Perfect for every part (part deux)

DISCLAIMER: Pay no attention to the voices in your head that may have told you this was going to be a definitive — or even vaguely highbrow — list of actresses who seem right for every role. These voices, which may have some really good ideas sometimes, will steer you wrong here in a blog where the author ranks both “Young Frankenstein” and “Apocalypse Now” in the Greatest Movies Ever Made category.

Yeesh. Glad we got that out of the way. Now I’ll forge ahead to part two of my list, a tribute to the actresses who seem to make every character their own. Frances McDormand, of course, is our starter — and not just because Ebert said so. She’s a Coen brothers staple (she’s, uh, married to Joel), but she’s had an outstanding career outside Coenland that includes Oscar nods for drama parts (“North Country,” “Mississippi Burning”) and coming-of-age tales (“Almost Famous”). Whatever she does, she does well, and that makes her seem like a great new discovery every time I see her.

And the remaining nine actresses are:

  • Amy Adams — Amy, Amy, Amy. My love for Amy dates back to “Junebug,” when she proved a bubbly chatterbox could have depth. Then again, she gives depth to all her distinctive characters, from the serious bit parts (“Charlie Wilson’s War”) to fairy tale musicals (“Enchanted”) to smart-dumb comedies (“Talladega Nights”). She just can’t keep her darn light hidden.
  • Penélope Cruz — When Almodovar introduced Cruz in “Todo Sobre Mi Madre,” the world fell in love, and so did I. Inevitably she got thrust into numerous romantic comedies, but then she dared to go off the grid, take serious roles (i.e., “Elegy”) and, in “Blow” and “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” shred the notion that she was just some Spanish Sandra Bullock. 
  • Maggie Gyllenhaal — There’s just something about Gyllenhaal. It’s not that she oozes sexuality (she does) or that she’s possessed of a strange otherworldly kind of beauty (she is). No, I think it’s that she’s willing to get naked, physically and emotionally, to find her characters. From mainstream parts (“World Trade Center,” “Dark Knight”) to the really bold stuff (“Secretary,” “Sherrybaby”), she goes all in every time.
  • Milla Jovovich — I’ll catch hell for including a supermodel here, and I know it. So Jovovich started off as a hot action starlet and not an Oscar contender — what of it? She’s got real acting chops (she lit up the screen in “Dummy” and “You Stupid Man”) and she’s not afraid to take on parts that are fun and funny and action-oriented. Laugh if you must, but Milla’s more than a pretty face.
  • Queen Latifah — Enter controversial choice No. 2. You may be tempted to think I chose her to fill some sort of racial quota. As if. Dana Owens ended up here because she deserves to be. Here is an actress who has spent too long making terrible movies bearable (“Bringing Down the House”) and too long playing sidekicks (“Stranger Than Fiction”). Give her a lead in something like “Last Holiday,” “Chicago” or “Set It Off” and she’ll surprise you. She’s got versatility, and it’s about time Hollywood gave her more opportunities to show it.
  • Laura Linney — Linney’s the best actress who will never win an Oscar. Why? She’s too good at being plain people, and plain people rarely get gold statues. Still, that hardly means this versatile actress plays one character over and over. She does something a little different every time, sometimes stepping out of the indie box (“Breach,” “The Exorcism of Emily Rose”). She’s one to watch.
  • Kate Winslet — Kate Winslet’s the silver screen equivalent of a extreme athlete. She’s totally unafraid to take chances, consistently picking parts that involve emotional or physical nudity. As a result, she’s done erotica, fantasy (“Heavenly Creatures,” her big break), literary adaptations (the best was “Little Children”) and everything in-between. She’s just astounding, pure and simple.
  • Renee Zellwegger — This cherubic Texan has picked some doozies in her career (re: “New in Town”), but she always rises above the most derivative scripts. Bonus: She’s fearless in the face of the unknown, be it musicals or Civil War-era fare, and she attacks every part with enthusiasm. There’s a lot to be said for enthusiasm when it’s backed by real talent.

As always, bloggers, I await your suggestions…

6 Responses

  1. I agree with all of those choices short of Renee Zellweger. Most of her work is good, but she isn’t always great herself, though in general I agree that she is incredibly talented.

    I would add Sigourney Weaver and Angelina Jolie to your list. :)

    • Sigourney Weaver … good one. Why I always forget about her I have no idea, since she has been in several movies I love (including “Aliens,” “Galaxy Quest” and “Snow Cake”). I’m still trying very, very hard to like Angelina Jolie. Or perhaps I should say that I’m a fan of old-school Angelina Jolie — you know, “Hackers,” “Foxfire,” “Gia.” But “Changeling” made me like her a bit more … even if her lipstick did not indicate a state of intense grief.

      M. Carter

  2. I like Amy and yes, what a performance in Junebug! Just a small tidbit, she used to work at Chanhassen Dinner Theater, where my church used to hold its services before it had its own building. Anyhoo, I’d like to add Cate Blanchett on your list. She elevates everything she’s been in, even the dreadful Indy 4.

    • A so-close encounter with Amy — what I wouldn’t give. She just has that indefinable quality that makes me want to watch her/hang out with her. Cate Blanchett’s also good. I can see her as a choice … “Elizabeth” … “Veronica Guerin” … “Notes on a Scandal” … “The Gift.” A very impressive and diverse body of work.

      M. Carter

      • On a related note, have you seen Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day? It’s got Frances, Amy and Lee Pace (one of the very few American actors I like!) I just might rent it this weekend, been wanting to see that forever!

      • Yes, when I heard “Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day” contained the trifecta — Lee Pace rounds that out nicely — I had to see it. How great is Lee? He’s been in two of my very favorite cancelled shows (“Wonderfalls” and “Pushing Daisies”), but you can’t beat what he did in “Solider’s Girl.”

        M. Carter

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