8. The Town

I’ve always been a Ben Affleck apologist.

Now, I will not deny: he’s been awful, god awful, in some movies.  Pearl Harbor, anyone? Or, Reindeer Games? Paycheck, certainly (of all the unfortunate titles to be giving a half-hearted effort in…).  And above all, Gigli. There’s a lengthy list of less-than-mediocre Affleck performances in considerably-less-than-mediocre films.

But people have been too willing to insert him into the Paul Walker/Channing Tatum/Hayden Christiansen – an actor who produces mediocre work and who lacks the capacity to do better. Affleck can – and has –done better.

Look at his career. He was good in Chasing Amy, very good in Good Will Hunting, solid in Shakespeare In Love, solid in Dogma, solid in Changing Lanes, solid in Boiler Room, underrated in a bad Daredevil movie, great in Hollywoodland, good in Smoking Aces, solid in State of Play and very good in Extract. He’s got a lot of recognizably good work under his belt, and all of it gets forgotten, even by me. I didn’t have to spend any time researching the paragraph listing the movies he was bad in, but I did have to research this one.

Plus, he seems, by all accounts, to be a top-flight nice guy. He got his break working in Kevin Smith movies, and even as he blew up to become, for a brief moment, perhaps the biggest star on the planet, he never stopped taking time out to make cameos or take small roles in Smith’s movies. He kept shoehorning small parts for Matt Damon in his movies until Good Will Hunting finally made him a star, and specifically wrote the lead role in Gone Baby Gone to give his younger brother Casey his big break.

People have been celebrating Affleck’s resurgence as a director the last few years but haven’t seemed willing to forgive him for his earlier mistakes in movie choices (the man did make two Michael Bay movies. But hey, so did Will Smith. And you all love Will Smith) the same way they have, say, James Franco.  Though in my mind, their situation was the same. Franco has been stuck in a series of bland lead roles in uninventive movies (Flyboys, Annapolis, Tristan + Isolde), became frustrated with his films he was being offered, and set off to reinvent himself. And isn’t that exactly what Affleck has done? Let’s just wipe the slate clean.

Particularly when you consider how great a job he does here, both as an actor and a director. The Town is stuffed full of tension and expertly assembled. Affleck may not have been in that many good movies, but he’s certainly learned how to make a good one himself. It’s a thrilling, fun, surprisingly emotionally rich heist movie – like Heat for a new generation, or for people who only watch movies where people have Southie accents.

And every actor in the film is as good as they’ve ever been, Affleck included – Jeremy Renner’s a (warning: overused movie review phrase approaching) tour-de-force as Affleck’s unhinged best friend/partner, Rebecca Hall is sweet and quietly strong as Affleck’s unsuspecting love interest. Even Blake Lively is good here, and I think at this point we all know how uncertain that can be (I weep for you in advance, Green Lantern).

I complained earlier in this list that not enough of the movies on this list are really re-watchable, but The Town certainly is. It goes to show that a film can be Oscar-caliber without sacrificing excitement or energy. Not every award-seeking film has to feature Maggie Smith clucking disapprovingly and long pauses where people think about their feelings.