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Top Ten

THE MORE MOORE MAVENS” MOOREST JULIANNE MOORE PERFORMANCES

A Look at Our Top Ten Moorest Performances by Actress Julianne Moore

By the Members of the More Moore Mavens

Summer 2014

Julianne Moore is one of the greatest actresses of the last 25 years. Many would agree with that statement, and yet she rarely receives as much acclaim as some of her contemporaries. She has never won an Academy Award, though she has appeared in countless Academy Award winning films. In fact, until she finally won an Emmy, a Golden Globe, and a SAG Award for her role as Sarah Palin in Game Change in 2012, she had never received more than a nomination at any of the major film and television awards ceremonies. She should be up there with Cate Blanchett and Kate Winslett, with Meryl Streep even–all awards season staples–as not only one of the best actresses of the last couple decades, but of all time.

What defines a Moore performance? While it may be harder to define Mooreness than say Cageness or Deppness or Murrayness, there are certain types of characters that she is drawn to, and this creates a throughline within her oeuvre. Unlike most actresses, who usually want to play “strong” female characters, Moore claims, “I never care that [my characters] are “strong.” I never care that they”re even affirmative. I look for that thing that”s human and recognizable and emotional. You know, we”re not perfect, we”re not heroic, we”re not in control. We”re our own worst enemies sometimes, we cause our own tragedies…that”s the stuff that I think is really compelling.” While her contemporaries read scripts searching for strong women, Moore looks for flaws–the humanness that draws us in, that allows us to feel a character”s tragedy. We all have tragedy within, and Moore has found a way to mine that no matter what the end goal may be, whether for comedy or pathos, or, often, some mix of the two. “Emotional nakedness is Ms. Moore”s specialty,” claimed New York Times writer Ben Brantley. (Some fans may also claim physical nakedness is another of her specialties since Short Cuts, Boogie Nights, The Big Lebowski, The End of the Affair, and Body of Evidence all show varying degrees of skin, but let”s not get off topic…)

Whether playing a leading role or a supporting one, whether in a blockbuster or an art house film, Julianne Moore always finds a way to make the women she plays real, to allow them to jump off the screen and into our lives. So we the More Moore Mavens, who always want more of Moore, have decided to list for you our top ten Moorest Julianne Moore performances.

10. Sarah Harding in Steven Spielberg”s The Lost World: Jurassic Park

“A few years into her tenure as a Hollywood Leading Lady, Julianne Moore was cast opposite the incredible Jeff Goldblum (an actor we previously top-tenned) as Sarah Harding in The Lost World: Jurassic Park. As chaotician Dr. Ian Malcolm’s girlfriend, Sarah Harding becomes not just Malcolm’s motivation for becoming involved in another obviously ill-fated excursion–why would he go back if not for love?–but also his perfect foil! Sarah’s intellect, pluck, and untamable red hair–not to mention her chemistry with Kelly, Ian’s daughter–make her a kick-ass leading lady in what could have been just a mediocre sequel to a historic blockbuster. Not to knock Laura Dern’s Dr. Ellie Sattler from the original Jurassic Park–who is incredible, adorable, and an integral part of my childhood–but there’s something about Sarah and Ian’s chemistry that just gets me every time! I love me a feisty woman. And what”s more Moore-ish than a feisty woman?” – Ariana Lader, Lifetime Moore Enthusiast

9. Jules in Lisa Cholodenko”s The Kids are All Right

“Whether Julianne Moore plays an FBI agent, a porn star, a revolutionary, a suicidal housewife, or a West Side gold-digger, one way or another I walk away from her performances seeing a little of myself in the characters she plays. Moore always makes sure to show us the qualities that are worth sticking around for. While The Kids Are Alright may not have the “bigness” some of her other films are known for, it gracefully avoids what could have been an easy slide into a sanctimonious “issue” movie–and for that it”s commendable. In the film, married couple Jules and Nic (Julianne Moore and Annette Benning) are emotionally barreling towards the middle of their lives together, and growing apart as they do. Meanwhile, their children have begun to seek out the man who donated the sperm that made their little family possible in the first place. Eventually the children meet this mystery man, Paul (Mark Ruffalo), a noncommittal, hip, garden-to-table restaurant owner (of course!). Once he’s flung together with the troubled pair, Paul and Jules enter into an affair. I imagine there would be a lot of temptation for an actor to take a hyper-neurotic route to playing Jules. After all, Jules is a professionally unmoored, love-starved, hippie-lesbian, trying to navigate a marriage on the rocks. To her credit though, Moore lets Jules’ gentleness lead, and she ends up with possibly her most relatable role yet. It must be said that it’s hard to separate Moore’s performance from Benning’s in the movie. Like any marriage, their hearts are grafted together. As Nic’s heart hardens, Jules’ yearning for companionship feels understandable, even justified. Rather than simply “complicating” the storyline, her affair with Paul feels like a symptom of something much deeper. Ultimately, it turns the knife in her marriage, and the viewer–and gives us one of Moore”s gentlest, most relatable, womanly performances.” – Caitlin Cutt, Lifetime Moore Enthusiast

