My Leading Ladies

The Cheek is all about me. My life. Stuff I’ve done, places I’ve been, things I’ve lived through and just a smattering of the moments that have shaped me and made me the multitalented, highly educated and downright super swell guy I am today.

Stop laughing . . .

Anyway, after the Magnum opus that was my last post, I thought I’d come back today with something a bit on the sunnier, fresh-air side of life.

I love movies. Always have. The peaceful moments of my existence are embodied best in a quite evening at home with a DVD in the Pioneer and the lights out. And while there’s nothing wrong with the occasional lighthearted romantic comedy or a mindless blockbuster action movie, what I really enjoy are movies about interesting characters. Often called dramas, these presentations of honest people living real, complex lives in the midst of both the magnificent and the mundane turn my crank and drag me through the entire spectrum of emotions. I laugh. I cry. I escape for a couple hours and then slide reluctantly back into the real world, often having learned a thing or two about myself along the way. And making good character-driven movies take incredibly talented and versatile actors.

I got to thinking about all this last night while watching one such movie with my son, and our chat was still jogging upon the dewy grass track of my mind as I awoke this morning. So I decided to run with it and solidify a list of my favorite character actors to share with you, starting with the ladies. When I see any of these gals cast in a movie, it’s almost always a must-see. So here they are, my leading ladies, in no particular order:


Patricia Clarkson

She oozes talent from every pore. While most may not consider her a leading lady, I find that she brightens nearly every movie I’ve had the pleasure of seeing her in. I fell for her in The Green Mile. To watch her transform from a diseased and bedridden bag of bones into a beacon of light and redemption moved me. She stole the show, even if only for a brief few minutes. She did almost the same thing in The Station Agent. And then she melted my heart completely in Lars and the Real Girl.


Joan Allen

She never plays a weak character, every one a strong woman with poise and intelligence. Consider her as Bonnie Waitzkin, the protective yet compassionate mother to a chess prodigy in Searching for Bobby Fischer, or as the no-nonsense senator in The Contender. And who really wants to mess with Pamela Landy, the hard-as-nails agent with a heart of gold in the last two installments of the Bourne trilogy? She’s been in too many good movies to list here. As a leading lady, she’s not had much success. But she steals every scene she gets with her wit and charm. She’s spot on every time and a pleasure to watch.


Helen Hunt

I’ve loved her since Mad About You. She was the perfect foil for Paul Reiser, counterbalancing is stupidity with her spunk and grace. She manages to save Twister, and then burst onto the big screen with class in As Good As It Gets, providing the shaky yet determined voice of reason to Jack Nicholson’s insanity and earning and Oscar in the process. Her eyes speak volumes and her silence screams. It all just simmers underneath and then bursts out with such precision and poise. She’s been sort of underground for a while but has a new movie out, Then She Found Me, which she wrote, produced, directed and starred in. I can’t wait to see it.


Charlize Theron

She could have been a bimbo actress. Her first big screen role was in Children of the Corn III. What?! Then came The Devil’s Advocate. I was a bit worried. Then she started taking on some real meaty roles and came out shining. Most people missed The Legend of Bagger Vance, which is a shame. And . . . my God . . . the awesomeness that is her performance in Monster. Rent it today if you haven’t seen this Oscar-winning performance. She sparkled in The Cider House Rules and showed her tough side in The Italian Job. She’s gorgeous, talented and hasn’t disappointed me in quite some time. Of course, I haven’t seen Æon Flux yet . . .


Cate Blanchett

My favorite elf. I’d enter a spooky, ancient forest any day for an audience with this extremely talented former Queen of England . . . er . . . I mean actress. Cate has portrayed almost everyone imaginable, including Bob Dylan, and done so with her own unique style. Her smile can lift your spirits or rip out your heart. Consider her role in Notes on a Scandal opposite the always-good Judi Dench. She fell apart on screen, deconstructing the stereotypical image of a successful woman with secrets in the closet. And she managed to steal Babel right out from under Brad Pitt. Then there’s all that red hair. My oh my, what a beautiful woman.


