Josh Brolin — American actor, son of James, guy with whom you’d love to grab a beer, and possibly the most ruggedly handsome dude on the planet — was back in theaters this past weekend in Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, a sequel that probably would have been highly anticipated if it hadn’t been nine years since the first film was released. By all accounts, the film is a terrible flop from a box office perspective (I saw it, and quite honestly, it deserves to be seen by as few people as possible; it really isn’t very good). But even though the movie itself is subpar, Brolin still manages to do what it is that Brolin always does: thrill audiences with his signature brand of steely-eyed manliness. His career spans nearly three decades, and while there were a few lean years during the 1990s and early 2000s, Brolin has re-emerged as one of the most intriguing leading men working today.
Considering his resume is filled with solid performances, it’s a bit of a challenge to identify his ten best roles. But here they are — the airtight, argument-proof, written-in-pen-not-pencil, definitive ranking of Josh Brolin’s Top Ten Movie Roles:
10. Bates, Into the Blue
When they were casting Into the Blue, the 2005 boats-and-babes epic directed by the same guy who directed Top Gun, they needed someone who could go up against Paul Walker (RIP, gone too soon) in both the looks and acting departments. Of course, that search began and ended with one Mr. Josh Brolin. He gets to chew the scenery a bit as the film’s main heavy, and he spends a lot of time with Jessica Alba in a bikini, so it’s pretty much a dream gig and Brolin nails it.
9. Corey Webster, Thrashin’
I’m not gonna lie: Brolin is beautiful in Thrashin’. He looks like a living, breathing Ken doll come to life. If you don’t think this is what an all-American kid from the 1980s is supposed to look like, you are out of your mind. It doesn’t hurt that Thrashin’ has reached “so bad it’s good” levels of acclaim as a cult classic, but Brolin’s role as the brash outsider who turns the L.A. skate scene on its head is Hall of Fame material. The tagline for Thrashin’ is “Hot, Reckless, Totally Insane.” That might as well be Josh Brolin’s personal tagline, too.
8. Detective Trupo, American Gangster
Brolin is his usual awesome self in AG, but the real star here is Brolin’s mustache. It should be its own character, have its own trailer, and get its own paycheck because it is magnificent. With the possible exception of Southern folk hero Burt Reynolds, there isn’t another actor in the history of cinema who could sport a ‘stache this awesome and not immediately fold under the crushing weight of its glory. You crazy for this one, Brolin!
7. Dan White, Milk
Brolin’s portrayal of Dan White, the former San Francisco city supervisor who murdered Harvey Milk in 1978, was so good that it earned him his first Academy Award nomination in the category of Best Supporting Actor. He ultimately lost to Heath Ledger for his amazing turn as The Joker in The Dark Knight, but considering his fellow nominees included the likes of Robert Downey, Jr., Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Michael Shannon, it was one of the rare occasions when saying “it was an honor just to be nominated in the same category as these other fine actors” was actually true.
6. Joe Doucett, Oldboy
Spike Lee’s 2013 remake of Chan-Wook Park’s Korean original wasn’t great and it underperformed at the box office, but Brolin is an absolute bad ass in it. After he is freed from 20 years trapped in a weird hotel room, Brolin shaves his head, puts on a sweet black suit, and immediately commences wrecking anyone who stands in his way. In fact, he kicks so much ass and does it so well you kind of wish he could have done it in a better movie. Oh, and his reaction to the big “reveal” at the end is pretty much how I imagine a guy would react in that situation, so he basically delivers a master class in how to act angry, heartbroken, and disgusted all at once.
5. Tom Chaney, True Grit
In his second outing with the Coen Brothers (his first being No Country for Old Men that — SPOILER ALERT — pops up later in this list), Brolin plays the main antagonist in this remake of the John Wayne classic. He manages to give the outlaw Chaney just enough humanity for audiences to empathize with his situation, but Brolin turns on the menace at a moments notice. The fact that his performance stands out despite only having a fraction of the screen time as the other big-name actors in the flick speaks volumes about Brolin’s screen presence.
4. Agent Tony Kent, Flirting with Disaster
Brolin showed his chops as a comedic actor in this 1996 Ben Stiller comedy. Playing a gay ATF agent, Brolin seems right at home playing off of Stiller and Patricia Arquette for laughs. The armpit licking scene alone is enough to land this role a spot in the Top Ten, but the fact that this is one of Brolin’s only roles in a traditional comedy and he kills it automatically moves it into the top five.
3. George W. Bush, W.
Regardless of your opinion of the real George W. Bush or Oliver Stone’s decision to pump out this biopic while the ramifications of Bush’s decisions were still unfolding, Brolin’s performance was inspired. Will Ferrell’s famous Bush imitation seemed to be the jumping-off point for the character, but Brolin’s layered portrayal painted a more complete picture of a man who had power thrust upon him and quickly found himself out of his depth.
2. Brand, The Goonies
Brolin’s first role still stands as one of his best. He was the big brother you wish you had and he took an ordinary red bandana and turned it into an iconic look. There is talk of a sequel to The Goonies, and if it ever gets made I hope the plot involves all of the other Goonies being abducted by the Fratelli’s, leaving Brand to come to the rescue. I want two hours of 45-year old Brand kicking ass and taking names while Mikey, Mouth, Chunk, Data, Stef, Andy and Sloth hang from the ceiling of a cave in a giant net. Basically, I want Brolin to play Brand as his character from Oldboy and destroy bad guys with a hammer while Sloth sits in the background shoving Baby Ruths in his mouth.
1. Llewelyn Moss, No Country for Old Men
This is the role that boosted Brolin onto the A-list, and will likely stand as the most memorable performance of his career regardless of what he does in the future. Brolin’s Moss was tough, determined, and just conflicted enough to make you imagine yourself behaving similarly if you were in his shoes. Also, dude rocked a cowboy-cut button-up and white lid like a boss. Brolin is an American treasure, and we should all be forever grateful to the Coen Brothers for giving him the star-making turn he deserved.