Following his first Oscar nomination this year for his supporting work in Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog, now seems like as good a time as any to revisit Jesse Plemons’ outstanding filmography up to this point. He’s an actor that constantly involves himself in impressive projects, and that streak only seems to be continuing.
Despite making his debut in NBC’s Friday Night Lights, many will remember first seeing Plemons in as the secondary antagonist Todd in Breaking Bad. It was a role that made a huge impression on the show, and proved his impressive range as an actor.
10 Other People (2016) – 67
Other People is a fascinating drama/comedy that centers around Plemons’ character David, a struggling comedy writer who returns to his childhood home to take care of his sick mother. However, his transition back to his parents’ home is much more difficult than he imagined, leaving himself often questioning his own wellbeing.
Like many of Plemons’ roles, the character of David is an extremely interesting and complex one that gives the actor plenty of material to work with. He really makes the character his own, constantly taking a fresh and original approach to the story that’s always unpredictable.
9 The Homesman (2014) – 68
Tommy Lee Jones both stars in and directs The Homesman, a historical Western that tells the story of Mary Bee Cuddy, a frontier farmer who asks a man indebted to her to help transport her and three other women to a safe haven in Iowa.
Although Plemons only plays a small part in the film, he still manages to impress every time he’s on screen. The film navigates its central themes with a surprisingly philosophical approach, which has led many to label the film as a “feminist Western.”
8 Black Mass (2015) – 68
Directed by Scott Cooper, Black Mass is a crime/drama film that chronicles the rise of gangster Whitley Bulger, played expertly by Johnny Depp. Plemons plays Kevin Weeks, the longtime friend and mob lieutenant to Bulger in this true story.
This wasn’t the first time Plemons had taken on the role of such a detestable and morally corrupt character, but there’s something about his acting style that makes him feel almost created for the part. Every second he’s on-screen, you can’t help but feel intimidated by him and afraid of him.
7 El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie (2019) – 72
In a reprisal of his iconic role as Todd from Breaking Bad, Jesse Plemons absolutely steals the show whenever he appears in this prequel movie. The film takes place directly after the events of Breaking Bad‘s finale, detailing Jesse’s escape after his final showdown with Todd and Jack.
Despite only appearing in flashback sequences, the shockwaves of Todd’s influence over the show are felt all the way through to the present day, detailing the effect that his neglect has had on Jesse’s psyche. El Camino might not be quite as thrilling as Breaking Bad ever was, but it’s a more than welcome addition to the story.
6 I’m Thinking Of Ending Things (2020) – 78
Written and directed by Charlie Kaufman, I’m Thinking of Ending Things is an extremely unusual and cerebral film that centers on the relationship between Plemons’ character Jake and Jessie Buckley’s character Lucy. The film is extremely thought-provoking and offers some truly shocking insight into Kaufman’s distorted perception of the passing of time.
In perhaps one of his most underrated films, Plemons provides what may be his best performance to date. The way he navigates Jake’s mind is nothing short of genius, taking the role in directions that nobody else would ever even think of. The thriller is one of the rare hidden gems on Netflix, and it’s worth watching for Plemons and Buckley alone.
5 The Post (2017) – 83
Steven Spielberg’s The Post is an investigative thriller that tells the story of the Washington Post’s publication of the Pentagon Papers, allowing them to uncover long-buried secrets about the Vietnam War. It’s certainly one of Spielberg’s more mature and less spectacular films, but the way it navigates its difficult story is thrilling to watch.
There are few directors who can tell a story quite as entertainingly and precisely as Steven Spielberg, and that’s certainly true with The Post. He turns what could have been a dull and monotonous story into an intense mystery that the audience solves along with the characters on screen.
4 Judas and the Black Messiah (2021) – 85
One of star Daniel Kaluuya’s best films, and the one that won him his first Oscar last year, Judas and the Black Messiah chronicles the thrilling true story of Fred Hampton, and the FBI investigation that attempted to silence his revolutionary protests. Both Plemons and co-star Lakeith Stanfield provide astonishing performances that make the film one of the best of the year, and one of the most thought-provoking dramas in a long while.
The film was nominated for Best Picture at the 2021 Academy Awards, and was also recognized for its screenplay and cinematography. What makes the film so special and powerful is that it treats its characters as the real people that they were, offering multifaceted insights into their lives and never succumbing to the stereotypes or myths surrounding their actions.
3 The Master (2012) – 86
Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master was one of Plemons’ first major projects outside of Friday Night Lights and Breaking Bad, and it’s hard to imagine a more impressive continuation of his early career. The film follows Joaquin Phoenix’s character Freddie, who joins a religious movement called The Cause in order to deal with the fallout of post-war society.
The Master is praised by many critics as one of Paul Thomas Anderson’s best films – and that’s strong praise considering the quality of his entire filmography. The film has an extremely rich and thoughtful screenplay that provokes plenty of interesting ideas about the power of religion, which PTA navigates behind the camera with striking authenticity.
2 The Power of the Dog (2021) – 89
Although Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog might not have been the most beloved film by audiences last year, it found itself right at the top of plenty of critics’ lists, and has maintained its momentum as the Best Picture frontrunner this year. With all four stars of the movie – Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons, and Kodi Smit-McPhee – nominated for their performances, it’s clear that the film has resonated extremely strongly with many.
The film takes an extremely fresh and original attempt at the Western genre, uncovering the toxic masculinity and repressed emotions that are so often present within these kinds of films. The screenplay is one that uncovers more and more surprises every time you watch the film, and Campion’s bold direction highlights these ideas strongly.
1 The Irishman (2019) – 94
Martin Scorcese’s The Irishman, whilst sitting comfortably within the crime/gangster genre, is extremely unlike anything the director has ever produced before. Although the first half is a thrilling examination of organized crime in New York, the film quickly becomes a surprisingly touching and insightful exploration of old age, and how the actions of our past unavoidably catch up with us.
The film features all-time great performances from Robert de Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci, alongside a fantastically entertaining and compelling screenplay that Scorsese brings to life with some truly thrilling action sequences and gripping monologues. It’s everything that makes the iconic director’s films so great, dialed up to eleven and stretched out to over three rousing hours – which makes it one of Scorsese’s best films to date.
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