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The Essentials: Paul Rudd’s 7 Best Films

The Essentials: Paul Rudd's 7 Best Films

There may be no greater evidence of superhero movie progress than the casting of Paul Rudd as the lead in “Ant-Man,” the latest Marvel origin story which opens tomorrow. Known (and appreciated greatly in these parts) for his natural comic talents and effortless charm, used almost exclusively in comedies and indies ranging from the romantic to the silly, he seems like a left-field choice to lead a comic book movie, but a refreshing and exciting one nonetheless. And though our review found issues in the varied tones of “Ant-Man,” we did still find plenty to enjoy in its more goofy aspects, greatly aided by the talents of the 46-year-old actor.

Rudd started his career with a Joe Dante made-for-TV movie, then only a year later grabbed our attention in 1995 with a crucial part in a film that was a no-brainer for this list below (we know what you’re thinking, and sorry, we just couldn’t find space for “Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers”). So even though he looks all set to become way more famous after this weekend, he’s been kicking around for more than 20 years, consistently one of the more special components of each project he’s a part of. And can anyone else in the Marvel Cinematic Universe claim to have continued a long running and hilariously repetitive gag on Conan wherein he shows the same “Mac and Me” clip every time he comes on as a guest? We think not. So in honor of the man, and his fabulous abs, we present our seven favorite films in which he’s appeared. Let us know your favorite Rudd movie in the comments.

Clueless (1995)
This total Baldwin from Amy Heckerling (“Fast Times At Ridgemont High”) is packed so full of gags and brilliant one-liners that it could damn near compete with “Airplane” or “Naked Gun” for jokes-per-minute. Even throwaway transitional gags hit the mark, offering up sage advice like “‘searching for a boy in high school is as useless as searching for meaning in a Pauly Shore movie.” Even though a never-better Alicia Silverstone is the hero of this wonderful time(less) capsule, she has a great counterpoint in love-interest/ex-step-brother, Rudd’s Josh, whose performance here is just the right mix of mid-20s ennui, laid back ease and sneaky adorability. The climactic twist is so perfectly integrated (and followed by, of course, a perfect visual/narrational joke) that when Cher realizes she’s “majorly, totally, butt-crazy in love” with him, it’s a welcome relief for any (all?) of us in the audience who worried she’d never see just how good they’d be together. But she comes around, and the happy ending feels earned instead of forced. The film turned 20 this year, and though it could only have been borne from a very specific American 90s milieu, it should continue to age well as one of the definitive high school movies of all time, still endlessly quotable even though it’s dated in some respects (the great films always transcend that criticism), totally lightweight and breezy but never dumb, despite the dimness of its characters.

“Romeo + Juliet” (1996)
Say what you will about Baz Luhrmann’s career to date—”Moulin Rouge!,” “Australia” and “The Great Gatsby” (of which, oddly enough, Paul Rudd starred in another adaptation, for TV as Nick Carraway) all divided people to one degree or another. But go back to 1996’s “Romeo + Juliet” and you’ll find the most successful distillation of his hyperactive, over-the-top visual style working brilliantly with (instead of actively against) the text. Here he reappropriated Shakespeare’s most famous play, to impressive results. Its impact might have been lessened to a generation who probably saw it in high school English, but the film’s still full of raw emotion and fun, big performances from a game cast. Though Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes got the leads (and both are great, especially Danes’ Juliet), Rudd here still makes for a goofy, affable presence with his take on Dave Paris, the man the Capulets have chosen for Juliet to marry, until she has a fateful (and aquarium-aided) glance of her Romeo. He’s not in the film long, but he does make an impression even in a mostly thankless role (this moment in particular is a winner), and one that’s a relatively rare non-comedic turn in the Rudd canon. This of course started a small wave of neo-Shakespeare adaptations/modernizations, but is still the best of the bunch.

Wet Hot American Summer (2001)
On July 31, just after the peak of maximum Ruddness, Netflix will premiere its bizarro reboot/prequel/follow-up of this hilarious spoof of 80s summer camp movies. They’ve managed to have almost the entire cast returning (somehow they wrangled all those schedules together) to play younger versions of their characters in an origin story, even though they look significantly older than they did in 2001, pushing the insane (lack of) logic of the film to what seems like dizzying heights. None of that would be possible, though, were it not for the slowly building cult of the original film, David Wain’s directorial debut, which brought along most of the crew from “The State.”. ‘WHAS’ is one of those comedies that,those who’ve seen it, love it, to the point they are pretty much obsessed with it and never stop quoting the film. Hopefully the miniseries doesn’t stretch the premise and characters too thin, and also can somehow live up to the hype for those who care (almost always the hardest group to please in these situations). Thankfully, Rudd is back (he and Wain have worked together quite a bit over the years) and with it his macho, jean jacket-wearing, bro-douche demeanor. He’s easily one of the highlights of the original film (the running gag of him killing off young campers is so damn funny), so sign us up for more of him and the rest of the (now way more famous) cast.

Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004)
Were I to leave off this now-canonized comedy classic surely the top brass at Playlist HQ would put my head on a stake, or at least they’d hopefully let me fight for my freedom at our annual film critic gang fight (I call the trident for a weapon!). We’ve made no secret of our collective love for this endlessly quotable picture (funny how often that descriptor can be used safely for many a Rudd comedy), that birthed one of modern comedies great team ups in Will Ferrell and Adam McKay. Pretty much everyone’s hilarious here, but Rudd as field reporter Brian Fantana, complete with Sex Panther cologne (“60% of the time, it works every time”) and dirty perv ‘stache, is lights-out perfect in support of Ferrell’s titular 70s broadcaster. His mix of cocksure swagger, childlike naiveté, blinkered sexism and total idiocy might not have gotten the immediate kudos that Steve Carell‘s Brick Tamland (or some of the A-list cameos) received, but he’s the film’s secret weapon, and between this and the following year’s “40-Year-Old Virgin,” he managed to reinvent his career in a big way.

Knocked Up (2007)
Here’s Rudd, again, just doing what he does so well: supporting the leads and shining in his limited opportunities. So much so, that writer/director Judd Apatow decided to spin off his and Leslie Mann’s struggling-but-still-giving-it-their-best-shot married couple for “This Is 40” in 2012. While it may have proven to be his weakest directorial effort to date, you can’t fault Apatow for wanting to give Rudd more to do, within this specific role that he fits like a glove. In “Knocked Up,” his Pete character comes into the picture via sister-in-law Alison (Katherine Heigl) and her one-night-stand pregnancy with Seth Rogen’s stoner Ben. Though some may point instead to “The 40 Year-Old Virgin” as the best Apatow effort that features Paul Rudd (it is another hilarious turn), but for my money, “Knocked Up” is still the most complete and funny effort. It’s also the film where the comedy auteur used his discursive plot and character style, in which extended little avenues of comedy and/or drama are followed in hopes of broadening the world, to greatest effect. That’s why Rudd’s character, and the rest of the cast are so valuable, and why they elevate the material to be more than just a dumb comedy.

I Love You, Man (2009)
Though Rudd has always had the full actor’s toolkit (looks, charm, charisma, comedy timing), it took more than a decade for him to snag a lead role. The first true example is “Role Models,” with Sean William Scott, a buddy comedy with a hilariously foulmouthed turn from Bobb’e J. Thompson, but better was to come the following year with this subsequently underrated examination of male friendships, which also stars Jason Segel. Proving sleeper hits at a time when the Apatow brand (neither film actually had the comedy titan involved, but you wouldn’t know from the marketing) was at its biggest, the success of both helped to put Rudd on the path to superhero-dom. The premise of John Hamburg‘s film, about a guy who’s great with women but has no actual guy friends, does strain credulity, but Rudd’s crucial to making it stick with an audience: he’s charming enough that you buy that he’d be marrying Rashida Jones, but with an intrinsic awkwardness that makes it completely understandable that he’d have difficulty getting on with other guys. Frankly, it’s difficult to imagine anyone being a better counterpoint to Segel’s unrestrained laddishness, or the film working at all without the funny and oddly moving look on Rudd’s face as, bonding over a mutual love of Rush, he totes magotes finds a bro-soulmate.

READ MORE: Watch: Size Matters In The Trailer For Marvel’s ‘Ant-Man’ Starring Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas & Evangeline Lilly 
Prince Avalanche (2013)
A lot of the chatter around this film when it premiered at Sundance focused on how this little two-hander comedy (a remake of Icelandic film “Either Way”) was a return to form for director David Gordon Green. It actually turned out to be a new evolution entirely, more of a hybrid of his earlier, more lyrical and artful work like “George Washington” and “All the Real Girls” with the string of comedies he’d made (starting with the pretty damn good “Pineapple Express” and on to the sad, diminishing returns of “Your Highness” and “The Sitter”). The mix worked, not least because of Rudd’s uptight lead character, Alvin, and his dynamic with Emile Hirsch. The two have boundless chemistry, in that they convincingly play in-laws who don’t really like each other but are required to spend most their time together. Green’s picture breezes by pleasantly, but still somehow feels like a complete and satisfying meal, and though it’s a simple story of two guys working in the Texas woods for a summer in 1988, there’s still some interesting things to chew on, like the (possibly ghostly?) characters they encounter. If you gave up on Green because you didn’t like his comedies, you owe it to yourself to see this. We think it’ll renew your faith in him as a vital filmmaker, and it certainly showcases Rudd at his low-key, generous best.

Honorable Mentions:
Though we didn’t include David Wain’s “Wanderlust” in our final mix, we’d be remiss if we didn’t celebrate quite possibly Rudd’s finest ever moment on screen:

Also worth mentioning again is “The 40 Year-Old Virgin,” the other very good Apatow directorial effort (though I haven’t seen “Trainwreck” yet) that uses Rudd’s innate ability to play the lovable loser, as well as his talent for making comedy out of sadness. There’s his uncredited cameo in “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story,” in which he played John Lennon. Our Editor-In-Chief Rodrigo Perez is a big fan of the tiny indie “Diggers,” so now we have to check that one out, and don’t forget his other memorably dopey cameo in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.”

His aforementioned first true leading role came in “Role Models,” a surprisingly touching comedy that’s way better than it needs to be. On the more dramatic side, he was also in the 1999 Oscar-winning John Irving adaptation “Cider House Rules” as Lt. Wally Worthington, while it’s worth mentioning he’s briefly in the awesome “This is the End” and has more substantial parts in less successful fare like “Admission” and “Our Idiot Brother.” 

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