Auteur of the Week: Danny Boyle

Danny Boyle has been a favorite of mine since I first saw Trainspotting about nine years ago. I have to thank Ewan McGregor for turning me on to Boyle. I loved Ewan in Moulin Rouge! and decided to see everything I could that he’d been in. This included Danny Boyle’s first three films. I think they were some of the stranger films I’d seen up to that point in my life.


If you’ve only seen Boyle’s later work, you might be surprised how dark his early films – comic, but dark. His career has gone on a very intriguing transformation, but each of his films have a few techniques in common. Boyle’s film always have quick jumps in editing and an over-arching manic energy to them. Of his eight films, there’s only one that I didn’t particularly care for; the rest I love dearly.

Danny Boyle was born October 20th, 1956  in Radcliffe, Lancashire, England. Up until he was 14 he had intended to go into the seminary to become a priest, but was convinced not to do so by a priest. Boyle was unsure if this was to  save “[him] from the priesthood or the priesthood from [him].” Boyle then studied at Thornleigh Salesian College in Bolton and at Bangor University. He then began his career at the Joint Stock Theatre Company, eventually moving on to the Royal Court Theatre in 1982. He also directed five productions for the Royal Shakespeare Company and in 1980 Boyle worked as a producer for BBC Northern Ireland.

Boyle’s film debut was the 1995 thriller Shallow Grave, starring the then relative unknown actors Kerry Fox, Christopher Eccleston and Ewan McGregor; McGregor would go on to star in Boyle’s next two films as well. This also marks Boyle’s first collaboration with writer John Hodge and produced Andrew Macdonald. The film was the most commercially successful British film of 1995 and earned Boyle the Best Newcomer Award from the 1996 London Film Critics Circle as well as the Alexander Korda Award for Best British Film at the 1995 BAFTAs. This was the second Boyle film I’d seen, I started with Trainspotting, then rented this one. I think my favorite scene in this film is when they’re trying to get a new roommate and a comical series of roommate interviews ensues, including Ewan asking one potential roommate, “When is the last time you heard these exact words: You are the sunshine of my life.” I’m not even going to tell you how often that line runs through my head.

Due to the commercial and critical success of Shallow Grave, Boyle, Hodge and Macdonald got the green light to go ahead on an adaptation of Irving Welsh’s novel Trainspotting.  The film also starred Ewan McGregor, as well as a wonderful ensemble cast including  Jonny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle, Ewen Bremner, Kevin McKidd and introduced Kelly Macdonald. The film won numerous awards and was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay Academy Award – Hodge won the Best Adapted Screenplay award at the BAFTAs. It went on to be the highest-grossing British film of 1996. It received overwhelming critic and audience laud and is currently #156 on IMDb’s Top 250 list. The film’s two soundtracks were also highly praised, and major best sellers. In 2007 the editors of Vanity Fair magazine ranked the original Trainspotting soundtrack as the 7th best motion picture soundtrack in history. Both the film and the soundtracks are considered integral aspects of the Cool Britannia culture of 1990s England (and its subsequent new British Invasion of America)  I have seen this movie countless times and each time I find something new to love about it. It  contains one of the most haunting scenes I think I’ve ever seen (the baby on the ceiling) and contains some really great laughs as well as some really profound heartbreak. If I had to come up with a list of truly important films from the 1990s, or maybe even of all time, I would definitely include this film.

Boyle, Hodge, Macdonald and McGregor teamed up for a third time with 1997’s A Life Less Ordinary. I think this is one of Boyle’s lesser-known and least watched films, which is too bad because I think it is terrific. It’s a little rough around the edges, but it is so full of charm and real laughs and heart that I love it to pieces. The film has a really wonderful ensemble cast: Ewan McGregor, Cameron Diaz (usually I dislike her, but she’s perfect in this role), Holly Hunter, Delroy Lindo, Ian Holm, Stanley Tucci, Dan Hedaya, Maury Chaykin, Tony Shalhoub, Ian McNeice as well as being the film debut of Christopher Gorham and Timothy Olyphant’s second appearance in a feature film. McGregor won his third Best British Actor at the Empire Awards UK for his role in this film, having won previously for his other roles in Boyle’s first two films (he also won the award for his role in Moulin Rouge!). This is another one of those films I think about a lot. There’s this bit in an elevator as McGregor’s character psyches himself up to confront his boss, played by Ian Holm, that I just love. There was this elevator on the UC Berkeley campus that I used to ride just about every day that reminded me of the elevator in this film and so every time I got in it, I thought about that one shot. This film also includes a really great scene wherein McGregor sings the Bobby Darin classic “Beyond The Sea” – if you try to tune out Diaz’s awful duet part, it is a real delight.

