Top 5 Movie Guide: Ewan McGregor

For this edition of the Top 5 Movie Guide, we take a look at some of our favorite films featuring Ewan McGregor, star of this weekend's "Jack the Giant Slayer". Born in Scotland, McGregor started acting at 16, when he dropped out of school to join the Perth Repertory Theatre. Oddly enough, this move was actually at the encouragement of his mother, who suggested that he leave school to pursue his acting dreams. The move paid off, as he quickly worked his way up theatre ranks. After studying for three years at London's Guildhall School of Music and Drama (alongside Daniel Craig), he landed his first notable film role in "Shallow Grave" (1994), which was directed by Danny Boyle. McGregor would team-up with Boyle on his next two projects, "Trainspotting" (1996) and "A Life Less Ordinary" (1997), the first of which truly introduced him to a worldwide audience.

After the success of "Trainspotting" and other notable films in the mid-90's, McGregor landed the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi in the first three Episodes of the latest Star Wars trilogy. McGregor, who is still known to this day for his independent/low-budget film preferences, has stated that Star Wars is the only big market franchise he would break his interests for. He even took his name out of the running for the role of James Bond in "Casino Royale" (2006), a film which he was at one time considered to be the front-runner for.

Though most high-profile roles have not eluded McGregor (as he has not pursued them), he has lost out on two notable roles to Leonardo DiCaprio, both "Romeo + Juliet" (1996) and "The Beach" (2000). The latter would have reunited him with three-time collaborator, director Danny Boyle, but after a scrutinized and controversial casting decision, McGregor separated himself from Boyle, and has not talked to the filmmaker since.

While McGregor has never been nominated for an Oscar, he continues to be one of the most respected actors working in Hollywood today.

Hit the jump to see which films we picked as some of our favorites!

Alex Schopp -
I'm actually not a big Ewan McGregor fan most of the time - his acting style feels artificial or something to me. I enjoy his work in a handful of films, but as a whole I'm not generally drawn to his characters.

     1. Big Fish (2003)

This is probably the best overall film in McGregor's filmography. It's a really beautiful fairy tale that continues to work with subsequent viewings. I love most everything about this movie, and as I've said multiple times when showcasing this same title, the ending is a tearjerker. To this day it still gets me every time.
     2. Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith (2005)
Say what you will about the new trilogy, but it did a great job of bringing the entire story full circle. Even being a Star Wars enthusiast, I think I can appreciate the good in these films more than most. This film in particular stands out from the three, as there's great emotion between both McGregor (Obi-Wan Kenobi) and Christensen's (Anakin Skywalker) characters.
     3. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (2012)
Based solely on his character, this is one of my favorite McGregor performances to date. There were some mixed feelings from people on this film overall, but I quite enjoyed it. It didn't do anything amazing, but it was a well-made little gem. Plus, anytime you bring Emily Blunt into the picture you know it's getting bonus points from me.
     4. The Men Who Stare at Goats (2009)
This film featured a great cast, and overall a pretty humorous tone. This is an example of one of McGregor's roles that I thought he missed with a bit, but the strength of the story telling and George Clooney's performance puts this film over the top.
     5. Down with Love (2003)
Boy, I just didn't know what film to put in this last spot. While I'm not normally a big Renée Zellweger fan, the chemistry between her and McGregor worked well in this film, and I ended up enjoying both of their characters. I loved the style and the time period of the film; a great homage to the sex comedies of the same era the film represented.

Ben Foutch -

     1. Trainspotting (1996)

The unpleasant nature of the film puts it at a low watchability for me, but it's hard to refute its importance in Ewan's career. It's a fine piece of filmmaking from Danny Boyle. This is one of those situations where technical proficiency earns the top spot on the list.
     2. Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith (2005)
I'm not much of a Star Wars fan, but still enjoy most of the films. To be honest, this is really the only one I care about in the first three Episodes, though I'm probably not alone with that sentiment. I think it's because the film carries the right amount of emotional weight, and has arguably the best light saber duel in the series. If that final confrontation between Obi Wan and Anakin doesn't make some tears well up, you don't have feelings.
     3. Big Fish (2003)
I've probably made this point many times on this site already, but Tim Burton needs to find the magic again. The man has made some magical movies in his prime, and I fear that we will be for the foreseeable future, the unlucky recipients of his diminishing vision. Maybe he should watch this again.
     4. Shallow Grave (1994)
A nice little thriller from a young Mr. McGregor. Again, this is another Boyle film with low watchability, but still an enjoyable movie experience.
     5. The Men Who Stare at Goats (2009)
It's hard to imagine a scenario where this powerhouse cast would make a comedy that isn't worth watching - their involvement makes this movie what it is. By that, I'm not implying of a lack competency in the other areas of production, but noting the effectiveness of the performances all around. As boring as the title sounds, it's actually quite funny.

