One of our favourite filmmakers, Jon Favreau, turns 54 today. The noted director, Mandalorian creator and all-round nice guy has diversified into a range of genres, from wacky comedy to superhero epics, Disney remakes to Westerns. To celebrate Favreau's big day, we've ranked his films.
Scroll down, check it out and post your response on social media. (Details can be found at the end of this blog post.)
10. Cowboys & Aliens (2011)
At the bottom of the pile is this ambitious if uninspiring cross between dusty Western and otherworldly sci-fi. Daniel Craig is square of jaw and serious of expression as a cowboy drifter with no memory of who he is. And what about that mysterious metal bracelet on his wrist? Could this possibly be connected with the recent arrival of marauding aliens in the 19th century wild west? The idea promises a geek-pleasing extravaganza, but despite some reasonably imaginative scenes and appropriately grizzed support from Harrison Ford, the whole Roland Emmerich meets Sergio Leone scenario never really takes off.
9. Iron Man 2 (2010)
The first Iron Man movie was an awful lot to live up to (as we'll find out further down, or up, this list). It singlehandedly revitalised Robert Downey Jr.'s flagging career, gave birth to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and popularised a new trend of serialised comic book storytelling. Iron Man 2 was, perhaps inevitably, always going to draw unfavourable comparisons, but it's not so much a bad film. Indeed, lots of it is good fun, especially the villain contingent of Mickey Rourke as Whiplash and Sam Rockwell as Justin Hammer. But there's a distinct sense of 'been here, done that', only with a larger budget, an overabundance of characters and bizarre plot threads (synthesising a new element?) However, the movie is significant for introducing Scarlett Johansson's Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow, who next year is finally set to lead her own movie.
8. Made (2001)
In 1996, Favreau made a splash on the movie scene with his self-penned comedy-drama Swingers (more on which momentarily). The latter film made a star of Favreau and cohort Vince Vaughn, and they attempted to reignite that chemistry with 2001's Made. This time, Favreau both writes and directs (Swingers was helmed by Doug Liman), only the spark isn't quite there. Significant as Favreau's feature film directorial debut, Made tells the story of two low-rent boxers whose involvement in a money laundering scam spirals out of control. There are laughs to be had, especially in the sly connections to the earlier Swingers, which arise via subtle Easter Eggs (including a number plate that refers to the latter's famous blackjack scene).
7. Zathura (2005)
Author Chris Van Allsburg's 1981 adventure Jumanji was adapted into a 1995 blockbuster movie, directed by Joe Johnston and starring Robin Williams. This quasi-sequel/spin-off is helmed by Favreau, and features an early role for Twilight's Kristen Stewart. There are overt connections between the two properties, notably in the central presence of a board game, which this time has intergalactic possibilities. When two brothers play the game and find themselves transported into outer space, along with their older sister, they must work out how to get home. With likeable performances from its young cast and an appropriate sense of wonder, Zathura deserves more attention than it gets.
6. The Lion King (2019)
Is The Lion King remake a live-action movie or an animated one? And does it live up to the towering legacy of Disney's 1994 original? Debate continues to rage on both of those points, but there's no denying that Favreau's movie is a remarkable technical achievement. Breathtaking, photo-realistic CGI draws the world of the film closer to the world of a David Attenborough documentary, although the familiar presence of singing and talking animals locates it firmly in the realm of fantasy. Sticking close to the original's template, albeit with cosmetic tweaks and largely new voice cast (Donald Glover; Beyonce; Chiwetel Ejiofor et al), it became the second-biggest box office hit of 2019, with $1.6 billion in the bank.
5. Chef (2014)
After the tumultuous experience of Iron Man 2 and Cowboys & Aliens, Favreau sought more intimate and relatable material. He found it in this infectious and mouthwatering story of a fired sous-chef, his food truck and his ongoing relationship with his estranged son. Favreau combines the essence of the road movie with a celebration of delicious Cuban cuisine in a film that, appropriately enough, feels like a palate-cleanser after two rounds of big-budget movie excess. He rounds up several regular collaborators for scene-stealing support, including Robert Downey Jr. and Scarlett Johansson, but the real star of the movie is the cuisine. Don't watch on an empty stomach.
4. Elf (2003)
Sweet and sour come together perfectly in this hit Favreau comedy, which teams him with gurn-meister Will Ferrell. Observing that Christmas movies can often be puke-inducingly saccharine, Favreau harnesses Ferrell's man-child comic act to amusing effect in this story of a human man raised as an elf. When Ferrell's Buddy ventures to New York to find his real dad (a suitably grumpy James Caan), he must reckon with a strange new world of department store Santas and much more besides. With terrific support from the likes of Zooey Deschanel and Peter Dinklage, this is a Yuletide movie that won't have you reaching for the off switch.
3. Swingers (1996)
Favreau's breakout movie is one of the great bromantic comedies of the 1990s, and demonstrates his fabulous chemistry with Vince Vaughn. Director Doug Liman marshals Favreau's own script for a painfully funny (and often plain painful) story of macho angst. Favreau's central loser Mike is a struggling actor in Los Angeles, and almost pathologically incapable of talking to women. This is thrown into further relief by the presence of his friend Trent (Vaughn), a confident loudmouth who insists Mike is 'money'. This unassuming low-budget indie harnesses great heart and big laughs through its simple observation on character, with plenty of on-the-nose references to Reservoir Dogs and Jaws. (Steven Spielberg's permission was sought for the latter, which led to Vaughn being cast in 1997's The Lost World: Jurassic Park.)
2. The Jungle Book (2016)
Several Disney remakes down the line, and it's perhaps important to go back and recognise the best of them. Foreshadowing the later technological developments of The Lion King, The Jungle Book drops us into an astonishingly believable CGI world. Only this time, we have a flesh and blood human connection in the form of Neel Sethi's Mowgli, which perhaps gives this movie an advantage in the emotional stakes. Melding the darker impulses of Rudyard Kipling's original source with the infectious songs of the 1967 Disney original, The Jungle Book carves out a consistently engrossing adventure that's scary and moving in equal measure. And the voice cast is superb: Idris Elba as fearsome tiger Shere Khan, Ben Kingsley as wise panther Bagheera, Scarlett Johansson as hypnotic snake Kaa, Christopher Walken as gigantopithecus King Louie and Bill Murray as laid-back bear Baloo.
1. Iron Man (2008)
The first MCU movie, and for many still the best. Iron Man remains a deliriously entertaining experience, largely thanks to a seamless marriage between star and character that is quite extraordinary. Multi-millionaire Tony Stark's fast-talking delivery and rogueish charm found their perfect outlet in the form of Robert Downey Jr., and his chemistry with Gwyneth Paltrow's Pepper Potts give this a sassy, grown-up edge that most other comic book movies lack. The CGI effects on the flying suits are judiciously employed for maximum impact, there's a slight political underpinning (Stark's weaponry in the Middle-East) which gives it a bit of bite, and an overwhelming sense of fun, not least in the flying sequences where Downey Jr.'s reactions perfectly match that of the audience. And that mid-credits sequence where Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury turns up? It's a small moment, but one that would change blockbuster cinema forever.
What is your favourite Jon Favreau movie? Let us know @Cineworld.