Swedes and movie buffs, especially fans of Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol and John Wick, were shocked to learn of Michael Nyqvist’s death at the age of 56 on 27th June.
I discovered him through some of his most popular Swedish films. Ironically, the news of his passing came out while I was finishing the Millenium trilogy, which had catapulted the Swedish actor to international fame.
And so I wanted to rewatch his films and catch up with most of his works. Naturally, I couldn’t watch everything due to lack of time and availability, and some of those I watched were hard to get. But I’m lucky to have a native Swede and a big movie fan as a partner, so I thank Matt for all the help and patience throughout this month! 💕
Today, one month from his passing, I’m proposing my personal top 20 films with Michael Nyqvist. My ranking is based on a combination of the films’ quality, Nyqvist’s performances and the relevance of his roles.
My Top 20 Michael Nyqvist Films
20. Among Us (Änglavakt, 2010)
When their son falls into a coma after an accident, Ernst (Nyqvist) remains rational while his wife Cecilia (Izabella Scorupco) is desperate for a deeper meaning, especially after meeting a mysterious stranger who seems to have special powers.
What could have been a significant film ultimately falls flat, but I think it’s still worth mentioning Nyqvist’s part as the rational man who doesn’t believe in supernatural powers, an attitude akin to my own.
19. We Can Be Heroes! (Bäst i Sverige!, 2002)
Marcello (Ariel Petsonk) is a bullied kid who dreams of becoming a pilot, in contrast with his parents’ desires, but thanks to his new classmate Fatima (Zamand Hägg), he starts finding his courage.
The film’s premise is sweet, although the final execution is rather bland. Nyqvist is Giuseppe, Marcello’s dad, and he’s the best thing in this movie. He interprets the classic Italian stereotype, a macho obsessed with football, and that’s what makes him funny. Interestingly, Nyqvist was really half-Italian.
18. A Serious Game (Den allvarsamma leken, 2016)
This film, based on a novel by Hjalmar Söderberg, tells the story of journalist Arvid (Sverrir Gudnason) and Lydia (Karin Franz Körlof) who consume their love while they’re both married to others, which leads to trouble.
I had high expectations of this movie because I love historical dramas and I’m a fan of Gudnason, but unfortunately, it turned out to be bland. Nyqvist appears as Markel, Arvid’s boss at the journal, and I think he was one of the few pleasant characters to watch. In fact, the actor won a Guldbagge (the most famous film awards in Sweden) for this supporting role.
17. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011)
This series of action flicks needs no introduction. In this instalment, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his team need to stop Kurt Hendricks (Nyqvist), a Swedish-Russian nuclear strategist, from using the Russian nuclear codes he stole to initiate a global war.
I’m not a fan of this genre, but it was still enjoyable to watch. Despite Nyqvist being notable for this role, I am not ranking this higher because I was disappointed by his rather small amount of screen-time and by its ending.
16. The Guy in the Grave Next Door (Grabben i graven bredvid, 2002)
Desirée (Elisabet Carlsson), a librarian and modern city woman, falls in love with Benny (Nyqvist), a farmer whom she met while visiting her husband’s grave. Their love will only survive if they overcome personal differences and social prejudice.
This movie – based on a novel by Katarina Mazetti – is nothing memorable, but Nyqvist shines as the good-natured Benny who can’t let go of his country life. The actor’s performance is both funny and emotional, and he deservedly won a Guldbagge for Best Actor in a Leading Role.
15. The Girl in the Book (2015)
Alice (Emily VanCamp), a book editor working in a publishing house, is forced to confront her past when Milan (Nyqvist), a bestselling author, reappears in her life.
It’s not a great film, and the ending concerning Alice’s character was pretty disappointing. Nyqvist plays a difficult character as there seems to be nothing redeemable about him. However, it was interesting to see him in such a role.
14. Kennedy’s Brain (Kennedys Hirn, 2010)
This German-Swedish co-production is based on a novel by Henning Mankell, the Nordic noir author famous for creating Wallander. Louise Cantor (Iris Berben) finds Henrik (Andreas Wilson), her journalist son, dead in his apartment, but doesn’t accept it as suicide. Thus, she sets off to Africa and finds herself right in the middle of the scandal her son had been investigating before his death.
Nyqvist plays Lars Hakansson, a member of the Swedish embassy in Mozambique. He only appears in the second part of this TV movie, but what makes this worth a mention is that his character is part of the final twist in the thriller.
13. The Black Pimpernel (Svarta nejlikan, 2007)
Based on a real person, this movie is about Harald Edelstam (Nyqvist), the Swedish ambassador in Chile who saved thousands of people from execution after Pinochet’s coup, by taking them to his embassy and sending them off to Sweden.
While I think this film is just average, I liked Nyqvist’s performance as the heroic ambassador who risks his job and his life to protect people of various nationalities.
12. The Girl King (2015)
This is a film based on the life of Queen Kristina of Sweden (Malin Buska), focusing on her tomboyish character, her interest in Descartes, her Catholic belief as opposed to Sweden’s Lutheranism, and her rumoured sexual relationship with Countess Ebba Sparre (Sarah Gadon), her lady-in-waiting.
Nyqvist is Chancellor Axel Oxenstierna, the man who trains her to become a queen. He’s more interested in Sweden’s future than Kristina’s, so he tries to impose Lutheranism and a strict behaviour on her. While this movie is nowhere near great, I still think it’s worth watching, and it doesn’t deserve all the negative reviews.
11. Europa Report (2013)
A group of astronauts are on their way to Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons, on a mission to find traces of life, but disturbing events occur which are recorded on the spaceship’s cameras.
