Is Matthew McConaughey The Best Actor Working Right Now? 6 Roles That Prove He Might Be

matthew mcconaughey 1 660 Is Matthew McConaughey The Best Actor Working Right Now? 6 Roles That Prove He Might Be

Alright. You don’t have to reach too far back in the memory bank to recall a time when Matthew McConaughey was synonymous with male bimbo. It’s a testament to the quality of work he’s been churning out for the past couple of years that most people who have been following his recent career shift are rethinking that earlier characterization. It’s never entirely clear whether an actor is getting crappy roles because those are the ones they think they’re most suited to, the casting folks think they’re most suited to, or because they’re bad at discerning what’s going to be a non-terrible project or whether it’s impossible to actually determine something that’s going to be good before it’s ever made.

What we know is this: for a while, all Matthew McConaughey seemed to be appearing in were one of two things—courtroom dramas in which he played a suave but flawed southern lawyer type, because he went to law school you know, or else the impossibly handsome surfer dude with the laid back demeanor and hair and beach body who just taunted you with his looks. Then, since 2011, he started doing kind of amazing work, and working with talented directors like Jeff Nichols, William Friedkin, Steven Soderbergh, and coming up, Martin Scorsese. I won’t venture into speculative territory as to how this happened; all I can say is that he has all of a sudden become one of the most interesting and exciting actors today, making surprising choices almost constantly and seamlessly inhabited characters that in lesser hands would seem cartoonish.

If there were only one or two recent examples of tremendous performances I would hesitate to identify it as a trend, but it seems to be the new normal. Here are 6 recent Matthew McConaughey performances that make me think he is on the biggest cinematic hot streak of anybody right now.

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1) The Lincoln Lawyer

The Lincoln Lawyer Is Matthew McConaughey The Best Actor Working Right Now? 6 Roles That Prove He Might Be

While not as earth-shattering as the movies and performances that were to follow, the movie that fostered in the beginning of McConaughey’s transition from dull rom-coms to more serious and exciting projects was 2011’s The Lincoln Laywer. This may be a result of diminishing expectations for Matthew McConaughey vehicles at the time, but critics received the courtroom drama rather warmly, and McConaughey’s presence in it harkened viewers back to his famous 1996 performance alongside Samuel L. Jackson in A Time to Kill.

Here we see McConaughey being his familiar old charming self: smart, witty, cool in the faces of any attempts at intimidation, and tough when he needs to be. The nice thing about this movie and McConaughey’s performance is that we get to see him in one of his most serious characters since the Grisham adaptation, as if playing a lawyer again put him back in the place he was at in the 90s, or perhaps because he has such respect for the profession. It’s his charisma that keeps our interest in his quest to get to the bottom of this case, despite being a defense lawyer for the seediest types of characters. But he seems to have given a little something extra for the first time in what felt like forever, which turned out to be a welcome sign of things to come.

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2) Bernie

Bernie Is Matthew McConaughey The Best Actor Working Right Now? 6 Roles That Prove He Might Be

Almost twenty years after they worked together to create the iconic character of David Wooderson in Dazed and Confused, Matthew McConaughey and Richard Linklater reteamed for the true crime comedy-mystery, Bernie. Based on the real life case of Bernie Tiede of Carthage, Texas, the screen in this film is dominated by a balls-to-the-wall performance by Jack Black, who mixes dramatic and tragic moments in with straight-faced black comedy in as fine a package as there has been in years. McConaughey for his part provides the district attorney who feels like he’s taking crazy pills because while the town of Carthage sees Bernie as the nicest man in town, he can’t see him as anything but a cold-blooded killer.

One of the tricky parts of the McConaughey performance, given that he is one of the three principal players and the only one of which to be featured in a talking head segment of the documentary-style section of the movie, is that he is being interviewed in character while juxtaposed with actual residents of the real life town who knew the real life Bernie. So his part requires a realism to match that of earnest townspeople speaking from their hearts, but also the kind of comedic sense the role of the district attorney calls for. He delivers without seeming to even break a sweat. That’s the smoothness he brings to a movie, even when he’s treading a very fine line.

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3) Magic Mike

Magic Mike Is Matthew McConaughey The Best Actor Working Right Now? 6 Roles That Prove He Might Be

So far the crowning achievement of Matthew McConaughey’s renaissance period and indeed of his entire career has to be his award-winning performance in Magic Mike. Once again it’s a supporting role, with Channing Tatum and Alex Pettyfer doing most of the featured work, but McConaughey’s character of Dallas has to be the most fascinating and electrifying part of the entire film. A former dancer and now owner of the club at which Tatum and Pettyfer’s characters are employed, Dallas essentially acts as an older version of the Mike character, having achieved the types of ambitions Mike currently has and proceeding to pursue even loftier ones beyond that. He can be goofy but also comes off as incredibly focused in his business plans.

