immaculately pastiching the Day/Hudson originals, and his cast are more than game: McGregor might be more Cary Grant than Rock Hudson, but he's enormous fun, and has oodles of chemistry with co-star Renee Zellwegger. The film tanked hard on release, crushed when released head-to-head with "The Matrix Reloaded," but it's become something of a cult classic since, and with good reason.

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  • Anita | September 8, 2011 10:10 AMReply

    ‘I Love You Phillip Morris’ is the best.
    ‘The Men Who Stare at Goats’ and ‘The Ghost Writer’ are good, too.
    And 'Big Fish, certainly.

  • Marge | June 5, 2011 12:10 PMReply

    Um no Brassed Off?

  • Izzie | June 5, 2011 2:36 AMReply

    Wow I don't remember Christian Bale in Velvet Goldmine. I'm going to have to go back and watch it. Huge fan of Ewan McGregor by the way. Trainspotting and Moulin Rouge are probably my two all time favorites of his movies.

  • Calum | June 3, 2011 11:53 AMReply

    While I agree that the end of 2010 - now have been the best of Ewan McGregor's career since the mid-90s, you guys at Indiewire seem to have missed the boat by about a year.

    What I mean is. Where were you guys when Ewan was getting good reviews for 'The Men Who Stare at Goats', or when he got very good reviews for 'I Love You Phillip Morris'. Where were you when he won Best Actor at the European Film Awards for 'The Ghost Writer'.

    So yes, I agree he's having a comeback by doing more independently spirited pictures, but 'Beginners' certainly isn't the start of a comeback. It's simply the next link in the chain of a comeback.

  • Lucas | June 3, 2011 10:47 AMReply

    Rogue Trader (1999) anyone?

  • TheoC | June 3, 2011 5:13 AMReply

    Aww down with love getting some emm love.

    Remember Peyton Reed was attached to Fantastic Four all those years ago, If he'd shot it period we could have had Fantastic Four First Class.

    I always thought if they'd mashed up the visuals of Down with Love and the script of Intolerable Cruelty They'd have a genunine classic.

    But good list anyway, No lipstick on your collar?(I wanted to be that guy).

  • Mike | June 3, 2011 1:56 AMReply

    Stay is one of the most underrated films of the past decade, and the opening diatribe in this article proves that. Also, Cassandra's Dream might not be one of Woody Allen's all time best, but it definitely doesn't rank amongst his worst, and Angels & Demons ridiculous though it may be was far better than Da Vinci Code.

  • Christopher Bell | June 3, 2011 1:13 AMReply

    Wyn, we, for better or worse, constantly point out that Depp has made shit for years and years.


  • Wyn | June 2, 2011 11:01 AMReply

    ”Cassandra’s Dream?” “Stay?” “Incendiary?” “Deception?” “Amelia?” “Angels & Demons?” >>> the worst theatrical releases in a decade?

    That's hyperbole at its worst. There are countless other films that are far worse, but for some reason Ewan is held to a different standard. The whole "McGregor's Comeback" by-line is getting incredibly tiresome. He's had some misfires, just like everyone else, but unlike so many other actors, he gets skewered for them. How many complete pieces of shit has Johnny Depp made in the last decade?

    Furthermore, few actors are as fearless and independent in their acting and choice of roles. Ewan will probably never get the accolades he deserves, but it would be nice if these stupid kinds of articles would lay off.

  • James | June 2, 2011 10:35 AMReply

    Glad to see "Down With Love" on here, it's one of the great unsung films of the last decade.

  • carrie | June 2, 2011 10:06 AMReply


  • Drew | June 2, 2011 9:52 AMReply

    Big Fish was really good

  • Ryan | June 2, 2011 9:44 AMReply

    I thought Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons were equally lame. But the whole priest flying a helicopter thing was hilarious.

  • cranly | June 2, 2011 8:56 AMReply

    Not a great actor, but this is a fair enough representative sampling of his best work. He also manages to rise above his typical bland amiability as James Joyce in 'Nora' and in the two films for David Mackenzie ('Young Adam' and 'Perfect Sense'). But as yet, the early promise he exhibited in those first two Danny Boyle pics can't really be said to have been fulfilled.

  • anonymous | June 2, 2011 8:50 AMReply

    So happy to see Down with Love on here.

  • walktheearth | June 2, 2011 8:06 AMReply

    No mention of Big Fish?

  • Drew | June 2, 2011 7:35 AMReply

    I liked Cassandra's Dream and Ghost Writer

  • Christopher Bell | June 2, 2011 7:25 AMReply


    There's no way around it, "Angels & Demons" was a piece of shit. And I remember finding enjoyment in "The DaVinci Code."


    Hell yeah @ "Shallow Grave"

  • MikeD | June 2, 2011 7:14 AMReply

    he was also in Ghost Writer which was excellent

  • Zack | June 2, 2011 7:05 AMReply

    I'm no fan of the "Star Wars" prequels, but I'd have to say McGregor's performances (particularly in the latter two) are among my favorite aspects of them.

  • Remy | June 2, 2011 7:02 AMReply

    No "Young Adam"? Really?

  • Kevin Klawitter | June 2, 2011 7:01 AMReply

    "Angels & Demons" among the worst theatrically released movies of the last decade? Seriously? I know it's considered appropos to knock around anything even remotely related to Dan Brown, but that's going way too far.

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