This is the most engrossing and chilling film I’ve seen in a while. Nyqvist plays Andrei Blok, a Russian engineer who is clearly the most affected by what goes on in and around the ship. I think he was the most interesting character, although all six astronauts turn out to be heroes in their own way.
10. John Wick (2014)
Retired hitman John Wick (Keanu Reeves) returns to the underworld to avenge what he lost in his life and comes across Viggo Tarasov (Nyqvist), a Russian crime boss who wants to protect his son Iosef (Alfie Allen), the perpetrator of Wick’s ire.
I liked this film more than I expected: it’s visually appealing, and the fighting scenes are slick and exciting to watch. Although Nyqvist was often typecasted in such roles in American movies (unfortunately), I liked this villain because he respects Wick and doesn’t immediately go all out against him. Therefore I thought he was a rather atypical antagonist.
9. Home Sweet Home (Hem ljuva hem, 2001)
Nyqvist is Kent, an unemployed and ill-tempered man who inflicts abuse on his wife Sara (Kristina Törnqvist) and son Stefan (Anastasios Soulis). Until one day, the kid acts on impulse against his father and the man ends up in a wheelchair.
Kent’s abuse is hard to bear, and you can’t help but root for the victims. However, thanks to flashbacks of their better days and Kent’s spiralling into despair, it becomes easier to understand his character. I loved Nyqvist in this complex role, and I think this movie deserves more attention.
8. Mother of Mine (Äideistä parhain, 2005)
Eero (Topi Majaniemi), among thousands of Finnish children put in Swedish foster homes during WWII, arrives at the Jönssons’ farm but finds it hard to adapt. He misses his mum and his foster mum, Signe (Maria Lundqvist), is not very welcoming.
Nyqvist plays Hjalmar, the foster dad. It is only a supporting role (which earned him another Guldbagge nomination), but it’s the most pleasant character in the whole movie and provides a good balance when opposed to Lundqvist’s strict figure.
7. Suddenly (Underbara älskade, 2006)
Lasse (Nyqvist) and his teenage son Jonas (Anastasios Soulis) survive a car accident in which the wife and the younger son die, and the two grow distant as they grieve in different ways.
It’s a quiet, visually-appealing film about the serious subject of grief. Nyqvist’s character evokes strong emotions as he’s at first incapable of dealing with the pain of loss, thus alienating his son.
6. The Millennium Trilogy (2009)
Based on the famous Stieg Larsson novels, Nyqvist is Mikael Blomkvist, an investigative journalist who unexpectedly teams up with the young and asocial hacker Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace).
While Rapace is clearly the star of the series, Nyqvist’s character is interesting to follow as a journalist who’s ready to do anything to expose the truth. His relationship with Lisbeth is affectionate, and it develops in an unconventional way.
5. Breaking out (Vägen ut, 1999)
Actor Reine (Björn Kjellman) quits his theatre job, and when he takes up another job in Kumla prison, he tries to set up a play acted by some of the prisoners. Diego (Nyqvist) and other inmates join in, but their intention is to use the performance as a way to escape prison.
This film, chock-full of great actors (Shanti Roney takes the cake here), is a mix of tense drama and heartwarming scenes. This is one of Nyqvist’s first roles worth mentioning which showcases his ability to alternate between serious and comedic acting.
4. Together (Tillsammans, 2000)
It’s the mid-70s, and Elisabeth (Lisa Lindgren) flees from her drunken and abusive husband Rolf (Nyqvist), finding refuge at her brother’s (Gustaf Hammarsten), who lives in a leftist community.
Despite not being exactly a positive character, Nyqvist’s Rolf is fun to watch, especially in one scene where he’s in a Chinese restaurant with his kids and cannot contain his anger against the staff. This role earned the actor a Guldbagge nomination as a supporting actor.
3. My So-Called Father (Min så kallade pappa, 2014)
Pregnant Malin (Vera Vitali), abandoned by her boyfriend (Sverrir Gudnason), tries to reunite with her estranged father Martin (Nyqvist), but before she has the chance to reveal herself, he suffers a stroke and wakes up with memory loss.
Nyqvist’s Martin is at turns mean and funny as he has to learn everything from scratch. Thanks also to Malin’s dual role of daughter and mother to her newly-found dad, this is a sweet film about parenthood which, I think, deserves more attention.
2. The Colony (Colonia, 2015)
Lena (Emma Watson), looking for her abducted boyfriend Daniel (Daniel Brühl) in a Chile just overtaken by Pinochet, infiltrates in the heinous Colonia Dignidad, an inescapable sect managed by Paul Schäfer (Nyqvist).
This film, based on real events, is gripping from start to end and both Watson and Brühl are great, but Nyqvist is superb as the malevolent preacher guilty of atrocious abuse. In my opinion, this is the best villain role Nyqvist ever did, and it also earned him a nomination for a German Film Award.
1. As It is in Heaven (Så som i himmelen, 2004)
Daniel Daréus (Nyqvist), a renowned music conductor forced to retire due to cardiac problems, goes back to his childhood village in Norrland, where he ends up directing the local church choir.
This Oscar-nominated movie about a small community’s coming together is marked by its beautiful setting and simplicity. Although there are a handful of other actors that shine in this film, Nyqvist’s performance is deeply moving as he portrays a moody man in crisis who falls in love and helps people find their voice.
I’m concluding the post with “Gabriella’s song” which is sung by one of the characters in As It is in Heaven. It’s immensely beautiful with touching lyrics about life, and in this video, it is accompanied by clips from the film.
R.I.P. Michael Nyqvist (8 November 1960 – 27 June 2017)