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Three Underappreciated Actresses

August 27, 2010

It’s the ladies’ turn.  Here are three incredible actresses who have yet to strike Oscar or commerical gold.  It’s long overdue.

3.) Robin Wright Penn

This may be yet another case of personal life overshadowing a star’s career.  While ex-husband Sean has achieved accolades aplenty despite his rocky history of temper tantrums and diva behavior, his overlooked spouse has been acting his socks off for decades.   She’s just landed the prime role of elder femme fatale Erika Berger in the US adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Memorable Roles:

The Playboys (1992)

Wright was stunning as a single mother who fights against the disapproval of her small Irish community, while still earning the attentions of both a traveling actor (Aidan Quinn) and the local policeman (Albert Finney).

White Oleander (2002)

A brave supporting role as Starr, the white trash foster parent of main character Astrid.  She manages to make the hideous end results of Astrid’s brief stay with her jigsaw family more than a one-dimensional scene-chewing escapade, holding her own alongside equally great female performances by Michelle Pfieffer and Renee Zellweger.

The Private Lives of Pippa Lee (2009)

Based on the awesome novel by Rebecca Miller (playwright Arthur Miller’s daughter and Daniel Day Lewis’s wife), Wright was incredible as the reformed bad girl facing a mid-life crisis.  Dealing with her own ailing husband’s betrayal, she manages to find strength in her individuality, reaching out to find support in the most unusual of places.

2.) Kelly MacDonald

This Scottish actress has been working her way up through the Hollywood ranks ever since her breakout performance in Gosford Park.  She’s not a traditional beauty, but her unique combination of innocence and strength is captivating.  She’s be seen this fall as one of the great ensemble cast members in the Martin Scorsese- produced Boardwalk Empire.

Memorable Roles:

Gosford Park (2000)

As the suffering maid to Maggie Smith’s insufferable Lady Trentham, MacDonald was the only voice of truth and sanity in the tricky aristocratic world so aptly portrayed in the late Robert Altman’s red herring mystery. 

Cousin Bette (1999)

As the grating and oblivious Hortense, who ends up driving her poor titular aunt into the realm of base depravity, MacDonald does her best to be unlikable, but her acting is top notch.  Hortense’s love for the poor and misled Count Steinbock would end up leading her on the road to the poorhouse, but MacDonald’s performance never falters.

No Country for Old Men (2007)

MacDonald’s small role as the able and tragic wife to Josh Brolin’s morally ambiguous Llewellen Moss was a stunning example of how small doesn’t necessarily equate with forgettable.  Her character would pay the ultimate price for her husband’s accidents of fate, leaving the audience wanting more.

1.) Toni Collette

This Australian actress has been wowing audiences since the early 90s, and can currently be seen on the Showtime original series The United States of Tara, playing a housewife with multiple personalities.

Memorable Roles:

Muriel’s Wedding (1994)

As the lead character in PJ Hogan’s cult classic, Collette was the underdog you couldn’t help but cheer on.  Muriel Heslop’s sad existence was only made complete to the soundtrack of ABBA, and with a little help from her friends, she eventually realized she didn’t need that fairytale prince after all.

Emma (1996)

As Emma’s pet project Harriet Smith, Collette made an awkward and well-meaning girl outshine the title character.  Projecting Harriet’s innate sweetness and charm, Collette turned one of Austen’s most one-note characters into a real person.

Changing Lanes (2002)

In a small but vital role as the secretary to Ben Affleck’s leading man, she managed to make what could have been a sidelined character into an integral part of the movie’s machinery.  It’s easy to see what Affleck’s character Banek saw in her intelligent firecracker Michelle.

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