Beyond being "the Internet's boyfriend," Oscar Isaac is a performer who you can't help but be fascinated by. Every performance feels special and unique -- the work of an artist honing and refining his craft. There are no two performances that are ever alike, even if they're part of the same franchise. And if you only know Oscar Isaac through his mainstream, big budget work, we have some suggestions for you. Here are some of the actor's most essential roles.
'Body of Lies' (2008)
In 2008, Isaac's career was finally starting to gain some steam, thanks to collaborations with Steven Soderbergh, Alejandro Amenabar, and, with "Body of Lies," Ridley Scott. In "Lies," he plays a character who assists Leonardo DiCaprio's morally compromised intelligence operative in the Middle East. While there isn't much character on the page, Isaac is able to give the role shading and texture. It helps that "Body of Lies" is one of Scott's most lively and underrated movies. Sadly, the two would reteam for the much more forgettable "Robin Hood." Although the fact that Isaac went from playing a Middle Easterner to John, King of England, speaks to his versatility and range.
'Sucker Punch' (2011)
One of his most colorful performances ever can be found in Zack Snyder's candy-colored, nearly incomprehensible "Sucker Punch," a kind of Alice in Wonderland by way of comic books, Japanese animated films, and whatever pervy obsession was crossing Snyder's mind at the time. Isaac plays an administrator at a home for wayward girls who, in the movie's glossy alternate reality, serves as a pimp/nightclub owner. Isaac is clearly going for high camp and it's a testament to his abilities as a performer that even his attempts at kitsch come across as earnest.
You'll be forgiven for not remembering that Isaac was even in Nicolas Winding Refn's blood-soaked caper; he totally disappears into the role of Standard Gabriel, a recently released con who talks Ryan Gosling's driver into doing a very questionable job. In "Drive," Refn allows Isaac to be charming and suspicious at the same time. He's a criminal, for sure, but one that you could see yourself being dazzled by. By this time in his career, however, Isaac had gained the attention of Hollywood. He was this close to being cast as Matt Damon's replacement in "The Bourne Legacy," a highly publicized spin-off (he wound up with a smaller role instead.)
'Inside Llewyn Davis' (2013)
Isaac achieved nearly universal acclaim for his role as the titular character in "Inside Llewyn Davis," the CoenBrothers' ode to the folk scene in Greenwich Village. As Davis, who perpetually comes up short and always chases a dream that seems to be slightly out of reach, he was a typical Coens character: endlessly bullied and brutalized on a cosmic level. But he also was warmer, more sincere and more openly and recognizably human. By the time the movie reaches its loopy conclusion, you're ready to watch Isaac's performance all over again.
'A Most Violent Year' (2014)
Weirdly released at the very end of 2014, "A Most Violent Year" is undoubtedly the best Oscar Issac movie you've never even heard of. (It also stars Jessica Chastain, David Oyelowo, and Albert Brooks, making its anonymity even more baffling.) Isaac plays a man who runs an oil company, maneuvering as best he can in a New York City besieged by crime and opportunistic bloodletting. It's a nimble performance that, true to form, isn't in the least bit showy despite Isaac's command of each and every scene he's in (which is almost each and every scene in the movie). You can feel the struggle within, which isn’t exactly an easy thing to dramatize. Years from now this movie will be rediscovered and critics will say, "Why didn't people rally around this?" We tried.
'Ex Machina' (2015)
Alex Garland's pared down sci-fi thriller is a triangle between a genius tech billionaire (Isaac), a low-level employee (Domhnall Gleason), and a seductive robot that longs to join humanity (Alicia Vikander). From this relatively simple set-up, Garland is able to craft a thriller that will have you at the edge of your seat, alternately questioning your existence, debating the morality of a human-like robot, and, thanks to Isaac, laughing uproariously. In "Ex Machina," Isaac's character is deep and fully layered and, in one unforgettable sequence, gets to cut a rug. Rarely has he been this charming and creepy -- often at the same time.
Let's get this out of the way: "Mojave" is, in no objective sense, a "good movie." It's an odd doodle by a prolific screenwriter (William Moynahan), a passion project that somehow found itself materializing (in a few theaters over a long weekend). All that said, Isaac is really something else here, playing a rare full-on villain, who meets Garrett Hedlund in the California desert and then follows him home. There isn't much that "Mojave" adds to the home invasion/stalker sub-genre, but Isaac -- with a snaggletooth, mess of stringy hair, and odd vocal tic that causes him to say "brother" every few word -- is totally electrifying.
'Star Wars: The Last Jedi' (2017)
The most underrated movie to ever gross $1.3 billion, "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" is an embarrassment of riches, anchored by a glittery jewel of an Oscar Isaac performance. As Poe Dameron, the hot shot Resistance pilot introduced in "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," Isaac's performance was deeper and richer in the follow-up, allowing for more moments of smart-ass comedy (like the highly contested "prank call") and profound emotion (everything involving Princess Leia). This is a movie largely about (and defined by) failure and Poe's prolonged screw-up is the movie's centerpiece (bye bye, black X-Wing). Thankfully, there's nobody nobler in defeat than Isaac.
Isaac reteamed with Garland for his adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer's blockbuster novel, "Annihilation." As Kane, a survivor (or is he?) of a doomed military operation inside a phantasmagorical space called Area X, he serves as the movie's (numb) emotional backbone, especially once his beleaguered wife (Natalie Portman) decides to make the same trip. Through flashbacks and wraparound sequences, Portman and Isaac are able to fully dramatize the highs and lows of a marriage. It is through these moments that the audience is given something to believe in, root for, and hold onto -- which is essential, given how weird the movie gets.