James Ponsoldt has developed a solid directorial oeuvre in the past decade or so as the figurehead of largely character-driven pictures of independent roots. During this time, the Athens, Georgia native has put 5 films to the silver screen, acting as screenwriter on 3 of them, and has garnered a reputation as the sort of filmmaker who can provide the tools necessary for a number of his stars to produce break-out dramatic performances, with Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Miles Teller and Jason Segel each producing some of their best-ever work under the director’s tutelage. In this edition of Ranked, each of James Ponsoldt’s films – from Off the Black in 2006 to The Circle in 2017 – shall be ranked from worst to best.
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5. The Circle (2017)
When Netflix announced a Tom Hanks produced movie about internet privacy starring Emma Watson and John Boyega was to arrive on their streaming service in 2017, a lot of people were positive about what was to come. Unfortunately, what came was – according to Joseph Wade’s review for The Film Magazine – “one heck of a miss”. Bad performances, a patronising story, below-standard CG-effects and an overall sense of what could have been made for a lacklustre offering.
So far as Ponsoldt is concerned, it seems that the director often went missing at times where the film needed visual inspiration or an injection of character, and it was clear that he felt much less comfortable in the movie’s concept-driven formula than he had in his previous character-driven work. This is, by far, the worst feature length movie of Ponsoldt’s career; a red mark against an otherwise very impressive filmography.
4. Off the Black (2006)
Coming out of the blocks with the sort of character drama he would become admired for, Ponsoldt’s passion project about a teenager befriending an ageing man courtesy of an act of vandalism and a mutual love for baseball featured all of the traits the screenwriter-director’s films would become most notable for, from its slow-paced presentation of suburban American life to its complex characterisations and the high levels of performance. Tackling the famously tough to work with Nick Nolte in his first feature can’t have been an easy feat, but Ponsoldt managed to get an honest, layered and typically high quality performance out of the veteran actor that gifted the film an extra level of investment and really brought the screenplay to life. It may only be one place above The Circle on this list, but it’s head and shoulders above it in terms of quality and a must-see for fans of any of the other entries on this list.