Keanu Reeves is a bundle of contradictions. The quintessential California surfer dude from Toronto, the consummate airhead who gives disconcertingly intelligent interviews, and the butt of numerous jokes who usually gets the last laugh. I won’t lie: Keanu has his quirks — the arm gestures, the slacker diction, the eerily opaque eyes. But mark my words: the day will come when Reeves is as beloved for his idiosyncratic speech patterns as Christopher Walken. Until then, content yourselves with this selection of Reeves’s most excellent films.
1. Speed (1994)
Speed is Die Hard on a bus, and it knows it. It’s there to get the job done; it puts the pedal to the floor and doesn’t stop. Energetically directed by Die Hard cinematographer Jan de Bont, Speed is what every ham-handed action movie armed with a great concept and poor character development should aspire to. Keanu plays a determined cop with no backstory (thanks!) and one gloriously awful one-liner (“He lost his head”), while the sweetly neurotic Sandra Bullock and thoroughly demented Dennis Hopper are along for the ride. It’s enough to make you want to start taking public transportation. In Los Angeles.
2. Point Break (1991)
Who brings a surfboard to an FBI meeting? Keanu. He’s a hotshot federal agent who’s going after a posse of masked bank robbers who, he believes, are surfers. Going deep undercover means hanging ten, mouthing mystic claptrap around bonfires, and sucking face with a girl named Tyler. Made by Kathryn Bigelow before The Hurt Locker exploded into the mainstream, Point Break has got everything you want: heists. Gunfights. Skydiving. Homoeroticism. And Swayze.
3. The Matrix (1999)
I know, the second and third Matrix movies left a bad taste in your mouth. But watch the original again and you’ll remember why you fell in love with the series in the first place. The Matrix does what so few films do: it creates a whole world, a fascinating realm of mirrored realities. It seems to contain infinite possibilities, with thought-provoking philosophical questions (red pill or blue pill?) made more palatable by being seasoned with lots of explosions and gunfire. The movie’s ultrastylized action sequences changed the genre forever. Plus there’s that part where Keanu goes, “Whoa.”
4. River’s Edge (1986)
Keanu is the only kid with a conscience in this dark tale of young people drowning in disaffection and drugs. They know their friend has murdered his girlfriend but don’t bother to report it. Inspired by a true story, River’s Edge is right up there with Over the Edge and Kids for disturbing teen drama. Dennis Hopper reunites with his future Speed co-star as a one-legged shut-in who’s in love with a blow-up doll. Along with a manic Crispin Glover as a speed freak, they make Keanu’s acting seem positively nuanced by comparison.
5. Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989)
“When my life is over, I’ll be remembered for playing Ted,” Reeves has said. And, indeed, his breakthrough role is probably still his most iconic. As the time-traveling Über-slacker of the title, Reeves remains delightfully goofy and charming. The teen comedy itself plays like Back to the Future after a hit from the bong pipe. You know, Socrates hitting the mall. Beethoven discovering the synthesizer. And Napoleon getting territorial over a banana split. Or, for that matter, Keanu having his customary epiphany during a session with Dr. Freud.
1. Permanent Record (1988): What starts out as your run-of-the-mill high-school movie turns into something more heartbreaking. Imagine, if you will, that Bill killed himself in the first reel of Bill & Ted. Yeah. Heavy.
2. A Scanner Darkly (2006): Even an animated Keanu is still Keanu. Or is he? This trippy sci-fi drama about drugs and paranoia will leave you thinking twice about reality and identity.
3. My Own Private Idaho (1991): Playing a hustler was a risky choice for Reeves so early in his career, but he didn’t care. In this indie classic, he and River Phoenix turn tricks and recite lines from Shakespeare’s Henry IV.
4. Thumbsucker (2005): As orthodontist and self-styled spiritual guru Dr. Lyman — the type of health-care professional who recommends patients find their “power animal” — Keanu does a hilarious job of lampooning his own ditzy screen persona.
5. Something’s Gotta Give (2003): Keanu is the answer to every middle-aged woman’s daydreams as a handsome-yet-selfless MD who wants to play doctor with silver fox Diane Keaton.