Game Night Is Jason Bateman’s Greatest Movie
It’s Jason Bateman’s birthday. To celebrate, we’re counting down his 10 best movies.
He’s Hollywood’s most watchable, straight-faced funny man. Rising to fame in earlier sitcoms like The Hogan Family, he become a superstar in Arrested Development as Michael Bluth.
It’s nearly been 18 years since the show aired, but Bateman’s movie and TV legacy is stronger than one series, from hilarious ensemble comedies to having the world gripped on his family’s money laundering in Ozark. To mark his 52nd birthday, we’ve ranked his 10 best films.
The Cornetto trilogy has three of the funniest, most dearly-held comedies in modern British cinema, making worldwide stars out of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. However, in between Hot Fuzz and The World’s End, the pair briefly detached from Edgar Wright for an adventure along the Extraterrestrial Highway, where they meet an alien called Paul (Seth Rogen).
It’s far sillier and fluffier, with crude shades of E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Bateman plays Special Agent Lorenzo Zoi, an FBI operative ostensibly on the hunt for Paul as the trio shoot off on a road trip, hoping to protect the candid alien from harm. It’s almost entirely harmless, often really enjoyable, mostly to those appreciative of geeky giggles.
In 1999, Mike Judge sketched the cubicle-dwelling, water-cooling, magnified existence of Office Space. In 2006, he crafted a dystopian world eerily, painfully close to our own with Idiocracy. The actor-filmmaker even said: ‘I’m no prophet, I was off by 490 years.’
Three years later, he stepped back into the mundanity of everyday life in Extract, following Bateman’s factory owner as he meets thieves, gigolos, oblivious neighbours and Ben Affleck somewhere between Jesus and a hippie. It’s the most ordinary film here, nothing’s exciting, it’s even all a little dull. That’s its power: pedestrian goofballs being nothing but themselves.
8. Bad Words
A grown man competing against children in the National Golden Quill Spelling Bee is one thing. An sociopathic pariah as crass and ruthless as Guy Trilby is another. Fortunately, with Bateman’s performance and direction, Bad Words has a gleeful awfulness that’s hard to resist.
The easiest comparison in the Bad pantheon is Billy Bob Thornton’s anti-festive fable. However, there’s a more obvious sweetness here that, while predictable, never gets in the way of the film’s shameless use of swearing and explosive mean spirit. Also, at a lean 89 minutes, it’s a potty-mouthed treat.
7. The Gift
A wonderful quality of Bateman’s talents is how delectable even the gentlest twist of his amiable persona is. There’s a solid argument to be made that The Gift, Joel Edgerton’s rather disquieting thriller, is the actor’s finest feature performance to date.
Right from the get-go, the little changes are noticeable: a firmer curtness in his speech, a nastier sarcasm, a more disingenuous parlance. Day by day, despite the niceties, he’s a conniving bully. The chickens come home to roost in the form of Edgerton’s Gordo, an old school ‘friend’ who reigns sweet vengeance upon him for a horrendous act in the past. ‘It’s too late for that.’
The world of Disney, between its animated classics and Pixar outings, is strange. In some universes, anthropomorphic vehicles inhabit the Earth. In others, toys come alive and go on wild expeditions. However, the animal world of Zootopia, with sloths working at the DMV, tax evasion and elephant yoga instructors, hits startlingly close to home.
The studio’s 55th feature sees Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin), a budding police officer, team up with con artist Nick Wilde (Bateman) to solve a conspiracy hidden away in the city. Its voice work on all fronts is superb, but its timely discussion of prejudice in 2016 hasn’t reached its expiry yet.
Jason Reitman makes his first appearance on this list with the Oscar-winning Juno, ‘a comedy about growing up… and the bumps along the way’. The cultural awareness of this indie movie is surprisingly immense, though not undeserved: it’s quirky, wholesome, purposeful and layered, particularly in the case of Bateman’s role.
One of his earlier performances sees him play the husband of Jennifer Garner, a couple looking to adopt the baby of the titular teen (Elliot Page). That irreplaceable everyman energy is presented at its most chill, sprinkled with a creeping depth as the plot goes uncomfortably awry. He’s not the main takeaway, but he’s a strong presence in every scene.
‘It’s a bold strategy, Cotton. Let’s see if it pays off for ’em.’ 13 timeless words, spoken by film’s greatest fictional sporting commentator Pepper Brooks, brought indelibly to life by Bateman in Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story.
Again, the actor’s only in a supporting role. Hell, he’s basically an SNL character. But he chews up every damn line with aplomb alongside Gary Cole’s Cotton McKnight, the TV hosts of the tournament on ESPN8 The Ocho. As Average Joe’s take on Globo Gym, the pair’s concurrent ramblings make for some of the most quotable moments in the movie. ‘Ouchtown, population you, bro!’
3. Horrible Bosses
Somewhere in life, either in passing part-time employment or your career gig, we all meet our personal antichrist. Whether they’re a ‘total f*cking asshole’, a ‘crazy evil b*tch’ or even a ‘dipsh*t cokehead son’, everyone has Horrible Bosses we feel we’d be better off without.
It’s a dynamite three-hander for Bateman, Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day, with high school bickering and banter stretching even into the bloopers. But the razor-sharp zingers stay years after the credits, from Colin Farrell’s ‘Professor Xavier’ demand to the cheek-puffingly apt ‘key to success… and they will not teach you this in business school, is taking sh*t’.
2. Up in the Air
Reitman’s second appearance comes with his best films, and one of the very best pictures of the 2010s: Up in the Air, a drama closely evoking the devastating, sobering impact of Pixar’s Soul. This time, it’s only okay to lose yourself in the clouds… if you’re not losing yourself in the clouds.
Bateman plays a supporting role, the head of a firm used by companies to help terminate employees in the event of mass redundancies. He’s a cocktail of corporate cynicism, capitalist penny-saving and affable management, so the ideal vehicle for the actor to hone every scene. It’s a tremendous parable for love and being grounded, wittily and heartbreakingly composed.
1. Game Night
John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein – put some respect on their names. Problematic gags aside, the 2000s were a seminal era for senses of humour across several generations. Beyond, the crop has been less fruitful, with R-rated genre efforts in slimmer supply. Then, in 2018, the filmmaking duo gave us Game Night.
The set-up is somewhat simple: Bateman and Rachel McAdams, alongside their all-star friends, get roped into Kyle Chandler’s enthralling abduction mystery. Soon, they realise it’s not a game, and serious, dangerous threats are afoot.
While peppered with some crude humour, Mark Perez’s script is smart and delightfully tight, especially in unison with Daley and Goldstein’s handiwork. There’s also a hyper score from Cliff Martinez, dazzling cinematography from Barry Peterson and top-notch performances all round, including Bateman (that squeaky toy scene is a killer) but especially from Jesse Plemons as the neighbourly cop frustrated with Frito-Lay’s profitability.
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