Top 5 Movie Guide: Mark Ruffalo

For this edition of the Top 5 Movie Guide, we again focus our attentions on a star of "Spotlight", this time Mark Ruffalo. Ruffalo was born and raised in Wisconsin but moved to California with his family after high school, eventually settling in Los Angeles. Once there, he got interested in theatre and decided to take a few classes at Stella Adler Conservatory. He took to it so strongly that he soon after co-founded the Orpheus Theatre Company, where he not only got experience acting, but also with writing, directing, and producing. And even though this didn't pay the bills (he worked as a bartender while he tried to break in), it provided him a great opportunity to build his resume without having to bank on the incredibly fluky Hollywood casting process. Luckily, a chance encounter with filmmaker Kenneth Lonergan (writer: "Analyze This", "Gangs of New York") finally kickstarted the process.

After striking up a friendship with Lonergan, Ruffalo appeared in one of his plays, which then led to a starring role in his film "You Can Count on Me" (2000). The performance earned Ruffalo rave reviews and led to a variety of small but significant roles in the early-2000's. After a string of highly successful films in 2004, specifically, Ruffalo solidified himself as a staple in the Hollywood community. He's continued to churn out notable work over the last decade, picking up acclaim throughout. In total, he's earned three Academy Award nominations and appeared in more than 50 feature films.

Ruffalo doesn't have much of a missed-opportunity list (at least not publicly), but there is one notable role/film that I think most fans would have been curious to see. Ruffalo was originally cast for Joaquin Phoenix's role in "Signs" (2002), but had to drop out due to the discovery of a benign brain tumor that needed operation. He fully recovered without issue, but the procedure did require significant recovery time that forced him to drop out. Most would agree that Phoenix played the role incredibly well, but it's pretty easy to see Ruffalo in that role, as well - it's curious to wonder what his career might have looked like had he established himself in such a significant role that early in his career. Still, as an actor now known to be able to handle any type of role in any genre of film, it's safe to say his career has turned out just fine.

Alex Schopp
Mark Ruffalo has long been one of my favorite actors. I don't know if it's that he's picking characters and films that are interesting to me, or that he portrays them in such a way that’s appealing to me, but I almost always enjoy his work. He seems like a pretty cool dude.

     1. The Kids Are All Right (2010)
Raise your hand if you’re sick of seeing me talk about this film? Maybe I’m more aware because I can recall how often I’ve referenced it in the past, but I’m sure there’s no lack of knowledge on my feelings towards it. In my opinion, the tone of this film is nearly perfect; a great mix of comedy and drama. And the content feels very organic - I believe all of the characters and their struggles. Plus, Ruffalo’s character is the best part of the film. I really dig his style and approach to life. In a lot of his films, actually, he's really mastered the middle-aged/cool guy/free-spirit/artistic vibe. It's everything I want to be when I grow up.
     2. 13 Going on 30 (2004)
I love this movie. And I’m so in love with Jennifer Garner’s character in it. She and Ruffalo have amazing chemistry and both play generally good people. They’re so sweet. The premise was also impactful to a younger me who also was ready to be an adult. With a relatable premise, good characters, and an easy-to-watch tone, I don’t know why anyone wouldn’t love this movie.
     3. Zodiac (2007)
When this first came out (and I was a bit younger), people complained that this movie was too long and slow. Now, as I’m older and enjoy more intricate, detailed pacing, I absolutely love it. It's handled with an almost surgical precision by David Fincher, and the acting performances by everyone in the cast really are amazing. Some might find the lack of action and the fact that the film is dialogue-driven to be a bore, but that's right up my alley. If it weren't for my nostalgic tendencies, this probably deserves to be a spot higher.
     4. Spotlight (2015)
I tried so hard to again omit this year's film, but I just couldn't. Don't get me wrong, Ruffalo has plenty to work with in his filmography - I'll put together a Top 20 right now if you want me to - but I just didn't feel I could pass up this performance. I really liked "Spotlight" as a whole, and I felt Ruffalo's character was the strongest part. It seemed like he played the role with great nuance; I really believed he embodied this person and I wanted to know more about his history.
     5. Marvel’s The Avengers (2012)
It was actually really hard for me to put Avengers in this spot because overall this movie doesn't really do a lot for me anymore (and there's a ton more that I wanted to showcase). But Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner/Hulk was easily one of the best parts of the film - and even though he didn’t have a ton of screen time, the best Banner/Hulk I’ve seen on film. I just couldn't overlook it. I loved the vulnerability and tranquility to which he approached the role. In a film that's oddly forgettable, Ruffalo is not.

