When Matthew McConaughey took home the Oscar for Best Actor at the 86th Academy Awards, the actor’s career revival had been officially validated by the most critical group in the entertainment industry, the Academy. Critics and many moviegoers spent years panning the Texas-born actor for taking roles in rom-coms and getting by on his good looks and love of taking his shirt off, but those criticisms were often misguided. Sure, he was largely known for those “easy” roles in the days prior to the dawn of the McConaughssance in 2011, but the actor has delivered brilliant performances since the very beginning of his acting career.
Honorable Mentions: 2002’s “Reign of Fire” and 1997’s “Contact” were very good movies that received decent reviews and are worthy of watching, but don’t pack the punch of the 10 best Matthew McConaughey movies leading up to his Academy Award winning role as Ron Woodroof in “Dallas Buyers Club.” Also, while Matthew McConaughey’s performance as Rust Cohle in HBO’s “True Detective” was critically acclaimed, an episodic television series is something very different from film…although “True Detective” did feature a level of cinematic quality worthy of the McConaughssance.
10. “Paperboy” (2012)
“Paperboy” polarized audiences and critics alike which makes it the only movie on this list of the best Matthew McConaughey movies that is not a unanimous choice. Lee Daniels’ tawdry thriller crossed the line at times, but the acting was one of the movie’s strong suits and Matthew McConaughey’s performance drew praise as he took on a challenging role that would have fallen flat in the hands of a lesser actor.
9. “Frailty” (2001)
“Frailty” was released before the McConaughssance but the psychological thriller showed glimpses of the talent that was on display leading up to Matthew McConaughey’s Academy Award for Best Actor. The role was a multi-layered one that required the actor to find the character’s monologue and expand on it. The talent and understanding of the craft was on display, making this one of the best Matthew McConaughey movies of all-time.
8. “Bernie” (2011)
Actors with talent can only shine if they are given a solid script, a solid character, and a solid plot to work with. Richard Linklater gave Matthew McConaughey all of those things in this Texas-set dark comedy. While “Bernie” did not draw as much mainstream attention as some of the other movies of the McConaughssance, it is still one of the best Matthew McConaughey movies in terms of quality and warrants a viewing in order to understand why the actor is receiving so much critical acclaim.
7. “Lincoln Lawyer” (2011)
“Lincoln Lawyer” saw Matthew McConaughey revisit the role of lawyer but the duality of his character was captivating and showed off his ability to play the scheming anti-hero, a skill that has been definitive during the McConaughssance. This movie is not only one of the best Matthew McConaughey movies of all-time but it is also the one widely considered as the starting point of the so-called McConaughssance.
6. “We Are Marshall” (2006)
Matthew McConaughey is a big football fan and is known for his vocal support of the Texas Longhorns so it wasn’t a big stretch to see him take on the role of ball coach. What was surprising to non-believers is just how good of a job the actor did in this pre-McConaughssance film. The story was based on true events and the actor’s poignant performance showed signs of the great things that were to come.
5. “A Time to Kill” (1996)
Matthew McConaughey was originally pegged to play one of the white supremacists in this gripping John Grisham film adaptation, but Joel Schumacher took a chance on the then relatively unknown actor and it paid off big for everyone involved. This role made Matthew McConaughey a household name and without the brilliant performance given by the young actor it is likely that we would not have seen him take on many of the future roles that wowed audiences and movie critics.
4. “Mud” (2012)
One year into the so-called McConaughssance, the actor took yet another challenging role that displayed his acting chops and the critics raved and audiences took note that this performance stood in stark contrast to those given in movies like “Failure to Launch” and “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.” “Mud” is one of Matthew McConaughey’s best movies and did a lot to woo the court of public opinion.
3. “Dazed and Confused” (1993)
The first words that Matthew McConaughey delivered on film were, “alright, alright, alright,” but the performance was so much more than that. This Richard Linklater movie featured countless future stars, but Matthew McConaughey stole the show with his spot-on portrayal of burnout slacker Wooderson. The lines he delivered became enshrined in the pop-culture canon years before the official McConaughssance was under way but the star never forgot where he came from.
2. “Killer Joe” (2011)
“Killer Joe” is not only one of the best Matthew McConaughey movies but also one of the best film noirs of our time. The role was deep and complex and the troubled character was brought to life by an actor who truly mastered his craft. The eeriness of the dialogue moved audiences and Hollywood insiders, critics, and movie viewers began buzzing that the McConaughssance was real. There was considerable talk of an Oscar nomination for this role but the MPAA’s NC-17 rating killed any chances of that much deserved honor.
1. “Dallas Buyers Club” (2013)
This film will forever be recognized as the one that truly made everyone take notice and recognize the brilliant talent that is Matthew McConaughey. He won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his work in this difficult story, but he also won the heart of movie-goers the world over. Matthew McConaughey said, “this film was never about dying, it was always about living,” so just keep….L-I-V-I-N.
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