Top 10: Tilda Swinton Performances

If there’s one thing Tilda Swinton has proven, it’s that she can do anything. Whether it’s tentpole blockbusters or risque indies, Swinton takes on the pressures of any genre with ease. This Oscar-winning chameleon is quite dauntless with her choices and one of the most prolific character actresses working today.

This year, she has three films set for release that demonstrate her versatility. Earlier this year, “The Souvenir” premiered to high praise for director Joanna Hogg and Swinton’s performance. Likely due in 2019 is “The Personal History of David Copperfield” in which Swinton stars in an ensemble cast. She also has a role in the zombie comedy “The Dead Don’t Die,” now in theaters. To coincide with the latter’s release, here’s a list of Tilda Swinton’s ten best performances.

19Gabriel in “Constantine” (2005)
dir. Francis Lawrence

Along with her acting, one of Swinton’s trademarks has been her androgynous appearance, making her a perfect choice to play the epicene archangel Gabriel. When Gabriel is first introduced, he acts as a stolid advisor for John Constantine (Keanu Reeves) before his plan to unleash Hell on Earth is revealed. It’s an impactful performance as Swinton has only a few scenes, yet she still expertly showcases Gabriel’s elusive calculation.

18Eve in “Only Lovers Left Alive” (2014)

17dir. Jim Jarmusch

The vampire drama “Only Lovers Left Alive” is Swinton and Jim Jarmusch’s previous venture into horror. Thanks to its depiction of vampires disillusioned by immortality, it’s a refreshing take on vampire lore. In “Only Lovers Left Alive,” Swinton gives one of her most relaxed performances as Eve, a vampire who tries to have her partner Adam (Tom Hiddleston) avoid the temptation of taking his own life. Swinton masterfully exudes a romantic euphoria mixed with a stern protective instinct.

16Dianna in “Trainwreck” (2015)

15dir. Judd Apatow

Trainwreck” is a revelation of sorts for Tilda Swinton since hardly anyone knew she was such a great comedienne. Swinton provides constant laughs as Dianna, the crass, unfiltered boss of Amy (Amy Schumer). While Dianna’s a far cry from Miranda Priestly in “The Devil Wears Prada,” she still has similarly razor sharp line delivery. Whether she’s bragging about intimate experiences with Pink Floyd or saying she’s sick of someone’s “ginger nonsense,” Swinton is an ongoing source of hilarity.

14Thora and Thessaly Thacker in “Hail, Caesar!” (2016)

13dir. Joel and Ethan Coen

Two Tilda Swinton’s in better than one, as seen in the Hollywood satire “Hail, Caesar!.” Swinton plays Thora and Thessaly Thacker, twins and rival gossip columnists who act as the thorn on each other’s sides. Both characters serve as a riff on the famed columnist Hedda Hopper and create double trouble for studio fixer Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin). Although it becomes difficult to figure out which twin is who, Swinton is singularly wicked as them both.

12The White Witch in “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe” (2005)

11dir. Andrew Adamson

Janis, the White Witch, seems welcoming when stumbling through the wardrobe and into magical world of Narnia. Don’t be fooled, though, since she proves to be as icy as her frozen castle. Janis is manipulative and uncompromising in her quest to rule Narnia and Swinton plays her to chilly perfection. Given the Academy’s penchant for nominating villainous performances, a case could have been made for Swinton’s brilliant work.

10Madame Blanc/Dr. Josef Klemperer/Mother Markos in “Suspiria” (2018)

9dir. Luca Guadagnino

The phantasmagoric remake of “Suspiria” offers three Swintons for the price of one (or four if you count Lutz Ebersdorf as a role). Regardless, “Suspiria” is a practical showcase for Swinton despite Dakota Johnson playing the chief protagonist. She’s amazingly astute as the conflicted witch Madame Blanc and excels as Dr. Josef Klemperer, the curious moral center. In addition, her small role as Mother Markos is in sync with the film’s macabre nature. “Suspiria” is essentially a one woman coven thanks to Swinton’s efforts and it is all the better for it.

8Marianne Lane in “A Bigger Splash” (2016)

7dir. Luca Guadagnino

In “A Bigger Splash,” Swinton’s rock star character goes on a journey filled with erotic mystery. Once Marianne’s distant lover Harry (Ralph Fiennes) visits her and her current boyfriend, Marianne expresses doubt over rekindling their romance and a hope that they could start again. Her contradictory feelings are showcased on Swinton’s expressive eyes. Although Swinton hardly utters a word since Marianne is unable to speak, she still  demonstrates Marianne’s narrow panic and simultaneous romantic wonder. Swinton’s ability to create a characterization despite being nearly wordless is an immense demonstration of her peculiar gifts.

6Eva Khatchadourian in “We Need to Talk About Kevin” (2011)

5dir. Lynne Ramsay

Besides Kevin, what should be discussed is how brilliant Tilda Swinton is in this Lynne Ramsay vehicle. Swinton is in top form as a woman who raises a child that becomes a demon seed. It’s a performance that feels transformative because she plays a mother that goes from feeling neglectful to being downright repentant. Swinton channels her transformation through a constant physical stillness that morphs into trembling after a horrific event involving her son takes place. Eva practically lives in a never-ending Hell, with Swinton navigating the tricky balance of fear and complacency over her situation.

4Minister Mason in “Snowpiercer” (2014)

3dir. Bong Joon-Ho

In Bong Joon-Ho’s English language debut, Swinton plays a living embodiment of slimy bureaucracy as Minister Mason. Mason is someone who’s clearly a mouthpiece for her beloved ruler Wilford and so egocentric that she considers herself the highest power. As Swinton portrays Mason’s self-importance that is so blinding that she can’t recognize her own naivete, she even weaves in a layer of biting humor. The hallmark of a great supporting performance is when the film nearly falters when the actor isn’t on screen and Swinton certainly achieves that feat.

2Julia in “Julia” (2009)

1dir. Erick Zonca

Even though Tilda Swinton is a consummate supporting/ensemble player, she’s still at her best when acting as the centerpiece of a film. The 2009 independent feature “Julia” is the definitive proof. The titular character is a complete misanthrope with a disregard for everyone around her and Swinton plays her with such magnetism. As Julia kidnaps a child for ransom money, Swinton is able to make her an intriguing anti-hero without necessarily making the audience root for her. Given how Julia is someone who will lie or cheat her way out of anything, that is a work of acting genius.

Which Tilda Swinton performance is your favorite? Please share your thoughts in the comments section!