Matt Damon’s big break came in 1997 with the release of Good Will Hunting, the film he co-wrote with best pal Ben Affleck. Although he had already appeared in a few films, most notably Courage Under Fire with Meg Ryan and Denzel Washington, Hunting really put Matt and Ben on the map and the film took home the Oscar for best screenplay. Ever since then, Damon has been on a roll. His resume of movies even tops Affleck’s and Matt seems to get chosen for high quality roles on a more consistent basis. Ever the constant worker, Matt has shown great range during his career as an actor, even defying many critics in roles that, on the surface, he didn’t appear right for. Most notably, the Jason Bourne series. He is a solid actor who always gives wonderful performances. The best thing about Matt is that he chooses to do a wide variety of projects. From action to serious drama to comedy…nothing is above his talent. Here is a look back at the best films of his illustrious career.
DOGMA- Damon and Ben Affleck followed up their Good Will Hunting collaboration by starring together in Kevin Smith’s dark comedy about an abortion clinic worker with a special heritage who is called upon to save the existence of humanity from being negated by two renegade angels trying to exploit a loophole and re-enter Heaven. Damon and Affleck play the fallen angels – Loki and Bartleby. The film is cleverly written and directed by Smith and is quite entertaining from beginning to end. Alan Rickman and George Carlin also add to a solid cast. This is a film that is just as original as it is funny.
I absolutely love Team America: World Police…but it really isn’t a Matt Damon movie. Worth a mention just because it’s so damn funny. And the screenshot is priceless.
10. THE INFORMANT – Matt tackled the role of informant Mark Whitacre with a vengeance. He is so damn funny in this picture that you can’t help but be entertained. Director Steven Soderbergh, who seems to go back and forth between lighthearted and over the top with his films, does a fine job underplaying the characters here. The film has a really light tone and even though the subject matter is a serious one, the film never gets to that level, therefore allowing the viewer to completely be baffled by the idiocy of Whitacre. Although not one of Damon’s biggest box office blockbusters, The Informant once again shows his wide acting range. He does very well with the comedy here and watching him act for a couple of hours with that haircut is hilarious. This film actually gets better the more you watch it.
9. ROUNDERS – Another solid post-Will Hunting role gives Damon the chance to work with some of the finest actors in the business. Edward Norton, John Malkovich, John Turturro, and Martin Landau all lend their talents to this heavy hitting drama about two friends – one who is studying to become a lawyer and one who just got out of prison. Once Mike (Damon) picks up ‘Worm’ (Norton) from prison…all bets are off. Mike feels sorry for Worm and therefore, unwillingly gets tangled up in his debts, lies, and gambling issues. As the film progresses, we also see that Mike has some major gambling issues of his own, which ultimately leads to him losing everything. The film plays like a gangster-light production set in the world of poker, but the best parts are when we get to see the relationship between Mike and Worm go from best friends to basically nothing. Mike realizes this is what must be done in order for him to survive and get a little of what he lost back.
8. THE RAINMAKER- Perhaps one of the most underrated films on Damon’s resume, this Francis Ford Coppola adaptation of the John Grisham novel is a wonderful film with an even better message. Character development is what drives this picture. Damon’s Rudy Baylor is a jobless young attorney that suddenly finds himself to be the only hope of an elderly couple whose insurance company will not pay for an operation that could save their son’s life. Rudy sees the nastiness of corporate America first hand and vows to find justice for the family. This alone would have been enough for a high quality film, but we also get a nice little romance between a battered woman (Claire Danes) who finds her hero in Rudy. The movie is packed with great actors – Danny DeVito is quite good here…Mickey Rourke, is, well, Mickey Rourke…Jon Voight is just plain arrogant and you hate him for it…and Danes has the damsel in distress thing down to a science here. This one will have you cheering by the end of it. Coppola does well with the material handed to him.
7. THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY - Yet another example of Damon’s acting range, Ripley gives us a glimpse into his dark side. Set in the 1950’s, Tom Ripley, borrows a Princeton jacket to play piano at a garden party. When the wealthy father of a recent Princeton grad chats Tom up, he pretends to know the son and is soon offered $1,000 to go to Italy to convince Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law) to return home. In Italy, Tom attaches himself to Dickie and to Marge (Gwyneth Paltrow), Dickie’s fiancée, pretending to love jazz and harboring homoerotic hopes as he soaks in luxury. Besides lying, Tom’s talents include impressions and forgery, so when the handsome and confident Dickie tires of Tom, dismissing him as a bore, Tom goes to extreme lengths to make Greenleaf’s privileges his own. It’s a story of obsession and deception…and it’s a very entertaining two hours of it.
6. TRUE GRIT - When this high profile remake debuted last year everyone was wondering if Jeff Bridges could channel his inner John Wayne and give at least a decent performance as Rooster Cogburn…let’s just say that he did and in my opinion, it rivaled that of John Wayne. Funny thing is that so much of the film’s buzz centered around Bridges and newcomer Hailee Steinfeld (who should have won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress), that a lot of people didn’t even realize Matt Damon was in the film until they actually watched it. The Coen Bros. do an amazing job here with a storyline that, well, is very simple and old fashioned. They make it much more than that and the reason it works so well is because the actors elevate the material and Damon is a big part of it. His LaBoeuf is motivated, yet has a sense of humor about his mission. He also realizes that working with Cogburn and Mattie Ross is the best way to get the murderer, Tom Chaney. Overall, the film is better than its predecessor in many ways and was one of the best films of 2010.
5. THE OCEANS TRILOGY - When you think of downright fun film series in the history of cinema, the Oceans trilogy has to be high up on the list. From the beginning, director Steven Soderbergh knew what he was aiming for. A stylish, humorous, and cool take on the original film that starred the Rat Pack (Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., and Frank Sinatra), this updated version doesn’t hold back. We get all the glitz and glam of Las Vegas in two of the three films, as well as a very entertaining storyline that stretches across the trilogy. The first one is the best of the bunch, but the other two hold up quite nicely also. Soderbergh cast a lot of Hollywood heavyweights – Clooney, Pitt, Roberts, Cheadle, Caan, Affleck, Gould, Reiner, Mac, Garcia, Zeta Jones, Pacino, and of course, Damon. Matt provides a lot of humor here and his character becomes really essential to the plot of the second film. A great series with great performances…all masterfully put together by a great director.
4. SAVING PRIVATE RYAN – Yes, I know…Matt is not even in the film until the final act, so perhaps this film shouldn’t be on the list. However, look at the facts. He is the title character…he is the one that the men are searching for throughout the film. There…enough said. You really can’t leave Ryan off of any ‘best of’ list that features the film’s stars. In my opinion, it is one of, if not the best war film ever made. It changed the genre forever with it’s unique in your face battle sequences. Director Steven Spielberg masterfully intertwines the rigors of war, with the drama that exists between the men and their disapproval with this particular mission. Saving one man…as opposed to losing so many more because of it. But that is war. That is the mission. Spielberg nails his mission as well. Giving us an emotional masterpiece that doesn’t hold back with the reality of how violent and brutal war can be…physically and emotionally.
3. THE DEPARTED - One of the best films to come out during the past decade and definitely the best of 2006, Martin Scorsese’s modern day Goodfellas is incredible from opening frame to when the end credits begin to roll. Damon is once again surrounded by exceptional talent – Jack Nicholson, Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Wahlberg, Martin Sheen, Alec Baldwin, Vera Farmiga, and Ray Winstone. Funny thing is that if you look at this list, you wouldn’t expect Matt to be the bad guy. Well, he isn’t the only one…but he is the one you end up hating the most, even more than Nicholson’s gangster Costello. Damon’s Colin Sullivan is dangerous man because of the position of power he has been put in. He plays both sides of the game, but his allegiance is mostly toward Costello. When DiCaprio’s Billy Costigan discovers the truth, it becomes a race to find out which one will be able to save himself. This is mainly a DiCaprio film as he shines here, but Damon and Wahlberg also give Oscar worthy performances. Scorsese, yet again, knocks it out of the park.