Derek Clem
Man, this is tough. This is really a battle of "Top Ruffalo Performances" vs. "Top Movies Ruffalo Happens To Be In". For me they aren’t one and the same. I guess I’ll have to pull from both and hope I end with a strong list.

     1. Spotlight (2015)
I know this is recent, and in the past I’ve stated that I prefer to let a film digest before I commit to putting it on a best-of list, but it could easily be said that this is his best performance to date. He’s a different guy. He alters his face and voice to bring this character alive. He IS Mike Rezendes. This one takes the top spot mostly because Ruffalo is transformative, but also because the film itself is a subtle yet dynamic cinematic achievement. He’s transformed before, but never in a film that’s been on par with his performance ("Foxcatcher").
     2. 13 Going on 30 (2004)
He’s just a cool guy not looking to get taken advantage of. I think it’s a character we can all relate to and a character we’d all like to have as our buddy. Being a nice guy can place you pretty high on my list. It’s an easy watch.
     3. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Here we have a movie for the ages that Ruffalo happens to be in. BUT, Ruffalo is still very good in this. He’s so funny. His part is pretty small though. Be prepared to totally dig his look.
     4. Shutter Island (2010)
Ruffalo is so subtle in this that you barely remember he’s in the movie. I don’t think this says anything negative about his supporting performance but more about the main character’s mind. It’s an awfully broody and sometimes brutal physiological thriller. Give it time, I think it has a chance at becoming a standout in director Martin Scorsese’s career.
     5. Marvel's The Avengers (2012)
I think this was my favorite movie of 2012, but honestly, I’ve forgotten what it’s about. I remember it more than the most recent Avengers film, so I guess that’s saying something. It’s sad that these Marvel films are just so forgettable. Most of them just don’t stick. What did stick in this movie was the scene with Bruce Banner and Tony Stark discussing science. I don’t know what they were saying but I remember loving their on-screen chemistry. I don’t think of the movie, but I do think of the scene often.

Nathan Hinds
I have only recently become a fan of Mark Ruffalo. I've seen plenty of his films, but was always indifferent to most of his roles. It's only in the last few years that I've really started to look forward to seeing his name pop up in titles. I'd probably attribute that to his more subdued style of acting. He kind of just blends into most films he's in rather than being the shiny piece that sticks out. Now that can be - and in his case should be - considered a strength, but it's also is why it may take longer to appreciate his talent.

     1. Shutter Island (2010)
My opinion of this film grows with every viewing. Leonardo DiCaprio will finally win an Oscar for Actor in a Leading Role this year, and it could be argued that this was the film that really kicked off the this-guy-has-to-win-an-Oscar discussion. Since then, it feels the conversation has only built with each passing film. Regardless, "Shutter Island" has so many great aspects: great creepy atmosphere, great mystery and suspense, and a handful of good supporting roles.
     2. The Kids Are All Right (2010)
Seeing as how my top two films on this list are from 2010, it makes sense that this really was when I started to notice Ruffalo as an actor. I know he's had notable roles far prior to this, but it should speak to how good these two particular roles were. As for this film, it's in that dramedy hybrid category that has consistently produced so many easy-to-watch films year after year. It's just a great modern look at a lot of different family struggles. This one deals with about everything under the sun and someone manages to make it all work.
     3. Marvel's The Avengers (2012)
I'll just get it out of the way right now: I don't really care for this film that much anymore. It was awesome when it came out but it has not stood up well over time for me. With that being said, arguably the best character in the film is Mark Ruffalo's portrayal of The Hulk. To me it's easily the best big screen adaption to date of the character. Every scene with him is money - the two biggest cheers that came from the audience were during Hulk scenes. This character still remains awesome despite me not being that into the film as a whole anymore.
     4. Zodiac (2007)
Although quite long and slow paced, it has a really tense atmosphere that keeps you intrigued. I love non-horror films about serial killers. This is completely told from the side of the people investigating him, but it's still a fascinating story.
     5. Spotlight (2015)
I know I just used it last week and it makes most of the films I listed quite recent, but it was firmly ahead of anything else. Also, Ruffalo's role is my favorite in the film.

Andy Schopp

Who knew this would be one of the hardest lists I've ever made? I've known for a long time that I like Ruffalo but I didn't realize until now that I LOVED him. Going through his filmography made me see that his work is ALWAYS amazing. I've whittled the list down a bit and focused more on things I felt featured some of the different aspects I like about him - not all necessarily his "best" movies, but performances that I thought were unique. It may not match up with other peoples' lists, but it's what I've got.