It’s the type of role that’s hard to imagine being pulled off by anyone else. McConaughey as the host of the show controls the movie audience as keenly as he controls the audience we’re seeing in the club on the screen. He’s also an unorthodox mentor, explaining the psychology of dance to his protégé Pettyfer. The most striking moment for me comes when he’s simply shown in closeup watching his dancers: the look on his face is one of focus and expertise. McConaughey has said that it took him time to figure out the Dallas character, and he only really ‘got’ him once Steven Soderbergh told him that Dallas believes in extra-terrestrials. Somehow that made the entire person of Dallas click for him. And for some reason, even though it’s never alluded to at all in the movie, after watching, it makes perfect sense to me, too.

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4) Killer Joe

killer joe01 Is Matthew McConaughey The Best Actor Working Right Now? 6 Roles That Prove He Might Be

There aren’t many movies that could pull off Matthew McConaughey as a villain. He has a certain charm to him that makes him almost impossible to dislike. Even in Bernie where he acts as Jack Black’s main adversary, he’s so funny and entertaining that he’s more goofy than despicable. In Killer Joe, the story essentially consists of a family making a deal with the devil to pay off loan debt. Matthew McConaughey, as it were, plays the devil.

There proceeds to be double crossing and bad faith arrangements made and the story sort of goes off the rails. McConaughey as Killer Joe Cooper is always compelling and always in our minds even though his screen time is less than we would think. The story is really about the Smith family, but to relate the audience to their predicament, Killer Joe is always hanging over our shoulder, forcing us to watch our every move. He’s in complete control, and demonstrates this in the infamous scene involving a chicken wing, which we’re all best off not even attempting to describe. McConaughey almost always uses his charisma in the service of good, or at the very least, harmless characters. When he turns those powers into advancing corrupt and violent impulses, it’s a terrifying sight.

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5) Mud

Mud Is Matthew McConaughey The Best Actor Working Right Now? 6 Roles That Prove He Might Be

Mud is interesting because if it was described in abstract terms it could almost seem like McConaughey returning to his rom-com days: he plays a rather hopeless romantic who appears to have fallen upon some hard times but is determined to do whatever it takes to win back the love of his life, played by Reese Witherspoon. Instead, it’s the latest film that features McConaughey in the title role, even though his part is not exactly the lead. In the case of Mud, that distinction goes to the young character of Ellis, who with his friend Neckbone (the greatest character name in movie history, right?) happen upon Mud living in a tree on a secluded island. That sounds way more interesting than the synopsis of Fool’s Gold, I have to say.

The movie feels very much like a kind of Mark Twain story, and McConaughey’s performance in it features a host of contradictions. He’s a hero of sorts but also a total creep who befriends these two young boys. He has the skills to live off of an island and take on a gang of bandits trying to kill him but is hopelessly naïve when it comes to love and women. And to play a character as contradictory and complex and Mud requires an actor to give loud and soft signals all at the same time, achieving simultaneous showmanship and subtlety. It may not be as flooring as his work in Bernie or Magic Mike, but his performance in Mud is central to the success of one of the best movies to come out this year. And as the fifth movie in a row in which he has knocked it out of the park, it solidifies that he’s got serious momentum as an actor right now.

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6) The Wolf of Wall Street/Dallas Buyers Club

Wolf of Wall Street Is Matthew McConaughey The Best Actor Working Right Now? 6 Roles That Prove He Might Be

If you have not yet watched the trailer for the newest Martin Scorsese-Leonardo DiCaprio collaboration, do so. Not only does it confirm that this is one of the most anticipated movies of the fall, it further demonstrates the absolute trance Matthew McConaughey is in when it comes to playing strange characters at this point in his career. He’s mesmerizing as much as he is mesmerized by himself. The Wolf of Wall Street looks to be DiCaprio’s movie as per usual, but the trailer indicates some potentially impressive work by McConaughey and Jonah Hill. Then, McConaughey also has the upcoming Dallas Buyers Club, in which he plays 1980′s AIDS victim Ron Woodroof, and is currently generating a significant amount of buzz. Following these projects he has a date with an up and coming director named Christopher Nolan, starring in Interstellar, set for 2014.

I can’t think of anyone on a hotter streak of films and performances right now than Matthew McConaughey. He has all of a sudden become a fascinating figure, a crushing performer, and an enormous box office draw. How did this even happen? Your guess is as good as mine. But as far as I’m concerned, it’s a trend that is quite alright. Alright alright alright.

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