Total Recall

Ralph Fiennes' 10 Best Movies

In this week's Total Recall, we count down the best-reviewed work of The Grand Budapest Hotel star.

by | March 13, 2014 | Comments

Ralph FiennesWes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel has racked up some of the writer-director’s most glowing reviews during its limited release, but he isn’t the only one who’s reaped critical praise for his work in the movie; Ralph Fiennes has also drawn notice, and with Hotel expanding this weekend, we thought now would be a fine time to take a look at its leading man’s illustrious past. A veteran of stage and screen, Fiennes has amassed an admirably eclectic filmography since making his breakthrough with Schindler’s List in 1993, and while we did draw the line at minor cameo roles (sorry, The Hurt Locker), we think you’ll find a lot to love. Let’s Total Recall, Fiennes style!



10. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1

After lurking malignantly on the periphery for most of the Harry Potter saga, the evil Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) crept closer to his climactic confrontation with the young wizard (Daniel Radcliffe) during the franchise’s penultimate installment, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1. And although the story’s construction seemed crass to some — a chunk of the Deathly Hallows book was split out and turned into its own movie, allowing Warner Bros. to reap an extra sequel’s worth of profits from the bestselling series — the move allowed director David Yates to spend another two and a half hours ramping up the grim tension in the last movie’s final battle. Kirk Baird of the Toledo Blade went so far as to call it “the first Harry Potter film that fully delivers on the promise of J.K. Rowling’s works,” crediting it with “expertly balancing a tricky and expansive narrative, along with quiet character moments and some rollicking action sequences.”


9. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

After slithering into the spotlight in 2005’s Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Fiennes’ Lord Voldemort returned to wreak havoc anew in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix — and his nefarious schemes received a helpful boost from the Ministry of Magic, whose disbelieving members did everything they could to stamp out rumors of the dark lord’s new lease on life. Denied protection by the adults in his life, Harry has to organize his Hogwarts friends into “Dumbledore’s Army” — and when Dumbledore himself is exiled, Harry is forced into another life-or-death showdown with He Who Must Not Be Named. “With its fifth cinematic outing,” wrote an appreciative James Berardinelli for ReelViews, “the Harry Potter film series has ascended to another level.”


8. In Bruges

One of 2008’s best-reviewed limited releases, In Bruges follows the adventures of hitmen Ken (Brendan Gleeson) and Ray (Colin Farrell) who wander through the titular Belgian city while on assignment for mob boss Harry Waters (Fiennes). Things get complicated (and interesting) when Ken realizes he’s been sent there to assassinate Ray — and that’s only the beginning of a tense, brilliantly scripted struggle between the killers and their boss. Nominated for scads of awards, it won the hearts of critics like the Minneapolis Star Tribune’s Colin Covert, who wrote, “If you could hoist a film on your shoulders and parade it through the theater for adulation and hoorays, the new British crime comedy In Bruges would be the one.”


7. The English Patient

Fiennes scored a Best Actor Academy Award nomination for his work in this 1996 critic’s favorite, an adaptation of the Michael Ondaatje novel about a geographer (Fiennes) whose past is slowly pieced together by the nurses who mend him back to health after he’s badly burned in World War II. The prototypical Miramax award-winner, The English Patient gave Fiennes the chance to play a role that called for action, romance, and the kind of award-hogging drama that was ripe for parody in an episode of Seinfeld; it was, as Judith Egerton wrote for the Louisville Courier-Journal, “Casablanca set amid the swirling Sahara sands of North Africa and the voluptuous hills of Tuscany.”


6. The Constant Gardener

Fiennes returned to dramatic weepie mode for this adaptation of the John le Carré novel, about a British diplomat who falls in love with a humanitarian worker (Rachel Weisz), takes her to Kenya, and marries her — only to lose her to a grisly murder that hints at the edges of a corporate cover-up. A four-time Academy Award nominee (Weisz won for Best Supporting Actress), The Constant Gardener blended exotic locales with action, politics, and a good old-fashioned love story — and did it well enough to earn praise from critics like Tom Long of the Detroit News, who wrote, “This is not a movie that will shock you or thrill you or rock your world. Instead, it will move you, it will stick with you, it will give you pause and affect you in ways not easily described — which is something the best films always do.”


