What are the signs you are watching a Cate Blanchett performance? Are there prominent fur coats, wigs or large headwear present? Is there prolonged breakdown scenes featuring running mascara? Does the character tear through every line with a gusto and vigor not seen since four-time Oscar winner Katherine Hepburn (herself a Blanchett character)? Does the sheer voracity compel you to get up and cheer? Chances are you are watching a Cate Blanchett performance.
Since emerging on the scene in 1998 with the breakout role in “Elizabeth,” Blanchett has conquered nearly every genre imaginable. From small indies about Bob Dylan to the latest Indiana Jones foe, Blanchett has worked in nearly every capacity. The two time Oscar winner seeks to conquer the box office this weekend with her role as Hela, Goddess of Death in “Thor: Ragnarok,” Marvel’s latest superhero feat. As we prepare to watch her take down Thor and the rest of the Avengers (a fan can dream), let’s celebrate Cate’s ten greatest triumphs.
Cate Blanchett in villain mode never fails to entertain. As Marissa Weigler in “Hanna,” Blanchett buttons up to be a cold hard assassin intent on destroying a young woman raised as a weapon (Saoirse Ronan in her short phase as action heroine). She hams her way through Joe Wright’s offbeat action-packed film, delivering more punches through dialogues than her henchmen do with their fists. This eventually leads to a climax where Blanchett runs around an abandoned theme park. It’s as gloriously bonkers as it sounds, and Blanchett sells every second of it. Even in absurd situations, she knows how to approach the situation with the seriousness her characters would.
Cate Blanchett has made a minor career of playing evil stepmothers. Other actors may come off as repetitive after inhabiting these tropes a couple times. However, Blanchett breathes new life and energy to the film whenever on screen. Her role as Cinderella’s stepmother is as tailormade for Blanchett as Cinderella’s glass slipper. The film introduces the character saying “she knew grief and wore it well.” Blanchett hams it up, making the villain as grand as Maleficent’s fire-breathing dragon. However, she never forgets the sadness and pettiness that informs every one of her decisions.
There are few better ways to emerge to the public than clad in royal garb. Cate Blanchett’s first major role as Queen Elizabeth I serves for quite the coming out party. She takes on the role of a royal with the necessary grace and dignity one would start with. However, she gives Elizabeth a steely resolve and iron will that dares to be broken. It’s a powerhouse performance that serves as an early signal for the incredible career in front of her. Blanchett returns to this role nearly a decade later. However, at that point, we’d seen her stretch far beyond royalty porn. The best was yet to come.
“I’m Not There” (2007)
Who would’ve guessed out of five renditions of Bob Dylan, the one played by a woman would be the most uncanny? Absolutely everyone once they realized it was Blanchett underneath the curly wig. Her Jude saunters around the screen as every eye turns to see what they will do next. Todd Haynes kaleidoscope vision of Bob Dylan struggles in many sections. However, Blanchett breathes life into this otherwise removed art piece that struggles to come off the ground as a narrative film. She’s entrancing to watch. In many ways, this film cements what we already knew. There’s no role Cate Blanchett can’t play.
“The Talented Mr. Ripley” (1999)
Blanchett’s Meredith Logue may be a nuisance to the characters whenever she pops up out of nowhere. However, to the audience, she’s a welcome delight. Blanchett plays Meredith as a blissfully naive trust fund girl with a knack for running into old acquaintances. She talks a mile a minute. However, she never stops talking long enough to see the clues her friends are giving her. It’s only fitting that she becomes the beard and compatriot to a closeted gay serial killer. Meredith is so far removed from square one of the murder mystery she helps unravel, she might as well be on another planet. Still, Blanchett blesses her with enough tact, wit, and color to make her less of an annoying foil and more of a delectable wrench in our protagonist’s devilish plot.
It’s a shame people underestimated “Truth,” last year’s forgotten film about the controversial CBS report about President George W. Bush failing to uphold his service duties in the 70s. Blanchett stars as Mary Mapes, a highly accomplished producer at CBS who thinks she has found her latest piece of award-winning journalism with the Bush story. She assembles a team of reporters and enlists TV personality Dan Rather to deliver the story. However, as all the pieces fall around her, Mary struggles to prove and uphold her journalistic integrity. Blanchett pushes her character to the limit in some of the film’s more harrowing moments. Even better is how she charts Mary’s rise and confidence as acutely as her descent into crippling defeat.
“Notes on a Scandal” (2007)
Cate plays Sheba Hart, a bohemian art teacher at a private school who carries on an affair with her teenage student. She finds herself extorted by a fellow teacher, Barbara Covett (Judi Dench at her best), who has more complicated and intense feelings for Sheba. “Notes on a Scandal” features Cate Blanchett’s best “angry mascara” performance, which is a tough category to win. She literally gnarls up every piece of scenery in her final scenes with a vigor rarely captured on screen. However, Blanchett makes Sheba just as alluring and chill in the first half of the film. It’s a tremendously effective and entertaining performance that falls into both Oscar-baity and campy territory.
“The Aviator” (2004)
It must be intimidating to have to bring life to the most awarded actress of all time. Luckily, Cate Blanchett has never backed down from a challenge. There must be something about Katherine Hepburn that the Oscars just love. Cate won her first Oscar for her performance as her in Martin Scorsese’s “The Aviator.” It was well deserved too. Though the three-hour epic concentrates on Howard Hughes aviation fixation, the audience becomes fixated on Kate’s Hepburn. She captures the outspoken gumption of the legendary actress from her opening scene playing golf. It’s a tour de force from there, as we see her as both a romantic paramour and a tragic movie star who finds her privacy long gone.
Much of Blanchett’s career has been filled with larger than life performances. As Carol Aird, a New York housewife carrying on a lesbian affair, one thinks Blanchett may have another barn burning star turn. Yet, Blanchett plays it cool and close to the chest. Her Carol is a warm, nurturing presence who opens herself up to love at a very vulnerable point in her life. She recognizes how generous and complicated this woman’s life is. The drama comes from the slightest of gestures. She makes the audience’s heart burst as she nods and compliments Therese’s (Rooney Mara) Santa hat. The performance fills the screen with an optimism that love can prevail, even under the most unlikely of circumstances.
“Blue Jasmine” (2013)
It seems Blanchett’s career has built up to her performance as this Blanche DuBois-type socialite during her fall from grace. Once Jasmine’s husband (a charmingly swarmy Alec Baldwin) is taken down for financial fraud, she’s thrust into a life where she has to struggle and work. She moves in with her estranged sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins). However, Jasmine’s stress and questionable mental health problems pop up at nearly every turn. Blanchett plays so many different notes with this complex character. One particular scene, where Jasmine babysits her nephews, morphs from a comic setup into a harrowing reveal of Jasmine’s last full-blown breakdown.