Here are my candidates for the title of Great American Film Actress.
5. Anne Hathaway/Michelle Williams/Alison Lohman. All three have talent and charisma up the wazoo, and they’ve all had breakthrough dramatic roles (Hathaway in Rachel Getting Married, Williams in Wendy and Lucy, Lohman in the little-seen Where the Truth Lies). The only question is whether they have the intestinal fortitude to resist rom-coms and techno-thrillers.
4. Julianne Moore. Admittedly, Moore’s pluses are skewed toward the earlier part of the 2000s, but she doesn’t have many minuses, elevating even the hoariest indie-cute tropes with her emotional grace. Great in: Magnolia, Far From Heaven, Blindness. Even good in crap like: The Shipping News, A Single Man, Chloe. Couldn’t save: The Forgotten, Next.
3. Meryl Streep. For decades, the dictionary definition of “Great American Actress,” Streep is still a titan despite averaging 1.2 unwatchable pieces of crap per year since the early 1990s. Great in: Adaptation, Doubt, Fantastic Mr. Fox. Even good in crap like: The Hours, Julie & Julia, The Devil Wears Prada, It’s Complicated. Couldn’t save: A Prairie Home Companion.
2. Hope Davis. Another actress who abandoned movies for television, Davis gave arguably the best female performance of the 21st century as the headstrong but distant daughter in About Schmidt. Great in: The Secret Lives of Dentists, American Splendor. Even good in crap like: The Nines; Synecdoche, New York; Proof. Couldn’t save: The Hoax.
1. Laura Linney. She’s also retreated to television, but no one is more casually brilliant than Linney, and no one makes you angrier when her talents are wasted by unworthy writers, directors and co-stars. Great in: You Can Count on Me, Kinsey, The Squid and the Whale, The Savages. Even good in crap like: Mystic River, The Exorcism of Emily Rose. Couldn’t save: The Nanny Diaries.