Toni Collette

She quietly slipped on the scene in 1994’s Muriel’s Wedding in a performance lauded by critics but missed by most moviegoers. Then came The Sixth Sense, in which her startling and sympathetic turn as struggling single mother Lynn Sear earned her an Academy Award nomination. I watched this movie again last night with my son and I’m still touched by her transparent performance. Simply riveting. Almost as good as her role in the funny yet touching Little Miss Sunshine. Her pout isn’t . . . pouty, if you catch my drift. She’s honest with her emotions and never fails to make me smile.


Kate Winslet

Face it. Anyone who could make Titanic a joy to watch has to be good. Kate is fearless when it comes to the roles she chooses. She can play the classics, as she did as Ophelia in Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet, embody such eccentric personalities as Iris Murdoch in Iris, and then bring boring to life with an easy dramatic flair as she did in Little Children. She even managed to breathe life into Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind opposite Jim Carrey. That was no small feat, for that movie would have been dead without her knack for sincere laughter atop a smile that speaks a thousand words. She’s a rare and elegant beauty, and I just adore her.


Jennifer Connelly

I just realized that Jennifer Connelly is the first brunette on my list. I’ll let you decide what that means. Meanwhile, I’ll watch her again and again. I loved her in the thinking person’s sci-fi noir flick Dark City. She looked just so darn poised and otherworldly standing on the dock at the end of the film, her dark hair blowing in the breeze. But her other roles have taken her deeper, as a drug addict in Requiem for a Dream, as Jackson Pollock’s impressionable lover in Pollock, as a single mother with supernatural water stains on her apartment ceiling in Dark Water. But watching her shatter a glass of water in anger and frustration in A Beautiful Mind is a study in excellence of expression and personification. And those baby blue eyes . . .


Hilary Swank

Russell Crowe once encouraged anyone who came from “the downside of advantage” to pursue their dreams whatever they may be. Such is the case with Hilary Swank. She got her first big break in The Next Karate Kid after she and her mother moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting. Then came Boys Don’t Cry, and astonishingly compassionate and realistic performance as Brandon Teena, a transsexual who was brutally raped and murdered in Nebraska in 1993. Few people saw this movie, which is a shame. She earned an Oscar for her performance, and then earned a second Oscar for her portrayal as boxing phenom Maggie Fitzgerald in Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby. She’s had some duds (The Reaping) but the good far outweigh the bad.


Laura Linney

If I were pressed to name my favorite actress, I wouldn’t hesitate a second in picking Laura Linney. Honestly, I’ve never seen her in a bad movie. She has that rare ability to rescue even the shallowest of screenplays and bring her performance to life. I first fell for her in The Truman Show. Her over-the-top performance matched Carrey’s step for step. And consider her opposite Mark Ruffalo in You Can Count on Me. The quiver in her voice sounds genuine and unforced and adds a sympathetic touch that dives deep but never drowns. I especially enjoyed her in The Savages with Philip Seymour Hoffman. Interestingly, she always seems to be cast opposite some of my favorite actors. She holds her own and brings out the best in everyone.


Julianne Moore

Ever see Magnolia? No, not Steel Magnolias. That one sucked. Magnolia is the three-hour ensemble drama directed my Paul Thomas Anderson, the wunderkind behind last years best movie, There Will Be Blood. He has a way of bringing out the best in his actors, and he got way more than even he could have imagined from Julianne Moore in Magnolia. She walks the tightrope of madness and never slips. She’s done sensitive and sweet in Far From Heaven, sexy, dirty and nasty in Boogie Nights, and strong and proud in Children of Men. Not all of her movies have been masterpieces, but that’s no fault of hers. Heck, I even liked her as Clarice Starling in Hannibal, not an easy role to take on after Jodie Foster’s Oscar-winning turn.

So there you have ’em, my leading ladies of cinema. Were I an actor in need of someone to work with who could make my star shine, I’d choose any one of these gals any day of the week. Feel free to add your favorites to the comments, or simply add your praise for these actors if you feel so led. I love talking movies, so fire away . . .


12 thoughts on “My Leading Ladies

  1. kate winslet. excellent choice.

  2. I like how you saved the best for last. Julianne Moore has never let me down–she chooses her screen plays wisely.

    Magnolia…by far one of the best movie in my collection.

    I love her character in The Big Lebowski.

