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Actress Julianne Moore has been impressing audiences and critics since her breakthrough performance in Robert Altman’s 1993 ensemble drama Short Cuts. In honor of Julianne Moore’s latest critically acclaimed new Alzheimer’s drama Still Alice (which just won her a Golden Globe award) hitting theaters this Friday, we look back at my top 3 favorite performances by the versatile actress.
3. Boogie Nights (1997)
After establishing herself in indie features like Safe and mainstream fare like The Lost World: Jurassic Park, Moore received her first Oscar nomination for best supporting actress for her work in writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson’s sprawling ’70’s/’80’s porn drama Boogie Nights. Anderson assembles an all-star cast of characters, including Mark Wahlberg, Burt Reynolds (also in an Oscar-nominated role), Heather Graham, Don Cheadle, William H. Macy, John C. Reily, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman, just to name a few. Among such a heavyweight group, Moore stands out as the maternal porn actress Amber Waves. Moore brings an authenticity to Waves that feels honest, by never judging the character. She is a woman who is desperate to be reunited with her son, but has difficulty overcoming her addictions and the social stigma of her profession. She transfers that maternal love to the other actors she works with. It’s a risky performance that could easily turn campy, but Moore grounds her in a raw vulnerability. She exposes herself body and soul, allowing us to see a woman who wants to give love and be loved in return. A vital and memorable performance.
2. Magnolia (1999)
After earning rave reviews for her work in Boogie Nights, Moore continued to impress in varied roles in movies like The Big Lebowski, An Ideal Husband, and The End of the Affair (for which she earned a best actress Oscar nomination), which displayed the range she has for tackling comedy and drama in equal dexterity. Then came her stunning work in another Paul Thomas Anderson collaboration, Magnolia, an ambitious and bold ensemble piece about the discourse of fathers and children and the unlikely cosmic connections life brings forth in the San Fernando Valley in California. Moore takes on the role of Linda Partridge, the younger wife of her husband Earl (Jason Robards), who is dying of cancer. In another rich all-star cast, which includes Phillip Seymour Hoffman, John C. Reily, Willaim H. Macy, Tom Cruise (in a memorable Oscar-nominated performance), and Phillip Baker Hall, Moore stands out in a complex and moving performance. Moore is pure, raw emotion as Linda, whose regret of marrying her older husband for money has morphed into genuine love in his dying days. She creates another memorable portrait of a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown, due to the guilt she carries from her life decisions. Moore has never been as emotionally exposed as she is in this movie, playing the character at high pitch and never allowing Linda to become a caricature. She is an actress who finds strengths in the weaknesses of her characters and Linda is a prime role for her. There is an unpredictability to her performance that keeps the audience on edge. Moore’s work resonates and makes you contemplate what happens to Linda long after the credits have rolled.
1. Far from Heaven (2002)
By this point, Julianne Moore had already proven she was one of the best actresses working in Hollywood and had built a reputation for bringing honesty to the complex women she portrayed. All of these roles lead to what I think is her finest hour as an actress in writer/director Todd Haynes’s (she first collaborated with Haynes in Safe) 1950’s-set melodrama Far from Heaven. Moore is front and center as Cathy Whitaker, a suburban housewife, whose life is turned upside down when she discovers her husband (played effectively by Dennis Quaid) is a homosexual. Out of grief and confusion, Cathy forms a friendship with her African-American gardener (Dennis Haysbert, in a touching performance), which causes her to become a social outcast. The genius of the movie is that Haynes is taking a Douglas Sirk-style melodrama from the ’50’s and viewing its themes of homosexuality, infidelity, racism, and women’s societal roles through a modern gaze. Moore brings a subtlety to the role that conveys Cathy’s heartbreak and realization that the world around her is a facade. Moore takes a challenging role and makes it look effortless by grounding the character’s vulnerability and making Cathy’s journey relatable. The performance is always in danger of turning campy, but Moore’s quiet touch allows the audience to understand the difficulties women and minorities faced during this period of time. She was rightfully nominated for a best actress Oscar for a challenging and carefully calibrated work, which Moore pulls off with astonishing grace. Instead of the openly emotional performances of my two other choices for Moore, here she provides a more internal portrayal, due to the repression of society in the ’50’s, which is thematic in the story. Cathy Whitaker is a heartbreaking and tragic character, which Moore brings to vital life in a performance that lingers in the memory. Her best and most moving work to-date.