8. Carol White in Todd Haynes” Safe

“Perhaps it is her patrician attractiveness or her skill at uttering lines with pitch-perfect bourgeois passive-aggressiveness, but–amid her considerable and excellent body of work–Julianne Moore excels at portraying characters that are a perversion of and/or alternative to so-called “traditional” American domesticity. One of her early roles, that of Carol White–the psychologically deteriorating protagonist of Todd Haynes” Safe–skillfully explores the (in this case, literally) sickening mundanity of postmodern, suburban American life. Carol”s life is one of embraced routine–boring, yet comfortably affluent, sameness. When Carol begins to develop several mysterious symptoms, she begins to realize that the “safety” promised in her environment of routine and comfort is really only a poison that is causing her body to turn on itself. Moore brilliantly portrays Carol as a diffident person who doesn”t realize that the comforts she has acquired in her life–and the medical, psychological and spiritual “healers” she consults when those comforts make her ill–actually represent the veneer of safety that her body is forcefully rejecting. Her carefully curated modern life has become the disease that her weakness cannot withstand. Moore–augmenting Todd Haynes” spare, yet effective, direction with a gusto “Carol White” herself can never muster–presents her character as a particularly familiar fixture in filmmaking: the affluent figure who seems to have everything…only to realize that she has nothing and she might even lose more. However, in Moore”s hands, that archetype becomes something else: a body horror variation on the theme of the 19th century “female hysteria” (later reformulated as anxiety neuroses) in Freudian psychology. I mention Freud and his misattribution of the catchall diagnosis of hysteria purposefully: while Freud”s specific formulations on hysteria were later debunked, Moore and Haynes willfully engage a similar idea of a woman suffering psychological symptoms that manifest themselves physically AND are misdiagnosed by every seeming expert, leading her to further sickness and confusion. Haynes” own take on the deleterious effects of postmodern life–and Moore”s performance as a hapless victim of said effects–end on a powerful, memorably dour note: in the world of fragile, deluded Carol White, even safety stands to destroy.” - Randall Winston, Lifetime Moore Enthusiast

7. Charley in Tom Ford”s A Single Man

“In A Single Man, Julianne Moore’s portrayal of the dipsomaniacal “up-do”ed dolly, Charley, sticks out in a long tradition of doped-up screen heroines. Considering her roles in Magnolia, Boogie Nights, and Safe, it may be easy to dismiss this role as predictable for Moore; she’s no stranger to playing the “medicated vamp.” But under the directorial gaze of fashion mogul Tom Ford, Moore brings a warm, valium-induced, British elegance to her “woman-in-crisis” in what ends up becoming a treatise on love, secrecy, and the closeting of gay men in Los Angeles during the 50s and 60s. One of the most memorable moments of the film was actually the first scene Moore and co-star Colin Firth shot together: the sultry “Stormy Weather” into “Green Onions” twist. Drunkenly swaying in her ultra-chic living room, Charley gazes at George through a pristine layer of Cleopatran mascara, letting the viewer imagine what their relationship would have been like had George not been gay. The Zen-infused last lines of A Single Man (which are a direct quote from the Christopher Isherwood novel from which the film is adapted) speak not only to the life-affirming theme, but also to the strength of the film’s casting: “A few times in my life I”ve had moments of absolute clarity, when for a few brief seconds the silence drowns out the noise and I can feel rather than think, and things seem so sharp. […] They pull me back to the present, and I realize that everything is exactly the way it was meant to be.” Ford has been knocked for the sometimes-stilted appearance of the sets and styles, but Moore injects a friendly, unforced authenticity to the human element in the film, which is exactly the way it was meant to be.” – Conor Higgins, Lifetime Moore Enthusiast

