6. T2 Trainspotting (2017)
One of the most narratively and visually faithful sequels to ever be put to screen after such a long wait as 20 years, T2 Trainspotting offered something truly magical regarding the presentation of grief-sodden nostalgia and how each of us must, one day or another, acknowledge the pain and guilt of our youth while managing our growing anxieties about old age and our inevitable deaths. Criticised for not quite re-imagining the original enough to warrant the 20 year wait, this Trainspotting sequel wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea but it did earn praise for once again establishing music and monologues as central elements, and did surprise everyone with its representation of memory as a physical manifestation through effortless cut-backs to the original material. More than most movies out there, and specifically more than any in Boyle’s catalogue, T2 Trainspotting captured a very specific moment in each of our lives and presented it in an identifiable way to anyone, whether they’d been through it yet or not, while managing to maintain the rush and come-down narrative arc that had defined the drug-fuelled original as an all-round classic. Perhaps the most underappreciated of Boyle’s work, T2 Trainspotting was more than a simple nostalgia trip sequel, it was a central-figure in Boyle’s imprint on film and a truly worthwhile follow up.
5. Steve Jobs (2015)
Danny Boyle was hardly the first man who must have come to mind when considering names for a biopic about the recently deceased Apple founder Steve Jobs, but his appointment did make for one of the least conventional and most riveting biopics in recent years, Boyle’s signature off-kiltered approach gifting Steve Jobs a feeling of “clever wit and charm” or one of “almost total messiness”, with reviews landing on either side of that line but very rarely in the middle. What Boyle did provide was a unique look at the power of the central most characters and the dynamic he shared with his closest confidantes, Fassbender and Winslet delivering to such a high level that each were nominated in their respective acting categories at the 2016 Oscars. Boyle was of course aided by a fantastic script from the legendary Aaron Sorkin in his realising of the story of this modern technological wizard, which only added to the quality seen in the final product, Steve Jobs becoming one of Boyle’s most established pieces to date.
4. 28 Days Later… (2002)
What if zombies could run? That was the simple premise of this early 2000s horror starring Cillian Murphy as a coma patient who wakes up to the silence of London’s empty streets and comes to discover the terror of an in-progress zombie apocalypse. This Danny Boyle offering featured all of the trademarks of the director’s style, from unnatural camera movements to experimental shot composition and framing, and is one of those films that you could dissect over and over again in search of nuggets of wisdom as regards the filmmaker’s intentions. More so than that, 28 Days Later… remains a go-to entry from Boyle’s catalogue for many because of its lasting pull as not only a very good zombie movie, but one that importantly developed the genre in a fresh and interesting way. At the time people weren’t making movies like this, which is a part of the reason for its lasting success. It was a film that would have been a risk for a filmmaker returning to his British roots, but it was one that ultimately paid off, becoming one of Boyle’s most unique offerings ever put to screen.
3. Shallow Grave (1994)
Shallow Grave was Danny Boyle’s scintillating feature-length debut and remains one of the most unique, accessible and rewatchable releases of the director’s long and storied career. Starring would-be stars Ewan McGregor and Christopher Eccleston, and written by Boyle’s screenwriting collaborator John Hodge (Trainspotting, A Life Less Ordinary, The Beach, Trance, T2 Trainspotting), Shallow Grave adopts a more traditional visual style than some of the director’s later releases, owing much of this to the technology of the time, gifting the staunch thriller a Hitchockian feel. Certainly more of a success critically and commercially in Boyle’s home country of the UK than in the US, Shallow Grave doesn’t seem like it’s for everyone, but the years have been kind to this particular Boyle offering, dictating that it should certainly be considered among the director’s very best.
2. Sunshine (2007)
Following the path of the great auteurs of the past, Boyle had to at some point tackle the science fiction genre, and in 2007 that’s exactly what we got with his divisive, twisted take Sunshine. This gloriously conceived, aesthetic masterpiece masterfully played upon the likely tensions and anxieties that would accompany space travel, offering seemingly one of the most realistic portrayals of would-be long-distance space exploration we’ve ever seen in English language cinema, establishing characters and their opposing philosophies/beliefs with their unified humanity in such a way that made Sunshine one of those films you just can’t turn away from. Starring a plethora of top names including 28 Days Later collaborator Cillian Murphy, a young Chris Evans, Benedict Wong, Rose Byrne, Michelle Yeoh and Cliff Curtis, the scripted tensions melted into the visual splendour to offer one of the most complete Boyle offerings in his career thus far.
Many may have been taken aback by the film’s significant plot twist, the result of which divided many who saw it, but regardless of how public judgement fell upon the decision, it always did seem very in character for the director, Sunshine illustrating the best of what Boyle brings to contemporary cinema.
1. Trainspotting (1997)
Even in a career as storied and familiar as Danny Boyle’s, no film he has ever released has been quite as important to the contemporary zeitgeist as his 1997 surprise smash hit Trainspotting. Set sometime in late 80s Edinburgh, Trainspotting tackled drug and rave culture, establishing the impoverishment that drives young people to it, the film echoing the voices of those who had previously felt unheard. More than a movie, Trainspotting was a moment in time, a snapshot of culture and the feelings of the people, its quotability and all-time great soundtrack synchronising with Boyle’s increasingly elaborate means of visual storytelling. The piece had impact too, offering by far the most harrowing of Boyle’s visual horror and marrying this to the thrill of getting high in such a way that the movie’s ultimate message of desperation and a need for escapism remained front and centre. Trainspotting is Boyle at his most succinct and determined, and it is undeniably the best and most important release of his career. If you had to pick one film through which to see what Boyle is all about, it would be this one.
Boyle has long been a staple of British cinema and his next film, Yesterday, will tackle celebrity through the medium of The Beatles. Are you excited for it? What do you make of his career so far? What’s your favourite Danny Boyle film? Let us know in the comments below!