We don’t appreciate Julianne Moore enough. The Oscar-winning actress has given us over 25 years of brilliant performances. Throughout her career, she has amassed five Oscar nominations (“Boogie Nights,” “The End of the Affair,” “The Hours,” “Far From Heaven,” and “Still Alice”). And there are a host of other great performances across different genres and sizes that all deserve appreciation.
In honor of “Gloria Bell,” which stars Moore as a fifty-something divorcee enjoying her newfound freedom, let’s count down the ten best Julianne Moore performances.
“The Big Lebowski” (1998)
Few ’90s moments are more iconic and daffy than a Viking clad Julianne Moore in The Dude’s (Jeff Bridges) bowling-themed fantasy. Moments like these from “The Big Lebowski” helped make Julianne Moore a household name and a cult idol. However, Moore’s performance as Maude Lebowski is more than just that one famous moment. As a millionaire’s wife held captive, Moore plays more than just the damsel in distress. In fact, she proves to be quite adept at handling the Coen’s wickedly deadpan sense of humor. She’s an invaluable part of a cult classic that still plays well today.
“The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio” (2005)
Julianne Moore always finds ways to quietly unearth her character’s true dreams and aspirations. Evelyn Ryan (Moore) supports her family of ten kids through a series of jingle writing contests, most of which she wins. As her husband (Woody Harrelson) squanders away their money, loses jobs and beats his wife, it’s up to Evelyn to keep everything together. Moore never goes for the easy beats, even if the film’s script may often take the tried and true Lifetime routes. Instead, we understand this woman’s passion for writing and how, in these seemingly small ways, she’s able to use her skills to support her family. When Evelyn journeys to meet other female jingle writers, we see her glimpse a life larger than she had imagined. Based on a true story, Moore knows just how to bring Evelyn to life in all her shades of glory.
“The End of the Affair” (1999)
It’s hard not to fall in love with Julianne Moore. That’s what makes “The End of the Affair” such an engaging romantic drama. Moore commands the screen as Sarah Miles, a socialite who runs into an old flame with whom she once had an affair. The movie flashes back to her passionate tryst with Bendrix (Ralph Fiennes) during the war and his newfound obsession with her in their present day. Though the film veers between convoluted and melodramatic from scene to scene, Moore’s performance is unwavering. Her strength and chemistry with Fiennes make “The End of the Affair” an engaging and entertaining watch.
Every once in a while an actress gets a few choice moments or a monologue she can sink her teeth into. After working with her in “Boogie Nights,” Paul Thomas Anderson gave Julianne Moore a pivotal role in the ensemble piece “Magnolia.” Moore plays Linda Partridge, the trophy wife of a producer dying of cancer. Moore steals every moment she’s in. The best comes with an expletive-fueled monologue at a pharmacy as the pharmacists question the strength of her prescriptions. In a movie filled with wildly different storylines and performances, Moore’s is the one I most want to follow.
“A Single Man” (2009)
A gifted supporting actress knows how to create a fully realized character in just a short collection of moments. Julianne Moore accomplishes this stunningly in “A Single Man” as her character, Charley, truly believes she’s the star of her own show. Our titular single man, George (Colin Firth), finds himself in a tailspin after his lover’s death. One segment in his spiral finds him at the doorstep of his friend and former companion, Charley. Firth and Moore’s chemistry blasts off the screen immediately. One feels decades of connection between the two of them, including many fraught conversations. Moore allows us to read between the lines and gives us space to imagine a full world for Charley. This is what great supporting performances look like.
“The Kids Are All Right” (2010)
Julianne Moore is so skilled at drama that we often forget what a great comedienne she is. Lisa Cholodenko’s “The Kids Are All Right” allows her to flex both her comedy and drama muscles. Moore stars as Jules, one-half of a power lesbian parent couple (the other half being Oscar nominee Annette Bening). Both Moms are thrown for a loop when their kids seek out their sperm donor, an organic chef named Paul (Mark Ruffalo). Everyone reacts differently to Paul. Jules starts up an affair with him. Moore creates an odd chemistry with Ruffalo. Jules keeps wanting to give Paul a chance, but she regrets letting him go too far. This leads to a heartbreaking third act as Jules works to salvage her marriage and family. Her speech about marriage alone warrants an Oscar nomination that she never received.
“Still Alice” (2014)
People call “Still Alice” Julianne Moore’s career Oscar more often than they should. Her performance as Alice, a professor who develops early onset Alzheimer’s disease, is more than just Oscar bait. Moore devastates as we watch this sharp woman lose her ability to do even the simplest of things. One of her greatest gifts as an actress is the ability to share a character’s head-space with an audience. When Alice forgets where the bathroom is in her own home, we too struggle to contain our anxiety. As her disease progresses, we find ourselves questioning our own mental acuity. Her performance is more than just symptoms. Some of the best scenes involve her fraught relationship with daughter Lydia (Kristen Stewart). In short, does Julianne Moore deserve an Oscar? Of course. Does she deserve it for “Still Alice?” While not her most classic performance, her work as Alice still comes off as Oscar-worthy.
“The Hours” (2002)
How does one stand out in a cast as talented and star-studded as “The Hours?” Julianne Moore cracks the code with her heartfelt, subtle turn as depressed, pregnant housewife Laura Brown. Set in the 1950s, Laura struggles with her same-sex attraction and finds solace in “Mrs. Dalloway” by Virginia Woolf (Nicole Kidman). Her entire arc takes place over one day, her husband’s birthday, as Laura’s failure to bake a cake sets off an eventful several hours. Moore quietly devastates as we watch Laura’s world cave in around her. This physically manifests in a climactic hotel room scene that ranks as one of the most devastating moments in the film. Moore never overplays her hand, even as the role could so easily slip into something more over-the-top. We don’t just see Laura’s pain, we feel it thanks to Moore.
“Boogie Nights” (1997)
Julianne Moore earned her first Oscar nomination for her work as porn star Amber Waves in “Boogie Nights” from Paul Thomas Anderson. What makes her performance so fantastic is Moore’s understanding of the multitudes Amber possesses. The film lets Amber have fun with her life as a famous porn star. Moore is positively charismatic in her early scenes and develops a special, unique, lived in relationship with every member of the ensemble. This makes it so much more revealing and wrenching every time we peek slightly behind the curtain of her life. A scene where she pleads to talk to her child on the phone shows in just moments how much this woman has had to give up. Moore never asks for our pity or sympathy. She merely inhabits Amber’s life and asks that we enjoy ourselves. After all, Amber is a born entertainer.
“Far From Heaven” (2002)
As one can tell by now, Julianne Moore nails the ‘50s housewife persona. Still, her performance as Cathy Whitaker separates itself from her other work and stands as her finest performance. She starts as a picture-perfect wife and homemaker straight out of a Douglas Sirk picture. Moore understands this vision and tailors Cathy accordingly. However, once she finds out about her husband’s (Dennis Quaid) homosexual proclivities, something ever so slightly shifts inside Cathy. She allows herself to take a more active interest in Raymond Deagan (Dennis Haysbert), the son of her gardener who just passed. From here on out, Moore’s Cathy traverses between two worlds. She forces herself to keep up her traditional appearance, especially around gossipy neighbors such as Eleanor Fine (Patricia Clarkson). She also retreats into this new world of broader understanding, which blossoms through her relationship with Raymond.