Kathryn Bigelow’s work has been among the most diverse of any filmmaker. Beginning her career in 1981, Bigelow’s portfolio now spans over three decades, making some interesting and unique films along the way. Finding commercial success with 1991’s Point Break, she went on to establish her versatility with the twisted sci-fi drama Strange Days, before working her way up to winning Oscars for The Hurt Locker. She certainly found a niche that works in her collaborations with Mark Boal, but Bigelow seems to always choose her projects carefully, often spending several years before working on something new. All in all, Bigelow’s films aren’t always readily available for the consumer. This writer has missed one film in particular. None the less, these five films seem to be the Oscar winners most enduring works.
#5. The Loveless
Bigelow’s directorial debut remains among her most interesting work. The screen debut of Willem Dafoe, The Loveless takes an Easy Rider style approach to its story of a group of young bikers traveling to Daytona, Florida. Bigelow’s direction here proved her attention to minor details early. The characters in the film feel lived in, and its setting is entirely unique. In addition, Dafoe’s performance is layered and he provides just enough angst and cantankerousness without pushing the boundaries too far. It’s a gritty film with some heavy scenes that always hit the mark, even in a final act that does get a bit choppy.
A quintessential 90’s action flick, Point Break‘s over-the-top action and plot make for some frantically fun viewing. While it doesn’t have the dramatic musings of the previous movie on this list, it certainly has all the flair and edge of your seat thrills you want. Keanu Reeves certainly seems to be committing to this role and he is backed up by equally convincing work from Patrick Swayze. Any director with lesser talent than that of Bigelow’s at the helm, the movie wouldn’t be half as interesting. The proof is in the pudding with the 2015 remake of this film which is dull and never recaptures the spirit of the original. With all the high-octane action and machismo you could want, Point Break has solidified itself as a must-see for action fans, and anyone who just wants to have a blast with a movie.
Detroit features what is likely some of the best performances in any of her films. Here’s a timely movie with something to say, but also necessitates a watch with said themes. Will Poulter (We’re The Millers) hands in a fierce and terrifying turn as a racist police officer. Algee Smith is also terrific in the movie. Really, the entire cast delivers knockout performances. Paced excellently, with gut-punching anxiety to be found in its more tense moments, Detroit often isn’t an easy film to watch. Credit is due to Bigelow for her gritty, street-level look at the Detroit riots of 1967. It’s an excellent film, so it seems harsh to call it the worst of her true story collaborations with screenwriter Mark Boal. None the less, Detroit is an emotional tour-de-force and a movie that paints troubling parallels with our world today.
Bigelow’s strong direction earned her two Oscars including a director statue, with the movie taking home six in total. The Hurt Locker takes a visceral look inside a bomb squad. This intense and superbly acted war thriller finds Jeremy Renner in top form. Renner is stellar as a loose cannon Sergeant who takes over a bomb squad. Having not made a film since 2002’s K-19: The Widowmaker, Bigelow seemed to come out of left field with this film. Working with first-time screenwriter and now frequent collaborator, Mark Boal, who had only previously had a story credit on In The Valley of Elah, the two found success instantly. The film seemingly upset Avatar at the 2010 Oscars by taking home Best Picture. The Hurt Locker stands alone still as one of the most harrowing portraits of war.
With it’s striking attention to detail, fierce performances, and gripping suspense, Zero Dark Thirty is Bigelow’s most brilliantly crafted movie. The film’s massive scope still manages to feel intimate in its execution. Jessica Chastain gives a knockout performance as the tough and determined CIA agent tasked with putting together the plot to assassinate Osama bin Laden. The final act is filmed and executed with the precision of a military operation. Edge of your seat suspense and gut-wrenching anxiety punctuate the narrative, despite the audience knowing the ultimate ending. The movie never succumbs to the usual jingoistic tendencies of modern war films. All together, Zero Dark Thirty hits the mark with it’s engaging and exciting filmmaking from a director who is entirely in her element.