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Ranking Rian Johnson Movies 1-5

I've been a movie enthusiast my whole life and been writing movie reviews for over 15 years.

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As of this writing, Knives Out 2, the much anticipated sequel to writer/director Rian Johnson’s whodunnit thriller Knives Out, is set to be released on Netflix in late 2022 after a brief limited theatrical run. Since his stylish debut Brick in 2005, Johnson’s originality within the science fiction and crime categories has made him a singular voice in genre entertainment, though he drew legions of fanboy ire with his divisive entry into the Stars Wars canon, 2017’s The Last Jedi.

Like them, love them, or hate them, you’re never bored while you watch a Rian Johnson movie. Johnson’s films always seem to improve with a second viewing as his stories are textured more deeply than you’d expect. Until Knives Out 2 (its tentative title), here are Rian Johnson’s films ranked in order.

ranking-rian-johnson-movies-1-5

1. Knives Out (2019)

Daniel Craig’s “Southern” accent notwithstanding, Rian Johnson’s who and why-dunnit borrows liberally from countless films and literature in the genre while providing more than enough twists and turns to befuddle even the most seasoned mystery watchers. Despite his sometimes wince worthy accent, Daniel Craig is miles removed from Bond and provides a wonderful tour guide through this rogues gallery of characters that is the Thrombey family. Ana de Armas is the beating heart, soul, and conscience of the movie and Chris Evans’ d-bag trust fund baby is as far removed from a superhero as one gets. You’d be right to quibble that the rest of the high-gloss cast (Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette, Michael Shannon) isn’t really given much to do, but that won’t stop you from being thoroughly entertained. A second viewing shows how much the crime aspect holds up while providing clues in plain sight. Sly social commentary within the pastiche of other movies like Knives Out is there but doesn’t announce itself like a knife in your back. Fake or otherwise.

ranking-rian-johnson-movies-1-5

2. Star Wars- Episode VII The Last Jedi (2017)

Trigger alert! Just for the whiny fanboys who cried and cried so much J. J. Abrams appeased them with the limp The Rise of Skywalker. The Last Jedi is, by far, the best movie of the most recent Star Wars trilogy, mostly because it actually takes chances. Most of them succeed. This isn’t your father’s Star Wars. The Last Jedi actually feels like there are stakes as opposed to the entertaining but ultimately lazy The Force Awakens (nostalgia can get you far, but it can’t carry an entire movie). Though he’s been quoted as saying to Johnson, “I hate what you’ve done with my character,” Mark Hamill gives his most emotionally resonant performance as Luke Skywalker. Luke’s final scene is indelible. The Last Jedi doesn’t quite know what to do with some of its side characters as John Boyega’s Finn doesn’t do much but add to the movie’s 2 and a half hour running time. For those with Stars Wars nostalgia goggles firmly affixed, The Last Jedi drew unnecessary ire. To paraphrase Luke Skywalker, almost “every word in that sentence is wrong.”

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ranking-rian-johnson-movies-1-5

3. Looper (2012)

Rian Johnson’s dazzling sci fi thriller took the staples of the time travel genre and propelled them (within their own implausible framework) to new creative heights. As you watch Looper, you feel like it might be just another interesting genre riff, but there are constant surprises within its time travel rules (those cuts!). Emily Blunt takes what on the surface looks like a stock female character and gives her Sara more screen presence than Bruce Willis. Sure, Joseph Gordon-Leavitt’s fake nose is distracting, but if that’s the worst part of Looper consider yourself blessed. Who knew Jeff Daniels could be this frightening? There’s a middling second act as Johnson exposits more than he should to keep story afloat, but the film kicks back into gear before the film suffers too much. Does Johnson’s obsession with details make Looper’s 2 hour runtime feel longer than it should? Probably, but you still won’t regret seeing it. And you won’t have to go back in time to see it again.

ranking-rian-johnson-movies-1-5

4. The Brothers Bloom

A con man, or men, comedy that’s dazzling at times, uneven at its worst. There are times when you’re not sure what kind of movie The Brothers Bloom wants to be, but you hope Rian Johnson does. Fortunately, every performer is giving their all (Rachel Wiesz in particular looks like she’s having a blast), even if it at times feels like they’re in different movies. A con movie with one or two or even three more twists than it needs. As an audience member you feel whipsawed more than you’d like, but ultimately The Brothers Bloom is a relatively satisfying experience. The only Rian Johnson movie I’ve only seen once. Though diverting, there’s not enough going on to warrant a second viewing anytime soon. Not a bad movie by any metric, but you hoped it would bloom into something better.

ranking-rian-johnson-movies-1-5

5. Brick (2005)

Rian Johnson’s debut is an exercise in style and not much else, but you still can’t keep your eyes (and ears) off it. Aping 1930s pulp fiction dialogue (“I've got all five senses and I slept last night, that puts me six up on the lot of you”), but spoken by contemporary high school teenagers, Brick makes you pay attention even if the story flags intermittently. Young Joseph Gordon-Leavitt is magnetic as Brendan, a teen trying to solve a crime he might not (meaning most definitely not) want answers to. Johnson and the cast play the stylistic choices straight, and you buy it for the most part. While not perfect, Brick made Rian Johnson a filmmaker to watch for with his own unique voice. As far a first films go, it’s very good.

Overall

Before the Knives Out sequel makes its way onto your Netflix queues, make sure to see Rian Johnson’s first five movies and enjoy a wonderfully original practitioner of genre entertainment.

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