Director Picks: Top 5 Movies by Danny Boyle

Written by Travis Pulchinski November 27, 2012

Danny Boyle portrait

Some great directors are chameleons.  That is, they shape their creative voices to suit the nature of their present project.  Others are auteurs, choosing only to work on stories that suit their signature style.  English director Danny Boyle is perhaps best compared to one of those guys who make abstract art sculptures out of trash.  His distinctive shooting style and inclination towards dazzling colour palettes give his work a visual beauty to contrast the typically unsettling content of his narratives.  The academy-award winning filmmaker is far from easily classifiable however, as his penchant for far-reaching diversity in the genres and subject matter of his films makes him a true master of his craft.

#5: “Sunshine” (2007)

sunshine still

Dude… it’ll be just like the ending to 2001: A Space Odyssey, except it’ll make even less sense…


This film was 90% of the way to launching itself into the figurative science-fiction movie stratosphere and taking its place next to some of the greats.

And then… that third act…

Truly, this movie had it all going on.  It was absolutely gorgeous, it was gripping, it was completely mind-bending.  It contains a single line that ranks right up there with “Open the pod-bay doors please, HAL” as one of the greatest lines in sci-fi history…  But then someone opens a figurative airlock, and everything just starts to suck.  The final twenty minutes of the film is a trippy and epilepsy-inducing mess that tragically holds this otherwise brilliant film from truly shining.

#4: “127 Hours” (2010)

James Franco in 127 Hours

Your motivation is the 800lb boulder crushing your arm, okay?

How the hell do you make a movie about a guy stuck in a hole for five days interesting?  Danny Boyle accepted the momentous challenge in the creation of this powerful and visceral human drama, using the real-life story of hiker Aron Ralston as inspiration for one of 2010’s best films.  While the subject matter prevented him from flexing some of his signature visual muscle, his aptitude for conveying human trauma and emotionally connecting the audience to his characters made this movie an extremely moving experience.  Oh, and a dude totally cuts his arm off.

#3: “28 Days Later” (2002)

28 days later cillian murphy

Bath salts. Not even once.

Take notes, people making “The Day After To-zombie”, pardon me, “World War Z”…  THIS is how you make a zombie movie.  Yes, I know the purists were up in arms about the zombies not really being dead and running fast and whatnot… but this film took a genre that was generally assumed to be near dead and reanimated it with a fresh and bloody fury.  Boyle’s gritty, blood-soaked vision of a raw and realistic zombie apocalypse spawned a renewed passion for the zombie film, as well as a pretty decent sequel.

#2: “Slumdog Millionaire” (2008)

slumdog millionaire danny boyle

Holy crap… we are going to win so many freaking Oscars…

Generally considered Danny Boyle’s masterpiece, this film was a culmination of all his strengths as a director.  The stunning visuals of the foreign setting and fantastic soundtrack made this movie so much more than just the contents of the story it told, which was a heartfelt tale of lifelong love conquering over adversity.  While probably being his most externally beautiful movie, the underlying darkness woven into the plot makes this the definitive example of Boyle’s cinematic mastery and his crowning achievement to date.  Why then is it not #1?

Why, complete personal bias, of course.

#1: “Trainspotting” (1996)

Danny Boyle trainspotting

It’s like if slumdog millionaire spent all his money on heroin.

With the film that would propel him into international relevance and made him an instant icon in British cinema, Danny Boyle’s “Trainspotting” tells the uncompromisingly ugly story of the sex, drugs and… more drugs… life-style of “the lowest of the fucking low” in 1980s Edinburgh.  Proving once again that no one does disgusting quite as beautifully as Boyle, the director injects some of his signature chromatic vividness into the otherwise grungy and cheap aesthetic, giving the grotesque and sometimes surreal scenes a retina-searing resonance that sickens as much as it enthralls.  While it might not have had the perfect concoction in the way “Slumdog Millionaire” did, this film represents the aspects of Boyle’s abilities that set him apart from other filmmakers, and make him one of the few true cinematic visionaries of our time.

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