6. Julian in Alfonso Cuaron”s Children of Men

“In Children of Men, Julianne Moore plays Julian, estranged wife of protagonist Theo. This performance is a quintessential Moore performance for a number of reasons. Before we touch on the reasons why, however, we should examine her screentime as it tends to speak to her abilities as an actress, and furthermore why this performance is considered one of her best. In this film, not unlike some of her other performances on this list, her screentime really doesn”t amount to much more than 15-20 minutes in total. However, it is in spite of this (or, perhaps, because of this) that her performance is truly able to shine. What makes her portrayal of Julian in Children Of Men one of her best is, first and foremost, her ability to ground an otherwise otherworldly film. It takes a special kind of actress to be able to rise to the challenge of the post-apocalyptic sci-fi film that is Children Of Men. She gives purpose to her role and allows the audience to feel the desperation of womankind (or all mankind) in this film. While Clive Owen may play the “common man,” Moore is able to give meaning and a resonance to the overarching themes of the film and relate them via her portrayal to audiences. She could”ve very easily decided to play her character as a victim to the infertility inherent in the film”s world, but instead became the reason that we the audience understand the sheer anarchy that has become London of 2027. Ultimately, Moore”s performance is perfectly Moore-y because she allows the audience a connection in a story that otherwise might be unhinged–and we feel comforted in the fact that while she may not be around for long (screentime-wise) she”ll give us the emotional anchor to grasp at through the first act, and to recall throughout the rest of the film.” – Shea Formaneck, Lifetime Moore Enthusiast

5. Cathy Whitaker in Todd Haynes” Far from Heaven

“Given her talents and dynamism as an actress, it would seem foolhardy to typecast Julianne Moore. But given all she accomplishes playing a desperate 1950s-era housewife in two acclaimed films from 2002—Far From Heaven and The Hours—one might be forgiven for doing so. Moore received much-deserved Oscar nods for both roles, and while she is certainly spectacular in The Hours, that brooding appearance has long struck me as somewhat formulaic when compared to her innovative performance as Cathy Whitaker in Far From Heaven. This is, however, not a slight against The Hours; it is a testament to Moore’s virtuosic ability in Far From Heaven to breathe fresh life into a deadened American cliché. Todd Haynes wrote the latter film with Moore in mind, and it is hard to imagine anyone other than Moore giving to Cathy the same quiet, uncompromising strength to suffer through the brutal intersection of racism, patriarchy, and American suburbia. Stylistically Far From Heaven is an unabashed homage to 1950s melodrama. But where Haynes does his best to ape Douglas Sirk, Moore makes no attempt to reprise roles played by Lana Turner or Jane Wyman. Instead, she reinvents a quintessential and hackneyed character, paving the way for the emboldened performances by women we now find onscreen in Mad Men and beyond.” – Shane Boyle, Lifetime Moore Enthusiast

4. Laura Brown in Stephen Daldry“s The Hours

“Though ostensibly exploring the lives of three women linked by Virginia Woolf and her shimmering Mrs. Dalloway, The Hours seems to me more interested in painting the malaise of modern consciousness, feminine or otherwise. Insanity, trivial social pretense, the slick and empty dream of post-war fulfillment–the tropes of this darkly anxious drama provide ample thematic space for Julianne Moore to exercise her particular brand of pathos, something situated in the muted wounds of marital intimacy and the shrinking spaces it allows its individual pieces. Moore”s Laura Brown is existentially stifled, smothered by her kindly husband and doting child. Her performance is restrained but often agonizing to watch–her soft-spoken pleasantries echo in the quiet of suburban hell, and her smile is a kind of visual drowning. Her baking scenes still haunt me–futility, exhaustion, and loathing captured perfectly in the building of a lopsided cake. At the end of the film, she does not apologize for her choice to abandon her family, nor does she expect scenes of forgiveness and understanding. Moore harnesses the peculiar tenacity of the autonomous self in these final scenes, scrappy and richly human. She ends as neither hero nor villain, but rather as a testament to self-styled, willful purpose.” – Dustin Illingworth, Lifetime Moore Enthusiast

3. Maude Lebowski in the Coen BrothersThe Big Lebowski

“Julianne Moore may not be looking for “strong female characters” when she picks her roles, but she often finds them regardless. Not all of her characters wear their toughness on their sleeves, but most display some degree of strength and fortitude, and many espouse various feminist ideals. Of all her characters though, the only self-described feminist that I can think of is Maude Lebowski. Maude is certainly a feminist, but also, admittedly, a caricature of feminism (and, specifically, the “feminist artist”). She talks in a hilariously affected accent, creates art which has been “commended as being strongly vaginal” by flying over a canvas in a harness, and seduces the main character (solely for procreation) by merely disrobing and saying, “Jeffrey, love me.” It”d be easy to dismiss her as a lame parody or juvenile critique of feminism if she wasn”t one of the funniest and most interesting aspects of one of the Coen Brothers” funniest and most interesting films. While I don”t deny that the Coens are possibly knocking feminism a bit, it doesn”t bother me as much as it otherwise might because the main target of their ire isn”t the femin- but the -ism. All the characters in the film adhere to some ideology (some more strongly than others, and some to more reasonable ideologies than others), but the true butt of the joke is always ideology itself. Maude, and specifically Moore”s brilliant comic portrayal of her, really ties the film together, like rug to room. Without her, The Big Lebowski would merely be a Dudefest (pun intended), since Bunny (the only other named woman who appears on screen) barely gets any lines. And, hey, let”s not forget that Beyoncé recently sampled the French version of one of Maude”s speeches about sex and feminism in her song “Partition.” Not every Julianne Moore performance gets that kind of a pop-cultural afterlife. The feminist abides.” – Taylor Zahn, Lifetime Moore Enthusiast