Derek Clem -

     1. Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge Of The Sith (2005)
Can one scene, alone, earn a movie the #1 spot? I say yes!
     2. Moulin Rouge! (2001)
Ewan outshines many of the original artists who sang the songs sampled in this vivacious musical.
     3. The Island (2005)
Ewan plays two very different versions of himself (accents and all) here. We see range in actors from movie to movie but it's rare we get to see it in a single film. Mad respect for McGregor on this one.
     4. Down With Love (2003)
A very post modern, self aware version of those sex comedies from 50's and 60's. It serves as a fun and lighthearted watch.
     5. Big Fish (2003)
This is one of those movies I don't think I love very much, but while I'm watching it I absolutely adore it. I get that Ewan's (and Albert Finney's) character is supposed to be a story teller and such, but come on, he's just a liar. I understand his son's frustration. It would get very old very quickly.

Nathan Hinds -

     1. Big Fish (2004)

This is just pure movie magic.
     2. Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith (2005)
Even though I like "Big Fish" more, this is my favorite role for Ewan McGregor. The fight scene with him and Anakin is the definition of epic.
     3. The Men Who Stare at Goats (2009)
Speaking of Star Wars, this is a movie full of references to it. The entire premise is ridiculous, but it's so entertaining.
     4. The Island (2005)
Just another awesome Michael Bay movie! This is a very underrated sci-fi film. Plus, Scarlett Johansson in this film, oh my goodness.
     5. Black Hawk Down (2001)
One of the most intense modern warfare films there is. The action is so realistic.

Tracy Allison -
I’ve not seen much of his earlier filmography, but I’m impressed that he takes such a wide range of roles. Sadly, none of my beloved Star Wars is included on this list. I’m a strictly Episode IV-VI kind of girl. I think McGregor did well with what he was given there, but I happen to prefer these other titles.

     1. Big Fish (2003)

I love when a movie can tread the line between real and imaginary so effortlessly. It’s like a fairy tale for adults, with an atypical sort of storyline and ending. It’s, at times, heartbreakingly sad and yet still so beautiful. I remember seeing the preview when Ewan McGregor’s character sees Alison Lohman’s for the first time and thinking that it was magical. Time literally stopped when he saw her. This was one time in very few that my expectations for a film measured up to the reality.
     2. Beginners (2010)
This movie is quirky and romantic and I loved it immediately. Although it deals with a lot of emotional issues, it’s ultimately a feel-good, uplifting tale. I just like that it’s sort of about the messiness of life and how relationships, whether they’re romantic or with family, can affect other aspects of your life. Although it was Christopher Plummer that received accolades in award form for this film, I loved Ewan McGregor and the fact that his character overcame so much when life was throwing him serious curveballs.
     3. Moulin Rouge! (2001)
One of the reasons that I don’t watch a great many musicals is that if the songs aren't familiar or catchy, the movie can be hard to get into. This certainly isn't a problem for this wild take on a musical that uses familiar top forty hits on its soundtrack. Ewan McGregor’s turn as a man consumed by love gives this wild comedy a romantic and dramatic edge. The madcap antics are brilliantly subdued by this ultimately damned tale of love.
     4. Trainspotting (1996)
It was impossible for me to watch this movie and not compare it to "Requiem for a Dream" (2000), although "Trainspotting" was more palatable to me. Aside from a few gristly scenes that were hard to watch, I found myself empathizing with McGregor as an addict anti-hero. It’s sad and strange, but beautiful in a disgusting way (does that even make sense?). It’s sort of fun to root for someone without knowing what will come of them.
     5. The Island (2005)
I watched this movie again recently and was struck by many things. This story is almost divided into two separate movies. I’m not sure how well the transition is made between thoughtful sci-fi and harrowing action packed chase scenes, but I’ll admit that I liked seeing Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson in this departure from their normal fare. This role further reminded me of Ewan’s versatility. Director Michael Bay could have made this story a little deeper, and connected it with current hot button issues, but the film still does the trick as a neat and often overlooked action film.

There we have it, folks. Overall, eleven different titles featured this week, though that's a relatively low number compared to what we've seen recently on these Actor lists. The question then becomes: Is that because these fewer films stand that much above the rest of his work, or that the lower tiers of McGregor's filmography are so unappealing that more variety just isn't an option? Who can really tell?

Anyway, of the eleven overall selections, seven were featured in multiple variety. Only one film appeared on all five lists, "Big Fish", which also earned three first-place votes. This is definitely one of the great classics from Tim Burton's filmography, and arguably his last truly wonderful film. "Big Fish" works on a variety of different levels, and captures a rare magical emotion not often found in adult films. This is a must-see if you ever passed it by.

Only one film also appeared on four lists, and that was "Star Wars: Episode
III - Revenge of the Sith". While this one only captured the top spot on one list, it hit in the #2 spot on the other three lists. This is most widely accepted as the best film from the new Star Wars trilogy, and for good reason. Once you can get over that this isn't the Star Wars our parents (and we) grew up with, there's actually some really great emotion and character building here. Give this one another chance if you didn't embrace it in the past.

Otherwise, two films hit on three lists: "The Men Who Stare at Goats" and "The Island". And three others hit on two, in "Trainspotting", "Down With Love", and "Moulin Rouge!". As is usually the case in this section, there's quite the variety of films presented here, but all of high quality  There's a little something for just about every genre fan's need, so when diving further into McGregor's filmography, these selections are a great place to start.

As always, we hope that each of these selections helps you to expand your knowledge and appreciation of some of the best films that Ewan McGregor has provided over the years, and guides you to better and more enjoyable all-around viewing experiences.

Happy watching!