  3. Kate Winslet is my girl-crush. I LOVE her

  4. I could talk movies all day I think. I just adore Laura Linney. Love Actually was on TNT or FX the other day and she just gets better in it each time. I also love Naomi Watts. She was superb in 28 grams. That director of 28 grams and Babel always does a great casting job.

  5. There’s not a bad pick among them (excellent taste you have). I love Kate Winslet, and apparently will have to fight Flutter for her. 🙂

    I would love to look like Julianne Moore, not to mention possess a handful of her talent. Same for Joan Allen.

    (Loved The Legend of Bagger Vance!)

  6. Great choices. Can’t argue with any of them. I personally go through phases, romantic comedies, dramas, it all depends on how much thinking I am doing at work and around the kids. Nothing like a Meg Ryan movie to turn off the brain and just relax. Of course Joe vs. the Volcano comes to mind (and I just have to smile thinking about it). One of my all time favorite Characters in a movie though is Joline from the movie Committed. I have watched that a half-dozen times and every time do, I am just absolutely blown away. Caution though it does have adult content (content, not visuals).

    Oh and if you don’t mind subtitles, Chaos (its French) is an amazing film, very, very feminist. These two films rank very high on my list of all time films. Hmm, I feel a post coming on.

    Have a great weekend.


  7. Thanks to all you left comments. Kate Winslet seems to be a winner. She is just so darn good. I also realize that there are many other fine actresses left off the list. Meg mentioned Naomi Watts. Very talented as well. And thanks for all the suggestions regarding movies. My queue overflows . . .

  8. okay, too hard to choose. i love them all in different ways. so much talent. i am on a summer movie marathon and having so much fun! i guess my most recent fav is always the last movie that i saw so i’d go with patricia clarkson (i finally got to see all of the station agent last week, we all liked it a lot & she is just so good). i’ll add a few of these flix to my list, i have already seen 8 since memorial day weekend, yeah!

  9. How is “There Will Be Blood” last years best movie?!? I just watched that last night and the obnoxious music alone almost made me turn it off. The length of the movie was uncalled for when you consider how much time elapsed between folks speaking to each other in conversation. No explanation for why the main character was such an pyscho jerk. No significant character development at all except for *maybe* H.W. For a movie involving a deaf kid, the silences in it were in all the wrong places. And it ended in that sudden car-running-into-those-poles-surrounding-the-propane-tanks-at-the-gas-station-kinda-way. It’s an abrupt ending, you aren’t even sure it happened yet and it might have just saved you from a bigger problem. (In this case, this movie continuing on when it lost its story line about 30 minutes into it)

    There was a scene where someone asked Mr. Plainview a question and there was such a long pause in between the asking and the answering I was sure the director had to make a phone call or that someone had to track down the script to give Mr. Daniel Day Lewis his line prompt.

    I haven’t read Upton Sinclair’s book to know if the movie followed the book closely and that’s why it was so inane, but wow… this movie… Ugh.

  10. Liza,

    Are you a fan on Anderson’s other movies? Granted, There Will Be Blood is quite different from Magnolia or Boogie Nights, but it is similar to Punch Drunk Love. He’s a unique director that’s for sure. And, yeah, this one is a bit much to swallow; no one speaks for the first 15 minutes or so! For me, I guess I like that sort of thing – taking risks in movies.

    And saying it was the best was difficult, for I really liked No Country for Old Men and just adored Juno. There are so many movies to pick.

  11. All good choices, although I think Julianne Moore is maybe a smidge overrated – and Patricia Clarkson (who makes me think of an American version of Kate Blanchett) is a smidge overlooked. I also wish Joan Allen would do more – she’s powerful in an understated, Glenn Close kinda way.

    But oh come on now, how could you not also include Minnie Driver in your list? She’s just got such a classy, yet cheeky manner. She can be flitting or elegant. And then there’s that charming Irish brogue… mmm.

  12. Hey Rob,

    Thanks for tweaking The Cheek.

    And, yeah, Minnie Driver does have a killer accent. Loved her in Good Will Hunting, and even liked her in the one with Chris O’Donnell, one of her first movies. She’s got talent; perhaps I haven’t seen enough of her stuff. She’s got leading lady potential . . .

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