Top 10 Annette Bening Films

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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)

running with scissors, film,

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)

valmont, annette bening,

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)

the grifters, film, annette bening

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)

mother and child, annette bening,

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)

american beauty, film, annette bening

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)

annette bening, film,

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)

poscrads from the edge, annette bening

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)

annette bening, kids are all right, film,

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)

american president, film, annette bening

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)

being julia

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.

Written and compiled by Luke Tatge. Luke Tatge is the writer of blog Journalistic Skepticism.

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  1. amy Reply

    I’m not really that familiar with Bening’s filmography, but I do know a few who will be up in arms for putting The Kids are All Right so high up. LOL

    I’ve yet to see Being Julia.

  2. Rodney Reply

    No mention of The Siege – even if it’s headlined by Denzel and Mr Willis, Ms Benning gives a stellar performance in that one!

    But agree wholeheartedly with the top two. Well done Luke!

  3. Rodney Reply

    @ Amy – yes, I agree with you on TKAA being up that high.

  4. Lily Reply

    Nobody ever talks about Regarding Henry, I was surprised to find it on here. I personally would add Bugsy and Open Range to my list.

  5. Jaccstev Reply

    Being Julia is an over-the-top tale of passion and revenge with an ending that left me in a state of disbelief and delight. Bening proved that she’s a wonderful and versatile actress in this film.

  6. Castor Reply

    Yes Amy, I’m already standing outside Dan’s house with my pitchfork 😉 But anyways, it’s not a bad performance but certainly, I didn’t understand why it got so much acclaim when it’s same performance she has been turning over in most of her movies before that. Liked her more in American Beauty so that would have been higher on my list. Being Julia is undeniably her best though.

  7. TomS Reply

    ‘The Kids are All Right’ is an amazing performance. It is rightly near the top. I loved ‘American Beauty’, its writing and visual treatment was subtle and innovative. Bening’s “I Will Sell This House Today” sequence and subsequent breakdown caps a performance filled with lacerating moments. So it’s my favorite of hers. Being Julia is a worthy topper. A good list!

  8. Paolo Reply

    I have only seen 4 out of those ten. I will work on that.

    Bening’s a curious case to me. I first fell in love with her on “The American President,” then thought her a shrew because of ‘American Beauty” and “Running with Scissors,” then loved her again for TKAA. It’s as if she’s not afraid of making herself seem unsympathetic just to bring a character to life. Like every movie of hers is an introduction to a new person.

  9. Rodney Reply

    @ Lily – man, Open Rage I totally forgot about. Such an awesome and underrated film!!

    And she was hilarious in Mars Attacks, by the way, although she did tend to struggle for time with such a large ensemble cast!

  10. fitz Reply

    I thought for sure this would be her year. Though, if the Academy could re-vote I think they would go with Bening this time.

  11. Goregirl Reply

    The only Bening film I could come up with before reading your list was AMERICAN BEAUTY and Running With Scissors. Completely forgot she was in The Grifters, I actually quite enjoy that flick. To be honest I don’t think most of these are going to be my cup o’tea, although I’m kind of a sucker for period pieces and I don’t think I’ve ever seen VALMONT.

    I am a big fan of Burrough’s book RWS and was morbidly disappointed in this film version. Bening was a good choice for the role but that was about the only good decision the filmmakers made when they adapted this one.

  12. rtm Reply

    I haven’t seen too many of Annette’s films to make a top 10, but glad to see Regarding Henry and The American President on here, love both of them.

  13. Dan Reply

    My Annette Bening knowledge is seriously lacking but I have seen The American President which I think is a decent film. Not particularly fond of American Beauty but her performance is undeniably strong, as is Spacey’s.

  14. Annie Reply

    I just adore Annette Bening, I mean this is like my idol and fav actress. I was sad that she didn’t win this year, I think this list is fine. Being Julia was definitely the top, however, I don’t know why the American President was SO high, sure it was an adorable film, but I wouldn’t really put it in the top places. I would most definitely add Bugsy, she was so great in that, not to mention the chemistry with her future husband Warren Beatty was quite simply — amazing!

  15. Steve Aldersley Reply

    Good to see Mother and Child in there.

  16. Dan Grant Reply

    I’ve never seen Being Julia. I’ll be sure to check that out.

    I’m glad you have American President so high. I think it’s her best role. American Beauty is excellent as well, actually, all of these are.

    I too would have added her role in The Seige. She was explosive in that film.

  17. Neal Damiano Reply

    Glad to see The Grifters and Running With Scissors on the list…..she was absolutely amazing in both films!

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