Every Jonathan Glazer Movie, Ranked

Movies Lists Jonathan Glazer
Every Jonathan Glazer Movie, Ranked

Jonathan Glazer’s incredibly sleek and atmospheric style was born in music video direction. Decades before the Oscar-winning auteur of The Zone of Interest mastered silver-screen storytelling, he was crafting videos for Radiohead and Massive Attack—as well as several beer commercials—in the ‘90s. Today, Glazer is lauded for his talented capturing of psychological tumult. His filmography only contains four features: A dark heist comedy, an alien sci-fi, a psychological thriller and an experimental historical drama. Yet, Glazer’s innovative visual delivery of layered character portraits with limited dialogue pervades his projects, regardless of genre. In celebration of the filmmaker’s Oscar win, we ranked his four features—a list that makes a great weekend marathon considering each of the movies ring in at less than two hours.

Here is every Jonathan Glazer movie, ranked:

4. Sexy Beast (2000)

The black comedy Sexy Beast starts off with a boulder plunging into a swimming pool, almost wiping out our main character, ex-criminal Gal (Ray Winstone). The opening splash foreshadows the arrival of an even bigger disruption: The return of Gal’s old colleague, the ruthless Don Logan (Ben Kingsley) who has come to recruit his blissfully retired colleague for one last romp. It’s both hilarious and distressing to watch the old dog return to his playpen for a reluctant farewell heist. Winstone and Kingsley foil one another, with Kingsley giving a brilliant, sadistic performance as the incessant, shrill motor of the mission who won’t take no for an answer. The pair share a reluctant yet familiar comradery that paves a hilarious and startling back-and-forth throughout. In what would become typical Glazer fashion, Sexy Beast is as visually striking as it is comedic, with Inland Empire-esque landscapes utilizing a dreamlike blue tint and rabbit-like creatures that add severity to Gal’s real-life nightmare. While a miraculous debut feature from Glazer, it lacks the memorability of his other films because it focuses more on action than ambience (which is where Glazer really excels). The testosterone-fueled madness packs a punch, but it doesn’t possess the precision and depth of his later projects.

3. The Zone of Interest (2023)

the zone of interest review

In his most recent film, Jonathan Glazer veers in a new direction from his mixed-bag filmography, now deftly handling historical drama. A daring depiction of the Holocaust, The Zone of Interest refers to the area surrounding the gates of Auschwitz, where the film’s main characters—a Nazi officer and his family—reside. The film’s messaging lies not in any violence it shows, but in what it leaves out; the poolside soirées and flourishing garden of the family’s idyllic living quarters act as the negative space of the atrocities, harshly juxtaposed with the cries and billowing smoke emanating from the other side of the wall. While the Nazis can retreat to the countryside and their household’s many lounging areas, their picturesque home cannot escape its grim surroundings. The nearby horrors are off-screen yet ever-present thanks to Johnnie Burn’s brutal sound design; only hearing the violence is more haunting than seeing it. Glazer also utilizes shadowy hallways and wide angles of oblong frames to construct a horror-like flair, and while the horrors of The Zone of Interest are extremely real, his visual choices remind us of the picture-perfect home’s disturbing foundations. With limited dialogue, the film relies largely on its chilling mood. There isn’t much of a narrative, but merely a collection of voyeuristic tableaus showing the extent of this Nazi family’s normalized cruelty; what is deeply disturbing to us (and visitors of their home) is merely white noise to them. This causes the film’s messaging to feel fairly shallow after an hour of exposition, never pushing its scope beyond the idyll of the Nazis (who aren’t just complacent, but actively enacting the atrocities). And yet, the persistent themes of exploitation and ignorance apply to acts of subjugation throughout history, with Glazer himself drawing parallels between the film’s message and the current Israeli bombardment of Gaza during his Oscars acceptance speech. Glazer handles his sensitive subject matter with care and respect, but The Zone of Interest focuses too much attention on the bliss of its Nazi subjects to comment on the broader consequences of their crimes.

2. Under the Skin (2013)

Under the Skin is an alien movie that’s really more about humans. It’s an odyssey undertaken by an extraterrestrial in a woman’s body (Scarlett Johannson) who uses its host’s feminine sexuality to abduct men and send them back to its home country as packaged meat. The movie’s sci-fi elements—the alien’s corpse and its portal realm—are essentially void of color, making a striking contrast to the Earth’s natural elements, which appear throughout the film. Possibly Jonathan Glazer’s least decipherable film—the main character hardly speaks—its hidden themes about alienation and humankind feel complex and rich. The passive protagonist takes in the foreign land as a neutral transplant who observes and navigates human moral codes. When you look past some extreme sci-fi gore, what unfolds is an existential crisis as the alien, called “The Female,” gains affections for humans and makes sense of its surroundings. The Female’s silent and expressionless demeanor initially makes it difficult to connect, until you realize that she lacks humanity because she is simply a vessel. While subtlety is Glazer’s specialty, The Female’s emerging consciousness can be almost too passive to buy into. Still, there remains plenty of subtext to analyze, especially through a feminist lens. Part of our otherworldly protagonist’s journey in a realization of autonomy and free will, which gives a particular sting to its final scene—one that ends with Glazer’s most memorable closing shot to date. 

1. Birth (2004)

jonathan glazer birth

It’s easy to dismiss Birth just on the basis of its absurd (and on the surface, touchy) premise: A 10-year-old boy arrives at a woman’s house claiming to be the reincarnation of her deceased husband. The unorthodox love story could easily fall into territory that’s either passionless or offensive, yet Jonathan Glazer’s telling is neither; Birth is a psychological drama that fully buys into the inane relationship of its two characters and earnestly explores their dilemma as feelings of grief and longing bubble to the service. Nicole Kidman wears grief-stricken Anna’s indecision on her sleeve, subtly possessing her conflicting feelings of shame and excitement. The unexplained supernatural ethos and dull urban landscape of Birth bears a similar aesthetic to cold cinema like The Killing of a Sacred Deer and Eyes Wide Shut, though Kidman takes the driver seat in this story, to dazzling effect. It isn’t shock value that makes Birth Glazer’s most compelling film to date; the director finds unexpected nuance and emotional depth in a deceptively simple story. It’s nauseating to watch Anna spiral, just months away from her wedding to Joseph (Danny Huston), clinging to the faint hope that she might reconnect with her late husband—even if only through a 10-year-old boy. Birth combines the unsettling camerawork that would later evolve in The Zone of Interest and the provocative subtextual messaging that would permeate Under the Skin into an understated display of Glazer’s tonal mastery.

Sage Dunlap is a journalist based in Austin, TX. She currently contributes to Paste as a movies section intern, covering the latest in film news.

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