Boyle, Hodge and Macdonald’s fourth film together was 2000’s The Beach. Apparently Ewan McGregor was originally cast as the main character, but left due to “disputes” with Boyle. There is speculation that Boyle was offered a greater budget if he made the main character an American and cast Leonardo DiCaprio. Part of me is glad that McGregor left, because this film was so terrible and part of me wonders if maybe McGregor could have saved it. This film was just off. Critically, it was widely panned. Audiences, however, ate it up – presumably due to the Leo-mania caused by DiCaprio’s popular role in 1997’s Titanic. DiCaprio was nominated for a Razzie for his role in this film. I thought the first 30 minutes or so had real potential. Robert Carlyle was wonderful in his brief appearance. But the last hour and a half of the film was just a big mess. This is the only of Boyle’s films that I really did not enjoy at all.

Boyle and Macdonald worked together again on 2002’s 28 Days Later. This time the film was written by Alex Garland, whose novel had been the basis for The Beach, although John Hodge had written that screenplay. This would mark Boyle’s first film not to be written by Hodge. This was the first of Boyle’s films I’d seen in theaters. When I saw this I had already seen his first three films, having discovered him in late 2001. It was awkward because I watched it with two of my brother’s friends. Why I went to the movies with my brother’s friends I’m not sure. It was summer and I was bored, probably. Let’s just say watching naked Cillian Murphy with two teenaged boys was one of the more awkward film going experiences of my life. This film was one of Boyle’s biggest financial successes. It was made on a budget of £5mil and made over $82mil worldwide. It was also a critical success, currently holding an 88% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. I will always thank Boyle for introducing me to Cillian Murphy. He is such a phenomenal actor and for being a relative unknown to American audiences at the time, he carried this film well.

This film is so cute. It’s definitely Boyle’s sweetest film and I think his only film to date not rated R. It was also his first film without producer Andrew Macdonald. It’s such a shame this film only played in 340 theaters worldwide. I’m not really sure why, since it’s such a genuinely sweet film and a perfect kind of family film that can be enjoyed equally by adults and children. Roger Ebert had it at the #10 spot of his Top Ten list for 2005. It contains a lot of Boyle’s go-to techniques: the quick jump editing, whimsical happenings that aren’t really explained, a dynamic soundtrack. I kind of look at this film as Boyle’s The Straight Story. By that I mean, like David Lynch’s 1999 film, it’s softer than his other films and has a more family friendly rating, but it still has the same edgy, quirky feel as his other films.

2007’s Sunshine marks Boyle’s last collaboration with produce Andrew Macdonald (at least, for now) as well as his third, and so far final, collaboration with writer Alex Garland. I remember I didn’t go see this film even though I love Boyle and star Cillian Murphy because it was advertised as a mindless action flick. I guess I should have known better, as once I finally saw the film I realized it was nothing like what it was advertised to be. It was much darker, and much more psychological than the trailers made it out to be. The film was not a financial success, grossing $32 mil, much less than its $40 mil budget. Regardless of its financial woes, I thought this film was phenomenal. It’s filled with gripping performances as well as some truly beautiful visuals.

2008 saw Boyle’s next film Slumdog Millionaire, and unless you’ve been living under a rock you know how well that worked out for him. This film was Boyle’s first collaboration with producer Christian Colson and writer Simon Beaufoy, both of whom he is re-teaming with later this year. The film was an overwhelming success with both critics and audiences; currently it resides at the #107 spot on IMDb’s Top 250 list. It was on over 30 critic Top Ten lists for 2008, landing at #1 on at least ten of those lists. It received numerous nominations at pretty much every film and critic awards there is, including ten Academy Award nominations. It went on to win eight Academy Awards: Best Sound, Best Score, Best Song, Best Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director and Best Picture. What’s so wonderful about this film is it combines Boyle’s trademark techniques; the zippy editing, the unusual happenings, the tense thriller-like atmosphere with the joy and goodness that we saw in Millions. I think the film owes a lot of its charm to its main star – Dev Patel. Patel was nominated for numerous awards for his performance, including a BAFTA and a SAG. It was a tough race that year, in both the supporting and lead categories, and since it was hard to decide which category his performance fell into, he wound up being snubbed by the Academy. I know that there are a lot of controversies regarding the young actors used in the making of this film, but that whole mess is so complicated I don’t think I’m going to get into it. Regardless of those controversies, I love this film. I think it is definitely one of Boyle’s most fully realized films and I am glad he won an Oscar for his work on it.

Boyle’s next film, 127 Hours, will see him re-teamed with producer Christian Colson and writer Simon Beaufoy. The film will star James Franco, playing Aron Ralston, the real-life mountain climber who amputated his own arm to free himself after being trapped by a boulder for nearly five days. The film is set to be released by Fox Searchlight on November 5th, 2010. I am definitely looking forward to this film. Franco is an amazing actor who very rarely gets the chance to really display how talented he is. I think he and Boyle will make an excellent team. 127 Hours will premier at the 2010 Toronto Film Festival in September, after which we’ll have a better idea as to whether the film is serious contender for Oscar this year.

If you’re interested in buying any of Boyle’s films you can do so here.

About cinemafanatic

Cinephile to the max.

Posted on August 18, 2010, in Auteur of the Week and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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