What Are Cate Blanchett's Best Movies?
In this week's Total Recall, we count down the best-reviewed work of the Monuments Men star.
It's only February, but Cate Blanchett is already having a pretty good year, riding high on her sixth Academy Award nomination (this one coming for her work in Blue Jasmine) and her third Golden Globe, as well as a busy cinematic slate that finds her in three movies to be released in 2014: How to Train Your Dragon 2, The Hobbit: There and Back Again, and this weekend's The Monuments Men, which surrounds her with an ace cast (including George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, and John Goodman) in a WWII caper about a real-life group of Allied soldiers trying to save cultural artifacts from the Nazi regime. We're celebrating Blanchett's success the best way we know how: by taking a fond look back at some of the many critical highlights in her growing filmography. It's time for Total Recall!
10. I'm Not There
Bob Dylan didn't get where he is today by yielding to anyone's preconceived notions, so it only makes sense that when director Todd Haynes decided to put together a biopic about the rock legend, he came up with the defiantly weird I'm Not There, which rounds up a diverse array of actors (including Blanchett, Heath Ledger, Richard Gere, and Marcus Carl Franklin) to portray Dylan at various points (and under different names) during his long and varied career. Haynes' approach proved understandably off-putting for some confused critics, but for others, it made perfectly imperfect sense; as Kelly Vance wrote for the East Bay Express, "I'm Not There is a very special kind of life and times. It leaves ordinary musical biopics like Ray and Walk the Line and Beyond the Sea in the dust."
For almost 20 years, people wouldn't stop asking Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and Harrison Ford about the odds of a new Indiana Jones movie -- and then when we finally got one, it turned out to be Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, which added aliens and nuked fridges to a previously sacrosanct popcorn trilogy. But while few people would argue that Skull represents the best of the series, it did at least give us Cate Blanchett as something cinema hadn't had nearly enough of since the 1980s: a wonderfully nasty Russian villain. "The character and plot contrivances are dumber than ever," the Chicago Reader's Jonathan Rosenbaum cheerfully admitted, "but this is basically vaudeville, not narrative, and the thrills keep coming."
For some filmgoers, the mere sight of corseted royalty is enough to provoke a groan or a bored eyeroll -- but while Shekhar Kapur's historical romance Elizabeth is absolutely a grand period piece, it's infused with enough red-blooded romance, violence, and treacherous intrigue to fill an action thriller, all in the service of a sweeping story following the 16th-century rise of Queen Elizabeth. Blanchett picked up a Best Actress Academy Award nomination for her work in the title role, and it's easy to see why; as Janet Maslin wrote for the New York Times, she "brings spirit, beauty and substance to what otherwise might have been turned into a vacuous role."
With a novel or a television show, it's possible -- but still difficult -- to base a compelling work around the antics of an emotionally hollow sociopath like Tom Ripley, the fascinating (albeit altogether icky) character invented by author Patricia Highsmith. On the big screen, pulling off that feat is a much trickier proposition, and one that director Anthony Minghella attempted at his own peril with 1999's The Talented Mr. Ripley. How do you make a lying, thieving murderer like Ripley relatable? In Minghella's hands, the answer was essentially "you don't" -- you just hand the part to a talented actor (Matt Damon) and surround him with an equally capable supporting cast (including Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Cate Blanchett). "It's a gorgeously unsettling film," wrote Peter Rainer for New York Magazine. "You can hide in the shadows, but luminescence exposes who you are, and the only escape is into another identity."
6. The Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit
Left to their own devices, Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies would have dominated this list -- which, given the depth and breadth of Blanchett's impressively eclectic filmography, didn't seem fair. She's never been the focal point of the series anyway, but her appearances as the ethereal Galadriel, Lady of Lothlorien have helped provide a narrative throughline -- as well as setting up some of the most important events in cinematic Middle-earth.
