joe

7. Joe (2013) 

This drama, comedy, and thriller is kind of a mess, structurally and tonally, but that’s also a part of its appeal. The film goes to unexpected places, and even when it’s not clicking, there’s always Nicolas Cage‘s (Adaptation) performance to marvel at. Cage plays Joe, a kind and thoughtful man with a serious anger problem, and it’s one of the actor’s meatier roles from the past few years. Green, Gary Hawkins‘ script, and Cage make you care for this mess of a man. Joe comes close to misery porn, but its laughs and sincere heart keeps Green’s film away from absolute bleakness. This and Manglehorn share a lot in common, and they’d make for one uncomfortable but amusing double feature.

george washington

6. George Washington (2000)

The filmmaker’s directorial debut got released on Criterion for a reason. Green was only 25 when he made George Washington, but there’s nothing amateurish about his first feature film. The mood, performances, and themes are all clearly thought-out and effective. It’s an arresting story about salvation, regret, and childhood. The kids in George Washington learn the hard way that bad things happen, sometimes for no rhyme or reason. Does the tragedy they experience define the rest of their lives? Can they ever move forward? The answers are for the viewer to decide. Almost every one of Green and cinematographer Tim Orr‘s frames pack emotion. George Washington is a beautifully made and moving drama.

snow angels

5. Snow Angels (2007)

Probably Green’s most challenging and unflinching film. Its darkness is absorbing, though. Sam Rockwell plays Glenn Marchand, a signature Green character — a small-town man wanting more in life. The immensely talented actor is heartbreaking as a guy who desperately wants a second chance, and the same can be said of all the supporting characters. Nobody is really satisfied in this isolating, cold town.

There’s a beauty and sensitivity to the bleakness. Green rarely ever revels in the misery his characters experience. He always expresses great empathy for his protagonists, no matter how badly they’ve messed up. Snow Angels isn’t without moments of kindness, either. Michael Angarano (The Knick) and Olivia Thirlby‘s (Juno) chemistry and storyline show a different side to this town and story.

pineapple

4. Pineapple Express (2008)

Here’s another excellent buddy movie from Green, written by Seth Rogen (Steve Jobs) and Evan Goldberg (The Interview). This stoner comedy is by no means a lowbrow comedy. The jokes are too well-timed and structured to be considered lowbrow. Pineapple Express isn’t a spoof of a buddy action movie; it is a buddy action movie — a buddy action movie that happens to feature two strangely likable stoners.

It’s also one of the few cinematic comedies of the past decade. The opening credits sequence is wonderful, and you expect those visual flourishes from someone like David Gordon Green, not most comedy directors. Unlike The Sitter, his personality and style rings loud and clear in Pineapple Express.

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