Acclaimed British ‘auteur’ Edgar Wright needs little introduction. If one is not familiar with his name, they will be his work. I need not mention the practically nation-defining Cornetto Trilogy, nor the sleeper-hit, Bryan Lee O’Malley adaptation from 2010 that met its principle success on home release thanks to legions of passionate fans. Ahead of his next and latest feature Last Night in Soho, which sees Anya Taylor-Joy, Matt Smith and others group for a time-travel horror-mystery (I know right!), it seems a good time to reflect upon the director’s clean catalogue of comedy and action, especially considering Soho‘s uncertain September release window. From Shaun of the Dead to Baby Driver, we’re working worst to best. Note: A Fistful of Fingers, technically Wright’s first feature-length, has been omitted from the list due to its lack of availability. :(.
5. Baby Driver (2017)
Baby Driver isn’t bad at all; it wields competent action sequences, a great sense of script rhythm and a cracking final showdown. This is, of course, not to mention the music-sync lead gimmick, which works far better than it had any real right to. There’s also clear pastiche at play here — the ‘one more job’ component, etcetera — which mixes up well with the more modern, music-centric aspects to the feature. Generally, actually, there is an overwhelming sense of confidence. Wright’s passion for his influences and style seeps into every crack of the picture, which is more than lovely to see as an audience member. This being said, the film is unfortunately marred by a variety of other issues. For every great, pulpy, entertaining sequence comes a narratively disjointed one with unnecessary cameo characters or irrelevant subplots and events which detract from the central romance that’s key to buy into. This crucial character relationship is not as believable as it should be, in general, with the film seeming to shoot for a slightly more sensitive, modern take on a True Romance-style coupling but ending up with something that lands a little flat. Despite the film’s joyful sense of conviction, it is not quite as streamlined as it would need to be for me, nor as disciplined. For my money, it is Wright’s least cogent major release.
4. Shaun of the Dead (2004)
I know. I know! Shaun of the Dead, obviously, is very good. British culture dictates this. The gags are brilliant, the performances solid at a minimum and the emotional backbone of the script well-executed amidst the comedy. It’s really competent, especially for Wright’s second feature-length project, and, crucially, very funny, utilising Chris Dickens’ signature editing for a slew of great visual gags (as is typical with Edgar’s features). However, I still find the film’s ending tonally annoying, and the pacing a little jumbled — this is what sets it lower than the following entries on this list. The small budget commands a less interesting third act, among other qualitative reductions not present in his later, fully funded work. Shaun of the Dead is the director’s fledgling film in my mind, a modern classic in many deserved ways but also ramshackle and creaky, and more of an avenue for Wright to experiment on a broader level the genre-parody we’d seen toyed with earlier in his direction of Spaced (also great). This may make Shaun all the more lovable, of course, particularly for its genre, but contrasting it to other of the director’s films yields less in return that its warranted cultural reputation might indicate.
3. The World’s End (2013)
This one seems to be something of a controversial film for fans of Wright’s work as the finale to his anthological Cornetto Trilogy, and I’m a little unsure why. It’s possibly his most handsome-looking feature yet (shot by the esteemed Bill Pope), and the central group chemistry between the characters assembled by the script is actually really effective; Frost as the straight man and Pegg as the clown, the opposite to their conventional casting, works great here. This is not to mention the successfully sombre themes of alcoholism, childhood and memory, which is balanced well with and imbued into much of the gag-work. The action sequences are also super entertaining (I needn’t mention the great bathroom fight), and the escalating absurdity and excitement of the premise is tuned appropriately and handled mostly well for the film’s pacing. The ending is a little too much, sure, and it might suffer from tonal balancing issues for some audience members, but I think it’s on the underrated side of this filmography. It’s a lot better than some give it credit for.
2. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)
I love Scott Pilgrim. Bryan Lee O’Malley’s graphic novel series is a genius piece of work, and Wright’s adaptation of decidely very difficult source material ticks all the boxes. The sense of stylishness that can be felt everywhere in this film is irresistible; the video game nods, the acute sense of humour, and the editing and visual flair all contribute to a totally delightful watch that has me grin throughout its runtime. If I had to criticise anything, it would be the casting — I think Jason Schwartzman and Ellen Wong are a little misplaced for the character dynamics they ought to wield — but this does little to damage the experience, as the peformances still fit perfectly fine for the film’s spin on things. In general, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is easily some of the most fun I have watching a movie, and I can’t recommend it enough if you’re into risible humour, exciting visuals or video-game sensibility. Even if not, you should probably just stop being grumpy and watch it anyway.
1. Hot Fuzz (2007)
While Scott Pilgrim is probably my favourite of Wright’s films for my personal connection to it and the source material, Hot Fuzz absolutely must be ruled his best work. Easily one of the greatest comedies of this century, its genre-mocking is ingeniously executed (what a third act!), the sense of performative rhythm (helped by performances, editing, script) is infectious, and the gags are breakneck and consistently both clever and enjoyably ridiculous. Indeed, the long-lastingly iconic status of this feature and its many great lines and moments speaks for itself. Unlike Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz does not get too bogged down in much emotional background, instead driving all of its various components and self-contained philosophies towards delivering the audience an utterly focused caricature of style. It is radically caught up with itself in the best possible way, and the clear joy for the material felt by its various personnel is evident in the product. It is a masterclass, not just in terms of those involved’s own filmographies, but also in terms of comedy filmmaking in general. It tops this list.