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The Essentials: The 5 Best Nicole Kidman Performances

Photo of Oliver Lyttelton By Oliver Lyttelton | www.oliverlyttelton.com June 20, 2012 at 2:42PM

Few actresses seem to make as diverse an array of choices as Nicole Kidman. The actress has spent the last decade or two as one of the few actresses who can truly call themselves A-list, but swings between incredibly bold, interesting choices with world-class filmmakers, and nearly irredeemable crap ("Bewtiched," "The Stepford Wives," "The Invasion," "Trespass"). She rarely gives a turn that's anything less than totally committed, but one always feels a little nervous settling in for a new Kidman flick.
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Nicole Kidman

Few actresses seem to make as diverse an array of choices as Nicole Kidman. The actress has spent the last decade or two as one of the few actresses who can truly call themselves A-list, but swings between incredibly bold, interesting choices with world-class filmmakers, and nearly irredeemable crap ("Bewtiched," "The Stepford Wives," "The Invasion," "Trespass"). She rarely gives a turn that's anything less than totally committed, but one always feels a little nervous settling in for a new Kidman flick.

That being said, one only has to skim her resume to remember that she is, after all, one of our most gifted and interesting movie stars, and has given more great performances than most of her contemporaries. Today is Kidman's 45th birthday, and as such, we thought we'd mark the occasion by picking out five of our favorite performances from the actress. Did we miss out on yours? You can advocate for your own favorite in the comments section below.

To Die For

"To Die For" (1995)
In the mid '90s, Kidman was really best known for playing relatively thankless wife/girlfriend parts. But it took Gus Van Sant to spot the devil inside, when the director cast her as the murderously ambitious weather girl Suzanne Stone in his delicious satire "To Die For." Working from a script by "The Graduate" writer Buck Henry, it was a prescient look at celebrity culture and the hunt for fame that's only gotten more and more relevant as we settle into the era of TMZ, the Kardashians and Casey Anthony. And Van Sant delivered one of his best, least indulgent films, neatly using a mock-doc framing conceit to ground the sometimes absurd comedy. Kidman excels as Stone, a small town would-be reporter who seduces a group of teens (including Joaquin Phoenix and Casey Affleck in early roles) into killing her husband (Matt Dillon), who wants to start a family. Malevolent, manipulative, teasing and dead sexy, it was a real departure for Kidman, and she steers just this side of caricature, never making Suzanne redeemable, but also showing that she's much more than a murderous pretty face.

Stellan Dogville

"Dogville" (2003)
Never let it be said that Nicole Kidman avoids a challenge. Kidman had finally cemented her place on the A-list and escaped from the shadow of her ex-husband Tom Cruise, thanks to "Moulin Rouge" and "The Others" becoming big hits in 2001, and to winning an Oscar for playing Virginia Woolf in "The Hours" in 2002. Her next project? A gruelling, nearly three-hour metaphorical drama shot entirely on a stage from Lars von Trier, the button-pushing Danish auteur behind "Breaking the Waves" and "Dancer in the Dark." The Brechtian drama sees Kidman as Grace, who arrives in the small Rocky Mountain town of the title, seemingly fleeing from gangsters, and is given shelter by their inhabitants (who include Paul Bettany, Stellan Skarsgård and Patricia Clarkson), only for them to gradually enslave her physically and sexually. The theatrical artificiality allows a stronger light to shine on the performances, which are superb (how did this Paul Bettany become the star of "Priest"?), and Kidman stands first among them. It's arguably the purest of von Trier's suffering women, Kidman thanklessly accepting every last indignity thrust upon her by the people of Dogville, until... well, she doesn't, at which point the quality of her turn is truly revealed. It's a shame she didn't return for "Manderlay" (or the yet-to-be-made "Wasington"), because we'd have loved to have seen more of her Grace.

This article is related to: Nicole Kidman, Features, The Essentials, On This Day In Movie History


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