P.T. Philben ‘17 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
1. Mark Hanna – The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
“Number one rule of Wall Street” Nobody—and I don’t care if you’re Warren Buffett or Jimmy Buffett—nobody knows if a stock is going up, down, sideways, or in f***ing circles. Least of all stockbrokers.”
If you can make your less-than-five-minute dialogue-driven scene arguably the most memorable part of a great movie, that’s definitely worth some praise. In this Martin Scorsese-directed biopic of stockbroker Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), McConaughey portrays Mark Hanna, a sleazy, fast-talking stockbroker and executive who employed Belfort in his first Wall Street job. He invites Belfort out to lunch, which is more than half of Hanna’s screen time. It is also the funniest part of the movie. He lets Belfort in on all the ins and outs of being a successful Wall Street broker, from the copious amount drugs to sex. And then he lets him know how to actually do the job, which generally involves telling bald-faced lies to rich people and hooking them to the stocks like a drug dealer. Hanna’s fast-talking, laid back, sleazeball delivery keeps you enticed during this disgusting monologue, all the way down to the weird chest bumping. These lessons stick to Belfort long after their meeting, and Hanna leaves a lasting impression. McConaughey pulled a Christopher Walken-stlye cameo, and it was glorious.
9. Mickey Haller – The Lincoln Lawyer (2011)
“I’m not talking about guilty or not guilty; just— just innocence. Know what I’m afraid of now? Evil. Pure evil.”
The serial movie lawyer continues his spree. In this film, McConaughey portrays Mickey Haller, a cheesy crooked lawyer with no care for integrity—that is, until he ends up fighting for good people and is forced to change his character when he sees that morals are not as relative as he once thought. He used to be able to keep his cool, knowing where his clients kept their victims, and yet he grows a moral center by the end. Making that character development believable takes skill. McConaughey brings his standard swagger to the role and presents a performance very standard of his style, while still remembering how to act when a scene calls for it. Funny, charming, witty and so much swag. It’s hard to find a complaint. Michael Connelly, the author of the novel on which the film is based, said that McConaughey “nails” the role. How can you get more meaningful praise than that?
8. Palmer Joss – Contact (1997)
“Is the world fundamentally a better place because of science and technology? We shop at home, we surf the web… At the same time, we feel emptier, lonelier, and more cut off from each other than at any other time in human history.”
This is an interesting entry on the list in that it is arguably the only character with a description that would not trigger anyone to think of McConaughey. Palmer Joss is a renowned philosopher and theologian. Religious isn’t too far off, but an academic without a southern accent is definitely not typecasting. McConaughey owns the role and in this Carl Sagan adaptation, he embodies the faith half of the battle between science and faith perfectly. He does so in that he presents someone who you could perceive as either quite admirable or extremely pompous, depending on your views, all while still being hard to not respect. That and his chemistry with scientist Eleanor Arroway (Jodie Foster), Palmer’s love interest and foil, make for some very enjoyable and intellectually stimulating back-and-forth screen presence.
7. Cooper – Interstellar (2014)
“We used to look up at the sky and wonder at our place in the stars. Now we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt.”
Director Christopher Nolan is known and often criticized for making movies that are emotionally cold. So when he announced he was making a movie that would mostly be a space odyssey, people were worried that it would get too heavy on the spectacle and philosophy and leave the humanity behind. Even though the film actually gets dangerously close to sappy, McConaughey manages to save the film with a measured emotional vulnerability. The film is very heavily focused on Cooper’s relationship with his daughter before and after he goes into space. The scenes in which he shares the screen with young actress Mackenzie Foy, who plays his daughter, Murphy, are downright precious without being overbearing. The last goodbye is heartbreaking. There is a point in the movie near the beginning of the second act in which Cooper is looking at video logs after years of not seeing his kids, and it tears at your heartstrings like no other because McConaughey plays it that well. With about as much spectacle as any Nolan film, McConaughey is what you will inevitably remember. Interstellar is worth seeing for Cooper’s story alone. Not much else can be said.
6. David Wooderson – Dazed and Confused (1993)
“That’s what I love about these high school girls, man. I get older, they stay the same age.”
This is, of course, the quintessential McConaughey character as well as his breakthrough and debut performance. In this cult classic coming-of-age comedy directed by Richard Linklater, McConaughey plays the McConaughey stereotype—a quotable, lovably laid back, woman-chasing stoner. The character’s role in the film constitutes little more than what would else be considered a bit part, but McConaughey provides some of the film’s most memorable moments. The entirety of his character and what makes him (and McConaughey by extension) awesome can be summarized with one quote, as seen above. Earning a great career, a great collaborator in Linklater, and a killer catchphrase, McConaughey sure as hell lucked out with this role.
5. Jake Tyler Brigance – A Time to Kill (1996)
“Can you see her? I want you to picture that little girl. Now imagine she’s white.”
