Jonathan Glazer is a renowned British filmmaker who likes to take long pauses between movies, but he always pays off his absence with projects that will stick with viewers for a long time. He first rose to prominence as a music video director, working closely with renowned artists and bands such as Radiohead, Nick Cave, Blur, and Massive Attack. His eerie, subliminal style can be clearly felt in the videos that accompany hits such as “Karma Police” or “The Universal.”
It didn’t take long before he started experimenting with movies, inspired by his cinephile father and their frequent excursions to movie theaters. Glazer has a distinctive style marked by forlorn imagery and intricate character studies, even though he only directed four feature films throughout his 30-year career, with a few music videos and interesting short films in between. His most recent, The Zone of Interest, was nominated for a plethora of Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. Here are all of Glazer’s feature films, ranked.
4 Birth (2004)
- Release Date
- October 29, 2004
- Jonathan Glazer
Birth is an eerie reincarnation drama centered around the controversial relationship between a grieving widow and the kid who claims to be her dead husband reincarnated. It took Anna over a decade to get over the death of her beloved Sean, and now that she’s finally ready to start anew and marry someone else, a 10-year-old boy reaches out to her to reveal his secret, backed up by reliable insights into her previous marriage.
Not a Bad Film, but Not His Best
Birth is constantly flirting with the supernatural without ever embracing it fully, keeping the suspicions of its mysterious pretext as the sole force that keeps the narrative in motion and these characters in an unsolvable dilemma. It’s often the case with the unknown. One either believes it or denies it; there’s no way to prove something so subjective, so intangible.
The problem with Birth is that its commitment to uncertainty leads to a vague conclusion, almost as if all the events these characters went through were just a faint bad dream, the type one won’t remember after waking up. The movie comes full circle in a clumsy manner, offering only an unsettling suggestion about the future of Anna and young Sean: when everything in a movie is a dilemma, or worse, just a big misunderstanding, there’s no reliable path to choose from. Stream on The Criterion Channel
3 Sexy Beast (2000)
Sexy Beast‘s commitment to the “one last job” trope is quite funny given the idyllic scenario where this gangster tale unfolds, almost like a vacation-gone-wrong kind of story. Gal is a retired safe-cracker, leading a peaceful life in a southern Spain villa, until Don, a dangerous criminal from his past, returns with a new job. Don’s erratic behavior forces Gal and his family to resort to desperate measures, with potentially deadly consequences for everyone.
A Strong Debut Feature
The movie subverts the viewer’s expectations with every stylish scene that comes in, as Glazer does his best to bypass all gender expectations. He succeeds mostly because of Ray Winstone’s memorable animal-in-a-cage performance. There’s a clear distinction between each of the film’s three acts, and even though Sexy Beast is Glazer’s debut film, the movie already shows signs of the filmmaker’s tendency to lose a bit of rhythm in the wind-up. Regardless of that, it’s a fun ride with outbursts of violence that effectively navigate between the comical and the banal. Stream on Paramount+
2 The Zone of Interest (2023)
The Zone of Interest
- Release Date
- February 2, 2024
- Jonathan Glazer
- Sandra Hüller , Christian Friedel , Freya Kreutzkam , Max Beck
- 1hr 45min
The Zone of Interest is a harrowing Holocaust story, where the World War II tragedy is left entirely in the background. What audiences get to see is the unsettling attempt of Rudolf Höss, commander of Auschwitz, to build an idyllic life for his family in a beautiful house situated right behind the world’s most barbaric concentration camp. Glazer uses an experimental approach to explore the horrors of war as it has never been done before, using sound as the key element to suggest the atrocities taking place next door.
An Oscar-Worthy Film
After winning the prestigious Grand Prix at 2023’s Cannes Film Festival, The Zone of Interest smoothly made its way to the Oscars with five relevant nominations, including Best Director and Best Picture. It’s a great feat alone, but what’s really impressive is how Glazer delivers a genuinely experimental experience with an accessible approach, while simultaneously tackling heavy themes from the past that still haunt modern society to this day.
The Zone of Interest is one of the best cinematic depictions of the banalization of evil in recent memory, exploring how the Nazis engaged in the most heinous acts imaginable as parts of the engine of a wicked machine. Their compliance with evil can be seen as merely atonement for their incapacity to contemplate the weight of their own individual acts. There’s a lot to digest in a movie like this, and even though the experimental choice used by Glazer might be a deal-breaker for many, it’s impossible not to learn something from his take on a crucial moment in history. Now Playing in Theaters
1 Under the Skin (2013)
Under the Skin
- Release Date
- March 14, 2014
- Jonathan Glazer
- Jeremy McWilliams , Lynsey Taylor Mackay , Dougie McConnell , Kevin McAlinden , D. Meade , Andrew Gorman
- Main Genre
Scarlett Johansson finds herself completely removed from her comfort zone in Under the Skin, where she embodies a mysterious alien using the body of a gorgeous woman to lure unsuspecting men into its lair. The movie provides an anatomy of humanity from the perspective of an otherworldly being devoid of emotions and clear purposes, following an unpredictable course toward immateriality and annihilation.
A Masterpiece That Took a Decade to Make
There’s a chilling, understated message of how easier it is to be an alien than a woman on Earth, in contrast with Under the Skin‘s more evident allegories about immigration, unity, and inclusion in a world shattered by the patriarch and cultural disagreements propagated by extremists. The movie is all that and still feels plainly self-contained in its entirety. It took Glazer over a decade to make his ultimate masterpiece; an immersive blend of sci-fi and psychological thriller where even the violence feels out of this world. Stream on Max