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The McCon-o-Meter: The actor's career highs and lows

What's your favorite Matthew McConaughey movie?
Posted 7:48pm on Tuesday, Mar. 19, 2013

Matthew McConaughey started off strong in the movies, but then his journey became erratic -- at least till the past couple of years. Here's a look at some of his ups and downs.

Dazed and Confused (1993): After a couple of small roles in previous projects, McConaughey makes an early breakthrough in Richard Linklater's nostalgic comedy as the guy who graduated high school but never really left. But signature lines -- "That's what I love about these high school girls, man. I get older, they stay the same age," and "All right, all right, all right" -- would lock him into a persona it would take years to shake.

Lone Star (1996): McConaughey takes a big step toward critical respect as one in a line of small-town Texas sheriffs in John Sayles' mix of murder mystery and revisionist Texas history. But Kris Kristofferson and Chris Cooper get the flashier roles.

A Time to Kill (1996): Released the same year as Lone Star, this adaptation of John Grisham's To Kill a Mockingbird-influenced legal drama gives McConaughey his first major-studio hit. McConaughey's performance as a Southern lawyer who takes on a racially charged case earns him comparisons to Gary Cooper, Paul Newman and Marlon Brando, all of which the actor downplays in interviews with his modest air and breezy motto: "J.K. living, man -- just keep living."

Contact and Amistad (both 1997): As a religious scholar in the former (an adaptation of Carl Sagan's spiritually themed sci-fi novel) and a 19th-century lawyer in the latter (Steven Spielberg's slavery-era drama), McConaughey struggles with being miscast in two "prestige" projects.

The Newton Boys (1998): The reteaming of McConaughey and Linklater misfires in this Western that's just too slow and cerebral for its own good.

Edtv (1999): McConaughey is well-cast as an everyman schmo who agrees to have his life filmed for TV in Ron Howard's prescient reality-TV satire -- which might have seemed more visionary and less minor if the similarly themed The Truman Show hadn't beaten it to the punch by several months.

The Bongo Incident (1999): No, this isn't a movie, although it does have more notoriety than some of McConaughey's films. It's that time in Austin when police, responding to a noise complaint, spied a naked McConaughey playing bongos in his Austin home, which led to a scuffle and to McConaughey's being charged with resisting transportation, a Class A misdemeanor.

The Wedding Planner (2001): Thus begins a decadelong string of mediocre romantic comedies (How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Failure to Launch, Ghost of Girlfriends Past) that's occasionally interrupted by something more memorable.

Frailty (2001): Such as McConaughey's performance as a man with dark family secrets in this Southern gothic thriller (directed by Fort Worth's Bill Paxton) that has developed a cult following.

Reign of Fire (2002): Films like this silly man-vs.-dragons flick, along with the later Sahara and Two for the Money, showed that McConaughey was just as good at finding generic adventure/crime fare in the aughts as he was at finding mediocre romantic comedies.

Sexiest Man Alive (2005): Bad movie choices don't stop McConaughey from earning People magazine's annual honor. Once again: all right, all right, all right!

The Lincoln Lawyer (2011): After a decade of wandering in the cinematic wilderness, McConaughey begins a year of artistic comebacks by playing a lawyer again -- this time kind of a slimy one who begins to change his ways when he takes on an even slimier client.

Bernie (2011): Another reunion with Linklater, but this one -- a fact-based dark comedy about a small-town East Texas murder -- finds the actor (as a slick district attorney investigating the case) and the director on more comfortable ground.

Magic Mike (2012): McConaughey earns some of the best reviews of his career for his performance as a male-strip-club owner in Steven Soderbergh's sleeper hit.

Mud (2013): The indie drama about a man on the lam who befriends two boys has earned strong word-of-mouth on the festival circuit, in no small part because of McConaughey's strong performance. This should be an arthouse hit when it opens next month and may even cross over to a larger audience.

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