The 10 Best Tommy Lee Jones Movies
Tommy Lee Jones’ strengths as an actor far outweigh his weaknesses. How is it possible that one man can play one of the most gleefully cartoonish villains in the Batman canon and turn around to give a key performance in Joel and Ethan Coen’s best and grimmest film? Jones has done this and much, much more. With his wide range, he is as beloved by casual audiences as much as he is by film geeks. He is lauded the world over and deservedly so. Below are his ten best films.
No Country for Old Men (2007)
One would be hard-pressed to find a better example of the neo-western genre than No Country for Old Men. One would also be hard-pressed to find a more cynical one. These two ideas are inextricably linked, of course. Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) finds two million dollars in the Texas desert. This large sum belongs to a cold killer named Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), who will ruthlessly and methodically kill anyone who gets in his way to retrieving it. However, none of these characters are as important as Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Jones), a local lawman who must track down Chigurh before he finds Moss. Jones, as Bell, offers the emotional center of the film and the best performance of his career.
Steven Spielberg has long enjoyed his historical film projects. Many consider Lincoln to be his best film in the genre. Based on the important biography Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin, he puts to film the process of getting the Thirteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution passed. Daniel Day-Lewis gives another transformative performance as the titular president who presided over the American Civil War. Jones, for his part, gives a key performance as Thaddeus Stevens, a hardline abolitionist congressman from Pennsylvania.
The Fugitive (1993)
The Fugitive is, even twenty-plus years on, a quintessential film about a wrongly-accused protagonist. Dr. Richard Kimble (Harrison Ford) is believed to have killed his own wife, forcing him to become the titular fugitive. Jones gives a great performance as Samuel Gerard, the U.S. Marshal assigned to track down Kimble and bring him to justice. As good as Ford is in the main role, Jones is absolutely in top form.
Oliver Stone’s JFK is likely his best-known film even today. It was highly controversial, as Stone draws from multiple books that theorize who was behind the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and why. The film follows Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner), the District Attorney of New Orleans as he tries to uncover the truth behind the killing. Jones, for his part, plays a supporting role which earned him much acclaim: New Orleans entrepreneur Clay Shaw, who Garrison believes to be involved in the conspiracy.
Men in Black (1997)
It is difficult to remember a time when Men in Black was merely an esoteric comic book series. Jones plays Agent K, a hardened veteran of the Men in Black whose uptight personality clashes with Will Smith’s Agent J, an eager rookie. Together, they must protect the Earth from alien antagonism. Much of Men in Black and its sequels’ success is due to Jones and Smith, who together form a familiar opposites-attract buddy cop dynamic. All this in a science fiction adventure turned out to be a winning combination.
Small Soldiers (1998)
With Small Soldiers, director Joe Dante blends one part Toy Story with two parts Gremlins 2: The New Batch. The resulting product is a lot of zany, campy fun. A discarded military project finds its way into a new toy soldier line, the results are small but explosive. A young boy and his family find themselves the victims of this elite unit of tiny sentient commandos led by Chip Hazard (voiced by Jones). The family’s only saving grace are the Gorgonites, the enemies of the commandos who have also gained sentience. It is a must-watch with its warm, early-era CGI and Dante’s typically clever subtext.
Natural Born Killers (1994)
After his vital performance in JFK, Jones collaborated with Stone again on his cult hit Natural Born Killers. In the film, Mickey and Mallory Knox (Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis, respectively), a young couple whose killing spree causes a media circus. Jones plays the unhinged warden of the prison to which Mickey and Mallory are sent. It is a truly shocking movie that takes big risks in its form.
Batman Forever (1995)
In a post-Dark Knight world, audiences expect something wholly different from a Batman film than what Joel Schumacher offers with Batman Forever. It is far from Christopher Nolan’s bleak—and frankly bland—attempt at realism. Jones’ performance as Two-Face is delightfully ludicrous, as is Jim Carrey’s as The Riddler. With Val Kilmer as the titular hero and sets that look like an entertaining dark ride, Batman Forever deserves a reexamination.
Men in Black II (2002)
Of course, a film as successful as Men in Black would warrant a sequel. As far as sequels go Men in Black II is largely satisfying. Agent J (Smith) pulls his old partner Agent K (Jones) out of retirement for another job. Once again, the world is hanging in the balance with the arrival of a powerful alien named Serleena (Lara Flynn Boyle). It is not a particularly special film, but a nice bit of entertainment for any fan Men in Black franchise or Jones at large.
Men in Black 3 (2012)
Though Jones sees his role as Agent K shrink, he delivers another enjoyable performance in Men in Black 3. Agent J (Smith) is sent back to 1969 to save his partner and the world once again. Josh Brolin as the young Agent K is undeniably fun, as is Jemaine Clement as the big bad alien. Things get messy with all the time travel — even for this franchise, which has never been particularly concerned with making sense — but it nonetheless makes for a nice low-stakes picture.
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