Michelle Williams recently won a Golden Globe for her dead-on portrayal of Marilyn Monroe in 'My Week with Marylin.' In my opinion, her performance was good enough to win her an Oscar. She was beaten by Meryl Streep, but in my mind, Williams delivered the best performance by any actress in 2011.
She isn't known as a huge box office draw. Williams has starred in numerous independent and lower budget works. Her highest grossing film was 'Shutter Island,' but that had more to do with Martin Scorsese and Leonardo Dicaprio. That's not meant as a dig at her either. Even though she's built her career on relatively small movies, she's still become a recognizable actress in Hollywood because of her great acting.
I had a hard time picking out a bottom five for this column, just because you'll notice that even though the movies may be below par, Williams' performance in each of them is usually the movie's strong point.
The moment I saw 'Blue Valentine' at Sundance I fell in love. Here was a movie with two consummate character actors. Ryan Gosling certainly disappears into his role as Dean, an overworked husband who has slowly grown tired of his life. Williams plays the wife, Cindy. She suddenly finds herself in a loveless marriage wondering how she got there in the first place.
Flashing back and forth, 'Blue Valentine' pieces together the building up and the slow collapse of a relationship. In my review for High-Def Digest this is how I described the way the movie depicts the devolution of a relationship, "The beauty of 'Blue Valentine' is that it's impossible to pinpoint where the relationship between Dean and Cindy crumbled. Isn't that always the case? Relationships aren't destroyed by one single act. It's the little things that carry a marriage down to destruction." It's simple and profound at the same time, helped in part by two powerful leads giving it their all.
I have to admit that I was a little incensed when Streep walked home with the Oscar instead of Williams. What made me even a little more perturbed was the fact that both of these roles required the lead actresses to take on the mantle of well-known historical figures. I felt like Williams embodied the spirit of Marilyn Monroe whereas Streep seemed to be just going through the motions, impersonating Margaret Thatcher.
This is another one of Michelle Williams' movies that ran through the festival circuit and went on to gain critical accolades. While I personally felt that 'Meek's Cutoff' moved at a somewhat glacial pace, the highlight of the movie is definitely Williams' acting. As in 'Blue Valentine,' she's almost unrecognizable here. She disappears so fully into her character that it's almost impossible to picture her as an actress who was later cast as Marilyn Monroe.
I remember this being a divisive movie. Those who liked it absolutely adored everything about it, and those who weren't fond of it hated it with a passion. Champions of the film heralded it as Fellini-esque. Personally, I think it's a great film. While this will always be Philip Seymour Hoffman's movie, I'll always remember Williams' role as Claire.
'Wendy and Lucy'
You don't really hear much about this movie when Michelle Williams is concerned, but would it surprise you that it's definitely one her best starring roles? Director Kelly Reichardt weaves a deeply rich character in Wendy (Williams). A character we can't stop watching and caring about throughout the entire film. It really is a sneakily beautiful character piece if you ever get a chance to watch it.
'But I'm a Cheerleader'
It helps that Williams' part is small in this unfunny comedy, but it still remains one of the worst films she's ever been associated with. I remember the TV spots for this movie and I remember cringing every time they came on. If I never see 'But I'm a Cheerleader' again I'll be happy.
Did you even remember that Michelle Williams was in 'Species.' Yes, the very same movie that starred a naked Natasha Henstridge as a predatory alien, named Sil, whose primary objective is to breed with Earth males. Williams played the younger version of Sil. Yes, I can admit that even I have a twinge of guilty pleasure whenever I flick on my cable and see this movie running during prime afternoon hours, but I'll never admit to it being a good movie. It's so silly and hokey, but it's good for a few laughs.
This is one of Michelle Williams' sexiest roles, it's just too bad that the movie around her stinks. Like most of the time Williams is the strong point in this otherwise weak affair story. Much of the film falters due to Ewan McGregor's disappointing acting. It really is sad, because Williams puts in the work here, but her sturdy performance isn't enough to bolster the sagging structure around her.
Maybe the rule for Michelle Williams movies should be: If Ewan McGregor is in it, it's probably not one of her better movies. Normally I like McGregor, but apparently when these two get in a movie together it's just bad luck all around. So much was made of 'Deception's depiction of the seedy sexual underbelly that the movie portrayed. It tried desperately to be sexy and edgy and just came off as, well… desperate.
'The United States of Leland'
Another Sundance premiere but unfortunately, this one film didn't have the deep characterizations of 'Blue Valentine.' So, it never went on to become anything more. It's a stagnant, cluttered film that should be good on paper – Cast: Michelle Williams, Ryan Gosling, Don Cheadle and Kevin Spacey – but it just isn't. All the star power in the world can't help this mess of a movie. One of those Sundance films that come in with high expectations because of all the famous names attached but leaves the festival without much notoriety at all.
I know I skipped out on some notable titles like 'Brokeback Mountain' and 'Shutter Island.' I just don't admire those films as much as the ones I listed in my Top 5. Feel free to use the forums to let me know how you would've ranked her top and bottom films.