5. Spider

Nobody does creepy like David Cronenberg — and even though 2002’s Spider wasn’t one of his more commercially successful ventures, its trippy look at childhood trauma and the untrustworthy nature of memory netted the director some of the best reviews of his career. Likewise Fiennes, who believed so strongly in the project that he gave up his salary for his portrayal of a schizophrenic man making his way back into society while trying to make sense of his troubled past — in place of money, he earned raves from the likes of Entertainment Weekly’s Lisa Schwarzbaum, who called Spider “An artful, carefully regulated explosion of craft led by Miranda Richardson and that prince of prickly intensity, Ralph Fiennes.”


4. Coriolanus

Fiennes swung for the fences with his directorial debut, adapting the Shakespeare tragedy Coriolanus as a modern-day wartime drama about a Roman general whose political ambitions — encouraged by his wheedling mother (Vanessa Redgrave) — lead to his expulsion from the city and, ultimately, the plans for bloody revenge he concocts with his nemesis Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler). It’s the kind of undertaking that’s found many a less fortunate director’s reach exceeding his grasp, but it worked, wresting applause from even the most Bard-crazed critics. “Coriolanus is Shakespeare done right,” enthused We Got This Covered’s Amy Curtis. “Ralph Fiennes takes a play about Roman war and hubris and turns it into a violently charismatic pic.”


3. Quiz Show

Fiennes followed his starmaking turn in Schindler’s List with Robert Redford’s Quiz Show, a dramatization of the scandal that erupted after a Congressional investigation unearthed tampering behind the scenes of the hit NBC game show Twenty One. As Charles Van Doren, the telegenic professor anointed by the show’s producers to replace reigning champion Herbert Stempel (John Turturro), Fiennes worked with another award-winning director, added another Best Picture nominee to his résumé, and earned raves from critics like Derek Adams of Time Out, who wrote, “Perfectly pitched, the film brims with insight and wit. Highly recommended.”


2. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2

After seven movies and millions upon millions of dollars in box office grosses, stakes were high for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 — and it delivered, with the best reviews of the series and more than $1.3 billion in worldwide ticket sales. It also gave Fiennes his finest hour as the dreadful Voldemort, with a number of dastardly monologues and a long, high-stakes battle between Potter and his lifelong arch-enemy. Sad as they were to see Harry’s story come to a close, most critics couldn’t complain about the way it got there — including Katherine Monk of the Vancouver Sun, who called it “Deeply moving and perfectly phrased at every turn,” and added, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 bids adieu to a little piece of history in first-class style, and a beautifully heavy heart.”


1. Schindler’s List

Steven Spielberg, a fan of Fiennes’ previous work, cast him in Schindler’s List as the meddlesome SS captain Amon Göth, whose suspicions — and willingness to accept bribes — help shape Oskar Schindler’s (Liam Neeson) quest to save as many Polish Jews as possible during the Nazi occupation of World War II. Fiennes demonstrated his Method dedication for the role, packing on 30 pounds and submerging himself in the private pain of one of the most notorious war criminals in history. A modern classic, Schindler’s List won seven Academy Awards out of a dozen nominations (including a Best Supporting Actor nomination for Fiennes), as well as almost universal acclaim from critics like Janet Maslin of the New York Times, who wrote, “Rising brilliantly to the challenge of this material and displaying an electrifying creative intelligence, Mr. Spielberg has made sure that neither he nor the Holocaust will ever be thought of in the same way again.”

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

1. Schindler’s List — 97%
2. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 — 89%
3. Quiz Show — 87%
4. In Bruges — 86%
5. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 — 84%
6. The English Patient — 84%
7. The Constant Gardener — 82%
8. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix — 81%
9. Sunshine — 81%
10. The Reader — 79%

Take a look through Fiennes’ complete filmography, as well as the rest of our Total Recall archives. And don’t forget to check out the reviews for The Grand Budapest Hotel.


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