2. Maggie aka Amber Waves in Paul Thomas Anderson”s Boogie Nights

“Moore’s Maggie–aka Amber Waves–is one of the most complicated portrayals of motherhood I’ve seen on film, made all the more powerful and convincing by its transitory nature. She’s hardly there, even when she is, fitting since she’s gone from the life of her boy. There are three attempts in the film at connecting Maggie with her son: all thwarted, due in some form or another to her addictions. Which is not say Maggie is no mother at all. She is. Even Jack says so, to Dirk (still Eddie, at the time): “She’s a great mother, to all those who need love.” The irony abounds; she will mother Dirk, but with such tragic realism that it’s actually sweet, even maternal, when they fuck for the first time, on camera, and she says: “You’re doing so good.” For much of Boogie Nights Moore seems to float, in and out of scene, even within scene. She is a broken sylph, a dewy ghost of palpable regret hovering in the manufactured “now” of a cocaine blur. She is pure need. She needs to mother, and she needs to not mother. She is absolute contradiction, seeking simultaneous presence and avoidance from what it means to be a person in the world, and for that I find her utterly heartbreaking, human, and disturbingly familiar.” - Scott Cheshire, Lifetime Moore Enthusiast

1. Linda Partridge in Paul Thomas Anderson”s Magnolia

“If the throughline in Julianne Moore”s career is “imperfect women,” as she claims, then there is obviously no more Moore-y role than Linda Partridge in Paul Thomas Anderson”s masterful film Magnolia. After all, she”s “sucked other men”s cocks!” And yet not only is this Moore”s Moorest performance, it is also likely her best. Linda Partridge is the much younger wife of a rich geriatric on his deathbed. She married him for his money, but as her husband nears his end, she does an about-face and begins to actually love him. Riddled with guilt, she goes through a series of ever more epic breakdowns. Let”s just say you don”t want to be a pharmacist at a drugstore when she walks in. Her pharmacy breakdown is one of the movie”s best scenes because it lays bare her character”s grief and self-loathing and paranoia and anger–it shows a woman in flux, a woman changing, unhappy with the person she has been and unsure of the person she now is or should be or will be. Because of this, Moore claimed she “found the part very arduous.” She explained further: “It’s really very difficult to try to find a way to make you understand her, because she doesn’t understand herself. She isn’t what she appears to be, she isn’t what she wants to be. She’s at a place of real turbulence.” Magnolia in its entirety is a film about turbulence–about how our lives are forever in a process of continual coming-unhinged-ness by impositions of circumstance and happenstance (which could also be called: drama and melodrama). Circumstance/drama deals with how things that have happened, our past and our choices, affect us in the present. Happenstance/melodrama deals with how strange things happen regardless of our past and our choices–uncontrollable, unforeseeable things, exaggerations of so-called “reality,” that upend everything we know and think and feel. Whether it all belies some unknowable order or some unnerving chaos is beside the point–like everything else, we”ll never know. As Moore as Partridge says in one of her last lines in the film: “I don”t know what I”m doing…I don”t know how to do this, y”know?” Not knowing is difficult for most actors to play well because it is pure truth unfiltered through our convenient fictions. None of us “know” much of anything, about our selves or our world. We put up walls, we create personal narratives to make sense of the senselessness–and this is how most actors find their characters. But instead of looking for a branch to grasp on to, Julianne Moore”s brilliance comes in her ability to build the character from the inner void–the flaws, the gaps, the unknowing. She constructs her characters” human fullness from their internal emptiness, their strengths from their weaknesses, their truth from their uncertainty. In this way, she makes her characters” turbulence seem as real as our own. Like all of us humans, I don”t know much, but if I know anything, it”s that Julianne Moore is an actress worthy of our praise.” – Tyler Malone, Lifetime Moore Enthusiast

The members of the More Moore Mavens are a group of film fans who love all that is Julianne Moore. The group consists of Tyler Malone, Scott Cheshire, Dustin Illingworth, Alex Bacha, Randall Winston, Shea Formaneck, Ariana Lader, Kelsey Malone, Rachael Bacha, Shane Boyle, Caitlin Cutt, Artie Moreno, Conor Higgins, Taylor Zahn, Ben Steinberg, Jeff Malone, and Liz Malone.

LINKS:

Julianne Moore on IMDb

Written and Compiled by the Members of the More Moore Mavens

Photography Courtesy of New Line Cinema

Design by Francesca Rimi

Captions:

Film Still from Magnolia, Photography Courtesy of New Line Cinema

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