Actor Ethan Hawke is pretty much the male ambassador for GenX ennui. (Winona Ryder is the female ambassador, naturally, in a close tie with Parker Posey.) He cemented his status as the GenX poster boy with his early roles in Dead Poet’s Society, Reality Bites, and the Before trilogy. As he’s aged, Hawke hasn’t remained stagnant. After all, he’d be pretty ridiculous playing the kind of slacker he played in his 20s in his 50s. Hawke has aged nicely into the kind of actor who really sinks his teeth into every role.
Hawke has been nominated for four Academy Awards. He was nominated for Best Supporting Actor in 2002 and 2015 for Training Day and Boyhood respectively. He was also nominated for two Best Adapted Screenplay Awards in 2005 and 2014 for Before Sunset and Before Midnight. He’s directed three films as well as a documentary and three off-Broadway plays, but that’s still not all; Hawke has also written three novels and one graphic novel. He’s not a one-trick pony. Far from it.
Aside from the highly anticipated Moon Knight, the actor has a whole host of upcoming projects, from horror film The Black Phone to acting alongside Julia Roberts and, 20 years later, Denzel Washington in the thriller Leave the World Behind; he’s even voicing Batman in the animated Batwheels. Let’s take a look at eight of Ethan Hawke’s best movies.
7 First Reformed
In First Reformed, Ethan Hawke plays Reverend Ernst Toller. Hawke’s character is having a crisis of faith. He is a former military chaplain whose son was killed in the Iraq War. He turns to alcohol to cope, while his church struggles to survive at a crossroads with dwindling membership; it’s becoming more of a tourist stop for its role in the Underground Railroad. The reverend begins a strange, healing relationship with a newly-widowed woman (Amanda Seyfried) in a nod to classic art films Winter Light and Diary of a Country Priest. Hawke’s powerful performance in director Paul Schrader’s moving exploration of faith was hailed by critics and nominated for Best Actor at the Independent Spirit Awards.
6 The Purge
The Purge is an utterly creepy film, and unfortunately completely imaginable consdiering the state of the world in the third year of a global pandemic. In the movie which launched a sweeping franchise, Ethan Hawke is forced to keep his family safe during the annual 12-hour period during which all criminal activity – including murder – is legal. Hawke’s status as the beloved GenX poster-boy helps audiences connect with the terror his character feels trying to protect his family; without the built-in associations with the actor, the film doesn’t create enough character development to warrant an emotional connection, so Hawke’s presence definitely grounds the horror.
5 Dead Poet’s Society
In 1989, Ethan Hawke had his breakthrough role in Dead Poet’s Society. The film and his role in it was such a hit that he dropped out of college at Carnegie Mellon University in order to pursue an acting career. He was just 19 when the Robin Williams film was released; Hawke was one of the main characters who benefited from Williams’ character John Keating’s unorthodox teaching methods. He was initially intimidated by the star, but learned near the end of shooting that Williams was intimidated of him, predicting the great career Hawke had ahead of him.
4 Training Day
In Training Day, Ethan Hawke’s narcotics unit cop character is paired up with Academy Award winner Denzel Washington’s seasoned but corrupt cop on a training mission with the LAPD through gang and crime ridden neighborhoods. The film earned Washington a well-deserved Oscar and Hawke an Oscar nomination for his extremely tense, stressful performance as an idealistic man in way over his head in this dark classic.
3 Reality Bites
For many people of Ethan Hawke’s generation, Reality Bites is his definitive film. It’s what makes him the GenX mascot and associated him with intelligent but disaffected youth everywhere. The 1994 film follows a group of twenty-somethings fresh out of college in Houston. Winona Ryder played Lelaina, an aspiring documentary filmmaker who is so broke that she has to use a gas card her parents pay for in order to buy food. Hawke was Troy, Lelaina’s friend and sometimes boyfriend who was in the middle of a quarter-life crisis. He’s utterly charming and yet totally realistic.
Boyhood is one of the most ambitious fiction film projects ever undertaken. Writer/director Richard Linklater had his cast – Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, and Ellar Coltrane –reunited each year for 12 years, each time filming another incremental part in the real-time cominc-of-age story of the boy (Coltrane) at the center of it all, until it was finally completed and released in 2014. Hawke earned his second Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor for this role, playing the flighty but loving father to Coltrane’s character. Boyhood, like the Linklater and Hawke collaborations of the Before trilogy, is a treat for fans of the actor, who get to see his skills, talents and features over the course of 12 actual years in just one film.
1 The Before Trilogy – Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Midnight
In 1995, Ethan Hawke teamed up with Richard Linklater for the first time to play Jesse, a college student who meets a French girl (Julie Delpy) on a train in Before Sunrise. The two decide to have an adventure in the hours they have left before she returns to Paris and he flies back to the U.S. in one of the most intelligent romanic films ever made. Linklater, Hawke, and Delpy reprised their roles as writer/director and stars with two more films over the next two decades, with 2004’s Before Sunset and 2013’s Before Midnight following the pair as they age separately and together in a strange and beautiful relationship which takes them to middle-age. Hawke, alongside Delpy and Linklater, was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay for Before Sunset and Before Midnight. The chemistry between the two is palpable, and Hawke proves here more than anywhere else why he’s such a dynamic, loquacious, magnetic performer.
Raymond and Ray will star Ewan McGregor and Ethan Hawke as half brothers coming together after the death of their father.
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