Oscar Wilde was known for his sparkling wit, and it's to writer/director Oliver Parker's extreme credit that he preserved that quality in spades with his adaptation of the playwright's An Ideal Husband. Wilde's way with words was always wielded in service of something more meaningful, however, and Parker deserves even greater praise for not losing sight of that subtext here -- as well as for rounding up a terrific cast that included Julianne Moore, Minnie Driver, Rupert Everett, and (of course) Blanchett. If you're in the mood for a period romantic comedy, you could do far worse; as Maitland McDonagh wrote for TV Guide, "It's lavish, clever entertainment, a welcome opportunity to laugh without shame."
A modern spin on the sort of mean-spirited melodrama that Joan Crawford and Bette Davis might once have chewed through, Notes on a Scandal stars Blanchett opposite Judi Dench in the tale of two London schoolteachers whose friendship teeters on the precipice of one woman's terrible secrets and the other's seething misanthropy. Fashioned from luridly pulpy ingredients but elevated by its powerful cast (including Bill Nighy as Blanchett's husband), Scandal wowed critics like Manohla Dargis of the New York Times, who wrote, "Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett star in a misanthropic game of cat and mouse from which no one emerges unscathed, including saps like us who think we're watching a film about other people."
3. The Aviator
There aren't many stars with enough chutzpah -- or talent -- to try pulling off a serious Katharine Hepburn impression on the big screen, but Cate Blanchett worked her way onto that short list by playing the Hollywood legend in Martin Scorsese's The Aviator, a sprawling three-hour biopic following the life and times of all-American weirdo Howard Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio). Rounded out with an appropriately massive ensemble cast that included Alan Alda, Alec Baldwin, Jude Law, Willem Dafoe, Ian Holm, Kate Beckinsale, and Gwen Stefani, The Aviator practically dared critics not to shower it with praise -- a dare that most scribes weren't willing to take. "While we leave the film without much more of an understanding of Hughes' legendary obsessions than we did upon entering," admitted Moira Macdonald of the Seattle Times, "we nonetheless leave with a sense of having been glamorously, thoroughly entertained -- which, these days, is a rare pleasure."
2. Little Fish
The drama about the noble-yet-troubled (but still Hollywood-lovely) drug addict struggling to overcome a dark past is its own subgenre at this point, and on paper, Little Fish -- starring Blanchett as a woman whose efforts to start a new life are complicated by her ongoing attachment to a number of unhealthy influences, past and present -- might seem like just another award-baiting weepie. But thanks to sensitive direction from Rowan Woods (working from a script by Jacqueline Perske) and an outstanding cast that found Blanchett supported by Hugo Weaving and Sam Neill, the end result feels like what ComingSoon's Edward Douglas called "Realistic characters brought to life by dramatic performances so strong you forget you're watching actors."
1. Blue Jasmine
Few among us have experienced the sort of casually absurd luxury afforded Jeanette "Jasmine" Francis (Blanchett) prior to the opening scenes of Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine. But even if we can't really empathize with the socialite's existence, just about everyone has felt the painful chaos and confusion of a life unmoored by bad decisions -- and even though Jasmine ultimately turns out to be one of Allen's less likable protagonists (which is definitely saying something), Blanchett infuses the character with a palpable, aching humanity that elevates the film into the upper reaches of the director's filmography. As Chris Vognar wrote for the Dallas Morning News, "Blanchett excels at every turn, from the haughty airs and headstrong sense of entitlement to the fragile and inevitable disintegration that made the hair on my arms stand up."
In case you were wondering, here are Blanchett's top 10 non-LOTR movies according RT users' scores:
1. Elizabeth -- 87%
2. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou -- 83%
3. Notes on a Scandal -- 83%
4. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button -- 80%
5. The Talented Mr. Ripley -- 80%
6. Blue Jasmine -- 80%
7. The Aviator -- 79%
8. Paradise Road -- 79%
9. Heaven -- 78%
10. Babel -- 77%
Finally, here's a pre-fame Blanchett in a commercial for Tim Tam chocolate biscuits: