With seven feature films under his belt, James Gray has made his mark as a very talented filmmaker. His films have spanned across several genres including crime, science fiction, and romance. He is known for telling deep, thought-provoking stories that keep its characters at its core. Gray has worked with some of the most talented actors working including Brad Pitt, Robert Duvall, and Oscar winner Gwyneth Paltrow. He is also a frequent collaborator of Joaquin Phoenix. Gray’s style is unique to him, and he always gets the most out of his actors. He tends to focus on family relationships and crime stories. More significantly, four of Gray’s films have been nominated for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.
Gray was born in New York City and grew up in Flushing, Queens. He was interested in the arts from a very young age and was particularly interested in painting. Gray’s focus went to filmmaking, and he attended the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts. While there, he made a student film entitled Cowboys and Angels, which led to him landing an agent and meeting producer Paul Webster. His first feature film was Little Odessa starring Tim Roth, and he has been a prominent filmmaker ever since. He is currently working on a film entitled Armageddon Time, a story about growing up in Queens, starring Anne Hathaway – who recently spoke about the film with Stephen Colbert on The Late Show – and Jeremy Strong. He is also working on a spy thriller entitled I am Pilgrim. Before those come out, let’s look at all of Gray’s films, ranked.
7 Little Odessa
Gray’s first feature film follows a hit-man named Joshua (Tim Roth) who returns to his hometown in Brooklyn to carry out a “job”. While there, he is face to face with his troubled family and memories that have shaped who he is. It is a violent story depicting an underground crime world, but it also focuses on family relationships and values. Tim Roth gives a fantastic performance as a ruthless killer and the film paved the way for Gray’s successful career.
6 The Yards
The Yards takes place in Gray’s hometown of Queens, NY. The film tells the story of a recently released prisoner named Leo Handler (Mark Wahlberg) who gets roped into a world of corruption and crime while working for contractors at a rail yard. The Yards is a riveting crime drama that shows the dark side of business and politics. At the same time, the film focuses on loyalty, family, and friendship. It is a thrilling, thought-provoking film that features great performances from Joaquin Phoenix, Charlize Theron, James Caan, and more.
5 The Immigrant
Although The Immigrant may not have been a huge box office success, it received critical acclaim as well as a Palme d’Or nomination. The film takes place in 1921 and follows an immigrant (Marion Cotillard) who is forced into sex work by a conniving man named Bruno (Joaquin Phoenix). It is a very dramatic story focusing on the many struggles that early immigrants had coming to the United States. The performances are top-notch and the set-designs are breathtaking. Cotillard’s chemistry with both Joaquin Phoenix and Jeremy Renner is a joy to watch on screen.
4 The Lost City Of Z
In 2016, James Gray took on the adventure genre with The Lost City of Z. The true story follows Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam), a British explorer who goes on an epic quest through the Amazon in search of a hidden civilization. Along the way, Fawcett risks everything, including his life. He meets several interesting characters and faces many obstacles throughout his journey. The film is very exciting and Gray did a fantastic job telling this fascinating story of adventure. The cast includes Robert Pattinson, Tom Holland, and Sienna Miller.
3 Ad Astra
In the science fiction film, Ad Astra, James Gray gives us a look at what space travel could be in the future. The film follows astronaut Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) who is sent on a journey through the solar system to track down his father (Tommy Lee Jones) and prevent the destruction of Earth. It is a fascinating story about space travel that keeps its characters and emotion at the center. Gray proved, with this film, that he is perfectly capable of taking on big budget movies while telling a smart and intriguing story. Brad Pitt and the rest of the cast all deliver fantastic performances.
2 We Own the Night
We Own the Night is a crime drama that follows a nightclub owner, Bobby (Joaquin Phoenix) who puts his career and care-free life on the line to help his police officer brother, Joseph (Mark Wahlberg). The film centers on the conflict and relationship between the two brothers who could not be any more different. It is a deep film that also features several scenes that will keep you at the edge of your seat. It is a story that teaches you the bond among families and the sacrifices that you have to make for the ones you love.
1 Two Lovers
Two Lovers featured Joaquin Phoenix’s final performance before his hiatus from acting. It is certainly one of his greatest performances to date. It is an unconventional romantic story between a depressed man, Leonard (Phoenix), and his unpredictable neighbor, Michelle (Gwyneth Paltrow). At the same time, Leonard’s parents are pushing a relationship between him and their business associate’s daughter Sandra (Vinessa Shaw). The film is an honest and heartbreaking take on romance and relationships. The tone and New York City atmosphere was perfect for the film. Gray directs fantastic performances from the cast and keeps the audience engaged from beginning to end.
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