Total Recall

Ben Affleck’s Best Movies

In this week's Total Recall, we count down the best-reviewed work of the Runner Runner star.

by | October 3, 2013 | Comments

Ben Affleck

Once upon a time, it looked like Ben Affleck might spend the rest of his career in little-seen duds like Jersey Girl and Surviving Christmas — a precipitous fall for a guy who won an Oscar at the age of 25 and starred in blockbusters like Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, and The Sum of All Fears. Now just look how things have changed: Having reinvented himself as a critically lauded director with 2007’s Gone Baby Gone, Ben’s back in front of the camera this weekend in Runner Runner, playing the sleazy head of an online gambling empire who lures a college student (Justin Timberlake) into his operation. What better time to take a fond look back at Mr. Affleck’s critical highlights, Total Recall style?


10. Hollywoodland

Ben Affleck knows a thing or two about actors who take jobs for the wrong reason and end up paying for it — and that knowledge, along with his lantern-jawed good looks, made him a natural for Hollywoodland. Helmed by first-time feature director Allen Coulter, this fact-based drama looks at the final days of George Reeves, the actor who played Superman in the long-running Adventures of Superman television series. Reeves’ mysterious death is probed by a private detective named Louis Simo (Adrien Brody), whose own messy private life shadows the investigation; though the case was never solved, Simo’s sleuthing traces an outline of what might have been for the audience. A modest commercial success, Hollywoodland earned Affleck a Golden Globe nomination and strong praise from critics like Andrew Sarris of the New York Observer, who urged his readers, “Take my word for it: Hollywoodland is well worth seeing.”


9. Going All the Way

Not one of Affleck’s most widely seen pictures, this adaptation of Dan Wakefield’s 1970 novel won a Sundance award (for production design, but still). It also warmed the thorny cockles of most critics — no small achievement considering that the story, about the small-town struggles of a pair of Korean War vets (Affleck and Jeremy Davies), hits many of the same beats as plenty of other coming-of-age dramas. While recognizing its derivative aspects, most critics found Going All the Way ultimately worthwhile — like Peter Stack of the San Francisco Chronicle, who conceded, “Even if it’s too self-conscious, Going All the Way, set in 1950s Indianapolis, nevertheless has a mix of the sweet and the forlorn that somehow works.”


8. Changing Lanes

Notting Hill director Roger Michell tackled a decidedly more serious topic with 2002’s Changing Lanes, a tension-filled drama about the war of attrition that erupts after a car accident involving a beleaguered insurance salesman (Samuel L. Jackson) and a lawyer (Affleck). Examining uncommonly thorny themes of race and privilege, wrapped up in good old-fashioned high-octane Hollywood thrills, Lanes wasn’t quite the box office smash it seemed poised to become, but it enjoyed praise from critics like Robert Koehler of Variety, who appreciated the way it “combines a knack for storytelling with a rare instinct for exploring ideas within the framework of a major, star-driven Hollywood movie.”


7. State of Play

Affleck joined a star-studded cast for this adapation of the BBC miniseries, appearing alongside Russell Crowe, Helen Mirren, Rachel McAdams, Robin Wright Penn, and Jason Bateman in the story of a reporter (Crowe) investigating the murder of a woman who worked (in more ways than one) for a Congressman (Affleck) who just happens to have been his college roommate. Like most conspiracy flicks, State of Play hinges on a multitude of plot twists and unlikely coincidences, but most critics were too happy to find a rare adult thriller to complain. “The journalist in me loved State of Play,” wrote Carrie Rickey of the Philadelphia Inquirer. “The moviegoer in me even more so.”


6. Chasing Amy

Before Good Will Hunting made him a household name, Affleck came into his own with Chasing Amy, Kevin Smith’s frank tragicomedy about the unlikely romance between a comic book artist (Affleck) and his lesbian crush (Joey Lauren Adams). The sort of small, thoughtful feature that Affleck would slowly drift away from after achieving his post-Hunting success, Amy found Smith regaining his critical mojo after Mallrats, and gave Affleck some of the best dialogue of his career. “What really makes the film special,” posited Kevin N. Laforest of the Montreal Film Journal, “is that, while still being packed with foul language and pop culture references, this film is the only one in which Smith really seems to care about his characters and their lives.”


