American filmmaker Cameron Crowe has made a career out of bringing off-beat stories to the big screen, often working against the conventions of promotable American studio cinema to offer films so bound to his quirky and effervescent stylistic signature that he has forged a unique and contemporary catalogue of films. Having only released 10 pictures across a near 30 year career, Crowe is perhaps best remembered for the period between his debut film Say Anything in 1989 and Vanilla Sky in 2001, an era in which he was the lead creative mind behind Singles, Jerry Maguire and Almost Famous. In this edition of Ranked, we have taken it upon ourselves to rank all of the filmmaker’s feature-length directorial outings from worst to best. As always, we encourage you to leave your thoughts in the comments below!
10. Aloha (2015)
Perhaps the only oversized misstep of Crowe’s career, Aloha was released in the midst of the surge in popularity for both Bradley Cooper and Emma Stone, and co-starred rising Hollywood talent Rachel McAdams, yet failed to deliver on the promise of its cast courtesy of a screenplay lacking the guts to step away from its own whimsy in order to earn the happiness of the characters or indeed its audiences. Some reviews labelled it unintelligible and others boring, but they all agreed that Aloha should be considered the worst release of Crowe’s career, and so do we.
9. Elizabethtown (2005)
Crowe’s final cut of Elizabethtown may have been better reviewed than the initial festival release version that was cut by over 18 minutes, but it remains one of the less beloved of the director’s ouevre nonetheless. It’s probably because of the poor performance from Orlando Bloom, at the time a major rising Hollywood star who was quickly being found out for his distinctive lack of depth as an actor, but a 4.7 average rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes remains somewhat of an injustice for a film that was filled with the same Croweisms that had solidified the screenwriter-director as a major player in the past. This film is hardly as bad as Aloha despite being so close to it in this list, but we imagine you’ll agree that it’s hardly as good as what’s to come.
8. The Union (2011)
This is such a fantastically well put together film that it seems unfitting of its quality to push it so far down this list, but we do so in the opinion that music documentaries – especially ones so self-congratulatory and specific to the tastes of its rather niche audience – are simply less able to tap into the zeitgeist as dramas and romances, and as such we cannot in good conscience place it above some of the pictures still to come. Even so, check this out if you’re an avid music fan or have a degree of appreciation for either of the men involved; it’s interesting and strangely uplifting.
7. Pearl Jam Twenty (2011)
Pearl Jam Twenty can be categorised in much the same way as the above listed The Union, and as such places higher on the list simply because of how Crowe manages to make the twenty years of Pearl Jam releasing music seem more universally impactful than the work in his Elton John piece. This is a film that’s better for fans than non-fans, and the film does contain the stench of a filmmaker doing something just to be considered a “cool middle-aged man”, but there is a lot to be learned and enjoyed in Twenty that makes overlooking this somewhat easier.
6. We Bought A Zoo (2011)
Based on the very true British story of a zoo opening against all the odds to universal appraisal, We Bought A Zoo is a very American tale about working hard to make something of yourself, yet it does a good enough job of steering clear of its truly cringe-worthy Americanisms to offer an uplifting film worthy of our times; a picture so solidly knitted to a pre-9/11 positivity that it was perhaps less well received than it may have been in another time or place, but was solid nonetheless.
5. Vanilla Sky (2001)
Based on Alejandro Amenábar’s Spanish-language film Abre los ojos (Eng: Open Your Eyes), Cameron Crowe borrowed star Penelope Cruz for his American adaptation Vanilla Sky, a film which packed the same emotional punch as the original, only with more prime Tom Cruise and references to American pop culture. This mix makes Vanilla Sky a moving time capsule on new millennium America and the changing ideals of the time, as well as a quite moving piece in its own right. Did it miss many of the treasures of the original film? Sure. Does it matter? Not so much in the case of this list, where we rank it dead in the middle at number 5.
4. Singles (1992)
Having released the iconic 80s film Say Anything as his debut feature, Crowe waited three years to release follow up Singles in 1992, a film in which he managed to encapsulate the grunge movement of the time in an hourglass story of friendship and romance that feels as much like a time capsule as everything else the filmmaker has ever put to film. Featuring lots of long hair, pessimism and a general lack of approval for the status quo, Singles was perhaps the film that grunge mega-fan (see Pearl Jam Twenty above) was born to make, and it was surely one of his best outings too.
3. Jerry Maguire (1996)
Fast forward 4 years from our last entry and the new, highly ambitious and prosperous 90s were in full swing, making the similarly as ambitious, money-versus-love centred plot of Jerry Maguire another time capsule of culture worth watching. It was the director’s first partnership with Tom Cruise, perhaps the decade’s biggest movie star, and together they forged a romantic comedy that is so readily associated with its most iconic and popular moments that it’s easy to forget the real qualities of the film, of which there are many. Maguire was the launching pad to superstardom for Renée Zellweger and has probably the best performance of Cuba Gooding, Jr’s career, but most importantly as regards this list it remains Crowe’s only ever Best Picture nominee, and only one of two films to ever earn him a screenwriting nomination (the second is yet to come).
2. Say Anything (1989)
Say Anything is as much a must-watch movie of its era as Jerry Maguire is, yet with current society holding the 80s aloft in a way not too dissimilar to John Cusack with that boombox in the above image, Say Anything must be considered more of a life-changing and pop-culture-infiltrating film than the Cruise-starring Oscar-nominated release, because when a film is referenced over and over again by other films, you know there’s something special at the source. The movie is the modern equivalent to the classic hollywood films that told us bold statements of love solved all of life’s problems, and while that may be problematic in today’s day and age, there is a true sense of innocence about the bold actions of the characters in Crowe’s most iconic movie; our number 2 of his career.
1. Almost Famous (2000)
Cameron Crowe earned a screenwriter’s Oscar nomination for his work on Almost Famous despite its non-traditional tone and the manner in which it seemed to avoid the Hollywood bubble in terms of casting and presentation, which is a testament to his work if ever there was one. The film took 4 years to be released following Jerry Maguire and marked the 4th surefire critical success in a row for the filmmaker who at this stage could have been trusted to make almost anything into either a culturally significant or financially successful film. Most importantly as regards this list, Almost Famous was the perfect coming of age movie; a film that defined its time, sure, but more importantly did so by becoming timeless in of itself. A must-watch for anyone who has ever experienced those awful feelings of romance in your developing years, Almost Famous is our number 1 Cameron Crowe movie of all time.