Top 10 Liam Neeson Movies

Monday, May 14, 2012 at 10:20 pm

For years, I used to joke with a buddy of mine about all the dour roles taken on by Liam Neeson. Chief among them was Qui-Gon Jinn in The Phantom Menace, a character with all the charisma of tap water. Of course, that was more George Lucas’ fault than anyone else.

Since then, I’ve went back and watched a number of Neeson’s films. I’ve come to realize that, Star Wars prequels aside, he’s a pretty good actor. That’s why I’ve decided to dedicate some space to him at Only Good Movies in an article titled “Top 10 Liam Neeson Movies.”

10. Darkman (1990) – Following the success of the first two entries in the Evil Dead franchise, director Sam Raimi wanted to make a superhero movie. The result was Darkman, a grim and hellish tale about a scientist (Liam Neeson) who runs afoul of a mob boss (Larry Drake) and winds up burned over his entire body. Luckily, he happens to specialize in artificial skin for burn victims, so he’s soon running around with custom-made faces and plenty of rage issues. Neeson spends a decent amount of the film wearing bandages or sporting horrific-looking burn makeup on his face. It doens’t matter, though, as his skills as an actor still shine through. As for Raimi, expect a sizable dose of off-kilter camera angles, crazed zooms, and an appearance from Bruce Campbell. Also starring Frances McDormand as the love interest.

9. Love Actually (2003) – Take ten separate love stories, set them in London, and then let them play out during the Christmas season. The result is Love Actually, an infectious romantic comedy that even managed to warm my stony old heart. Liam Neeson is more upbeat than normal, playing a widower who’s raising his stepson and tutoring him in the complicated rituals of pre-adolescent love. Other cast members include Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, Alan Rickman, Keira Knightley, Emma Thompson, and Bill Nighy (who’s notable as an aging rocker looking for one more hit). Many of the characters cross from one story to another, and the climax of the film features a rousing rendition of Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You” performed during a school’s holiday pageant.

Michael Collins

8. Michael Collins (1996) – Despite some historical inaccuracies, Neil Jordan’s perpetually overcast biopic gives Neeson the chance to play General Michael Collins, one of the most important figures in Ireland’s struggle for independence. The Irish-born Neeson never looks back, portraying Collins as a soulful patriot willing to give his life for a nation free of tyranny and British accents. Julia Roberts co-stars as Collins’ bride-to-be, while other freedom fighters include Alan Rickman, Aidan Quinn, and Stephen Rea. Not surprisingly, it remains one of the top-grossing films ever released in Ireland.

7. Taken (2008) – Neeson has played physically capable individuals in numerous films, but that’s never been the case more than in Pierre Morel’s box office hit. He stars as Bryan Mills, a retired CIA agent who spends most of his time reminiscing with agency pals and doting on his daughter (Maggie Grace). But when his only child travels to Europe and gets herself abducted by white slavers, Mills hops a plane and starts kicking ass like only a cinematic member of the CIA can. Sure, the plot is preposterous, but viewers will get a big-time visceral thrill by watching a middle-aged man make outlandish threats and then carry them out with brutal efficiency. Famke Janssen co-stars as his generally bitchy ex-wife.

6. Les Miserables (1998) – Despite the success of the Broadway version, there’s no singing in this big screen adaptation of Victor Hugo’s classic novel. There is, however, plenty of Liam Neeson looking miserable. But you’d be miserable, too, if you’d spent 19 years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread. Things don’t get any easier on the outside for Jean Valjean (Neeson), as he falls for a doomed prostitute (Uma Thurman), raises her daughter (Claire Danes), and tries to avoid the wrath of an obsessed police officer (Geoffrey Rush). While certain elements of the story have been reworked or omitted, all of the emotional impact is still there thanks to fine performances from the cast and the screenplay of Rafael Yglesias.

The Grey

5. The Grey (2012) – Neeson is John Ottway, a suicidal hunter who works in Alaska killing wolves for an oil company. But when his plane crashes on the way back from his latest job, Ottway and his fellow survivors must brave both the harsh elements and a pack of grey wolves intent on eating them. Neeson is especially grim in this one, and the Joe Carnahan film uses every opportunity to discuss man’s thirst for survival and the nature of God. The scene where Ottway helps a wounded comrade face his impending death packs an emotional punch, as does the final scene in which our hero decides whether to give up or fight to the bitter end.

4. Rob Roy (1995) – Robert Roy MacGregor was a real-life Scottish figure who lived in the 18th century. This is his story as envisioned by director Michael Caton-Jones, and it’sĀ filled with betrayal, action, and one of the best sword fights ever captured on film. Neeson stars as MacGregor, an honorable fellow who’s forced to go on the run after a business deal with the slimy Marquis of Montrose (John Hurt) goes sour. He’s pursued by Montrose’s bastard son, Archibald Cunningham (Tim Roth in an Oscar-nominated role), a despicable fellow who’s willing to commit any sin in the pursuit of an innocent man. Neeson is spot-on as the honorable Scot, and the climactic duel is a perfect contrast in styles.

3. The Mission (1986) – Neeson has a supporting role as a Jesuit priest in this Palme d’Or winner from director Roland Joffe. Jeremy Irons and Robert De Niro get top billing, the former as an 18th-century Jesuit missionary trying to convert natives in the South American jungle, and the latter as a slaver who suffers a crisis of conscience. But it’s the waterfalls and foliage that truly shine, helping cinematographer Chris Menges to win a much-deserved Oscar (the film was nominated for a total of seven). If you’d like to know more about the brutal realities of slavery, religion, and territorial expansion, be sure to give this one a look.


2. Kinsey (2004) – Neeson takes a break from kicking ass to portray sexual pioneer Alfred Kinsey, the man responsible for the famed reports that examined human lovemaking and caused one helluva stir in the primitive ’40s and ’50s. While traveling the country and interviewing a wide range of folks on their bedroom habits, Kinsey must also come to terms with his own problems, including marital strife and McCarthyism. Laura Linney was nominated for an Oscar as his wife, and the cast is rounded out by Peter Sarsgaard, John Lithgow, Tim Curry, and Chris O’Donnell. It’s rare to see Neeson play an egghead, and the fascinating real-life subject matter is an extra bonus.

1. Schindler’s List (1993) – Nominated for a dozen Academy Awards–and winner of seven–Schindler’s List routinely ranks high on lists of the greatest films of all time. While he lost his Oscar bid to Tom Hanks for Philadelphia, Liam Neeson still manages to turn in a career-defining performance as Oskar Schindler, a real-life businessman whose factories saved the lives of over 1,000 Jews during the Holocaust. Beginning the film as a charming war profiteer, Schindler later becomes deeply affected and transformed by the brutal executions meted out by SS officer Amon Goth (Ralph Fiennes making evil seem thoroughly spellbinding). Filmed in black-and-white and featuring numerous scenes of unflinching violence, Steven Spielberg’s nod to Jewish suffering is a must-see piece of cinematic history.

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This entry was posted on Monday, May 14th, 2012 at 10:20 pm and is filed under Good Movies, Thoughts on Film. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

One Response to “Top 10 Liam Neeson Movies”

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May 17, 2012

Mitch Album III

Didn’t know Neeson lost the Oscar to Hanks for Philadelphia. I’m not sure about that decision, in retrospect. I’d seen that same picture of Liam Neeson for The Grey, only tighter in. With the title, the wound on his face, and what looked like old fabrics, I thought this movie was about The Civil War. I like the sound of this idea better.

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