Ben Kingsley, or Sir Ben as I like to call him, never ceases to amaze me in his choice of projects. Popcorn summer tentpoles normally aren’t his cup of tea, and yet there he is starring alongside Jake Gyllenhaal in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, which of course opens today.
That’s why Sir Ben kicks so much ass. He’s not one of these “I only do serious projects” actors. Now, don’t get me wrong, as you’re about to discover, the guy has been in some intense dramas chock full of raw emotion, but that’s not all he does. Comedy, action, bad guys, teachers, hippies — Kingsley has worn many hats and all in brilliant fashion.
It wasn’t easy to narrow down his ten absolute best movies. Dude has appeared in a lot of fantastic flicks. I’m sure some will take umbrage with titles I neglected to include. However, that’s not to say I didn’t like the movie, rather there just wasn’t room on a list of ten. For example, A.I. misses the cut because it’s only a single-scene voice performance. It’s still great, just not that great.
Enough of my rambling. Let’s get to Sir Ben’s best.
10. Transsiberian (2008)
Not a lot of people saw this thriller, which is too bad. Kingsley kills as a corrupt Russian narcotics detective named Grinko, who terrorizes an American couple traveling via the Trans-Siberian Railway. He’s more ice cold than a Russian winter.
9. Sneakers (1992)
No, it’s not about Nike or Adidas. It’s about advanced computer security systems, hacking and government espionage. Ben plays Cosmo (no relation to Kramer), a rogue covert agent bent on destabilizing the world’s economy with a top-secret decoding device. And yes, he has hair.
8. Shutter Island (2010)
If you thought Sir Ben was slowing down, think again. He delivered another incredibly convincing performance in Martin Scorsese’s mental hospital mystery earlier this year. He just looks like a doctor, doesn’t he? Must be the bow tie. Either that or the circumspect glare.
7. Searching for Bobby Fischer (1993)
I defy anyone, even a misanthropic prick like me, not to shed a tear in this inspirational story about a young chess prodigy. Kingsley is superb as chess coach Bruce Pandolfini, who pushes the little tyke to become a champion. I love, love, love this movie. A must-see for chess players.
6. Death and the Maiden (1994)
This one is tough to watch at times, but witnessing Kingsley and Sigourney Weaver spar with one another makes it worthwhile. Sir Ben’s chilling portrayal of a rapist/torturer is a marvel to behold. His ending confession should be mandatory teaching at acting schools. (Warning: SPOILERS and NSFW clip, but it’s totally awesome.)
5. Bugsy (1991)
Kingsley nabbed a well-deserved Best Supporting Actor nom for his spot-on turn as legendary mob boss Meyer Lansky. His smooth, businesslike demeanor masks a vengeful soul. Cross Meyer Lansky and you’ll pay the consequences. Just ask Bugsy Siegel.
4. House of Sand and Fog (2003)
Chalk up another Oscar nod for Sir Ben playing an Iranian immigrant trying to build a fruitful life for his wife and teenage son. This flick is tragic from start to finish. If you haven’t seen it, save it for a rainy day when you already feel like shit. That being said, it’s powerful stuff.
3. Sexy Beast (2000)
This is what makes Sir Ben one of the best in the game. Watch House of Sand and Fog, then turn this beauty on. His ability to play sedate for one role and maniacal for another is beyond impressive. If you’re making a list of badass villains, the disturbed Don Logan better be included.
2. Gandhi (1982)
How’s this for pressure. It’s your first major big screen role and you’re playing one of the world’s most prominent purveyors of peace and non-violence, Mahatma Gandhi. Kingsley didn’t just nail the part, he smashed it to pieces and took home a Best Actor Oscar. It marked the beginning of one helluva career.
1. Schindler’s List (2003)
Steven Spielberg’s epic Holocaust story provided Kingsley another opportunity to showcase his range of emotions playing Jewish account Itzhak Stern. If Oskar Schindler was the heart, then Itzhak Stern was the brains of the operation that saved the lives of more than a 1000 Jews during WWII. It’s filmmaking at its finest.
Honorable mention: The Wackness, in which Ben plays a bong-smoking psychotherapist. And Elegy, an interesting character study starring Kingsley as an aging professor who falls for one of his students (Penelope Cruz).