Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Pointless Lists: Top 10 Portrayals of Real Women

In my last post I reviewed the 2002 film Frida (here) which is a biopic about the late Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. I gushed about how amazing Salma Hayek was in the title role. This got me to thinking about a number of other great performances of real women that have graced our screens. Of course, my next thought was where does Hayek’s rank, if at all. This is no definitive list as it is only based on movies I have seen. Still, these are my…

Top 10 Portrayals of Real Women

Honorable Mentions: 
(alphabetically by actress’ last name)
Hope Davis as Joyce Pekar in American Splendor
Faye Dunaway as Bonnie Parker in Bonnie and Clyde
Mariel Hemingway as Dorothy Stratten in Star ‘80
Lynn Whitfield as Josephine Baker in The Josephine Baker Story

10. Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth II
The Queen
As the iconic monarch Helen Mirren brings tremendous grace and dignity to the screen. Watching her really feels like we are looking at Queen Elizabeth II wrestle with the idea of how to address her nation about the passing of Princess Diana whom she is known have her differences with. Mirren was also outstanding as Alma Reville, the wife of The Master of Suspense in 2012’s largely lackluster Hitchcock.

9. Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe
My Week with Marilyn
Williams captures Marilyn’s fragility and the manner in which she wields her sexuality as the only weapon she feels comfortable using. It’s remarkable work that threatens to reduce Monroe to a caricature but manages enough humanity to make her a sympathetic figure. (Review)

8. Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher
The Iron Lady
As usual, Meryl Streep keeps us engaged. She again demonstrates her ability to get lost within the character and draw out both their despair and their dignity. Like a number of others on this list, she also breathed life into another historic figure. In her case, she was delightful as culinary legend Julia Child in 2009’s Julie & Julia. (The Iron Lady Review)

7. Cathy Moriarty as Vicki La Motta
Raging Bull
Moriarty quite literally came from nowhere to earn an Oscar nomination for playing the wife of boxing great Jake La Motta opposite Robert De Niro. It was a fiery performance nearly as raw and visceral as her iconic co-star.

6. Jennifer Lopez as Selena Quintanilla
Lopez is simply phenomenal as the Mexican-American singer who achieved superstar status in Mexico and appeared to be on the verge of a breakthrough in the United States before being gunned down by the president of her fan club. She brings an abundance of energy to her role and makes us love her. This is still her best work.

5. Reese Witherspoon as June Carter
Walk the Line
It takes a tough woman to handle The Man in Black. In Walk the Line, Witherspoon gives us that plus a whole lot more. She was ridiculous feisty and perfect all the way through. By the way, give her extra kudos for doing all of her own singing.

4. Salma Hayek as Frida Kahlo
Salma Hayek is an unstoppable force of nature. She emanates an irresistible flame that torches the screen. Aided by a prominent unibrow, Hayek is simply impossible to look away from. It is a magnificent performance starting with the very first time we see her.

3. Hilary Swank as Brandon Teena
Boys Don’t Cry
Swank’s role is, in my mind, the second most challenging on this list. After all, she’s playing a woman who isn’t sure she was really meant to be one. Swank does a masterful job making us feel empathy for a person whose actions eventually cause pain in others. Ten years later, Swank would also play famed aviator Amelia Earhart. (Review)

2. Angela Bassett as Tina Turner
What’s Love Got to Do with It
Right before our eyes, Angela Bassett morphs from being a shy country girl from Nutbush, Tennessee to one of the most iconic women in the history of American music who also happens to be desperately trying to figure out how not to be a punching bag for the husband that made her a star. It’s a powerhouse performance if ever there was one and I will go to my grave saying Bassett was robbed of the Oscar for Best Actress in 1993. In a quieter role just one year earlier, she was also excellent as Betty Shabazz, the wife of slain Civil Rights leader Malcolm X.

1. Charlize Theron as Aileen Wuornos
The one role on this list more inherently challenging than Swank’s in Boys Don’t Cry is Theron’s, here. Physically, she literally transformed herself. Always the glamorous sort with classic Hollywood beauty, she was just about unrecognizable. For the role, she gained thirty pounds and shaved her eyebrows. And that’s before all the makeup and prosthetics were applied to her. But that was only the beginning. She still had to sell us on the idea that she was a serial killer. Theron certainly managed to do just that with a flat-out disturbing performance.

I’m sure I have missed one or a dozen. Let me know some of your faves.

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