2. The Spectacular Now (2013)
It would be easy to dismiss The Spectacular Now as a typical high school romance movie given how its promotional material made the choice to lean towards the more romance-driven and comedic elements of the film, but to dismiss this release as anything other than a moving drama that proves coming-of-age tales can still be effective in the modern day would be of great disservice to the overall quality of this James Ponsoldt film.
Much like Off the Black and Smashed, The Spectacular Now is a slow-paced suburban character piece, with the central protagonists – played by the emerging talents of Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller – completing journeys that equate to more than the simple beats of falling in love, out of love, and then back into love, that would feature in your typical teen movie, instead using the romance angle to accentuate the film’s presentation of its male protagonist’s much more personal journey into adulthood; one which presents themes as typical as finding a place in the world while still remaining original and insightful, a tough balance to to maintain.
Woodley performs admirably in this film, but the true standout performer is Miles Teller whose portrayal of laugh-it-off damaged is presented as both brave and incredibly vulnerable, marking an important point in Teller’s career when the (at the time) relatively inexperienced actor truly shone under Ponsoldt’s lens, making him one of young Hollywood’s most intriguing talents.
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1. The End of the Tour (2015)
James Ponsoldt’s 2015 offering was a continuation of his character-driven route through cinema, this time presenting the real-life encounter between Rolling Stone journalist David Lipsky and famed novelist David Foster Wallace in the aftermath of the author’s ground-breaking publication “Infinite Jest” in 1996.
The End of the Tour was a critical success, but it is perhaps best remembered for an excellent performance by Jason Segel, whose move away from comedy was met with universal praise for his portrayal of the troubled author. It was undoubtedly the performance of his career thus far and acted as further proof as to Ponsoldt’s talents for unearthing career-defining performances from his actors.
The End of the Tour was also perhaps the most rhythmic movie of Ponsoldt’s slow-moving filmography, and carried a visual artistry that was more prevalent than in his previous work, lifting the piece beyond its well established competition and into the top spot on this list.
If you see any Ponsoldt film in your lifetime, this one should be it.
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James Ponsoldt has developed a career out of exploring human nature and providing the perfect circumstances in which actors can perform above and beyond expectations. He is a filmmaker with an astute intuition for presenting reality and the dramas of every day life as being truly cinematic. Whether the best is yet to come, or has already been, James Ponsoldt remains one of the more talented independent directors working on the scene today.
Updates 5th September 2023 to include Summering. Originally published 27th July 2017.