This was a demanding role that McConaughey took when he did not have a lot of experience, but he proved that he had the chops. In a rare example of Joel Schumacher making a film that didn’t suck, McConaughey portrays a young lawyer who feels the moral imperative to take on and win an impossible case. Specifically, he is defending a black man (Samuel L. Jackson) for a double murder with witnesses in the Deep South. As was said, impossible. McConaughey shines in this role, alongside a stellar supporting cast. He also delivers one of the more emotionally heavy performances of his career, and it is in these emotionally explosive moments that one can’t help but sympathize for him and the client he represents, regardless of how you feel about the complicated morality of the case. He really proves his mettle in the films last and quite notable speech in which he delivers a tear jerking soliloquy addressing the many disturbing questions and themes of this powerful story to the jury in his last stand.
4. Joe Cooper – Killer Joe (2012)
“Look at me. Suck this.”
In William Friedkin’s southern gothic crime film, McConaughey explores his dark side in a notably intense fashion. A stark departure from his romantic comedy days, McConaughey steps into the shoes of a darkly eccentric hitman for hire with some weird sexual quirks (the above quote is no joke referring to piece of poultry) and questionable romantic tendencies. The actor’s charm, charisma, and swagger are still put to good use, but in a decidedly more sadistic and brutally intent manner. There is a lot seen out of McConaughey prior to this role, but the 180 from lighthearted to pitch black dark throws you through a loop. The acting is, of course, superb. Killer Joe Cooper fits his title and this twisted movie well to an absurd, and at the time, disturbing, degree. All thanks to a not-so-silly and lovable Matthew McConaughey.
3. Mud – Mud (2012)
“There are fierce powers at work in the world, boys. Good, evil, poor luck, best luck. As men, we’ve got to take advantage where we can.”
While The Lincoln Lawyer is considered the first of the McConaissance, this was the film that made the McConaissance a thing, so to speak. A frightening-yet-compelling fugitive on the run from a murder rap, Mud is a colorful southern self-described hobo who enlists help from local teens in Arkansas. McConaughey takes on a role that is an homage to many great American novels about drifters, such as Huckleberry Finn, and plays it to be both an appropriate love letter to those characters and still a modern update on them. This is an understated and touching rendition, as the title character sees to it that this character-driven southern drama has plenty of southern-ness, dramatic chops, and character. How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days was officially behind McConaughey, who was now full steam ahead to the Oscars.
2. Detective Rustin “Rust” Cohle – True Detective (2014)
“I don’t sleep, I just dream.”
It’s almost as hard to place this performance in second as it is to settle on just one quote. In this ingenious HBO anthology drama series, McConaughey portrays a Louisiana State homicide detective known as “Rust.” A disillusioned, nihilistic, cynical, and yet incredibly engaging character, Rust is an antihero in that he is not the good guy in the conventional sense. His partner and co-star Marty (Woody Harrelson) is equally antihero-esque, yet they are total foils of one another. Marty is a conservative fellow who relies on his common sense to get things done. Rust is an intellectual who has very little patience for conventional methods. McConaughey gives the least “type” performance of his career when he plays this pessimistic atheist who spends more time giving his dark philosophical spiel than he does attempting to conform to any social norm that may involve him acting normal. His back-and-forths with an equally great Woody Harrelson are always entertaining. This character is quotable as all hell and impossible to not have left an impression. These characters’ story ended with season one, and it’s all the better for that. Rust will go down in history as one of TV’s greatest characters, thanks to McConaughey’s visit to the small screen.
1. Ron Woodroof – Dallas Buyers Club (2013)
“Let me give y’all a little news flash. There ain’t nothin’ out there can kill f**kin’ Ron Woodroof in thirty days.”
Here, McConaughey plays a Dallas rodeo worker-turned-AIDS patient trying to save his life, and later those of others, through life-saving but unproven drugs. After years of honing his skills in his endless string of rom-coms and courtroom dramas, McConaughey finally found his career-defining role, and the Academy took notice. It’s still very typical of his style, while also pushing boundaries on all counts. Portraying an AIDS patient is hard enough (he lost fifty pounds for the role) without playing a man who is forced into a community of mostly gay men as a homophobic and general bigot himself. He befriends and goes into business with trans woman Rayon (played by fellow Oscar winner, Jared Leto), who is Woodroof’s foil. Their relationship reflects his gradual change of heart. There is a believable transformation from selfish bigot to caring man who stands up and fights for those in the same situation. McConaughey conveys the sense of urgency of a dying man spectacularly. He conveys the difficult metamorphosis with grace. He makes this man’s journey one that inspires hope in anyone who watches it, after the most painful moments have been borne through for him and the audience. Ron Woodroof’s story is told beautifully in the best and worst moments through the magnum opus performance of a truly gifted actor.