Everyone is talking about Matthew McConaughey these days – and by everyone I mean actually everyone and not just the over-wrought housewives who enjoy watching degrading chick flicks for a chance to see him with his shirt off. I will admit that I’m pretty late to the McConaughey train (and lets face it, we’re all pretty late to that particular party) and spent most of the last few years rolling my eyes derisively at any mention of his name. The man in question, however, has recently taken a surprising career turn that has caught even this skeptic’s eye. From his Oscar win for Dallas Buyers’ Club to the HBO GO-crashing frenzy over True Detective to Christopher Nolan’s upcoming Interstellar, McConaughey is everywhere and proving haters wrong with his smart, compelling, and eccentric performances. In honor of the recent Academy Award Best Actor winner, here is a list of some of his best performances.
Top Matthew McConaughey Performances
6. Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
I was not the biggest fan of this movie overall, but by far the biggest highlight for me was McConaughey’s brief performance as Leonardo Dicaprio’s Wall Street mentor Mark Hanna. The character is highly eccentric, deviously clever, and restlessly twitchy. His one little near cameo role at the very beginning of the film really does just put everyone else’s try-hard hijinks for the remaining three hours to shame – and its no wonder that a large part of his screen time was used in the trailer to push the film. If anyone takes anything away from The Wolf of Wall Street, it is inevitably McConaughey’s chest thumping, humming, squawk song. What is even more delightful about this is that apparently McConaughey just does this all the time, and has been doing it for years as a sort of actor’s warm up. They just decided to incorporate it into the scene and now its the only thing that anyone will truly remember about this pointless movie.
5. Tropic Thunder (2009)
There are a lot of great performances in this movie, from Tom Cruise’s unrecognizable turn as studio executive Les Grossman to Robert Downey Jr.’s Academy Award nominated performance as the black faced Australian character actor Kirk Lazarus. McConaughey pulls his own as the ultra-dedicated, single minded agent Rick Peck to Ben Stiller’s action hero. He spends the entire movie obsessing over the lack of TiVo on location, regardless of any other crises that eventually arise, and eventually safaris through the jungle just to deliver it to his client himself – material proof of his dedication. In fact, the moment when he emerges from the jungle with the TiVo, declaring his dedication to Stiller in the helicopter above, and then promptly hurling the TiVo to block a missile strike is probably one of the most hilariously badass moments in the whole movie.
4. Bernie (2011)
Bernie is a quirky little movie by Richard Linklater starring Jack Black in a pleasantly restrained role as a well liked mortician who kills an elderly widow. The movie is based on a true story and is a series of interviews interlaced with various scenes. McConaughey plays the over-the-top Texan DA Danny Buck, ten gallon hat and all. He represents the overzealous nature of Texas law and some of the daily boredom that provokes that intensity. Buck knows how to get re-elected, searching out high profile arrests and convictions during election season. The rest of the time he’s a local muckraker, nosing around in people’s business looking for trouble. While the character is both charming and laughable, there’s a hint of nastiness that leaves you with a bad taste. This is particularly acute in the cross-examination scene at Bernie’s trial, where Buck makes a completely irrelevant argument that nevertheless leaves an impression on the jury.
3. Contact (1997)
Yeah, Matthew McConaughey was in Contact, that movie starring Jodie Foster based on the Carl Sagan novel. Its amazing what you can forget. McConaughey has a pretty significant part in the film as philosopher Palmer Joss, who stands as the religious counterpoint in the debate between God and Science that the movie explores. Palmer Joss is unlike most of anything McConaughey has done before or since. He is refined, controlled, intellectually and academically intelligent, highly articulate. McConaughey’s roles tend to be a little rougher around the edges, with country charm, scrappy exterior, and more street smart than formally educated. This role came a mere five years into McConaughey’s acting career, so there was very little type-casting him yet. How he fell into mediocre romantic comedies after this or something like Amistad is beyond me, but I’m certainly glad we’re now able to discover a new and impressive side to his acting talents.
2. Angels in the Outfield (1994)
Also, yes. McConaughey was one of the baseball players in Angels in the Outfield. Its not necessarily the best performance, or even particularly memorable, but its difficult to resist bringing up the fact that he was in the movie in the first place – or the fact that Adrien Brody, Joseph Gordon-Leavitt, Tony Danza, Danny Glover, and the Pine Sol lady are also in it. I’m pretty sure the only thing people clearly remember about the movie is that Doc from Back to the Future was the Angel Al. Its a pretty jam-packed movie with up-and-coming actors and McConaughey is definitely one of them. It might even be one of the first movies where he got to showcase his now famous chest.
1. True Detective (2014)
While this is one of McConaughey’s most recent endeavors, I was so impressed with his performance that I had to put it on the list. Season one only just ended, so those of you who haven’t seen it yet can now binge watch to your heart’s content. McConaughey plays troubled and obsessive detective Rust Cohle, who sees things very differently from his very down-to-earth partner Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson). The story takes place during two time periods, one in present day 2014 with the characters recounting events that happened during the 90s. While Harrelson’s character seems to stay pretty much the same, McConaughey’s Rust Cohle is nearly unrecognizable between the 90s and the present. The character is heady, intense, aloof, tightly wound and severely controlled. You get the feeling that an iron will is the only thing keeping him from falling apart and going insane. The older version is much the same with a bit of drunken pirate swagger and hillbilly style mixed in. There’s a touch of genius in the way McConaughey allows the character to become so removed from what he once was, but to slowly forge the connection between the two versions so that the audience can once again recognize him as Rust Cohle – just a Cohle damaged by time and obsession.