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Six Definitive Films: The ultimate beginner's guide to John C. Reilly

John C. Reilly is one of the finest character actors of our generation. The Chicago native has long been hailed purely as a comic, but he is so much more than that, and in fact, his filmography is one of the most varied but strikingly impressive in existence. 

We all remember Reilly as the inept interviewer Dr. Steve Brule from Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! in the late 2000s, and it is something of a misconception that many people think this was the start of his career, whereas he’d actually hit heights that us laypeople could only dream of years before he first starred as Brule.

Reilly scored his film debut in 1989’s Casualties of War before gaining further exposure in early ’90s successes such as Days of ThunderWhat’s Eating Gilbert Grape, and alongside Kevin Bacon as a pair of violent criminals threatening the Hartman family in the 1994 adventure The River Wild

Reilly then made his jump into becoming a household name when he starred in a trio of Paul Thomas Anderson movies towards the end of the 1990s that confirmed him as one of the most dextrous actors we’ve seen in the modern era. With one eye fixed and comedy and the other on drama, Reilly showed himself to be a true thespian in every sense of the word with his roles in Hard EightBoogie Nights and Magnolia.

Other notable titles that Reilly has starred in range from Terrence Malick’s ensemble war drama The Thin Red Line to the musical Chicago to Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York and Howard Hughes’ biopic The Aviator. Outside of these more serious titles, Reilly also established himself as one of the most adept comedy actors in films such as Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Step Brothers and Stan and Ollie.

Given that John C. Reilly has been one of the most consistent actors of our time, today we’re listing his six definitive films. A genuine legend of the game, who somehow always gets overlooked in the conversation of exceptional actors, today we delve deeper. Expect to see some classics and some lesser-known cuts. One thing is sure, however; John C. Reilly is outstanding in all. 

John C. Reilly’s six definitive films:

Boogie Nights (1997)

In truth, it could have been any of the three Paul Thomas Anderson films that John C. Reilly has starred in that could have made this list, and I’m sure that many of you will be outraged that I didn’t pick Magnolia, as his performance as Officer Jim Kurring is fantastic.

However, I think as a complete product, Boogie Nights pips Magnolia in terms of quality, as well as the fact that Reilly’s character, Reed Rothchild is one of his best to date. It’s comedic and dramatic and set a precedent for what else was to come in his career. 

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (2007)

There was no way that Walk Hard was not going to be included on this list. A comedy masterpiece that saw Reilly take it to new heights as a leading man and a comedian, the film is a true odyssey as we watch the meandering career of the hapless musician unfold. Parodying the stories of iconic musicians such as Ray Charles, Johnny Cash, The Beatles and more, the narrative moves through every significant part of music’s development from the ’50s until the present. 

Directed by Jake Kasdan and co-written by Judd Apatow, the film has long been considered one of the ultimate cult classics, featuring an all-star cast that boasts the likes of Paul Rudd, Jack Black, Jenna Fischer, Tim Meadows, Harold Ramis, Jane Lynch and many, many more.  

Step Brothers (2008)

The culmination of all the comedy work John C. Reilly had put in up until this point, Step Brothers is best described as a classic. You’d be hard-pressed to find a millennial who doesn’t own a copy of the film in their now neglected DVD collection. 

Although they starred together a couple of years earlier in the much-celebrated Talladega Nights, this was the moment that the power partnership of Reilly and Will Ferrell was crystallised. Starring as the two man-babies who are forced to live together after their parents get married, it’s a madcap caper with belly laughs galore. 

We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)

A lesser-known title in John C. Reilly’s filmography is 2011’s psychological thriller We Need to Talk About Kevin, which is strange as it is undoubtedly one of his best performances.

Based on Lionel Shriver’s best selling book of the same name, Reilly stars as Franklin, the hopelessly optimistic father of the eponymous psychopath, opposite Tilda Swinton, who plays Eva, the mother of Kevin, who is suspicious of his increasingly sadistic activities. Both Reilly and Swinton are incredible in this film, and their chemistry is a sight to behold.

The Lobster (2015) 

Yorgos Lanthimos’s 2015 film The Lobster is a stunning piece of art that has rightly been hailed as one of the best flicks of the decade, and one of the greatest arthouse titles ever made. A surreal black comedy that mixes in our apprehensions about the future and the increasing possibility of a dystopia, in a similar way to some episodes of Black Mirror, it’s a must-watch for anybody who hasn’t already seen it. 

Whilst the film is noted for its leading actors Colin Farrel and Rachel Weisz, we cannot overlook John C. Reilly’s performance as Robert, the Lisping Man. The scene where he implores his friends to also become Parrots is hilarious, and Reilly’s propensity to play those who are a little bit dim is brought to the fore. 

The Sisters Brothers (2018)

Another film that went totally under the radar is Jacques Audiard’s western romp The Sisters Brothers. An almost flawless adventure that is made up of as much comedy as it is drama, the film stars Reilly, who also acted as a producer, alongside Joaquin Phoenix as the assassin brothers Eli and Charlie Sisters, as they hunt for two men, played by Jake Gyllenhaal and Riz Ahmed, who have joined forces in the hunt for gold. 

Clearly, Reilly is adept at forming onscreen partnerships. He and Phoenix’s is one of the best we’ve ever seen as the brothers form a yin and yang type of relationship on their journey of personal enlightenment. It was also the final film to star the legendary Rutger Hauer before his death. 

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