If you've ever seen an Edward Burns movie, you probably have a good sense of who he is: Irish, from New York, an obvious fan and student of Woody Allen. His movies are easy to watch and easy to like, but maybe not always easy to remember. What makes Burns an important voice in cinema isn't so much what his films have to say, but rather that he continues to make movies at all. After bursting onto the scene as part of the '90s Sundance movement, Burns has quietly built a career as a true independent, finding new ways to shoot, finance, and distribute his work. He's a born filmmaker, someone who makes movies because he has to tell stories. He's written books, recorded commentaries, and given talks on how to have a career as a low budget filmmaker, and has devoted a big part of his career towards inspiring a new generation of filmmakers. He deserves to be celebrated.
1. The Brothers McMullen (1995)
2. She's the One (1996)
Desperado, or Kevin Smith graduating from Clerks to Mallrats), Burns' sophomore feature is essentially a re-do of his first film, only with Hollywood stars (including Jennifer Aniston, Cameron Diaz, Amanda Peet, and a then-unknown Leslie Mann) and a studio budget of $3 million. He's reworking a lot of the themes of his previous effort with a higher gloss, more consistent performances, and an incredible soundtrack of original Tom Petty songs. Cameron Diaz is especially good as a woman who comes between Burns and his brother, once again played by Mike McGlone. She did such interesting work in the '90s before being sucked up into the glossy machine of romantic comedies. She's the One lacks the homemade charm and some of the honesty of McMullen, but it's a better movie in most ways.
3. No Looking Back (1998)
4. Sidewalks of New York (2001)
5. Looking for Kitty (2004)
This is probably my least favorite movie on this list, though not because it's bad. It's a dramedy about two men (Burns and David Krumholtz) learning to accept loss told through the lens of a shaggy private eye buddy movie. It's charming enough and the performances are good; it just feels like a retread of Burns' previous efforts in a lot of ways. What makes it essential in the director's filmography is that it's a movie made in the wake of a bigger project falling through, shot on the cheap in run-and-gun style on the streets of New York. What started as a style Burns adopted on McMullen out of necessity is one he would return to here. Shortly after this, it would just become the way Burns shoots movies.
6. Purple Violets (2007)
7. Newlyweds (2011)
8. The Fitzgerald Family Christmas (2012)