     1. The Kids Are All Right (2010)
Fantastic work and a solid performance. It will stand for a long time as one of my favorites - and I don't just mean from Ruffalo's filmography.
     2. Zodiac (2007)
While it can be a bit long, this movie is nearly flawless in its performances. Ruffalo shines, but if you want to see some great characters/acting, watch this film. This is a true murder mystery for the ages!
     3. Blindness (2008)
It may not be on par with some of the other films on this list, but I genuinely loved the idea for this film and its execution. It was good enough that I wanted to make sure to give it some recognition in this post.
     4. Marvel's The Avengers (2012)
I know everyone saw this coming. He just makes the best Bruce Banner in the history of everything. You can't ignore it.
     5. 13 Going on 30 (2004)
Go ahead and judge me for this. I do not care. This film is delightful. Sure, it's not an Oscar-caliber movie; I know this - but watch it and tell me you hate it. I know you'd be lying.

Elisabeth Clem
I’ve always thought that Mark Ruffalo was one of my favorite actors, but I guess I really haven’t seen as many of his films as I thought I had. Regardless, I love what I’ve seen, so much so that two of my all-time favorite movies appear on this list.

     1. Zodiac (2007)
If I set childhood nostalgia aside, Zodiac is my all-time favorite movie. I’ll watch it any time, but I frequently pop in the 3-hour director’s cut while I work. I honestly think the pacing of it makes me work more efficiently. I love the movie as a whole, but Mark Ruffalo’s performance as Dave Toschi is really wonderful. He’s funny and he’s frustrated and his wardrobe is something to aspire to. Those bowties! Plus, he’s playing someone who inspired Dirty Harry and Steve McQueen’s Bullitt, and that’s pretty awesome.
     2. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet are great and all, but Mark Ruffalo’s character, Stan, is one of my favorites in this film. He’s hilarious. He hates his co-worker Patrick (Elijah Wood) so much, and that dynamic is one of the best and funniest to me. But he switches from funny to emotional so quick and so well, as we watch him love a girl who loves someone else instead. His super tall hair is also pretty great.
     3. The Kids Are All Right (2010)
This movie is so cozy to me, even with all the drama. I love Ruffalo as a sort-of-hippie organic farmer who loves Joni Mitchell. The scene at the dinner table when he and Annette Bening sing “All I Want” is the best, at least until things hit the fan. Despite how messy everything gets, I like to think that it all works out in the end and Paul is able to have some sort of relationship with his biological kids without further jeopardizing the family.
     4. Shutter Island (2010)
Mark Ruffalo isn’t a major standout for me in this (it’s pretty much Leo City, isn’t it?) but I still like the movie a lot. My favorite thing about Ruffalo’s performance is how patient he is with Leo’s character, Teddy. It’s pretty heartbreaking at the end. His tweed suit is on point, too. And it’s great to see him in another movie with John Carroll Lynch and Elias Koteas. Zodiac dream team!
     5. Spotlight (2015)
I didn’t want to put this on another list, but it really is a great movie, and Ruffalo stands out the most to me in it. I loved his odd way of sitting and the way he held his mouth; I saw an interview with the real Mike Rezendes and it seems like Ruffalo got those mannerisms down pat. And the “It could have been you, it could have been me, it could have been any of us!” scene is one I’ll always remember.

What a contrast this is to last week's Rachel McAdams list. Last week, we talked about how the sheer variety of films listed was due to the eclectic and deep filmography that McAdams had. I still believe that to be true, but on the opposite end, we have only eight films featured above today, for which I'll also argue the quality of his filmography. Here - and I think we can generally agree that Ruffalo has had a more prestigious career to this point than McAdams - it's the really amazing content at the top that just cannot be overlooked. The fact that so many of us had the same titles listed only strengthens them. Sometimes I like when there are a lot of titles presented - it gives you so much variety when going through that list to catch some titles you might have otherwise missed. But I also really love when a collection is so tight. We all do have pretty different ideas about our favorite movies, so when a small grouping of films from a broad assortment comes through, you know those really are the cream of the crop.

Anyway. Time for the hard facts. As mentioned, there were only eight films represented above, and all but one of them ("Blindness") appeared on multiple lists - yet no film appeared on all five. For some reason, I find that pretty neat. There were also four different films in the #1 spots, "The Kids Are All Right" being the one that was tops on two lists. Overall, "The Kids Are All Right", "Zodiac", "Marvel's The Avengers", and "Spotlight" each appeared on four different lists; "13 Going on 30" and "Shutter Island" each appeared on three, while "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" was the lone film to hit on two.

Happy watching!