2. GOOD WILL HUNTING - As a stand alone Matt Damon film, this is his best work. Why is it not number one on my list? Well, see below for the answer. I consider GWH the little film that could. Miramax struck gold when they got Robin Williams to add his name to what is essentially an independent production. At the time, Williams was still a box office draw and that drew people in to theaters. Once audiences lost themselves in this amazing script and story, word of mouth spread like wildfire. There are lots of quality scenes in the picture, but the best momentsinvolve the one on ones between Damon and Williams. Williams’ psychologist Sean Maguire really cares about Will and wants him to succeed in life…knowing that he is meant for much more than he been given up until there meeting. Damon and Ben Affleck wrote this wonderfully touching script that earned them an Oscar. Williams also won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his work. This was definitely a breakthrough role and performance by Matt Damon. GWH is also a film that I never get tired of watching as it holds up just as well today as is did when it debuted in 1997.
1. THE BOURNE TRILOGY - EXCITING!! This is the one word that best describes the Jason Bourne films. Back when it was announced that Matt Damon would be cast as the famous memory loss assassin from the Robert Ludlum novels, fans were in an uproar. No way…not that guy. He can’t be an action hero. Boy were they wrong. Not only did Damon silence his critics but his image became identified with that of the Bourne character. Having done dramas mostly up to this point, mixed in with a bit of comedy, Damon was more than capable of handling the dramatic aspect of the films, but a lot of questions remained as to whether or not he would make a believable action star. Director Doug Liman (of the original) believed in Damon, as did Universal Studios. The Bourne Idenity quickly became a hit and word of mouth spread quickly – you must see this film. A smart, intellectual action thriller that was reminiscent of the first Mission:Impossible film…however, it had one major difference. Unlike Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt, audiences actually had a reason to care about Jason Bourne. You want him to find the answers he is looking for…while at the same time, wanting him to kick some major ass. Doug Liman handed the reigns over to Paul Greengrass for The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum and the series didn’t miss a beat. In fact, in my opinion, the films were either equal to or better than the original. At the end of the day, the Bourne films go down in cinema history as one of the most thrilling, exciting action franchises of all time. A fourth Bourne film is in the works, however, Damon is not attached to star. Jeremy Renner will continue The Bourne Legacy. Matt propeled himself to A-list status indefinitely with his performances as Jason Bourne. He defied critics and added action star to his resume. Go back and re-watch the trilogy in its entirety…fascinating, fast paced, and intellectual. Turns out Matt Damon fit the role perfectly. Overall, as a whole, the Bourne films are easily his best.
Damon is one of the most sought after actors in the film industry right now. The list of directors he has worked with is phenomenal. Speilberg, Eastwood, Soderbergh (works with him a lot), Scorsese, and Redford…just to name a few. His box office take of $2.3 BILLION is not too shabby. His films also have an average opening of just over $20 million per picture. He is also part of two of the biggest franchises in film history – The Oceans and Bourne trilogies. There is no mistaking the fact that Damon is talented and people enjoy watching his performances on the big screen. He has an ‘everyday, average guy’ look about him…but his characters are much more than that. He propels them to a level that most actors would not be able to go to. Funny, dramatic, action hero, smart and witty are all words used to describe the man. I always look forward to a Matt Damon film…and I hope he continues to make movies well into the future. He is one of the best our generation has to offer.
The following Matt Damon projects are releasing soon, or in pre-production.
CONTAGION, a thriller starring Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Marion Cotillard, Kate Winslet, Laurence Fishburne and directed by Steven Soderbergh. Opens September 9.
MARGARET, a drama starring Damon, Anna Paguin, and Mark Ruffalo. Opens September 30.
HAPPY FEET TWO, an animated family film starring the voices of Damon, Brad Pitt, and Elijah Wood. Opens November 18.
WE BOUGHT A ZOO, a comedy/drama starring Damon, Elle Fanning, and Scarlet Johansson. Directed by Cameron Crowe. Opens this Christmas.
ELYSIUM, a sci-fi film starring Damon, Jodie Foster, and Alice Braga. Directed by Neil Blomkamp. To be released in 2013.
LIBERACE, a biographical drama starring Damon and Michael Douglas (as Liberace). Directed by Steven Soderbergh. To be released in 2013.