Today is director Jason Reitman's 38th birthday. Over the course of his career, he has done impressive work to step out of his father Ivan Reitman's shadow by creating some of the most compelling and empathetic portraits of American culture of the 21st century. Mixing heart with humor, his work has been well recognized and has garnered him four Oscar nominations, including two Best Picture nominations. In honor of his birthday, the following is a ranking of all six of his films from his impressive debut with Thank You For Smoking to his more recent work with Men, Women & Children. Even if he's floundered a bit, he's still one of the more interesting voices in modern cinema.
1. Juno (2007)
It's easy to forget now, but Juno was once an inescapable film that left majority of the audiences divisive. From the quizzical screenplay by first timer Diablo Cody to the breakout role of Ellen Page, it's a film that captured something precious about indie films of the time. While there have been films a lot more twee and a lot more obnoxious, it's likely that Juno's reputation will continue to baffle audiences still stuck in the lingo. Beyond that is a heartwarming and hilarious film about teenage pregnancy that is unlike anything else that has come out before or since.
2. Up in the Air (2009)
In terms of dramatic weight met with social commentary, this is likely the closest that Reitman will get to doing a Frank Capra film. With one of George Clooney's best performances, the story of a professional firer studies the modern era and how despite having a rich social life, he is inevitably isolated from the world around him. With Anna Kendrick giving a great supporting performance, it continues Reitman's journey into being heartfelt while occasionally melancholy. It may not be as culturally remembered as Juno, but it was a sign that he wasn't a one trick pony. Mixing actors with real life people, the story chronicles the downside to the economic shifts in ways that are still powerful and wholly satisfying.
3. Young Adult (2011)
Coming after his most politically aware film to date, Reitman teamed again with Diablo Cody to deliver what is likely his most acidic and darkest movie to date. Following the life of a young adult author, played by Charlize Theron, the story chronicles the downside to nostalgia and how revisiting the past can have unpleasant side effects. If nothing else, this is Reitman's meanest film, and probably his funniest, too. With great supporting performances by Patton Oswalt and Patrick Wilson, this is definitely a great film that captures narcissism for what it truly is while giving yet another example of why Theron's a great actress.
4. Thank You For Smoking (2005)
Considering everything that he's done since, there's a certain rawness and edginess to the director's debut that doesn't quite work. Even then, it's a confident one that immediately grabs your attention from its jarring title to smoking lobbyist Aaron Eckhart's sleazy but charismatic performance. If nothing, it's interesting to watch the film and notice everything that the director does right, including the lively source material and his ability to get great performances out of every actors. There's not a lot to fault with this film, even though it seems out of place with the rest of his career.
5. Labor Day (2013)
This is about the point that you should become concerned with recent Reitman films. While comparatively adequate to his latest, this is a strangely tame and conventional film that sees the director strip himself of what made him compelling. Also, the premise of a housebound widow (Kate Winslet) and her son (Gattlin Griffith) meeting a criminal (Josh Brolin) is the work of B-Movie sleaze. The premise alone is creepy and made worse by the lack of chemistry or artistic craft on screen. It may not be a total disaster if you can buy into the plot, but it definitely feels like the first major misfire for a compelling director's career.
6. Men, Women & Children (2014)
While I still maintain that Reitman is one of the great modern directors, his latest film isn't a strong indicator of his future. With a film that plays like Reefer Madness for the internet, it's hard to really take this film seriously because it's funny when it's supposed to be thought provoking. Speaking as Reitman had done excellent work in exploring how the internet has isolated us before in Up in the Air, there's no reason that this film should be as misguided as it is. From its Emma Thompson narration to a very weird mothers against computers organization, this is a film with the silliest of purposes that wants to be taken seriously. Sadly, it cannot even work on a campy level.