by Jason Koenigsberg

Film Title: Contraband

Last night the MTV Movie awards gave their “Generation” Award to Mark Wahlberg. That is the equivalent of the Oscar’s “Lifetime Achievement” award. Wahlberg is more than deserving of this award with his contributions to music (the old Marky Mark days) and film. He has gone from teen idol and pop star to being a dominant and respected actor/producer. His acceptance speech last night was so perfectly appropriate remarking that now he was officially “too old” for MTV. This may be true but hopefully he is right about the award and what it means. Like the stepping stone for some of the best Saturday Night Live comedians who move on to even more successful film and television careers, Wahlberg is talented enough to continue to take on challenging and interesting roles with visionary directors and innovative scripts.

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From looking at his filmography he already has done so much with dramas (The Lovely Bones), comedies (I Heart Huckabees), science-fiction (Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes), music (Rock Star), horror (The Happening) and of course action roles (so many to list here but I cannot wait for the new Transformers: Age of Extinction). And has already collaborated with many big name directors like Martin Scorsese, David O. Russell, Wolfgang Peterson, Michael Bay and Peter Jackson just to name a few. Not all of his efforts have been successful but he has a more diverse resume than most people give him credit for.

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Hopefully this will mark only the second chapter in his career, which already has earned so much critical praise, box office success and a well-earned Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor.  I want to acknowledge Mark Wahlberg’s 5 best roles of his career so far. Due to his diverse selection this was a difficult task and I felt bad leaving off a few of his titles both well known (The Fighter) and roles that have become mostly forgotten (Rock Star). But here are the top 5 Mark Wahlberg roles.

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1. The Departed (2006) directed by Martin Scorsese

The film he earned his sole Oscar nomination for and definitely deserved to win over Alan Arkin for Little Miss Sunshine (that award served as his Lifetime Achievement Oscar more than it did his performance). He owned that role and went head to head in scenes with some of the greatest actors of his generation, (Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon), and held his own in scenes with great actors of his father’s generation (Jack Nicholson, Martin Sheen). The fact he was the only acting nomination from a movie filled with so many talented actors giving great performances shows that Wahlberg deserved to be in that movie as much as any of them. Irascible and unforgettable, his Sergeant Dignam in The Departed was a scene-stealing role and he did it justice making an indelible impact on one of the best movies in the past decade. His Boston background helps but his intensity with the script make his scenes so memorable. This is the crowning achievement of Mr. Wahlberg’s career thus far and it is amazing so see how he has evolved from “Good Vibrations” to being in the same good company as DiCaprio and being directed by Scorsese to an Oscar nomination. Check out this clip from that Oscar night where he playfully acknowledges a shout out from Will Ferrell and Jack Black.

2. Boogie Nights (1997) directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

His breakthrough role was the family thriller Fear (1996) but the following year, thanks to unconventional casting from the talented writer and director Paul Thomas Anderson, would give Mark Wahlberg the film role that would announce to the world that he was ready to be a serious actor. Boogie Nights was a game changer that set his career on the path it has been on ever since it was released. Critics and audiences along with the entire Hollywood community of actors, directors, producers, casting agents and make up artists all took notice of Mark Wahlberg’s stellar dramatic work as Dirk Diggler. To this day it is the best leading role of his career. It helps that he had one of the most talented supporting ensemble casts that could have been assembled at that time. It also helps that P.T. Anderson, one of the youngest and most skilled directors, was at the helm and Mr. Anderson had New Line cinema’s blessing and encouragement to shoot the picture the way he wanted it. The result was a great film about innocence lost, times changing and the dark side of fame and fortune. Watch the scene below and it is remarkable how daring the director was to hold the camera on Wahlberg’s face for as long as he does, and Wahlberg handles it beautifully capturing the fear, confusion and intuition that this drug deal is about to end badly, that a lot of the decisions he has made are all about to come collapsing on top of him. Bold direction by P.T. Anderson and its an incredible feat that a young, budding actor could handle it as maturely as Wahlberg does. Like his character Dirk Diggler says, he is a star indeed.

3. Three Kings (1999) directed by David O. Russell

Mr. Wahlberg has starred in three consecutive David O. Russell films and showed great range in I Heart Huckabees and incredible restraint in The Fighter, however it was their first collaboration that has left the biggest impact on me with the Persian Gulf War drama Three Kings.  An innovative, pulse-pounding and often funny war film that was elevated by Wahlberg as the emotional core who loved his family and took care of Spike Jonze’s hapless soldier as his surrogate big brother. George Clooney’s character was the lead and acted as the archetypical leader of the soldiers going rogue to find Saddam Hussein’s gold. Ice Cube was the toughest of the three who took no excuses and commanded respect from everyone around him. Wahlberg had the toughest role as the conscience of the film. His Troy Barlow character was the one reminding everyone else that this was a war and innocent human lives could be lost. He was also the only one to constantly remind his comrades that he did not want to end up urinating in a bag for the rest of his life to try and find some gold. He had the character that did the most to make audiences relate to these soldiers on their pipe-dream quest for treasure in a hostile land. Three Kings is a well directed, interestingly shot and cleverly written film, but Mark Wahlberg’s performance is one of the main reasons why it had such a strong emotional impact on people. It was a moderate success at the time of its release and despite very strong reviews from critics it was ignored by most of the major awards shows. No matter what, this will always stand out on Mark Wahlberg’s resume as a film that helped catapult him and its director David O. Russell to bigger and better projects.

4. Ted (2012) directed by Seth MacFarlane

Mark Wahlberg has deftly maneuvered between drama and comedy that often times he emerges as an underrated talent. His comedic skills have never been put to better use on screen than in Seth MacFarlane’s directorial debut Ted. It is hard to imagine anyone else other than Mark Wahlberg as the lead role and honestly out of all the films he has starred in I really feel Ted is the only one where nobody else could have played his part. It played perfectly with his tough guy demeanor, his masculine softer side, his boyish sense of humor and possibly the most important factors, his Boston roots and New England accent. This is one of the funniest comedies in recent years for a myriad of factors but once again, Wahlberg’s performance as the lead was the heart that made the rest of the film work because we cared about what happened to him.

5. Pain and Gain (2013) directed by Michael Bay

It was so hard picking the fifth and final movie to choose for this column. I came very close to selecting The Fighter or Rock Star but instead went with my gut and chose a more recent piece from Mark Wahlberg’s canon. Pain and Gain was one of the funniest most ruthless and satirical motion pictures from last year. It accomplished everything that The Wolf of Wall Street accomplished in about an hour less run time. Wahlberg, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Anthony Mackie are all at the top of their game along with director Michael Bay in a film about how misguided the American dream really is and the ridiculous lengths that some people will go to achieve it. All the leads are perfectly cast and it was nice to know Bay can direct a film that relies on good acting and a decent script, not just awesome special effects and loud explosions. Wahlberg was funnier in this movie than he was ever meant to be. His natural charisma made his character charming when he was doing despicable actions to try and extort some money. The fact this was based on a true story makes it simultaneously more bizarre and more remarkable. This movie is like Fargo on steroids.

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