There are few directors working today with the incredible focus and talent of Edgar Wright. He isn't just a British filmmaker, but someone who so passionately loves film that to dissect one of his movies is to find a bounty of incredible original ideas sprung from references and running gags. Even if he can be summarized as making "genre movies," he manages to make them the way that Howard Hawks does. He gives it his all, innovating story, acting, music, and even editing. In honor of the release of his latest Baby Driver, here is my personal ranking of the films that he has directed, which are all great - but some just manage to hit the sweet spot better than others.
1. Shaun of the Dead
Following the success of his BBC series Spaced, Edgar Wright returned to film with his breakout hit that is best described as a zom-rom-com. Among other things, it introduced the world to what his cinematic potential could be, alongside writing and acting partners Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. It isn't just a parody of zombie films, it's a story of two friends trying to find value in a world that asks them to grow up, only to find that playing video games, drinking, and listening to a jukebox on random is a more valuable use of time. It's definitely an inspired take that sets up The Cornetto Trilogy and shows just how much attention to detail Wright would put into his work for the next decade of his career.
2. Hot Fuzz
The idea started off simple. Wright wanted to make a British action comedy. Speaking as they are considered rare, he went to his hometown and shot a movie that featured an incredible ensemble of actors turning in an ode to Britishness and Point Break fandom alike. Again with Pegg and Frost, he explores what makes this rather dumb genre so much fun. He does so with as much intellect as he does flare, often turning a simple gag into a pointed commentary on the genre. It helps that it's just a great movie that has everything that anyone would want from an action film, but with a sharp sense of humor that pokes its head out just in time to keep things from getting too dark.
3. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
In theory, this should've been Wright's biggest hit. Whereas he was largely working on The Cornetto Trilogy, he took a break to adapt this Bryan Lee O'Malley series to the screen. What wasn't expected was his ability to capture the ferocity of a video game and the heart of teen angst. He reinvented both genres perfectly here, and managed to turn the wimpy Michael Cera into a convincing hero. Add in a great cast of supporting characters that went on to big things, and you get one of Wright's most realized universes to date. It helps that the editing technique is also so innovative that this will likely be taught as an example of how to edit a scene. This is Wright at his most technically precise. Thankfully the rest is just as entertaining.
4. The World's End
Despite being largely a genre guy, there's something underneath Wright's technique that is sometimes underrated. He tends to have a heart that pops off the screen. Nowhere does that shine brightest than in this capper to The Cornetto Trilogy, which manages to turn the simple act of high school friends reuniting for a pub crawl. There's aliens, sure, but the core of this movie lies in an incredibly unapologetic portrait of stunted growth. Pegg is as funny as he is tragic, finding a way to show the depressing side of not growing up. It's a bummer of a way to end the trilogy, but it's also a sign that Wright can probably make powerful dramas without us realizing it. They just happen to involve great fence gags.
5. Baby Driver
In some ways, Wright's latest is his most ambitious while also being his least personal. This is a film that has his greatest soundtrack, timed perfectly to every beat of every scene. His action technique is incredibly strong as well, managing to take practical effects over green screens (and getting paid handsomely for it). The issue is that this is also one of his least personal and interesting films as well, as he wears most of his influences too plainly on his sleeve, leaving behind some of his most one dimensional characters to date. The film gets plenty of leeway thanks to its impeccable style that puts other car chase movies of the decade to shame. However, it's also full of stuff that he did more interestingly in Hot Fuzz, which is a bit of a bummer.
6. A Fistful of Fingers
It almost seems unfair to rank his directorial debut alongside his other five movies. This is in part because of how much he had improved by his sophomore film. Still, this parody of western films has plenty of the wit on a shoestring budget, but with many of the problems that first time filmmakers often have. Wright learned the importance of coverage from this movie, and it's likely that having some would've helped make this movie a tad better. Even then, it's a solid film that doesn't really show the potential of Wright in the time before he met Pegg on Asylum. It's fun, but honestly pales in comparison to everything that came after.