5. Shakespeare in Love

Part of Miramax’s 1990s hot streak — an incredible run that also produced Pulp Fiction, The Piano, The English Patient, and many others, including some of the films on this list — John Madden’s Shakespeare in Love used a tremendously talented cast to explore what might have happened if the Bard experienced a little of the forbidden love he was so gifted at writing about. Here, Affleck plays Ned Alleyn, arguably the foremost actor of his generation (and, according to his characterization in the film, also a bit of a boor). It was a supporting role — sort of ironic, given Alleyn’s status — and legend has it Affleck only signed on in order to spend time with Gwyneth Paltrow, who was his girlfriend at the time, but he’d go on to star in worse films for flimsier reasons. Winner of seven Oscars, including Best Picture, Shakespeare earned almost universal admiration from critics like Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times, who wrote, “A happy conceit smoothly executed, this is one of those entertaining confections that’s so pleasing to the eye and ear you’d have to be a genuine Scrooge to struggle against it.”


4. Dazed and Confused

Affleck had filmed small roles in School Ties and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but he scored his most memorable early gig with the part of the lunkheaded bully Fred O’Bannion in Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused. Featuring a smartly assembled cast of 1990s phenoms (Jason London, Parker Posey) and future stars (including Affleck and Matthew McConaughey), Dazed was something of a bust at the box office, but the critics were always fond of it, and it’s since gone on to enjoy a dedicated cult following. Summing up the appeal of this 1970s-set high school comedy, the Austin Chronicle’s Marjorie Baumgarten pointed out, “Every one of these characters is completely familiar and recognizable; so far this has held true for every viewer I have spoken with, whether they graduated from high school 25 years ago or last week.”


3. The Town

Good Will Hunting taught us that Affleck was a capable screenwriter, but nothing in that movie’s blend of comedy and drama suggested he might be able to script a hard-hitting crime drama like The Town. Working from Chuck Hogan’s novel Prince of Thieves, Affleck co-wrote, directed, and starred in an ensemble piece about a bank robber who ends up falling for a woman his gang victimized during a bank heist (Rebecca Hall) over the strenuous — and potentially violent — objections of his longtime right-hand man (Jeremy Renner, who earned an Academy Award nomination for his work). “Affleck’s direction is clipped when the plot requires, but he lingers on character-driven scenes (at a garden, a restaurant, a corner) in no apparent rush,” observed Amy Biancolli for the Houston Chronicle. “Why hurry, after all? He’s arrived.”


2. Argo

Affleck’s segue from marquee actor to prestige director helped him pull off a remarkable 180-degree reversal of fortune, taking him from the laughingstock star of duds like Gigli to the guy behind the cameras for critical winners like Gone Baby Gone and The Town. And with 2012’s Argo, an often unbearably tense dramatization of the secret CIA mission to rescue American ambassadors during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis, he completed his career rehabilitation with a Best Picture-winning Oscar champ. “Ben Affleck doesn’t merely direct Argo, he directs the hell out of it, nailing the quickening pace, the wayward humor, the nerve-frying suspense,” argued Peter Travers for Rolling Stone. “There’s no doubt he’s crafted one of the best movies of the year.”


1. Good Will Hunting

The massively profitable drama that earned Affleck and Matt Damon an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, Good Will Hunting opened every door in Hollywood to its young stars/creators — and even if Affleck ended up using that power to star in Reindeer Games and Surviving Christmas, this story of friendship, forgiveness, and the importance of being true to one’s self served as a powerful reminder of what made him a star. These days, Affleck has re-emerged as a talented director, as well as a more mature, seasoned actor — a fine second act for a success story that took off with the movie the Cincinnati Enquirer’s Margaret A. McGurk described as “another auspicious sign that the best of Young Hollywood is not only bringing back respect for the craft of acting, but for the cogent telling of tales as well.”

In case you were wondering, here are Affleck’s top 10 movies according RT users’ scores:

1. Good Will Hunting — 92%
2. Argo — 91%
3. Dazed and Confused — 88%
4. Dogma — 83%
5. The Town — 83%
6. Mallrats — 80%
7. Chasing Amy — 80%
8. Shakespeare in Love — 75%
9. Armageddon — 74%
10. Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back — 74%

Take a look through Affleck’s complete filmography, as well as the rest of our Total Recall archives. And don’t forget to check out the reviews for Runner Runner.

Finally, here’s a young Affleck dropping science in a clip from the PBS series The Voyage of the Mimi:

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