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The Five Actresses I’d Watch in Anything

November 30, 2009

We’ve seen the gents, now it is the ladies’ turn…

5.) Catherine Keener

 Catherine Keener worked her way up through the extra ranks in the late 80s and early 90s, but it was in Nicole Holofcener’s amazing slice of life film Walking and Talking that this indie queen made her mark.  Keener has a gift for making audiences believe that the characters she inhabits are truly REAL people.  She stole every scene she was in when slinking through Being John Malkovich, and became a mainstream comedy queen with The 40 Year Old Virgin.  Now, she’s wisely choosing to play smaller roles in interesting films.  She’s a mother figure in Where the Wild Things Are and up next… Percy Jackson’s mom in Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief.

Check out:  Walking and Talking, Your Friends and Neighbors, Lovely and Amazing, Capote, The 40 Year Old Virgin

Must SeeBeing John Malkovich

4.) Annette Bening

Annette Bening doesn’t work as much as she did in the 90s, but she should never be stereotyped as “Mrs. Warren Beatty”.  It takes a strong lady to corral one of film’s most notorious bachelors, and she no doubt did so based partly on her impressive talent.  Bening’s first leading role was as the Marquise De Mertueil in Valmont.  Unfortunately, Bening’s talent was overshadowed by Stephen Frears’s leading lady, Oscar-nominated Glenn Close, (playing the same role as Bening) in Dangerous Liasions.    After a scene-stealing bit part in Postcards from the Edge as a tough talking actress, Bening once again lit up the screen in The Grifters, holding her own against legend Anjelica Huston.   Her tough cookie gangster’s moll Virginia Hill in Bugsy was so convincing she managed to marry her co-star and live happily ever after (unlike the eponymous gangster).  Bening’s harried wife  in American Beauty was a study in veiled hypocrisy, and as the lead in Being Julia, she was the epitome of  the harried, fading star.    Bening hasn’t worked much in the past three years (I’m going to pretend the horrific re-make of The Women never existed), but it is quality and not quantity that counts.

Check outValmont, Postcards from the Edge, The American President, Richard III

Must seeThe Grifters, Bugsy

3.) Julianne Moore

Julianne Moore managed to make her small role in 1992’s The Hand that Rocks the Cradle one of the only reasons to see the movie.  Robert Altman wisely chose to make her one of the focal points in Short Cuts, one of his best films, and she even managed to steal scenes from Hugh Grant in the thankless girlfriend role in Nine Months.   Her portrayal of Amber Waves in Boogie Nights brought humanity and empathy to a film full of characters who were otherwise glorified hedonists.   She proved she could tackle the classics (and an English accent) in the adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband, and could still have fun in mainstream fare such as  Spielberg’s The Lost World.   Perhaps her finest performance is as the 50s housewife forced to confront her own fragile home life in Far from Heaven.

Check outThe Hand That Rocks the Cradle, Short Cuts, Surviving Picasso, Boogie Nights, Magnolia, The Hours, An Ideal Husband, Children of Men

Must see:  Far from Heaven

2.) Kate Winslet

 Kate Winslet’s first big role was in Peter Jackson’s stunning directorial debut, Heavenly Creatures.  Playing an unhinged teenager whose obsession with a self-created fantasy world leads to murder, it is fascinating to watch the beginning of what would be brilliant career journeys for both Winslet AND Jackson.   Winslet followed up Creatures with a powerhouse supporting performance as Marianne in Ang Lee’s Sense and Sensibility, earning her first Oscar nomination at the young age of  19.  James Cameron fought for her as his lead in Titanic, despite industry doubts of her star power.   She could have had any role after Titanic, but she chose to go for unique projects with well-written roles in films such as Iris, Quills and Finding Neverland.  Now in her mid-30s, she’s not afraid to play raw, vulnerable women such as Sarah Pierce in Little Children and April Wheeler in Revolutionary Road (the role that SHOULD have won her the Oscar, rather than her supporting part in the equally complex The Reader). 

Check outHeavenly Creatures, Quills, Finding Neverland, Romance and Cigarettes,  Little Children, The Reader

Must SeeSense and Sensibility, Revolutionary Road

1.) Cate Blanchett

Cate Blanchett isn’t afraid of a challenge.  She’s played one of history’s most dynamic queens, and won an Oscar for trying to capture one of Hollywood’s most elusive stars.  Blanchett’s first starring role was in Gillian Armstrong’s adaptation of the Booker prize winning novel Oscar and Lucinda.  She managed to hold her own against the equally dynamic Ralph Fiennes, giving that character a vulnerable and admirable charm and strength.  The very next year, she played Elizabeth I in Shekar Kepur’s visionary portrait of the legendary queen.  As Annie in Sam Raimi’s The Gift, she turns what could have been an average ghost story into a divinely watchable movie.  After becoming a nerd boy’s dream as Galadriel in The Lord of the Rings, she won her first (I’m going to predict now that there will be more) Oscar as Katherine Hepburn in Scorsese’s The Aviator.   As actress first, and movie star second,  it will be wonderful to see what she does with the role of Marian in Ridley Scott’s highly- anticipated Robin Hood, due for release this summer.

Check out:  The Gift,  The Lord of the Rings, Notes on a Scandal, Charlotte Gray

Must SeeOscar and Lucinda,  The Aviator, Elizabeth

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