It was amazing to watch New Zealand director Taika Waititi’s rise to Hollywood dominance. Why? Because his work (from independent darlings to hit tentpoles) is defined not only by quirky humor, but also by pathos and, at times, downright melancholy.
Waititi’s films are often characterized by a childish view of reality and the heartbreak that occurs when that reality fractures. There’s a universality to the stories he tells, giving them a sticky power that lurks beneath their delightfully silly jokes.
Despite being busy with TV shows like Our flag means death, reservation dogs and What we do in the shadowsWaititi has two new movies coming out this year, Thor: Love and Thunder (opening this week; read WWreview here) and football comedy The next goal wins. The man has a lot on his plate and many great films in his catalog.
Here, ranked from good to best, the films of Taika Waititi.
6. eagle versus shark (2007)
Some directors walk out the door with a winner. Taika Waititi was not one of these directors, but his first film is not without charm.
Jemaine Clement stars as Jarrod, an emotionally rickety 20-year-old who invites his girlfriend Lily (Loren Horsley) to the country to meet his parents and watch him battle his high school nemesis. It’s a potentially cringe-worthy premise, but Waititi wisely focuses on the charming Horsley (whom he co-wrote the screenplay with), whose lovable vibes make the story quite endearing. Still, the best was yet to come for the Kiwi wonderkid.
5. What we do in the shadows (2014)
Is this the best vampire movie ever made? It’s debatable, but it’s unquestionably the funniest. Written and directed by Waititi and Clément, Shadows is developing a short mockumentary the pair made in 2005 about a group of blood-sucking demons living a quiet life in a Wellington apartment.
Shadows (which later spawned the TV series of the same name) is the shallowest of Waititi’s films, but it has a freewheeling anarchy akin to the Marx Brothers. It’s funny – like, laughing out loud, peeing in your pants, having to pause the movie until you catch your breath funny, which is rare to find in any era.
4. Boy (2010)
Boy has a sense of humor, but it’s the saddest of Waititi’s films next to…well, we’ll get to that later. Set in the small New Zealand town of Waihau Bay, the film follows 11-year-old Boy (James Rolleston) as he spends a winter reconnecting with his ex-convict father, Alamein (Waititi).
While Waititi grew up in communities similar to the one depicted in the film, Boy is less a rose-tinted tour of a filmmaker’s nostalgia and more an unconventional coming-of-age story. The boy’s sweetness and imagination are constantly threatened by a world that can be as apathetic and cruel as it is familiar and comforting. It’s a tricky balance to strike, but Rolleston and Waititi do it with aplomb, creating a unique little project that’s sure to knock you off your feet.
3. Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
Taking over the underprivileged Thor franchise, Waititi gave the series a glamorous ’80s makeover and amped up the comedy, without skimping on the heavy stuff.
Thanks to Waititi, Thor’s (Chris Hemsworth) journey and the culmination of his relationship with his beloved brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is truly emotional. On top of that, Waititi brings an anti-colonial attitude into the mix, reminding us that the sins of an empire can’t stay buried forever.
Ragnarok also boasts some of the most sweeping action in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, unleashing violence as hyperkinetic as a Dynasty Warriors game (and marked by Mark Mothersbaugh’s ethereal synthwave and Led Zeppelin’s iconic “Immigrant’s Song”). The result is a neon-tinged ride that, interpersonal drama aside, just asks us to have fun with the space viking and his magic hammer.
2. JoJo Rabbit (2019)
There are comedic pitches and then there are JoJo Rabbit. It’s the story of a precocious youngster and his wacky imaginary friend – except the setting is Germany, circa 1945, the youngster is Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis), an enthusiastic member of the Hitler Youth, and his imaginary friend is a childish conjuration by Der Führer himself (Waititi).
What can we say other than “Yuck”? And even Jojo is a deeply moving work – a funny, romantic, heartbreaking, triumphant and provocative rejection of the inhumanity of fascism.
Waititi is by far the funniest Hitler since Lorenzo St. DuBois, but the movie belongs to Griffin Davis, Scarlett Johansson (who plays Jojo’s mother Rosie) and Thomasin McKenzie (who plays a Jewish refugee who Rosie hides in the walls ). JoJo Rabbit Waititi won the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar – and it was well deserved.
1. Wilderpeople Hunt (2016)
When a juvenile delinquent (Julian Dennison, a goldmine of absurd bravado and serious vulnerability) flees into the New Zealand bush pursued by his guardian (Sam Neill), the couple unexpectedly find themselves in a large adventure, while staying one step ahead of an overzealous bureaucrat (Rachel House, playing an incredibly funny avatar for government incompetence).
While the story of Wilderpeople Hunt is absurd, the scenario is so charming that one ends up hoping that the film will last indefinitely. For all its extravagance, wild people knows his characters inside and out and never lets their emotional journeys pass by the wayside. It’s hilarious, it’s touching, it’s a marvel to watch and it’s the best movie from a man who makes great movies.
SEE : Thor: Love and Thunder, rated PG-13, opens Friday.