Julianne Moore is an incredibly decorated and prolific actor, moving from the daytime soap opera world of As the World Turns to the Oscar stage over the course of her nearly four decades in the industry. She has received an Academy Award, a BAFTA, two Golden Globes, two Screen Actors Guild Awards, two Emmy Awards, and was named one of the greatest actors of the 21st century by The New York Times in 2020. Her accolades show her immense dedication to her craft and speak to the incredible range and emotionality that she is able to conjure on screen. She can play incredibly toughshe can play utterly wounded, and she can play everything in between.
With an incredible collection of appearances in widely successful features and television shows, it is highly likely that you have stumbled upon some of her endlessly talented work. Anything featuring Julianne Moore is worth the watch, from her excellent films with Todd Haynes (like the masterpiece Safe) to her typically excellent portrayals of everyday married women (as in Crazy, Stupid Love and The Kids Are All Right), but in this article, we’ll do a deep dive into just five of the very best works in her incredible acting portfolio.
This 1999 Paul Thomas Anderson film is a behemoth. With a run time of 188 minutes, Magnolia takes you through a captivating mosaic of interconnected characters and stories, all of which focus on themes of love, forgiveness, and the meaning of the city in which they live. The time commitment of this film may be big, but it is well worth the watch. With beautiful cinematography, a stunning soundtrack composed by Aimee Mann, and very talented acting, the picture has practically everything that a person would want in a film.
Julianne Moore plays a character named Linda Partridge. Linda is married to a man named Earl, who is bedridden and dying of cancer. She had originally married Earl for his money, but has since fallen in love with him. While dealing with the death of her lover, Linda goes through a range of emotions: rage, self-hatred, guilt, sadness, and everything in between. Moore works the character perfectly, and somehow comes out on top among the other top-tier actors (Tom Cruise, Philip Seymour Hoffman, William H. Macy, etc.) featured in this film.
4 Still Alice
Still Alice is a heartbreaking 2014 film directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland that tells the story of a linguistics professor who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Julianne Moore plays the titular Alice, who is a genuinely good human being who begins to deteriorate because of her condition. Sharing the screen with Moore is Alec Baldwin, and unlike the two actors’ comically flippant relationship in the series 30 Rock, Baldwin’s character, John, is married to and completely in love with Alice. Their touching relationship comes under extreme duress, as Alice’s mental faculties continue to deteriorate.
The film has a long list of awards, including an Oscar for Best Actress for Julianne Moore, the fifth of her nominations and her first win. Baldwin and Moore demonstrate a tender chemistry, and the honest and upsetting depiction of Alzheimer’s is something that is rarely seen on screen. All the praise for this film is well deserved.
3 The Big Lebowski
This Coen brothers classic follows the story of blasé bowler and certified chiller Jeff Lebowski (otherwise known as ‘The Dude’), as he is mistaken by a millionaire with the same name, who seeks repayment for a rug that was ruined by a misinformed debt collector. The Dude gets caught up in the middle of wealthy Jeff “Big” Lebowski’s problems, all the while searching for the rug that is rightfully his, in the absurdist, bizarre classic The Big Lebowski. The film is rightfully iconic, what with John Goodman’s and Steve Buscemi’s performances complimenting Jeff Bridges as The Dude; it’s such a part of the cultural lexicon that it’s even referenced in the second-highest-grossing movie of all time, Avengers: Endgame.
In this film, Julianne Moore plays the wealthy Jeff “Big” Lebowski’s sister. The character, Maude, is an eccentric, reserved, and peculiar artist. Maude’s iconic introduction in the film sees her swinging through the air, blindfolded, holding two paintbrushes while she splattering paint across a canvas as she moves above it. Although the character seems to have very grandiose methods, her personality is reserved, yet confident. Although the character is not featured very prominently throughout, Moore does an excellent job of portraying this very Coen-constructed, idiosyncratic character, a very strong and iconoclastic woman who makes you remember her long after she left the scene (thanks in large part to a ridiculous dream sequence). If anyone says that Moore is not one of the best parts of the movie, then, “Yeah, well, you know, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.”
2 Children of Men
The dystopian science fiction movie Children of Men takes place in a world where women are no longer able to give birth due to unknown causes. Without the progression of humankind being possible, civilization turns to chaos. In this heavily policed state, a group of revolutionaries and activists embark on a mission to transport a miraculously pregnant women to a sanctuary at sea.
Julianne Moore shares the screen with Clive Owen, Chiwetel Ejofor, and Michael Caine. She plays an activist who is the former lover of the main character, Theo Faron (Owen), and she convinces him to help with the radicals’ mission to transport the pregnant women. Her character only appears in the first half hour or so of the film, but she is immediately impressive, acting in a way which displays her intimate (and yet broken) relationship with Theo with hardly any words. Her determination works to push the story forward, along with the masterful, single-take car scene which builds from romantic playfulness to dramatic intensity. This 2006 film is a must-watch for any lovers of the science-fiction genre, or even cinephiles in general.
1 Boogie Nights
Another great Paul Thomas Anderson flick which features Julianne Moore, Boogie Nights is arguably the film which solidified the director’s status as a master. The 1997 film follows Eddie Adams, played by Mark Wahlberg, as he makes a break into the pornography industry as a young male actor. The film details the hardships and realities of famous actors in the booming ’80s porn scene, but also the comraderie and community which develops between outsiders in any field.
Julianne More plays a character named Amber Waves, another actor in the industry. Waves is a very popular model, but with her stardom comes unintended consequences. She finds herself in a custody battle with her husband, as he sees her as an unfit mother due to her vocation. Moore very elegantly and tactfully portrays this character as endearing and relatable. Her porn affiliation and substance abuse issues give her trouble in her personal life, but Moore adds an incredible level of humanity to the character and effectively conveys Waters as a victim of circumstance rather than a lost cause Junkie. It’s an endlessly complicated character, and Moore delivers a brilliantly meticulous, emotionally poignant performance to suit it.
Women directors are still in the vast minority, but some of the world’s most memorable films have been provided by visionary women like these.
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