He can’t help that he’s beautiful. Not any more than you can help that you’re ugly. (I jest: you’re gorgeous.) Seriously though: Brad Pitt’s more than a pretty face. From inauspicious beginnings as a depthless hunk (Thelma & Louise), Pitt has grown into one of the silver screen’s most versatile stars, all while becoming the slightly less beautiful half of the most famous celebrity couple since Antony and Cleopatra. But when not adding to his famously large family, Pitt works with master directors including David Fincher, Quentin Tarantino, and the Coen brothers and has headlined some of the best movies of the past two decades. Everyone has his or her favorite; here’s one take on Brad at his best.
1. Se7en (1995)
Pitt’s edgy performance hits all the right notes in this pitch-black thriller and landed him serious star status. Partnered up with the venerable Morgan Freeman, Pitt’s detective was a realistic brand of the brash rookie. As the pair pursue a cunning serial killer, Se7en creates an atmosphere of sheer charnel-house dread that rivals any psychological thriller. Need a bit of action too? The movie’s apartment-building chase scene is a true tour de force. And the movie’s finale? It’s so tense that it’ll simply ruin your day. In a good way.
2. A River Runs Through It (1992)
A sensitive coming-of-age movie, A River Runs Through It is a bit slow but well worth the journey. As the plot unravels, its current takes hold of you and doesn’t let go. Pitt, as the youngest son of a stern Presbyterian preacher, is well cast as the indulged baby of the family who enjoys the wilder side of life: drinking, womanizing, and working off both with a little fly-fishing. The flick as a whole is a gorgeous meditation on life that takes place over three decades and will easily reel in the most skeptical viewer.
3. Fight Club (1999)
Pitt’s bare chested for much of the movie, and his physique is something to be gawked at. As the happily bandaged Tyler Durden, Pitt loves giving and receiving punishment in the brawls of the flick’s fight club (exactly as it sounds to the uninitiated). Of course Durden’s tale is a play on the old Faust legend: the Devil can satisfy any desire — just read the small print. Pitt’s iconoclastic enabler utilizes the actor’s Sexiest Man Alive title and challenges his status as mere eye candy. Durden’s curious mixture of fascism and freedom, enslavement and anarchy, and machismo and menace powers the movie’s trenchant commentary on consumer culture, and Fight Club remains one of the essential films of the nineties.
4. Legends of the Fall (1995)
Pitt plays the role he was meant for: a strong, sensitive long-haired he-man — the type usually pictured on the covers of romance novels. An epic family saga about at-odds brothers, set against the natural beauty of Montana, Legends of the Fall recalls East of Eden. The result is world-class melodrama in which our neo-Fabio spars with siblings (Aidan Quinn, Henry Thomas) and his own father over — you guessed it — a woman. The result is a sweeping, aesthetically stunning period tale that stands in fine comparison to old-school Hollywood weepers.
5. Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Some ridiculed Pitt’s hammy performance as lieutenant Aldo Raine. And, sure, the Arkansas accent could be considered a bit over-the-top by some. (Let’s not talk about the mustache.) But all the over-the-top acting works in a movie that isn’t meant to be even a little subtle. This is Quentin Tarantino, remember? In any case, Tarantino’s revisionist World War II epic is among the best thing to hit screens in years, fluctuating, like Pitt’s brilliant performance itself, between drama and comedy.
1. Troy (2004): Those who view Pitt as a latter-day Greek god can see their dreams met halfway with this big-budget epic in which he plays Achilles, the handsomest of all Greek warriors.
2. Ocean’s Eleven (2001): Pure movie-star porn: the flashy, star-studded heist picture wouldn’t be complete without Pitt. It won’t change your life, but you’ll have fun.
3. Burn After Reading (2008): Pitt’s hilarious performance as a fitness-obsessed personal trainer is some of his best work. It’s spot-on satire but all-too brief: Pitt’s the best thing here.
4. Thelma & Louise (1991): This gals-on-the-road pic epitomized every unhappily married woman’s fantasy: kill her husband and hook up with Pitt in a sleazy motel room.
5. Snatch. (2000): Pitt as an Irish gypsy with an unintelligible brogue? Believe it. The counterintuitive casting works because Pitt rises to the occasion with an accent so impenetrable not even Ken Loach could decipher it.