Truly one of the most under-awarded actresses of her generation.
Though Annette Bening may have gotten off to a late start (she was 30 when she nabbed her first film role), she’s turned out a host of seasoned performances since playing sweet-natured wife Kate Craig in The Great Outdoors. Four Academy Award nominations later, Bening has etched out a niche as the queen of making it look easy.
So since her debut in 1988, here are her 10 best films.
10. Running with Scissors (Murphy, 2006)
Before Ryan Murphy was taking television by storm with his own version of teen melodrama on Glee, he took a stab at writing and directing this adaptation of Augusten Burroughs’ disturbingly funny memoir. The narrative was deeply flawed, and some of the performances were less than exemplary (I’m looking at you, Evan Rachel Wood), but Bening’s performance as drug-addled mom Deirdre was rightfully honored with a Golden Globe nomination.
9. Valmont (Forman, 1989)
Unfortunately living in the very tall shadow of a previous adaptation of the Choderlos de Laclos novel (1988’s Dangerous Liaisons), Valmont was virtually forgotten aside from notable costume design. But Bening and co-star Colin Firth are bitingly devious as the scheming twosome that is out to destroy the honor of a recently engaged teen bride.
8. The Grifters (Frears, 1990)
Though most of the overwhelming for Stephen Frears’ con-game noir flick seems a little excessive, Bening’s seemingly dumb-blonde Myra Langtry was a definite highlight. Opposite the increasingly creepy relationship of mother-son con team Lilly and Roy Dillon (Anjelica Huston and John Cusack), the actress is the most physically comedic we’ve ever seen her.
7. Mother and Child (Garcia, 2010)
Tossed aside as a Lifetime-esque weeper with nothing but some far-fetched storylines and hammy portrayals, Mother and Child didn’t get the respect it deserved. Here, Annette is playing frigid physical therapist Karen, whose life intertwines with that of a cold-hearted lawyer (Naomi Watts) and a desperately maternal woman (Kerry Washington). This is a perfect example of Bening taking on a wholly unlikable role and instilling it with intense realism.
6. American Beauty (Mendes, 1999)
Though it’s often considered the hallmark performance of her career, American Beauty has always been not much more than an above average indie dark comedy. But thanks to the incredible lead performances that transcended the script, it became something more than okay. Bening is the terrifyingly ferocious Carolyn Burnham, whose real estate business is really taking off just as her husband Lester (Kevin Spacey) suffers a mid-life crisis. Demented fun ensues.
5. Regarding Henry (Nichols, 1991)
This primarily forgotten-about family drama is unjustly tossed aside into $5 bins nationwide. Regarding Henry finds a hardcore business man (Harrison Ford) caught in the middle of a convenience store hold-up. And when Henry, a husband and father, takes a bullet to the head, his recovery recreates him as a decent human being. Bening plays Henry’s doting wife, and their chemistry is out of this world.
4. Postcards from the Edge (Nichols, 1990)
This just barely counts as an “Annette Bening film,” since the actress’s part in Postcards from the Edge is essentially a cameo. But her role as bit actress Evelyn Ames is so pivotal to Suzanne’s (Meryl Streep) storyline, it’s an important cog. Bening plays a gossipy actress who is sleeping with Streep’s boyfriend. The movie, and Bening’s scene, is edgy and hysterical.
3. The Kids Are All Right (Cholodenko, 2010)
Probably coming the closest she’s ever come to winning that elusive Oscar (until Natalie Portman began sweeping the precursors), here Bening plays uptight career woman Nic, whose relationship with her wife (Julianne Moore) and two children unravels when their long-ago sperm donor (Mark Ruffalo) re-enters the picture. Bening shows acting brilliance in a particularly important dinner scene and later without any words during one of Moore’s monologues.
2. The American President (Reiner, 1995)
Before he wrote the crackling, talkie script of The Social Network, there was this little political romance, The American President. Playing determined and intelligent lobbyist Sidney Ellen Wade, Bening romances the president (Michael Douglas) in one of the smartest and most entertaining romantic comedies of the past 50 years.
1. Being Julia (Szabo, 2004)
There’s no question – the film that features the all-time best Bening performance (and happens to be the best film she’s been in) is Being Julia. Playing an aging stage actress searching for a way to regain her limelight, Bening is doing what she does best in the most theatrical and glorious way – getting hers and taking names. Julia Lambert is a character for the ages, and her no-holds-barred final scene with bumbling Avice Crichton (Lucy Punch) is stuff of future movie legend.
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